Embrace your nightmares – Charlie Morley
Imagine yourself in the grips of a familiar nightmare… You could be on the run from a three-headed monster which is rapidly gaining speed, or back in your English A-level exam, with a blank piece of paper and five minutes left on the clock.
And now, can you imagine being aware that you’re dreaming, and being able to change the course of the dream?
Devout Buddhist and lucid dreaming teacher Charlie Morley says we all have the power to take control of our dreams, and that doing so can be life-changing.
“At the least [lucid dreaming] is a huge virtual reality simulation of your own psychology”, he explains. “At most, it’s an experiential entry into the depths of your psyche.”
An ancient practice
While the phenomenon has only been widely recognised by the general public and scientific community in the last three decades, lucid dreaming is nothing new.
“Lucid dreaming has been a verified Tibetan Buddhism mind training method for more than 1,000 years”, says Charlie.
Even the Greek philosopher Aristotle acknowledged that while we sleep, “there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream."
It’s understood the term ‘lucid dream’ was coined by late nineteenth century Dutch psychiatrist Frederik (Willem) van Eeden, while the potential of lucid dreams was first recorded in a 1867 French publication ‘Dreams and the ways to direct them: practical observations'.
Drugs and dreaming
It’s difficult to believe the infectiously enthusiastic Charlie was once a teenage party animal, and “massive druggie”, as he puts it. Today the 31-year-old is a glowing picture of health, and has lived in a Buddhist centre in London for the last five years.
Charlie first became aware of Buddhism at 16, and had his first lucid dream around the same age. But at that time he wasn’t ready to embrace the practice.
“[From] 16 to 18 I had a lot of partying to do”, explains Charlie. “I look a lot of drugs, a lot of psychedelics – I just went nuts for a couple of years.
“Looking back, it was almost as if I knew that I had to commit to something… So I hit it hard for those two, maybe three years.
“I told myself that the day I leave college I’m going to shave my head - I had a big ponytail - I’m going to become vegetarian - I was a massive meat eater – and I’m going to stop drugs.”
At 19, Charlie formally became a Buddhist, and by 25 he was teaching mindfulness of dream and sleep.
Brixton to Buddhism
Charlie had been happily living in Brixton, near the hip-hop events he was running, and had no interest in living in a Buddhist centre. But then, he says “weird synchronicity brought me here”.
“Now I don’t want to leave. My fiancé and I are getting married next year so we’ll move out, but I’ll really miss this place, this community.”
Charlie lives with 25 other Londoners with “normal jobs and normal relationships”.
But who, says Charlie, are “moving towards something very different and perhaps much deeper than we’re striving for on a materialistic level.”
While Charlie taught himself to lucid dream, he is constantly working at his practice.
“I don’t lucid dream every night”, he explains. “When I’m on retreat, maybe I’m having five lucid dreams a night but that’s because I’m training and I’m hitting it.
“I come back [to London] and I want to have some wine and hang out with my fiancé and go kick-boxing and hang out with my friends.
“I think that’s what helps me with the teaching. I’m not natural. It took me ages to learn to lucid dream, and now I can do it with the training.”
Everyone can do it
Charlie says he hasn’t come across anyone who can’t lucid dream: “Some people get lucid first night, first workshop, [for] other people it takes a couple of weeks, other people a couple of months.”
This year Charlie worked with someone who, through lucid dreaming, was able to come to terms with being transgender.
“Through lucid dreaming he was able to switch between being in a woman’s body, to being in a man’s body… And explore issues of being transgender.
Recently Charlie worked with an Iraq war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to work through the nightmares plaguing him since returning from the field.
Embrace your nightmares
Charlie says the potential for the therapeutic benefits of lucid dreaming has barely been tapped into – as it’s such an accessible practice.
“The breadth of lucid dreaming and the way I feel at the moment – I’m barely scratching the surface of it”, he says.
“Once this enters into a therapeutic framework – the lid’s going to really come off this.
“In a lucid dream you can literally call out to meet your fear. You can meet a personification of your fear, you can meet a personification of your inner child – and if you do that, give it a hug. Most people’s inner child needs a good hug.”
Charlie says we don’t need to be part of a religion or sect to be able to benefit from some form of mind-training.
“I think most of us are completely unaware of how brilliant this mind is,” he says.
“Look at the training that break dancers go through to reach those seemingly super human heights of being able to spin on their heads. If you are not in a place of mindful awareness as you are spinning, you’re going to break your neck!”
In fact, Charlie says there are a lot of links between hip hop and spirituality.
Find out more…
Find out more about Charlie and lucid dreaming in his TED talk, on his website, and you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
If you’re looking for an introduction to lucid dreaming read Charlie’s Lucid dreaming: A beginner’s guide, or for something more in-depth, check out his Dreams of Awakening. He’s also got an online video course in lucid dreaming.