Illuminating Insights from
D'Urso, Beverly (Kedzierski Heart)
Copyright (c) 2004
Panel at the Association for the Study of Dreams (ASD) Conference
2004, Copenhagen, June, 2004.
WHAT IS LUCID DREAMING
I will begin with some background on lucid dreaming. As you probably
know, lucid dreaming is when you are asleep and aware, at some level,
that you are dreaming.
We typically call you the dreamer and say you are lucid. The
dreamer can also be thought of as your physical body’s mind,
although I would not say that my “mind” is contained in my
I remember having had lucid dreams since I was seven years old and I
faced up to scary witches in a recurring nightmare. I will discuss this
dream briefly, in a moment. You can see my web site:
durso.org for a detailed description of this dream
and a list of places that it has been published.
Starting in the late 1970’s, I helped do research on lucid dreaming at
the Stanford Sleep Laboratory. I was able to signal from the dream to
the physical lab while being definitely asleep and dreaming. I
also led workshops and taught others how to have lucid dreams, and I
have given presentations on the topic at ASD conferences for almost 20
I have remembered, on average, six dreams per night, for most my of
life. I’d say that between 2 and 20 dreams per week were lucid, to
various degrees. So, I’d estimate that I have had over 20,000
lucid sleeping dreams in my life so far.
My dreams usually seem like what we call waking physical reality
until I become lucid, although I often know that I am dreaming
from the start of the dream. Sometimes my non-lucid dreams are very
bizarre and yet I ignore this sign of being in a dream and I
rationalize the experience.
CHARACTERISTICS OF LUCID DREAMING
Some people never remember their dreams, some remember them after they
have been awake for a while, and some remember them just after or
before they awaken. Lucid dreamers remember they dream while the
dream takes place.
They do not necessarily analyze the dream, or look for symbols, but
directly and consciously experience the dream, shortening the time it
takes to realize they dream.
To me, lucid dreaming does not mean merely “visualizing” or
“daydreaming”. It is also not just “clear” dreaming, or even
“controlled” dreaming, necessarily, if you were not aware that
you were in a dream at the time.
Also, I personally believe in levels of lucidity, on a spectrum. I do
not see lucid dreaming and non-lucid dreaming as binary states. In
other words, one is not just lucid or non-lucid.
I would say I am partially lucid, if I just remember to question if I
I’d call myself definitely lucid, if I know I am dreaming for
I consider myself very lucid, if I can control or change things in the
dream, not that I always do.
Finally, when I am most lucid, I often do not experience a body,
but more of a black void, where I have powerful, spiritual-like
Keep in mind that frequent lucid dreamers may be not very lucid in
their dreams, while occasional lucid dreamers may have a high degree of
Non-lucid dreamers also vary quite a bit. Some have tried to get lucid
and couldn’t. Others never heard of lucid dreaming so they don’t know
if they could do it. Some really want to have lucid dreams and make it
a struggle. Others just don’t care about becoming lucid.
I don’t feel that lucid dreaming really takes effort, and instead I
feel that motivation is the key. One must not assume that lucid
dreaming is difficult.
People may not succeed in becoming lucid because, for example, they
don’t start with simple enough tasks to perform. They feel that control
is so essential that they try to, for example, locate a departed loved
one before they even try to do something normal and merely remain lucid
in their dream.
CONTROL VERSUS SURRENDER
In my lucid dreams, I feel free to go wherever my imagination takes me,
and I take care to balance spontaneity and control.
Notice that you can be lucid without any kind of control taking
place. Being able to control your own reactions or the action,
characters, or environment in your dreams can be an indicator of how
lucid you are, but you can still be lucid without control. However, at
times, it helps to take control of the action in the dream, for
example, when you want to carry out goals.
I have learned that often it is best to surrender to the lucid dream.
In this case, I still have control, but of my own reactions and not of
what happens to me. I am not automatically fearful, for example, when
something scary happens.
I only need to remain conscious that I am in a dream. This allows me to
have less fear, to see more possibilities, and to see myself as one
with the whole dream environment. With lucidity, I have more choices.
In other words, I don’t need to change a monster. I can look it in the
eye without fear and find out what it wants.
Although I focus on awareness rather than control in my lucid dreams, I
do not call my lucid dreaming witnessing. I feel that I can be fully in
the dream yet not of it, meaning that I know while dreaming that my
part of my self can be found outside of the dimension of the dream.
