How can waking up in a dream help a person to heal? It can be hard to grasp the ways in which lucid dreaming can be healing if we consider dreams to be ‘unreal’.
But on an experiential level, dreams are real!
Research has shown that the memories we bring back from vivid lucid dreams form part of our long-term memory. A lucid dream is real in the sense of being a consciously lived experience that we recall just as we recall waking life experiences. This means that if we work on a psychological block in a lucid dream, and dissolve the block, we are likely to notice the benefits of this in our waking life.
The healing potential of lucid dreaming
Since in dreams we reach deeply into the symbolic, primal unconscious, any change we effect on that level is likely to be transformative. Sometimes it seems that a few instants of lucidity can have the same effect as many sessions of psychotherapy in waking life.
One young woman who was quite fearful was plagued by nightmares of threatening men. German lucid dream researcher Paul Tholey advised her to become lucid in the next bad dream and ask the dream figures what they wanted. When a giant, blue-faced man with glowing eyes came after her in a dream, she got lucid, squared up to him and asked him what he wanted from her:
The man looked at me, and his eyes grew sad and his gaze grew helpless, and he said: ‘Why? You ordered us to come. You need us for your fear.’ And then the man shrank to a normal size, his face grew normal, and his eyes didn’t glow any more…
After this dream, the young woman felt freed. The nightmares never returned and she reported feeling less fearful in waking life. People with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) have found lucid dream therapy helpful, and phobias can be worked on in lucid dreams in similar ways to methods used in exposure therapy and hypnotherapy.
There are also reports of physical healing in lucid dreams. Dreams can have noticeable physical effects on the body: Brain imaging experiments have shown that the areas of the brain that light up during dreaming are relevant to dream content: if you dream of clenching your fist, the same part of the brain is activated as when you clench your fist while awake. Anyone who wakes drenched in sweat with a hammering heart after a nightmare has felt the way that emotions and events experienced in the dream world affect the body.
The growing mind-body literature reflects an interest in possible unconscious causes of illness and the possibility of self-healing through meditation, positive thinking, and working with unconscious imagery. Ailments people claim to have healed or dramatically improved in lucid dreams range from burns and fibroid tumours to sprained limbs. Reports of successfully healing others in lucid dreams raise further questions about the nature of the mind and can be explored in the context of scientific studies which indicate that compassionate, loving intent can physically affect other people.
When we wake up inside a dream we’re in direct, conscious contact with the deepest part of ourselves. Why not take advantage of this unusual connection to work towards healing?