In the first of this series of interviews with inspiring lucid dreamers, award-winning author Renee Frances shares her path into lucid dreaming and the story of how her daughter’s nightmares led her to write a children’s book on the transformational power of lucid dreaming.
Renee Frances: My most transformational lucid dream to date is also my first lucid dream, which I remember very vividly. As a first-year college student in a Psychology 101 course, I was studying the chapter about states of consciousness, sleep, and dreams. The professor suggested that we attempt to become aware of ourselves while in a state of dreaming. I decided to accept the challenge.
I recall ‘waking up’ on a beach and hearing the characteristic sounds: waves breaking, seagulls calling, tall grasses rustling. The sounds were alarmingly vivid and crisp, so much so that I believe they were the things that alerted me to the dream-state I was experiencing.
Without doing a reality check, I began to explore my surroundings slowly and methodically. I recall turning my attention to the sand underneath my feet. I knelt down to take a handful of sand and noted that I could practically sense every grain as it touched my skin, that the experience of letting it fall through my fingers left me feeling somehow connected with each particle as it fell from my hand and returned to its place on the earth. It occurred to me in that moment, and on a very deep level, that we ARE in fact connected with everything that we come into contact with. There is no real separation, just complete oneness.
While in my lucid dream state, every sense that I had made me aware that the bodies that encapsulate us are mere tools, which unfortunately, we often use to separate ourselves from one another and the environment around us rather than using them to learn how to become more connected. I could tolerate this experience of profound understanding only for a few moments, and although I longed to stay ‘present’, I knew that it was more than I could bear and I woke up feeling emotionally bewildered, but also very refreshed and rejuvenated.
I have continued to long for another experience (in wakefulness or in a dream state) as ‘lucid’ – or enlightened – as this one.
Renee Frances: Born completely dependent, children have very little control over their waking world. They must rely on adults for their basic necessities, daily schedules, and to help them make sense of their experiences. Unfortunately, when children suffer with nightmares the adults in their lives – all too often – have very little useful advice to offer; the meager (invalidating) comfort they receive might be, “It was just a dream.” Or: “Try to forget about it.” When my daughter, Olivia, began to experience nightmares at about the age of three, my initial reaction was, admittedly, similarly inept: “You’re safe now, sweetheart; try to go back to sleep.” As Via continued to struggle with the anxiety caused by her frequent, recurring nightmares, I knew that she needed more from me.
Lucid dreaming, conscious awareness while one is dreaming, allows the dreamer the opportunity to actively participate in his dream world without the many restrictions that the waking world imposes. This fact is extremely empowering, particularly for children, who are – by nature – relatively small, weak, and vulnerable in their waking lives.
Renee Frances: Late one night, when I went into her room to check on my daughter, Olivia, who was only four years old at the time. I found that she was still awake and moving her hands and feet back-and-forth, rhythmically. I asked if she was cold, but she replied, “No, mommy. I’m trying to stay awake. If I don’t sleep, I won’t have a bad dream.” The depth of her distress and anxiety over her recurring nightmares was brought to my full awareness at that moment. Her comment also made me realize that the fear of her nightmares were on the verge of affecting her physical and mental health by keeping her awake at night.
I had to help her find a real solution to this problem. This was when I suggested the idea of lucid dreaming to her. I knew that, at the very least, the concept would help her feel empowered against her fears and – most likely – help to diffuse her nightmares. The mind is an infinitely powerful and truly miraculous thing. Although I don’t consider myself an expert lucid dreamer, I have experienced the phenomenon occasionally and I know that it is an ability that can be learned and perfected.
By introducing Olivia to the concept of lucid dreaming, I knew that I was empowering her, immediately, to overcome her nightmares; I also knew that as she grows in, with, and through her lucid dreaming world, she will become equipped with skills and experiences that will translate into self-awareness, self-confidence, and creativity in her waking world as well.
Renee Frances: As a parent and teacher, I am constantly in awe of how quickly children can embrace a new concept, perfect a skill, and take it to the next level. When I suggested to Olivia that she has control in her dreams, I saw a shift in her. I explained that the dreams are not happening TO her, but rather are happening WITHIN her [mind]. I suggested that because she is the one who makes her ‘nightmare bear’ 10 feet tall, she could also shrink him down to become a tiny teddy bear.
In the nights that have followed our initial conversation, I have seen that Via is much more relaxed during her bed-time routine and she drifts off to sleep quite easily. In the conversations that have followed that initial night, she’s told me that she feels much more at ease knowing that she has the power to make the bear go away when she wants him to. Although I have recommended that she try asking the bear why he’s chasing her or why he seems to want to eat her, she says that she’s not comfortable enough to do that yet. I am confident this will come in time.
That reminds me of my own daughter not wanting to make friends with a scary dream tiger when she was three. She much preferred the other options I gave her, such as asking for help, turning the tiger into something nicer, flying away, or waking up. Since that time she has become adept at making friends with dream witches and other initially frightening dream beings. It’s good to give children an array of options and see which they feel most comfortable with at that point in their development. What practical advice would you give to a parent who wants to learn how to work with their child’s dreams?
Renee Frances: The most important thing for each of us to realize is that our dreams are infinitely more valuable than most of us can appreciate. To help the next generation begin to cultivate their bounty, I highly recommend that parents begin by simply talking with their children about their dreams! Having a conversation about the previous night’s ‘adventures’ is one of the nicest ways to connect with our kids and find out about what’s going on in their minds. Over breakfast, you can share your own dreams and talk about what might have been on your mind to cause you to dream about that person, or that situation. This kind of discussion lets your children know that their dreams are real, that they are important, and that you care about them.
A fantastic way to open the ‘dream discussion’ is to have a copy of my beautifully illustrated picture book, The Good Night Fairy Helps Via Change Her Dream on hand. Each of the books in my Good Night Fairy book series is written with a soothing cadence and rhyme scheme that children love. My most recent book is an empowering tale of a girl who overcomes her nightmare with the help of the Good Night Fairy, REMy, and her friends, Alpha, Beta, Theta, and Delta – each of whom possess talents characteristic of the brainwaves after which they are named.
Complete with a child-friendly ‘how-to’ guide for lucid dreaming, The Good Night Fairy Helps Via Change Her Dream makes for a perfect way to end the day and can help start a conversation with your little one about how they can actively participate in their own dream world.
It sounds wonderful. I have many illuminating conversations with my five-year-old about lucid dreaming. Is it the same for you?
Renee Frances: By working together to become lucid dreamers, both of my young daughters and I have had many enlightening conversations; sometimes we brainstorm problem-solving strategies for their most recent ‘bad dreams’, sometimes we discuss ways to remain calm and focused to get the most out of each dream experience, sometimes I gain a deeper understanding of my daughters and the goings-on in their worlds. I am glad to report that neither of my young ladies is anxious about falling asleep, nor are they fearful of having nightmares. In fact, they are confident that they can deal with any situation in which they find themselves.