To me witnessing would be like watching a movie or a play. Being in a
dream is like being in the play. Being in a lucid dream is like being
in a play in perfect character, having all the character’s feelings and
consequences, while still knowing that you are essentially the actor,
and possibly the producer and director as well.
With lucid dreaming, I feel that it is important that you know you're
taking on the roll of a dream character in your dream. This dream
character seems to exist in another dimension from your physical body,
albeit a three-dimensional world that may seem real, while you,
the dreamer, are safe in bed.
One dream character often looks and acts like you, but it may not. We
sometimes call this our dream body or dream self. You may have
other dream characters that look like someone you know or someone that
you don't know.
When lucid, you realize that your dream body is not in physical
reality, but in your physical self’s mind. When you wake up, you change
dimensions or perspectives.
When I am in a lucid dream, the dream character that I incorporate
sometimes tells other dream characters that they are in a dream. Other
times they might be the ones to tell my character.
When I am very lucid, either all the dream characters I find know that
they are in a dream, or there are no characters at all. I
consider myself not completely lucid when there are any other
characters in my dream that don't believe they are in a dream.
Because I see the dream as being created by the mind, I also know that
anything I, the dreamer, can imagine can happen.
By believing that everyone and everything around me in the dream,
including my dream self and other dream characters, exists in the mind,
I also experience everyone as “one”, or “made of the same substance”
and all “parts of a whole.”
If you remember any dreams, perhaps you have been fooled by a dream
that seemed real while it was happening. You may have even said,
“This can’t be a dream, it's too real.” Maybe you notice that you
can't fly as you may have been able to do in dreams. However, if at one
point you wake up, you would then realize that you had been fooled and
it really was a dream.
Remember, lucid dreamers are the ones who know that the dream is not a
solid physical reality, which is precisely what non-lucid dreamers
usually assume because they are not lucid.
We can say, then, that you can not be absolutely certain that you are
not dreaming at any time, because as in the case where you were fooled,
you may just not be lucid enough to question or notice that you might
be dreaming until you wake up. Even then, you may not even
remember that you have a dreamed.
CONNECTING TO THE DREAMER
Another way to describe lucidity is to say that your dream character’s
mind connects with the mind of the dreamer. We can also say that the
mind of the dream character has expanded. The dream character can now
remember and act upon the goals, memory, and thoughts of the dreamer.
For example, the dream character can remember goals that you, the
dreamer, may have set up to do in the dream before you went to
sleep. The dream character and the dreamer can then co-create the
dream, although the dreamer may still have intentions that the dream
character is not aware of, even in lucidity.
As a lucid dream character, I do not detach myself from the dream
environment, but rather I see myself as equivalent to the environment
and more. Also, detaching from the dreamer would be similar to
forgetting that I am, at some level, creating the dream scene. I would
then lose some level of lucidity.
To summarize, in a lucid dream I am more present than in a non-lucid
dream, bringing my whole self into the experience. I know that I am
more than my dream body and that the source of myself is outside of the
dream or inside the dreamer.
In this talk, I want to focus on surrendering to the lucid dream plus
facing and totally experiencing one's emotions, for example "letting go
of fear." I believe that these are the most valuable lessons that
lucid dreaming has taught me. I will also describe scenarios that led
me to my current work called lucid living.
I presented a workshop on lucid living at ASD97 in Asheville and I will
highlight it at the end of this presentation. Tomorrow, I will present
at a symposium called lucid dreaming, lucid living at 1:15pm in room
Here is my story. I grew up in a small suburb of Chicago, the only
child of a lower-middle class family. I was very close to my parents.
When I was about five years old, my alcoholic grandfather came to live
with us. It was around this time that I remember having a series of
recurring "witch" nightmares.
Perhaps the witches represented my grandfather. However, I did not
think of this until I was much, much older. Maybe my negative feelings
of not wanting my "scary" grandfather living with us had to come up as
nightmares, because I was too young to express them.
In any case, I found gruesome witches in my nightmares who would sneak
out and come after me. Just as they were about to devour me, I'd
After years of this same recurring dream, I'd find myself pleading,
with the witches hovering over me, "Please, spare me tonight. You
can have me in tomorrow's night's dream!" At that point, they'd
stop their attack and I'd wake up.
I would often lie in bed and tell myself that the witches only came in
my dreams, while I was safe in bed. I tried to get myself to remember
this the next time they appeared.
