Speaking of dreams - my entire life I've had very vivid dreams during the night. There has always been a quality to them that seemed real - as if they were, in fact, taking place - perhaps in another dimension. While that's been mostly great, it's occasionally been less-than-desirable - particularly when I've been the victim of a nightmare. When I was a kid I had nightmares very frequently, the kind where I would wake up screaming after having been chased by a vampire, or a zombie, or a witch, or whatever evil being my dreamworld could conjure up. Even though I frequently had dream powers, like flying or shooting lightning bolts from my fingertips, those powers would generally fail me as soon as one of these evil dudes entered the picture. However, it was an accidental dreamtime discovery during what should have been a nightmare that led me to lucid dreaming AND helped me conquer the nightmares that had been occuring so often. (For other interesting discussions of lucid dreaming, you can check out the lucidblog or this post about nightmares on Erin Pavlina's site)
So let me explain "what should have been a nightmare". I was at the top of a tall cliff in a desert-like environment reminiscent of Utah or New Mexico. In my waking life I used to like to crawl up to the edge of tall places and peer down, imagining what it might be like to fall (or fly) from the precipice. In my dream, unfortunately, there was no time to creep up to the edge. I was being chased by a crowd of people - chased right up to the edge of that cliff. As I stood there contemplating what to do before the bad guys caught me, the ground gave way, and I fell from a height of what seemed to my child-mind like 200 feet or so.
It was a long fall, and I saw the ground fast approaching. Having heard rumors that if you died in your dreams you would die in reality, I suddenly found myself to be lucid in the dream (i.e. aware that I was dreaming), and I was terrified that these might have been my final moments. As I hit the ground and woke up (phew - no death), I had the strangest sensation of having fallen into my bed, as if I had been hovering a few feet above and fallen onto my mattress just as my dreambody was hitting the canyon floor. It seemed that the bed was actually shaking from the impact. Anyhow, there I was, awake with the realization that my fall had most assuredly not killed me, it had simply woken me up.
The most important part of that epiphany was recognizing that I now had an escape route from my dreams. Fall from a great height and voila! Awake! I decided with the full force of my conscious second-grader's mind that during my next nightmare I would look for a high place...and jump.
Since my nightmares were occuring quite regularly at that point, I didn't have long to wait. If I remember correctly, I was running from a scary Frankenstein's monster-type figure. If you've read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, then you know that the monster was actually quite adept after learning the rudiments of how its body worked - but fortunately for me, this one must have just gotten its life-inducing jolt o'lightning, because it stumbled after me, allowing me to stay just far enough ahead to keep from getting caught. I was running and running (a miracle in and of itself, because my nightmare "run" usually slowed to a snail's pace - like trying to run in waist-deep water), when I suddenly saw that I was coming to a bridge spanning a vast canyon. I hadn't yet become lucid, but seeing the bridge I recalled my waking intention to jump from a great height, and suddenly I was in control of my dreamself. I headed to the bridge, jumped off, watched the ground approach, and BOOM! Slammed into my bed - awake and laughing.
Over time, I discovered that I had a choice to make during my plummet. I could actually just open my eyes and wake up while I was falling (and I would just be in bed), or I could wait until the impact of the ground (and landing in my bed) woke me up. It was at this point that I started to realize that I could play with my dreams, and the world of lucid dreaming (though I wouldn't hear that term until MUCH later) opened up before me. There were also a few times when I couldn't find a high place to jump from - for instance, I remember some evil dude with a big knife chasing me through my old elementary school, and I kept trying to jump down the stairwells (which weren't nearly high enough to trigger the "wake-up" response). He eventually caught me, and I learned another lesson, about facing the fear that I was experiencing instead of running.
While I still have the occasional nightmare, it's much more common for me to wake up from a night of dreaming about flying than it is for me to encounter any vampires. And when things DO get dark in dreamland, I'm much more likely to confront whatever is haunting me than to look for the nearest bridge or canyon. The world of dreams fascinates me, and I look forward to hearing about any of your experiences. Have any of you experienced the "fall from a great height/land in your bed"? What techniques did you develop to deal with your nightmares? Did any others of you kick off your lucid dreaming experiences similarly, or were you lucky enough to start without the whole "running from werewolves" thing? Assuming that my son Dash starts having nightmares at some point (when he can tell us what's going on), I look forward to telling him about my technique (along with other lucid dreaming techniques that I've learned) and helping him get through those terrifying moments relatively unscathed. Not that I'm particularly "scathed", but I could have used at least a few less times of being kidnapped by witches before the age of eight. Sweet dreams!