Can lucid dreaming help people who are dying? Or those who have been bereaved?
What can lucid dreaming teach us about death?
The connection between lucid dreaming and death is nothing new: over a thousand years ago, Tibetan Buddhists developed an entire science around how to wake up in dreams to prepare for death, believing that if lucid dreaming was developed enough, people could remain conscious at the moment of death and maintain awareness right through the transitional processes beyond death and into the next life.
But what about people who are dying? Is it too late for them to benefit from lucid dreaming?
When we (or our body) know we are going to die soon, dreams reflect this knowledge and all the fears and assumptions that go along with it. When people are approaching death they tend to report dreams which seem to be preparing them to die. These dreams are often culture-specific and religion-specific: a Christian might dream of angels, for example, but more general dreams are also reported, such as those of being bodiless or floating in white light. Other dreams are not so reassuring – nightmares or hellish visions can reflect a fear of death or the desperation to stay with loved ones.
These lucid dreams teach me how to die.
– Aiha Zemp to her Zen meditation teacher.
Lucid dreamers can employ the dream state to discover more about dying, by exploring fears and taboos about death, asking the dream what will happen when they die, learning to say goodbye and release past grievances, and seeking to discover how to comfort the people they’ll leave behind.
Practising lucid dreaming before we die could help to make the dying experience better as we work to release our fear of death and prepare to leave our life, family and friends behind.
Lucid Dreaming in the Dying Process
- Lucid dreaming gives us clarity about our emotions and fears. When facing death, we can transform emotions and resolve deep-seated fears by working with dream imagery while lucid. The same works for those whose loved one is dying or dead.
- What I’ve termed ‘Bodiless Lucid Experiences’ (BLE) take place in deep lucid dreaming. These experiences can help people to feel more serene about what death may hold. For many, floating lucidly in dream space tends to result in the feeling that consciousness can exist independently of the physical body, and a more positive outlook on death.
- Lucid dreaming can act as a kind of inner therapy, and unresolved life issues can be worked through by engaging consciously with dream figures, asking the dream questions, and enabling healing and transformation within the dream state. This could help the dying to release some of their ‘baggage’ and reconcile themselves with their life choices, so allowing them to die in peace.
Lucid Dreaming and Bereavement
But is it always a good idea to seek this contact?
Grief is a very complex state. It usually goes beyond simply missing a loved one and wishing they were still alive. Grief can be all mixed up with guilt, shame and anger, particularly after a suicide or a fatal accident. If such negative emotions seem uncontrollably high, it is a wise idea to seek the help of a bereavement counsellor to calm and integrate these emotions. Coming face to face with them in a dream, lucid or otherwise, can be a shocking experience. Of course, nonlucid and lucid dreams occur spontaneously, so we may not have any choice but to face our violent emotions in the dream state, and for this reason it’s good to learn how to respond to nightmares – see also my articles on this website on trauma and reacting to dream figures.
When grief is ‘simple’ in the sense of pure love and loss, dreaming of a deceased loved one can be remarkably healing. Simply holding that person in your arms again and looking into their eyes, being enveloped in their scent and talking with them in a dream can feel so utterly real. This brings deep solace to many people who feel that they can accept the death more easily having had the chance to say goodbye in a (lucid) dream.
Near Death Experiences (NDE)
There seems to be an experiential link between lucid dreaming and the experiences people report when they have been pronounced clinically dead. Dr Penny Sartori’s research into near death experiences involved the study of people who had died of cardiac arrest, so they had no brain function or heartbeat. A proportion of these people who were resuscitated reported incredibly detailed experiences of floating through tunnels, being greeted by deceased loved ones, and in some cases either being told to ‘go back’ or deciding for themselves that they were not yet ready to die.
Although the vast majority of NDEs seem highly positive, leaving people with a deep certainty that life continues after death, a few people have reported near death experiences involving negative scenarios: images of Hell, for example.
My question is: if these people had practised lucid dreaming beforehand, might they have been able to transform their negative NDE into something more positive? How similar are NDEs and lucid dreams? Clearly they do not occur in the same physiological state, but Bodiless Lucid Experiences involve the sense of self dissolving, and regular lucid dreams can involve similar scenarios to those experienced in NDEs.
I was so curious that I met up with Dr Sartori. We talked about NDEs and lucid dreaming, sharing our thoughts and experiences. We did this on camera and I’ll put up the video when it’s ready.
There’s still such a lot to learn about these deep states, and lucid dreaming could be a key to discovering more.