In one dream, when I was about seven years old, those horrifying
witches caught up to me. The instant before I started to plead with
them, the thought flashed through my mind, "If I ask them to take me in
tomorrow night's dream, then this must be a dream!"
I completely faced my fear, knowing it was a dream. I looked the
witches, who still looked very scary, straight in the eye and said,
"What do you want?" They gave me a disgusting look, but I knew I
was safe in a dream, and I continued, "Take me now. Let's get
this over with!" I watched with amazement, as they quickly
disappeared into the night.
I need to point out that some lucid dreamers may have turned the
witches into something less scary. I believe that my choice of
surrendering to my fear and controlling only my reaction, served as an
excellent choice for my first lucid dream.
I never had the witch nightmare in this form again!
However, I would later have new episodes with the witches in my dreams
and discover similar witch scenarios in my waking life.
My dreams were really fun after I faced up to those witches.
Remembering the feeling of being safe in a dream, I learned to
recognize when I was asleep and dreaming most of the time.
Whatever I desired, was possible. Whatever I thought, would
occur. I felt ecstatic. I could face other fears, heal or
nurture myself emotionally, resolve conflicts or blocks, have
adventures, help others, or just have fun. I could fly, visit places,
people, or time periods, and generally “do the impossible!”
My flying dreams, in particular, taught me that surrender, rather than
control works best. Usually, I would be lucid in my flying dreams. I
started out flying like a little bird, having to flap my wings to stay
up. This could take much effort.
As I grew up, I discovered that I could fly like superman, soaring
effortlessly through the air, arms first. At some point, I must
have hit some telephone wires or some other barrier because I fell.
I soon realized that because it was my dream, I could fly right through
physical objects of any kind. I had fun flying through walls and
even deep into the earth.
Walls were easy to get through. My head merged into the wall first, and
then I noticed the wall moving through my body, a foot at a time. The
wall felt as though it was vibrating and humming slowly, like the
jiggling molecules that I imagined made up the wall. Finally, my
feet popped out the other side.
As I matured in my lucid dreaming skills, I could eliminate flying
altogether by merely imagining that where I wanted to go was right
However, lately, I have been doing what I call “surrender
flying.'” I lean back, and I let an invisible force pull me
upwards from my heart area. This is a very ecstatic sensation,
and it often leads me to places of great peace and power, which remain
with me even after I wake up. Again, I find the value of surrendering
to the lucid dream.
My lucid dreaming experiences continued throughout my teenage
years. However, I never knew the term “lucid dreaming.” I
thought that everyone dreamed this way every night.
I often dreamed of my close friend from high school, who died in
a car accident, when I was nineteen.
At first, I'd see her in a dream, and we would relate as we would have
when she was still alive. One time, I remembered that she had
died while I was with her in a dream. It scared me so much that I woke
Remembering the value of facing the fear and surrendering to the dream,
I learned to stay in the dream and talk to her. It took me time
to get accustomed to hearing her voice, but I was finally able to ask
her questions, and, eventually, listen to her answers. I felt very
relieved to connect with her this way.
It helped me deal more easily with my father in my dreams after he
died, in 1992. By then, I was an expert! However, I later found that I
had much more trouble letting go of fear in my dreams when my mother
died, probably because we were so very close and I feared her death for
In the late 1970s, I moved to California to finish my graduate work at
Stanford University. By this time, a therapist had told me that I had a
great skill and it was called lucid dreaming.
While I was finishing a master's project with a Stanford Cognitive
Psychology professor, I told one of his other students that I was a
lucid dreamer. The student said that I had to meet his friend
Stephen LaBerge, who was doing his dissertation in psychophysiology on
this exact subject.
Stephen invited me to participate in some experiments at the Stanford
Sleep Laboratory. I ended up sleeping at the lab and doing experiments
about once a month for many years. I also did many experiments
for publicity, such as television or magazine specials.
We wondered how what we dream in our mind affects our physical body. In
the lab, I would signal from a dream, and my signals would be picked up
by EEG machines in the lab via electrodes on my body.
The experiments showed that the same parts of the brain are activated
while dreaming a task, as when doing it while awake.
In one lab experiment for a television special, I had to sing the song,
“Row, row, row your boat.... life is but a dream.” The week that the
show was to air, they used a clip of me singing this song with
electrodes all over my face, wearing my blue robe, for a commercial. It
was shown several times a day that week.
