My friend Peter Gibson told me that if you are happy you are not supposed to want to sleep too much: you want to be awake to enjoy as much of your happy life as possible.
But, I told Peter, I am often really happy in my sleep. Actively happy. Laughingly, joyously happy. My dream states are positive cognitive experiences – a good part of my life – and I need to be asleep to experience them. So going to sleep for me does not mean I am only leaving a happy place: the waking place. It can also mean that I am going to another happy place: the dream place.
I think this is because fairly regularly I have what are called ‘lucid dreams’. I have not researched this topic for a while but I believe lucid dreams are mental states that are characterised as being somehow between waking and dreaming. In these states one has some kind of control over one’s dream state. As I recall, they are almost always positive. Indeed, so positive are they that, last time I looked, there were whole communities setting up to try to learn how to dream lucidly so that they can experience this bliss.
I have never gotten involved in such a project, but frequently I laugh in my sleep and often wake up laughing. Also I often solve real problems, sometimes ones that have been important to me – though I have been poor at recording this and so cannot offer any evidence, which is a shame.
All this has come to mind today because I had what I think is a lucid dream last night.
It started with the usual dream madness. I was in an old pub, with high ceilings, watching some crap TV being projected through a beautiful ornate mirror. Then I queued at the buffet with a bunch of UCL people wearing funky clothes: cerise shirts, lemon coloured suits etc. There was a nice vibe. Someone mentioned that there had been a film of the life of Yves St Laurent released, but the film was centred around the fact that he was short-sighted and interested in glasses.
‘There must be a gag in here’, I thought. So in the dream I directed my thoughts towards trying to find the gag (I think this is what makes it a lucid dream: some other part of a more ‘conscious’ brain was definitely in control of this process). Well, after just a little searching in the dream I came up with this:
‘You’ve heard of the biopic, well this new movie about Yves St Laurent is the first myopic’.
I didn’t burst out laughing in the dream as I sometimes do, but there was a good feeling that it was a decent gag.
The dream then continued. I was on a bus/coach with a girlfriend telling her the joke and how I came to be thinking about it (the pub, UCL etc). The bus was filled with light and it was a beautiful day and the bus driver was listening in to my story. When I got to the punchline he turned around and smiled. He had an intelligent face. He said, ‘let’s see what other movie titles of biopics we can make up like that’. At that point in the dream I felt ‘nah, done that’. And then I woke up.
Now, this is hardly a proof of the Goldbach conjecture or a solution to the financial crisis (!), but it is a half-decent gag and one that I think I would have been happy to come up with when I was awake. The fact that it happened when I was asleep also seemed to confer on me a much more positive feeling than I would have had if I were awake – I mean the quality of the two feelings is different, the waking one being less agreeable than the sleeping one, as a subjective experience.
Sadly, I have fewer such dreams these days and they are less intense than when I was younger, but they are still wonderful experiences pervaded with a sense of well-being, fulfilment, even joy and ecstasy – though you need more than a good gag to reap that last reward!
Does anyone else have lucid dreams they would be willing to talk about?