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How lucid dreams help to overcome fears and awaken hidden potential

If you master the method of lucid dreaming, you can control your nightly fantasies like a director. More and more is becoming known about how the technology can be learned and used in a targeted manner to shake off mental stress and discover a new self while sleeping.

How about that? To be completely free to decide whether the next trip is on a yacht to the Pacific or in the cockpit of a rocket to the International Space Station. Whether an adventure ends with a fist fight in a saloon or on the summit of an eight-thousander. Whether the menu in the evening contains gold chips or the extract of an as yet unknown tropical plant. What sounds like fantasy is possible for some people, at least in the early hours of the morning, when their minds are in a strange state between sleep and wakefulness - and are able to consciously control dream content.

Oneironauts (from the Greek oneiros, dream; nautes, sailors) these world-walkers are called. Unlike others, they do not experience the often surreal events of their nocturnal fantasy as a kind of film that they watch largely passively, but rather act as directors of their own dream world. Although they are asleep, they are almost completely conscious, know full well that they are dreaming and that they are masters of their imagination. This state of mind allows them to experience the most amazing things: exciting sex, daring flight maneuvers, imaginative creative sessions. But also to face your very own fears, to safely face whatever troubles may be slumbering in the depths of your soul. Scientific pioneering field with huge potential This is one of the reasons why science is now also working on this ability, which they call “clear dreaming” or “lucid dreaming”. Apart from the fact that oneironauts occasionally fulfill their own dreams while they sleep, some psychologists recognize therapeutic potential in the ability to dream clearly.

After all, many people who have experienced something traumatic struggle with feelings of powerlessness and weakness and feel inferior and helpless. For them in particular, lucid dreams offer a fantastic opportunity in the truest sense of the word to regain control in any situation and thus experience self-efficacy - at least in those hours when their eyes are closed. But it's no secret that nocturnal fantasies also have an influence on our waking lives, and vice versa.

In addition: The ability to dream clearly is not reserved for an elite group of lucky people. Anyone can use certain techniques to increase the likelihood of experiencing a lucid dream. Hundreds of thousands of lucid dreamers have long been exchanging ideas in internet forums about the best methods to regularly achieve this state (see box). Those who succeed in this often describe the moment as a kind of waking up in a dream. Suddenly there is certainty: I am dreaming and I can intervene in the dream. Almost as if dreams and reality mixed into something new.

Fantastic dreaming and logical thinking come together

Researchers explain this condition by saying that oneironauts' brains enter a special mode. Several areas of the brain that would otherwise slow down their activity are noticeably active in lucid dreamers. These include those that are involved in the conscious planning and execution of complex motor and intellectual actions. Or those that are important for self-awareness and contribute to the evaluation of one's own thoughts and feelings. This is why the brain of lucid dreamers is able to think logically and reflect even while they are sleeping. Is what I'm experiencing here real? Is it possible for animals to talk or cars to fly? Only through this “reality check” does it even become apparent that it must be a dream.

In complex experiments, sleep researchers are trying to understand the nature of lucid dreams. The subjects often spend several nights in brain scanners that monitor their brain activity second by second. During such experiments, something astonishing sometimes happens: Some lucid dreamers can come into contact with research staff while they are sleeping.

This happens with previously agreed signals. Dreamers imaginatively clench their fists when they enter the lucid state, or move their eyeballs in a certain rhythm behind their closed eyelids. In an experiment by an international research team, the scientists then asked the sleepers yes or no questions or had them solve simple arithmetic problems. The test subjects responded again using pre-agreed and trained signals - for example, frowning meant “no” or rolling their eyes twice meant “two”. After waking up, some of the volunteers reported how they had perceived the questions in their dreams: sometimes they heard a voice from off-screen, like that of a narrator in the film, sometimes the question came to them from a car radio.

Lucid dreamers also show special abilities when awake

Thanks, among other things, to such research, experts have now gained a deeper insight into the nature and effects of lucid dreams - although the field is still quite young and the potential of lucid night images is only beginning to become visible. The studies already suggest some connections: lucid dreamers have more ability than others to solve problems particularly creatively and also have a very strong imagination. They also have an above-average ability to reflect on themselves and the world. Apparently they are very aware of experiences and perceive many things very intensively even when they are awake.

And some people use the technology specifically to strengthen their creative power or to train certain skills. There are artists who work on compositions in lucid dreams and managers who devise new strategies for their companies. Or competitive athletes who train complex or risky movements while sleeping, such as a dangerous jump on the ski slope. It has been proven that the corresponding motor skills also work more elegantly in the real world.

The Austrian consciousness researcher and Gestalt therapist Brigitte Holzinger, on the other hand, investigates how lucid dreaming can be used in psychotherapy - and achieves particular success with clients who repeatedly struggle with nightmares, nighttime manifestations of fear. Almost everyone knows them: violence, death, the feeling of being hunted, falling, helplessness, shame, sadness or loss: in nightmares our deepest fears and most contradictory feelings come to the fore. Stress, worries and trauma in particular can trigger recurring nightmares. Around 80 percent of all people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are affected by torturous fantasies at night, and most also suffer from them during the day.

