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Stanford Report, September 6, 2000

Camp promotes learning while snoozing


It's pretty hard to stay awake at Dream Camp. But then, campers are encouraged to snooze and to recognize that they're dreaming while they're at it.

Practitioners call it "lucid dreaming."

"It's like having your own virtual reality," says Nathen Lockhart, who works at Palo Alto's Lucidity Institute, which organized the camp. "The computer on the desk doesn't compare to the one in your head."

From Aug. 4 to 13, about 35 people from around the world gathered at Narnia dorm for a residential program called "Dreaming and Awakening: The Practice of Lucidity in Dreaming and Waking, Integrating the Perspectives of East and West."

Stephen LaBerge, a research associate in the Psychology Department who runs the Lucidity Institute, and Alan Wallace, a visiting lecturer in Tibetan Buddhism and language at the University of California-Santa Barbara, jointly ran the program that featured lectures, films, group discussions and meditation exercises. Campers also were trained to use a special sleep mask fitted with a tiny computer that flashes red lights into the wearer's eyes during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep ­ when dreams occur. According to LaBerge, the flashing lights show up in dreams, giving the mask user a visual signal that he or she is actually dreaming.

Camp coordinator Debbie Winterborne says that, in general, hard scientists don't take dreaming seriously and that most scientific research on the subject focuses on sleep disorders. "[Lucid dreaming] is considered wacky and New Age," she says. "But it has been proved," she asserts. "Science is on our side."

Why would people want to learn to have lucid dreams? First of all, Winterborne says, it's fun because the dreamer controls the dream: "You can use it for hedonism, healing, [discover] the meaning of life." But she adds that lucid dreaming also can be used to confront nightmares, deal with problems in the waking world and enhance general consciousness.

Keelin, a camper from Napa who goes by only her last name, says she started lucid dreaming spontaneously when she was 11 years old after her father died. Before his death, Keelin says, her father had been confined to a wheelchair, but in her dreams after his death, he was not. "Obviously, something was different from my waking life," she says. "The dream world was a different place, but that was the world where I had to be." Keelin used the dreams to talk to her father. "Once you understand that you are the creator of this [dream] world, you realize how malleable it is," she says. "Lucidity is just awareness. You have to decide what you are going to do with that awareness. It's very empowering -- it teaches you that you can make a difference, that you are a co-creator" in this state of consciousness.

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