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Dreams: What are they really and what’s the deal with lucid dreaming?

In many circles, dreams are considered to hold the key to past lives, mystical identities, esoteric truths, etc. In the otherkin community, they are often looked at as ‘proof’ of belief, something to look at as evidence of the ‘other’ identity. Lucid dreaming especially is looked to as some sort of super human ability; something only certain people are capable of and that is on par with other ‘powers’ such as clairvoyance, empathy, and energy manipulation. But is this all really true? Are dreams holding some kind of keys to past lives? Is lucid dreaming really some kind of ability that only the spiritually enlightened possess? The science says no…to all of it.

What is a dream? That’s a good place to start. In a nutshell, a dream is a series of pictures that we see as we sleep. Usually these pictures play out like a movie, something we either watch or take part in. They may be in color or black and white, they may come with accompanying sensations, emotions, etc. Most often, they’re just like watching a movie. We may intuitively know that one of the characters is ourselves, but we often watch it as if we are the observer and these dreams often come with their own sets of powerful feelings….either physical or emotional. Most often, we remember one of two main types of dreams: very vivid and weird ones or very boring ones and the vivid ones we remember most of all. This is a good place to make a point about dreaming. Everyone does it *regardless* of whether or not you remember a dream.

So how do dreams work? Well, as we sleep our (mostly) unconscious brains go through a cycle. We experience mainly two stages: REM sleep and non-REM, or NREM, sleep (REM standing for Rapid Eye Movement). Dreams happen primarily in REM sleep. So what is non-REM sleep? Well, it consists of four stages, each lasting about 5-15 minutes. During Stage 1 NREM sleep, we are just falling asleep. Our eyes are closed and we are pretty easy to wake up. If a person is roused from this stage, they generally feel like they haven’t slept. Also notable about Stage 1 NREM sleep is that we often get a feeling of falling, which results in our bodies jerking us awake. Stage 2 REM sleep comes next and is a period of light sleep. Our heart rate slows and body temperature decreases to prepare our bodies for deep sleep. Stage 3 and 4 NREM sleep are the deep sleep stages, with stage 4 being deeper than stage 3. If roused from either of these stages, a person may feel disoriented. During the stages of deep sleep, our bodies repair and regenerate and may even strengthen the immune system. NREM dreams tend to be boring and usually center on what we did during the day as a way for our brain to re-enforce memories worth keeping and discard those that aren’t. Essentially, reminding itself of what it already knows and re-enforcing existing connections.

REM sleep is where it really gets interesting. The REM stage usually sets in about 90 minutes into sleep. The first period of REM generally lasts about 10 minutes, with each subsequent stage lengthening in duration. Brain scans show brain activity to be very much like that in an awake person during REM sleep. This is also the stage where our breathing speeds up a little (along with heart rate) and our eyes rapidly move back and forth (hence the name). Intense dreaming happens in the REM stage as a result of this heightened brain activity, but paralysis occurs simultaneously in the major muscle groups of the body. REM dreams are usually bizarre and very vivid. You know, like those dreams where you’re fleeing for your life from a giant purple T-Rex that’s also speaking French. Where did that come from? The easy answer is: The subconscious brain.

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What do our REM dreams mean? Through using an EEG machine, we are able to see what the brain is up to while we sleep. During periods of dreaming, our brains are making connections between our waking experiences that will help us in our daily lives. Our brains are looking for links between seemingly unrelated things, running simulations of things we may do the next day, working through things that have been puzzling us, etc. Dreams are pretty much all about finding connections between and patterns in things, something that our waking brains aren’t so good at, but our sleeping brains seem to be. REM dreams can be very stressful and are very life like. The evolutionary purpose of dreaming is to make us more successful animals. REM dreams are our brains way of testing out the future free of the possibility of suffering the consequences. Another benefit of REM sleep is that we can process emotions, which again is something that our waking brain isn’t so good at. These emotions are genuinely real and our REM dreams are a way of giving our brains a way to better deal with these emotions. Looking at the brain’s neuronal activity, dreaming of something during REM sleep is (to the brain) the same as doing it while awake.

So where does lucid dreaming come into this? Well, all lucid dreaming takes is a little practice and effort to achieve…for anyone. First off, keep a dream journal. It helps you be better able to recall your dreams upon waking. Another helpful thing is reality checks. In dreams, something as simply as looking at the time on a clock, reading a sentence, or counting on your fingers. When we dream, these simply tasks can easily go wonky, time moving too fast or too slow, letters ending up in a jumble, and so on and so forth…are all pretty common dream things. The more you do this while awake, the more your brain will be inclined to do this during sleep, especially REM sleep where you brain is essentially in a waking stage…during sleep. Next comes a technique known as Mnemonically Induced Lucid Dreams (MILD). A you’re falling asleep, think of a recent dream and imagine yourself becoming lucid in it. The idea behind this is to re-enforce the intention to realize you’re dreaming while you’re doing it. Keep repeating the phrase ‘I will have a lucid dream tonight’. The highest rates of success tend to happen when you wake up during the night and stay up for 30 minutes and then go back to sleep with the intention to have a lucid dream. Once you have success with MILD, the next step is to have a Wake Induced Lucid Dream (WILD). The idea here is to keep the mind aware while your body falls asleep. The risk of WILD is sleep paralysis, where the brain can play tricks on you and your body is paralyzed.

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So what’s the bottom line here? Well, the bottom line is this: Our dreams are concerned with our current lives, especially things we have been doing and thinking about recently…especially during the same day we have whatever dreams. For example, if we are thinking about being a wolf in a past life while driving an hour to work (or back from work) we are very likely to dream about wolves, highways, or-in REM sleep-about wolves running down a highway or getting hit by a car. Lucid dreaming is a scientific reality and anyone willing to put in the effort can do it. Now, just because science has found considerable evidence for what dreams are, why we do them, and the deal with lucid dreaming doesn’t mean that you cannot look to your dreams for thoughts on your identity or a past life. You’re free to…but those dreams are much more likely to have to do with what you’ve been thinking about than anything else. In that sense, they are very useful in terms of figuring out a personal identity…just not any sort of spiritual truth or clandestine reality.

Aside from the videos linked above, good resources are this article: <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://courses.washington.edu/psy222/extracredit/extracredit/Sleep,%20Learning,%20and%20Dreams.pdf">http://courses.washington.edu/psy222/ex ... Dreams.pdf</a><!-- m -->
And this webpage: <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/dream.htm">http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/i ... /dream.htm</a><!-- m -->
For me at least, I take dreams to simply be what science has proved them to be. Your neurons are busy carrying around information, and sometimes they 'bump' into each other, causing you to dream a mash up of things you've seen and experienced the past few days.

However I do believe you can still get dreams from spirits if they alter what you're thinking so you dream what they want you to.
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