So a couple of days ago I told you about how I have been a lucid dreamer for as long as I remember. I allowed myself a little back-patting with the recent study indicating that lucid dreamers are more self-aware, but now I want to revisit the subject to discuss how lucid dreaming may have slowed my progress out of woo thinking and into rational thought.
Those of you who have read this blog more frequently may remember my post on how I became an atheist, written in response to an open call by PZ Myers on Pharyngula. In it I briefly touched on my fascination with forgotten religions and all things magical and woo. I was raised by a mother who is still very much attached to her new age-y beliefs, I don't think she has stopped believing in anything from aromatherapy to crystal healing, and I know for a fact she still believes in fairies, so of course I had little hope of rejecting these ideas as a child. Plus, let's face it, believing in magic is fun! At least for a while. The fact that she encouraged this fantastical thinking definitely hindered the development of my skeptical muscles, although the tendency to do so was always in my personality. Despite the fact that it is in my nature to be a skeptic, however, I later noticed that my lucid dreaming was, in a small way, responsible for keeping me back, at least with regards to some views of the world.
I mentioned in my previous post on the subject that it is difficult for one to escape one's own context, as it was for me with lucid dreaming. So when I was introduced (by my mother, of course) to the concept of "mind over matter", everything just made sense to me. She showed me programs like What the Bleep! (which at the time I of course had no idea was pseudo-scientific drivel) and convinced me that there were many gurus who had achieved things like levitation and walking on water. Not to place all the blame on her shoulders, I took little convincing. While I was skeptical about many things in my childhood (for example, I never bought the existence of the Easter bunny or the tooth fairy for a second, no matter how hard my mother tried), the idea that matter, which was made up of mostly empty space, was only solid to the touch because your conscience expected it to be, made perfect sense to me. The reason this made sense in my mind was directly because of my lucid dreaming.
Those of you who are capable of lucid dreaming know that honing your skills at it requires a lot of concentration. It requires you to shut out that little doubting voice in the back of your mind. Let's say, for example, you are dreaming you have the power of telekinesis, which you are using to defeat the monster in your nightmare. The second there is a little doubt in the back of your mind that says "oh no! What if this power stops working?" POOF! you don't have the power any more (I also blame movies and TV shows which always put the hero of the story in a bit of jeopardy with a twist like that for those doubts.... dumb movies). Perfecting your abilities in lucid dreaming is all about mind over (albeit perceived) matter. That is why I needed to get better at flying: at first I could only jump off of buildings and soar, and if I carried anything it would weigh me down. I then managed to pump my arms like a bird and take off from the ground. It took me years to be able to soar into the sky carrying any burden at will, because I had to concentrate, convince myself it was possible, and completely eliminate any doubt or fear. It is the same reason why making things disappear in your dreams is easier than changing their appearance, unless you close your eyes or place your hand in front of them while doing so.
Because I was so well versed in the art of this kind of concentration, the reason the "mind over matter" concept made so much sense to me was because I figured that modifying your reality was like modifying your dreams, only infinitely harder.
Although lucid dreams are incredibly vivid and, at times, freakishly realistic, they still have that "taint" of a dream. You can still tell, once you wake up, that reality just feels much more "real" than dreams do, despite how real the dreams felt at the time. Because of this, it made sense to me that "mind over matter" would be much easier in dreams than reality. It made sense to me that it would take years of the kind of concentration I had been practicing in my sleep to be able to erase every last trace of doubt from your mind that your hand will not pass through that table, or that your body will not hover a few inches off the ground. It also made sense to me that it would require an even longer time concentrating to be able to pull off such a feat in front of others, with their disbelieving huffs tainting the back of your mind.
It was because of the fact that I could dream this way, and that I had no idea that I was in the minority, that I clung on to this particular brand of woo for the longest of all of my woo thinking. It made so much sense to my context, to my life, that it made me wonder: are the inventors, or the major proponents of "mind over matter", also lucid dreamers?