Lucid Sight Dreaming

I had two lucid dreams this morning. The last lucid dream I had before that was less than a month ago. A year before that I had another. And my first one, more than a year before that. I like to think that the process is accelerating, that this reflects some underlying spiritual or psychological growth that is just beginning to manifest itself in the form of these dreams.


Lucid dreams are those dreams where you realize that you are dreaming, and "wake up" within the world of the dream. Often this means that you can then control the dream, or at least influence the course of it. I've never had much success with trying to control my dreams, though. It's something that takes a lighter touch - you make something happen by expecting it do so, not by concentrating really hard and commanding it to happen - and I've had little opportunity to practice such controlled expectations in my dreams so far.

However, there is one thing that I have experienced in every lucid dream I've had. That is, a particular clarity and sharpness to the visual details of the dream world. Everything looks so much more real when I'm lucid, much more than the vague and muddled state of my ordinary dreaming. And the more lucid I am, the more calm and aware I am in my mental state, the more my sight improves. It's like putting on glasses.

To illustrate, I'll tell the story of my lucid dream last month:

This morning I had a lucid dream after going back to sleep. It was my longest and most calm lucid segment yet. I was telling someone that I was dreaming, then decided to try to become lucid and started writing on a piece of paper, "I am dreaming." I saw the letters change as I read them, as they do in dreams, and continued to write on the paper and watch how my writing changed. Then I walked around, and I found that the level of my lucidity would correspond to the brightness of the space around me. I would start to lose it in dark areas, then become more aware again in bright areas with their windows open to the light and visual details outside.

That's it. The dream was notable in not feeling rushed or frantic at all. I was able to maintain my lucidity for a long time, relatively, with a calm and open mental state. It was like my mind was a net, holding everything together, and I was able to keep it from collapsing without much effort as long as I stayed in the light.

The key here was the light, and the visual details that went with it. But it wasn't until my dreams this morning that I realized the significance of this factor.

I had a lucid dream. It started when I went outside to the backyard, in my dream. The openness and brightness and visual detail opened my eyes, and I became lucid. I collected my mind and did some breathing checks to confirm that I was dreaming - I found I could still breathe, even while pinching my nose shut. However, it must not have lasted too long, since I can't remember what I did after that other than walk around in the grass.

I had another lucid dream. I fell asleep again after writing about the first one, and dreamt that I came across some of the guys from Novel that I used to work with after graduating. I started walking along with them, near the university, and some others were with us too, talking about balance issues with the new MMO they are working on. There were a lot of students around, walking, too, on the sidewalks and street.

And then I opened my eyes and became lucid. Again, everything sharpened, the visual details popped out, and I realized I was in a dream.

But I found that I couldn't control the dream. I couldn't even walk anymore. When I tried to move my feet in the dream, focusing in on the feel of them pressing against the ground, I just felt my own feet in my bed, faintly but stronger and stronger the more I tried. And I realized it must be after 9am, and I must have fallen asleep again accidentally after writing in my notebook. So I allowed myself to come into my own body fully and woke up.

The interesting thing about these dreams is that they seemed to happen spontaneously, triggered not by some dream check or verbal reminder but just by the act of opening my eyes.

But with the experience of these last few lucid dreams so fresh in my memory now, I have realized that there is a particular trigger behind the lucidity I experienced, and that it is actually much easier to practice than a more conventional check like pinching my nose and trying to breathe.

What came first, the lucidity or the enhanced sight? Neither. It was the act of looking, wide-eyed, out and up, in awe, holding my entire visual field in perception, like this, that did it. The lucidity and the visual detail came together, in response.

Stepping outside in my first dream this morning triggered this act of looking. Looking outside, into the light, strengthened it in my dream from last month. And somehow, looking out at all the people, walking in sunlight, triggered it in my second dream this morning.