A few times, when I turned on the television, the commercial was
playing and I saw myself saying, “Life is but a dream!” It was a very
strange experience indeed! I decided it must be some kind of message
from the universe, and I better pay attention. I was formulating the
ideas that would eventually become what I now call, “lucid living!”
In 1982, after becoming extremely proficient in lucid dreaming, I
spontaneously began having precognitive dreams. These are dreams of
things that happen later in the waking state. My previous view of the
physical world as being “solid,” and having precise rules, had turned
I thought of life being a dream and how that would explain how such
things like precognitive dreams could occur. We could all be dream
characters in a dream we call life. Was there a Dreamer dreaming us
However, during this time, I was still a scientist trying to finish my
Ph.D. in Computer Science. I did not want to be distracted by these
ideas so much, that I never finished my degree. I decided to put them
off for awhile.
In my waking state, I was having trouble writing my doctoral
dissertation. I decided to try writing it in my dreams first. In
one dream, I found myself lying in bed. The desk in the room was in the
wrong place, so I realized that I was dreaming.
I headed for my computer, to start writing. I found that I
could not move. I was paralyzed. I told myself, "This is my
dream, and I can do what I want! " I slowly made it to the desk. I
looked down, and I saw that the chair seat was an opening for
“the pit to hell.”
Flames swept up, and it sounded and smelled awful! I was,
however, determined to succeed. Holding my breath, I sat down,
ready to be sucked into the pit.
Instead, I woke up, and within a very short time, I finished writing my
dissertation in the area of artificial intelligence.
CAREER AND GROUPS
I finished my Ph.D. in 1983 and my career really took off! I was
very involved in starting up businesses and traveling around the
world. In 1987, I took a short break from this computer science
work to help Stephen LaBerge form the Lucidity Institute.
After this, I began leading my own workshops and groups. During this
time period, I would sometimes give myself and my students challenges
One time I tried a "mutual dream" experiment of trying to find a
student in a lucid dream. The first thing that happened in my dream
that night was that I saw a neighbor, whom I knew had died, and I
became lucid. .
In previous dreams, I would see her and say, “You are dead!” and try to
get on with my goal. She would get upset and say, “I’m here now, so
talk to me!” Unless I did, I learned that would have trouble completing
my goal. This time, I first stopped to talk to her. Once again I saw
the value of surrendering to the lucid dream.
Merging with other aspects of the dream demonstrates another great form
of surrender and letting go of fear, as well.
One time, I found myself alone in a lucid dream, in front of a
campfire. I took this as another challenge and stepped right into the
center of the roaring fire, directly experiencing any fear that could
exist. I was having fun and decided to try eating the flames.
Interestingly enough, they tasted salty.
In another lucid dream, I appeared with nothing physical around me, so
I decided that I would fly up and merge with the sun. I sped upwards
like superman, accelerating rapidly until, about half way there, I
heard a great sound. It was very intense, and yet blissful.
I found that I had merged with a black void. I felt extremely
lucid for the next several days in both my sleeping and my waking
WANTING A FAMILY
When I was thirty-seven years old, I became very anxious to find a
mate, get married, and have children. In one lucid dream, I met up with
myself at the age of twenty-one, who was sad because she was about to
leave her college boyfriend, so she could travel and have a career.
In the dream, I told my twenty-one year old self that I had done those
things. I said that I now wanted a husband and children. She
introduced me to my alternative self, who was also 37, and who had
married my college boyfriend.
They had three children, and now she wanted to divorce him. My
twenty-one year old self and I decided that everything was as it should
Finally, I woke up. As I was writing down the dream, I heard an inner
voice, as if from a future self, who says, "Everything is perfect
as it is! Surrender to the present" I finally believed it.
I trusted that I would find my perfect mate, when the time was right. I
surrendered to the thought that if life is a dream, then my dreams
would come true.
I met my husband, two years after this dream, by noticing him across
the room at a party, going up to him, and talking to him. I had
an extremely strong sense that he would be in my future, even though he
turned out to be much younger than me. This is a great example of how I
began to act lucidly in the moment in my waking state.
I felt that I completely surrendered to the experience. I was in the
present moment continuously, without fear, and with total trust. I
remained with him and totally focussed on him, while part of me
observed our interaction.
