It’s easy to see why lucid dreaming can become wildly appealing to someone in crisis. It’s a state in which it’s possible to: speak with lost or estranged loved ones, heal ourselves emotionally and physically, do whatever we want unconstrained by physical laws and social norms, or face down our greatest fears in a safe environment. Antidotes for many strains of human suffering can be found in lucid dreams. When going through hard times, an experienced lucid dreamer can adjust their practice to address whatever issues they are currently facing. Lucid dreams can even assist us in determining what those issues are if this is not clear.
What about someone in crisis who isn’t a very experienced lucid dreamer, or someone who has come across lucid dreaming for the first time as a potential way to work through their suffering? Can hard times be good times to learn lucid dreaming? In most cases, I think they can be. Just keep in mind that there are some obvious, but important, exceptions, as well as some snags that can loom larger during periods of above-average stress or sorrow.
Before anything else, if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts seek professional help immediately. There’s no shame in letting professionals work with us to gain a healthier perspective on our lives and sorrows. Seriously, if this is what you’re dealing with, look into help now. If you are having trouble distinguishing reality from constructions of your imagination then, again, professional help needs to come first. If this is something you have struggled with, any experimentations with lucid dreaming should only be attempted after being cleared with a mental health professional.
Apart from those particular situations, developing a lucid dreaming practice in response to hard times is often a far better alternative to hitting the bottle or getting stoned regularly. It may seem like escapism to pay so much attention to dreams (literal figments of our imaginations), but I would argue otherwise. Having lucid dreams requires a familiarity with our minds, especially our habits of perception. Learning how to lucid dream cultivates a familiarity with who we are and how we work at some very basic levels. This kind of inner work is the opposite of escapism; we end up getting reacquainted with ourselves.
It can also be incredibly empowering to know that there is a learnable skill that offers the possibility of relating to grief, sorrow, and anger in more fruitful and creative ways. This was the main appeal of lucid dreaming for me when I started: that I didn’t have to sit around and be a victim of my own sadness, there were steps I could take to improve my own inner experience. I became driven to make the positive changes to my life and shifts in attitude necessary to be a proficient lucid dreamer because of the potential to confront and untangle my dissatisfactions at a very deep level.
Strong motivation is good, because developing the capacity to become aware in our dreams can require a lot: patience, dedication, some background knowledge, and the right attitude. All of this hard work can seem like an insurmountable barrier when all we are looking for is some closure, but think about how important that list of qualities is in every aspect of life. Putting the work in and cultivating these qualities within ourselves often starts the healing process before we have even a single lucid dream. In Exploring The World of Lucid Dreaming, Stephen LaBerge defines health as “a condition of adaptive responsiveness to the challenges of life.” Simply cultivating greater awareness and performing reality checks with lucid dreaming in mind on a regular basis can greatly expand our capacity for adaptive response well before the lucid dreams start flowing.
Just be wary of these potential sandtraps when trying to have lucid dreams during life’s rough patches:
Relax, Your Future Happiness Is Not Entirely Dependent On You Getting Lucid Tonight
The potential pitfall of taking lucid dreaming seriously as a tool for overcoming difficulties in our lives is putting way too much pressure on ourselves to pull it off. Too much pressure when we’re in bed, and we’ll be lucky to fall asleep at all. If we do somehow manage to sleep and dream under that kind of pressure, a tidal wave of disappointment awaits in the morning if the dreams don’t go exactly as planned. Take it from someone who has been through the insomnia and the mopey mornings, neither are productive.
With a healthier attitude, the potential disappointments of not getting lucid, or getting lucid but the dream not going according to plan will not overshadow the potential for immense healing through lucid dreaming. There is a saying that I like, commonly attributed to Zen monk Suzuki Roshi:
“Enlightenment is an accident. Spiritual Practice simply makes us accident prone.”
While there are plenty of stories to be found of people who heal themselves of something after just one relevant lucid dream, it’s going to take more than that in some cases. It’s best to think of healing lucid dreams as happy accidents, and all the work we put into having them as the process of making ourselves accident prone. Putting work into your lucid dreaming practice is never a waste of time, but there are no guarantees as to when you finally trip over the exposed root of your own wisdom. There comes a point every night where the best thing to do is to let it all go and fall asleep.
What Are We Really Trying to Accomplish Through Our Lucid Dreams?
It could be that some people have the kinds of healing dreams they are incubating more quickly than others because they begin with a clearer understanding of their underlying issue. Let’s say I’m hurt and embarrassed because I just lost a job I enjoyed. Incubating lucid dreams where I can work to uncover the underlying reasons for my job loss, or work through my feelings towards it is more likely to be fruitful than trying to have a lucid dream that shows me exactly what I need to do to get my job back. That latter may be possible and worth trying in some rare cases, but would likely be dependent on both your conscious and unconscious minds being in agreement that you truly need that job back.
Disharmony between the conscious and unconscious mind on the major issues of our lives is not uncommon. Bringing them into harmony is often the exact kind of healing we need. For example, let’s say I was dismissed from this job unfairly. On a conscious level, I could want the job back because of my comfort with it, its familiarity, and the material security it brought. However, on an unconscious level, I may recognize how poorly I was treated and have serious doubts about my ability to be content working for those same people again.
It is hard to imagine my unconscious mind constructing my dreams in ways that will encourage me to get my job back under these circumstances. That deeper part of me feels strongly that getting the job back isn’t what I need. What would be possible though, are dreams on this subject that unfold in ways that reveals to me how much better off I am moving on. They could even provide ideas for a future career. Dreams along these lines could facilitate greater harmony between my conscious and unconscious mind, whether they’re lucid or not.