What this experience has told me is that the way to inspire more lucid dreams in the future is to practice this "wide-eyed" mental state often in daily waking life, rather than obsessively doing weird dream checks throughout the day that I can never seem to remember while asleep.

Because this state of mind - as well as the correspondingly muddled state of non-lucid dreaming - is one I recognize from my waking life as well. It's the same in both waking and dreaming, and I know it well. Having experienced the contrast so recently and often, relatively, I am now able to see this.

Just look up, open your eyes, let the details emerge, and become lucid. Not a bad habit to have, even while awake. Especially while awake.


Yugen and Games

"As the taillights of that last ride grow small and wink out, the horizon gathers itself to your singular perspective. There is no grandeur to bait expectation, no promise to invite distraction, only the quiet of ditch and litter and grass and self; without preconceptions you begin to see your place in a different way, from the ground up. You warm to how consummate this place is in its becoming: the perfect pattern of stones along the shoulder; the fast food wrappers, their logos clinging just so to the sage; there at long rest in the shadows, that old trilobite of the highway, the fallen muffler. And so you become consummate yourself; instead of a face lost in an embarrassed crowd, you become unique and necessary to that moment, your perspective creating, for better or worse, this one place in the world. It is a time to whistle."

That was a quote by John Landretti, from his essay "On Waste Lonely Places" in the book The Future of Nature. I had written it down by hand in my notebook close to a year ago; looking back through my notes of the past year in reflection, I found it again and decided to share it.

It reminded me of this blog post, which I had just come across earlier this week. The author describes playing the small art game The Graveyard, then the bigger and decidedly-non-art game GTA IV, and how both of these games created in him an experience he called yugen, "the sudden perception of something mysterious and strange, hinting at an unknown never to be discovered."

Playing it, I found an odd thing. I found my head starting to clear. It wasn’t so much that I was sensing the emptiness around me - rather I was the emptiness. My thoughts were coming and going on their own - frothing up then melting away again - and slowly the oceans of my mind began to fall calm.

There was nothing mystical or arcane about it, merely an experience of being right here, right now. It was very ordinary.

To me it sounds like the experience of meditation, or at least the kind of meditation that I am familiar with.

And it sounds like a fruitful area of experience for notgames to explore, since this is something you are left with when you strip the "game" from "games", letting only the interaction and immersion remain.

The feeling of yugen hovers in the background of many games - filling me with the desire to explore those green hills behind Super Mario World’s flat levels, say - but it usually only breaks through fully when the mechanics of narrative and threat have been removed. My mind can’t empty in Another World - despite the barren, evocative landscapes - because it is so focused on avoiding death and finding a way home. It is when the designers take a step back from filling our time with obstacles and rewards, and allow us just to experience the realms they have created, that the subtler emotions like yugen are given room to manifest.

Still, I think there is something missing, something that we will have to identify before we can really make compelling yugen-ish experiences that are not games. When you strip the distracting goals and challenges from conventional games, what you get is rarely worth writing blog posts about. If nothing else, such "gamification" is good at getting people to care about what goes on in a virtual world, and the other ways of creating engagement and involvement with a story and characters common in movies and books and such tend to be more difficult in interactive media. But I think we just don't know enough.

I suspect that there are ways to direct this experience more subtly, still from a game designer's perspective, but not so heavy-handed with goals or points or typical game-y things. More toward Knytt, perhaps, but further. Much further.

I don't know. I guess I'll just have to try it sometime.

Happy New Year.

"Offering your attention to a waste place is like finding a book in a library, a book nobody reads. Or perhaps a book harboring a single due date, one purple smudge thirty years old. And there it is in your hand by the effortless design of coincidence. You look over its pages and before is effort and presence; whether the contents have appeal is another matter, but the book does exist and is open before you, full of its telling. And so it is with these shelves and sheaves of world that daily surround us: every rock, blade, and bottle, every leaf, an invitation to an understanding."

- John Landretti, "On Waste Lonely Places", The Future of Nature