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Updated: 2 days ago

View of the aurora borealis on May 10, 2024 across Mono Lake.

Photo: Samantha Lindberg from the Mono County Newsletter.

Listen to Katheleen Battle sing Schubert's "Night and Dreams"

Many know about and use visualization, a mental practice technique or process to improve instrumental and sports performances. Recently I found an illustrative comment on Reddit: "I have been playing guitar for 30+ years and have found that if I visualize playing a song while listening to it, just closing my eyes and imagining what my hands would be doing (even if technically wrong), then when I do play the song or phrase it becomes smoother and easier."

Last week in a footnote to my first blog about lucid dreaming, a final question occurred to me. I asked if I could possibly improve my piano technique and skill level through lucid dreaming? I also speculated about improving my poetry.

Apparently, it is true. By now I have read a few online papers, both books referenced in the former blog (by Webb and Morley), and a 2015 book by psychologist Robert Waggoner and sculptor Caroline McCready, "Lucid Dreaming Plain and Simple". Waggoner says that lucid dreaming is another discovery like electricity discovered by Benjamin Franklin, that is,

"a discovery with profound potential. Aware in the subconscious, you can maneuver your conscious intent toward almost any goal or endeavor. You can use your lucid become a better athlete, artist, writer, inventor, teacher, or businessperson."

Or become a better pianist and poet, I hope.

Despite those who express doubts, I am encouraged in my personal exploration of lucid dreaming for the above practical purposes when I read a comment by Scottish physicist and father of electromagnetic theory James Clerk Maxwell:

"Thoroughly conscious ignorance is the prelude to every real advance in science."

So how and why does it exactly work to improve skills?

On a conceptual level, Waggoner and Peter Tholey have something to say. Waggoner says that lucid dreaming often makes apparent the possibilities for creatively influencing that which surrounds you. If something appears as a barrier or limitation, it likely exists essentially as mental energy that you can engage, manipulate and use. You can "request an experience beyond your waking self's knowing [or doing?]." Then translate it into real life.

Paul Tholey,** a well known British gestalt psychologist and lucid dreaming researcher, gives especial hope for lucid dreaming. He says that a person with a certain amount of creative freedom already will have less difficulty learning lucid dreaming, and someone who conquers the technique will be able to attain greater creative freedom.

I'll take some of that!

Tholey also says that what makes lucid dreaming work well is the vanquishing of the ego; "that is the key prerequisite for unprejudiced perception, productive thinking, free and creative action."

Many others believe that another key factor is positive expectations that influence how dream characters act and what can be positively influenced inside a dream. Tholey says that dream characters can "sit and write" -- and my interest perked up!

So if I tamp down my ego and ramp up my positive expectations and specific piano- or poetry-related pre-dream requests, how does lucid dreaming do all this? Why and how does it improve my skill level? What is exactly happening? The best place to look is to research done with athletes.* According to Tholey:

"The situation in a dream is comparable to the one of a pilot in a flight simulator. Just as a flight simulator can be used to learn how to fly a rel airplane, dreaming (especially lucid dreaming) can lead to the learning of movements by the physical organism in the real (waking) world. Because of the close connection between sensory and motor processes, we speak of sensory-motor learning...

Given that the world is experienced as real in lucid dreaming...lucid dream training is more effective than various forms of so-called mental training during which the athlete performs movements in a world that is perceived as existing only in the imagination).""

Lucid dreaming is powerful because the dreamer can "intentionally call forth experiences which "contradict the routine, daily experiences and the physical laws of nature," thus offering a "broader range of learning possibilities than a technology-based simulator." Furthermore there are "improvements in motor-related performance [from] one dream to the next".

In the second paper quoted below in the first footnote, Tholey offers seven thesis about how lucid dreaming works:

  1. Sensory-motor skills ("SMS") already mastered in rough outlines, can be refined.

  2. New SMS can be learned.

  3. SMS can be perfected by test runs.

  4. Flexibility of reactions can be improved by varying body movements.

  5. Mental movements can be made to render SM learning easier.

  6. There will be better organization of the "total phenomenal field" (i.e., the skier grows together with her skis) for greater fluidity and control; the horse rider has more empathy and trust in his horse and they work together; time can be slowed down for more effective practicing; dreamer can focus on what is coming (i.e. the next slalom) not on what is happening at the moment; and ego can recede into the background.)

  7. There can be lesser constraints of the personality and more focus on the situation without constraint, all leading to a greater sense of creative freedom that can carry over to real life.

I now understand what can happen inside a dream to improve technique -- but how does one get that improvement outside the dream and into real life? Charles Morley says that training while in the LD state creates neural pathways that carry over into the waking state "because, as we've learned, our neurological system doesn't differentiate between lucid dream and waking experiences." Craig Sim Webb seems to agree because in Appendix 1 to his book, he says that sometimes the dream "percolates into waking thought and we unknowingly respond and make changes in our life."

Apparently it is naturally occurring without more? I'd surely like a bit more assurance than that regarding achieving beneficial effects of lucid dreaming as to any matter!

I surmise that I shall have to be happy right now with a lot of positive anecdotal evidence in studies from the sports world, then continue to hope that it will be so for me one day if I keep trying to learn how to readily lucid dream.


*These papers are readily accessible via an online search: "Overview of the Development of Lucid Dream Research in Germany, Lucidity Letter, Dec 1989, Vol. 8, No. 2, and his "Applications of Lucid Dreaming in Sports" in Lucidity Letter, Dec. 1990, Vol. 9, No. 2.

**Conversation Between Stephen LaBerge and Paul Tholey in July of 1989 in Lucidity Letter, 1991, Vol. 10, No. 1 & 2


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