For Brigitte Holzinger, lucid dreaming offers an invaluable opportunity to creatively respond to frightening scenes. And so to regain some autonomy, to counteract the feeling of powerlessness with an experience of control. She tells of a patient who was threatened with a gun by her partner when she wanted to break up with him. She couldn't let this scene go; she kept encountering her tormentor in her sleep. With the help of lucid dream experiences, she finally managed to transform the situation. As the director of her dreams, she had acquaintances show up to support her. Suddenly, during the nightly encounters, a feeling of security and superiority arose: she was no longer helpless and alone. This experience helped her resolve her trauma.

In lucid dreams we can come to surprising insights

The brilliant thing is: In lucid dreams, everyone can find their own way of dealing with stressful scenes and playfully try out which intervention suits them best (everything is conceivable, everything is possible). Feeling, the images from dreams, can be brought together with thinking and acting, says Brigitte Holzinger. It's about recognizing: I'm not at my mercy, I have a choice.

This can, for example, also consist of finding a place that is safe and provides security in threatening night scenes using lucid dream technology. A place from which a fearsome monster can be safely observed. This is what another of Brigitte Holzinger's clients did, who was regularly followed by an indefinable green cloud. As we looked at it, the cloud gradually took on contours, became smaller - and finally transformed into its father. It was only then that the 17-year-old realized that it was her father who kept her busy at night and threatened her in the form of a blurry mist.

Thanks to this aha experience, she was able to get to the bottom of her mental problems in the further course of therapy, which led, among other things, to self-harm. As it came to light, the father was not only humorous and caring during his childhood, but from time to time he acted out, became violent and lashed out. A traumatic experience that was burned deep into the young woman's brain and which was now increasingly losing its long shadows. To the point where the self-harm stopped and the patient was able to start studying.

A lucid dream as a therapy accelerator

Brigitte Holzinger is convinced: If we deal with our problems while we sleep, our psyche benefits on many levels. An insight that those affected gain in lucid dreams can act like a therapy accelerator - and then take them into everyday life. The possibilities seem almost endless. She recently recommended that a shift worker suffering from chronic exhaustion go to a place in a lucid dream where he can relax and recover particularly well. A hammock on the beach? A quiet mountain peak in the evening light? It cannot be ruled out that such nocturnal excursions actually help to refresh the mind.

The motto of productive lucid dreaming could be to try things out and gain new insights. Holzinger doesn't believe in daring soul experiments or ready-made recipes. It is good and important that everyone finds their own way of dealing with stress and discovers for themselves the individual possibilities that lucid dreaming opens up. She remembers another patient for whom the nightmarish scenes he regularly experienced lost their horror when he realized in his sleep: I'm just dreaming, this isn't really happening to me.

And who suddenly took a liking to what was happening, saw himself as a character in an exciting thriller and decided to simply do nothing: “This is the best James Bond I can ever experience – why should I intervene? “

How to learn to lucid dream

How often someone lucid dreams varies greatly: Some only experience a lucid dream every few months or once a year, while others experience a lucid dream several times a week. Some people are familiar with the ability from childhood or adolescence, while others only learn about the gift in adulthood. The pioneer of lucid dream research is the US psychologist Stephen LaBerge. The American has developed a method (“WILD”: “Wake-Initiated Lucid Dream”) that is supposed to help you slip into a lucid dream immediately when you fall asleep. This technique is about that , to enter a meditative state after going to bed. The person should pay attention to color patterns or other visual phenomena that spontaneously appear in their mind's eye. These can be billowing waves, winding plants, buildings or blurry silhouettes of people. You have to consciously engage with these images as you fall asleep and try to form a scenery and action from the often randomly occurring patterns. For example, floral motifs and cloudy structures can create a summer meadow under a wide sky. Perhaps mountains appear in the distance, the destination of a fictional hike. You should consciously keep the scenery and the action in mind until you drift off. You have to take them with you to sleep, so to speak. Another technique called “MILD” (“Mnemonic Induced Lucid Dream”) aims to switch from a normal dream to the lucid state. On the one hand, you should consciously try to become an oneironaut as often as possible during the day; So say to yourself as often as possible: I want to recognize that I'm dreaming while I'm sleeping and thereby immerse myself in a lucid dream. On the other hand, you should try to remember a dream as precisely as possible immediately after waking up. It is important to further imagine the action experienced during sleep: What else could have happened in the dream? What would a pleasant continuation of the dream plot have looked like? Would I like to get to a certain place? Would I have liked to talk to an animal? Or did I wish that I could rise into the air from a place that appeared in a dream and fly away? While you continue the event in your mind, you should repeatedly and consciously imagine that you have this dream - assuming it actually happens creep in the nocturnal fantasy world - will recognize it as such. For example: If I ever dream that I am sitting by a swimming pool with a cat and talking to it about Thomas Mann, then I will know clearly that I am in a dream.

The MILD method seems quite bizarre, and yet experience shows: This form of autosuggestion significantly increases the chance that one night you will find yourself in the fantasized story, identify it as a dream - and switch to the lucid world.< /p>

for GEO plus, Marja Pirilä


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