I believed in magic, while been totally accepting whatever
happened. I was able to listen to him, as if he were truly part
of myself. We have been married for over ten years and I still feel
that he is my perfect mate.
HAVING A CHILD
Chris and I were married in less than a year after we met. We knew that
we wanted to have a child. After much medical help, I decided to
work on the issue in my dreams.
Before my son, Adrian, was born, however, I also had some interactions
with my childhood witches.
My witch dreams went through many transformations during my life. In
1960, I faced up to the scary witches from my recurring nightmares. In
the 1970's, I looked for the witches of my childhood in a dream, and
they appeared as harmless, little old ladies. In the 1980’s, I
noticed that the witch drama appeared in my waking life as well. I’ll
discuss this in my presentation tomorrow.
In 1994, doctors gave me terrible odds against having a child. So, I
looked for the witches in a lucid dream, thinking of them as my
Even though they still looked very scary, I faced my fears directly,
and I brought them into my uterus. The decision to do so was
spontaneous. Within a year, I got pregnant with my son, Adrian, who
will be nine years old on Monday.
My mom, who wasn't very well after my father died, was feeling better
during the years after Adrian was born. She visited us often, and we
would go to Chicago to see her, as well. Adrian and her became best
In the year 2000, I had the biggest challenge of my life. Right before
she was due to come out to California for the holidays, my mom had a
sudden, massive stroke, and all four quadrants of her brain were
She would only exist in a vegetative state. I needed to take her
off life-support, as she requested in her living will. For her sake, I
was forced to face my greatest fear ever. My mother died right at
midnight, officially Christmas Day morning.
My life, as well as my dreams, was quite a struggle after this. I
really had to surrender to both at this point. In my dreams, I hated to
see my mom, only to remember that she had died, which would happen when
I was lucid. I decided not to have lucid dreams for awhile. I presented
on this topic at ASD2003 in Berkeley.
A year and a half after my mother's death, I needed to sell the
house I was born and raised in, and had always called home. I
wondered if I could surrender to this task?
Spontaneously, I dreamed that I found the witches in my childhood home.
I surrendered to them again, and they pulled me under the closet door,
where they came from. I merged with the witches. The biggest
fears of my childhood were resolved.
In my dreams, my fear was to go with the witches. In life, my
fear was my mother’s death. At last, I could sell the house, and
I felt that I had healed quite a bit. In the last dream I had of
my childhood home, I flew out the picture window like a powerful witch.
Soon after this, in a dream, I said to my mom, “You are safe now, you
are in heaven!” I heard the message for myself, as I see my
mother as part of our higher self, the Dreamer of life.
This brings me to a brief summary of lucid living, which I will present
tomorrow in much more detail.
When I view my waking life as a dream, a dream in which I know I am
dreaming, to various degrees, of course, I call this lucid living.
I decided that waking life may feel 'real' and unlike a 'dream,' merely
because I lack lucidity, just as non-lucid dreams can feel like
physical reality, until I become lucid.
The assumptions that come from viewing life as a dream can be very
powerful and can expand what we feel is possible in life.
I can let go of fear and experience myself as more than just my body,
know that anything is possible in my life, and see everyone and
everything as part of our expanded minds, our higher self, the Source,
or what I call the Dreamer of life.
If I look at waking life as a dream, then I can also use lucid dreaming
techniques, that I learned from my sleeping dream experiences, to more
easily become lucid in my waking life.
When lucid in waking life, I can become more “free”, have fun,
accomplish goals, be "in the moment", and maybe even experience magic
in my waking life, as I have in my sleeping lucid dreams.
I believe, my marriage, my child, my degrees, my career, and my amazing
adventures, too numerous to mention, are all examples of how lucid
living has assisted me in having such an incredible and diverse life.
Finally, I’d like to say that I have discovered that ancient traditions
and religions, as well as modern best-selling authors, movies, and
songs talk about concepts similar to lucid living. These include
the Hindus and Maya; the Buddhists and Connectedness; the Christians
and Resurrection; The Course of Miracles and the Happy Dream; as well
as Jane Roberts with SETH; Deepak Chopra; Wayne Dyer; Don Miguel Ruiz;
The Wizard of Oz; Star Trek; The Matrix... the list goes on and on.
My favorite remains: Row, Row, Row, your boat, gently down the stream,
merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream!
Please come to my talk on Lucid Living tomorrow at 1:15pm in room