A lot of people trying to wrap their minds around the motives of Jared Loughner — the Tucson shooter who murdered six people Saturday at a Safeway and wounded many more — are puzzling over the latest information to emerge: he was a “conscious dreamer.” Before a misunderstanding starts, let’s find out what that means.
I’m writing a book about dream interpretation and am personally familiar with conscious dreaming, which is simply the ability to “wake up” during a dream and continue dreaming while conscious but asleep. In my experience, it’s a rare ability but one that can be developed by just about anyone, to experience at least a few conscious dreams. Also known as lucid dreams because of the lucid awareness of the dreamer, conscious dreaming is something like Neo in the Matrix, with the ability to create reality — or an illusion of it.
A friend of Loughner’s said that the shooter became increasingly disconnected with everyday reality as the dreaming world took over his life. Sounds kind of dangerous, right? Like something you wouldn’t want your kids to do. Something that could be isolating, or even forbidden (and indeed, conscious dreaming is forbidden by some fundamentalist sects, under pretense that the source is demonic). In Jared’s case though, he learned the wrong lessons in his dream world.
Instead of gaining greater appreciation for life like most people do after lucid dreaming, Loughner grew to discount it, even to deny the existence or relevance of the material world. The jarring contrast between the real world and his fantasy land where he could create anything he wanted sent him further into his imagination. He learned to fly like Superman, a friend of his reported, and probably did what most people his age would do and created a fantasy sex partner. The experience of sex — like everything in the land of lucid dreaming — is a full sensory experience, in many ways better than the real thing.
Some people react to discovering the ability to lucid dream by experiencing everything they’ve ever wanted, going anywhere they want and doing anything. The creative potential is unlimited. Want to live in your own universe? You can. But just know that living in this universe and having to learn how to get what you want from it can be more difficult the more it is avoided. That is the risk — overindulgence always has a price.
Another approach to lucid dreaming is allowing the dream to take the conscious mind into its world for a guided tour. That requires listening to and learning from everything that emerges. It also requires engagement with life and the world on a higher level while awake.
Dreams have been great sources of wisdom, inspiration, and discovery throughout human history. Never before have I heard of a case like Loughner’s where lucid dreaming is pointed to as a possible reason for committing mass murder.
The Mother Jones article I used as a reference quoted one of his friends as saying the shooter was trying to “wake people up” by being a cog in the machine, a glitch in the Matrix. Again, he failed to learn an essential lesson from lucid dreaming: everyone deserves the right to their own reality, to their own dream. If people want to be sheep, let them be sheep. If they want to sleepwalk through life unaware of the deeper layers, of the hypocrisies and abuses and contradictions, so be it. In the Matrix, the betraying character just wants to rejoin the ignorant masses, where he can eat a steak and be someone important. But to do so he has to betray his comrades and take from them what’s most valuable to everyone: their lives, and that is the worst betrayal.
Life provides the potential to “wake up” and uncover the deeper layers Loughner experienced in his dreams. But it is an individual choice, and often difficult to do. All of reality — this universe — is built from something that when examined closely enough seems to disappear. Many mystics and religious ascetics report the same sort of blurring of the lines between our world and the soil it grows from. And a few great souls have reportedly attained the ability to affect reality in this world much the same as it can be created in a lucid dream.
I suspect that the purpose is to teach us all how to be responsible creators. If one learns to lucid dream and goes about it humbly, deeper meanings are uncovered and more power is given to the dreamer to affect reality in the waking world. However, I know of a few cases where dreamers overindulged and their ability to lucid dream disappeared like a gun locked safely away. In the wrong hands….
Which is exactly what appears to have happened with Jared Loughner.
For more about lucid dreaming, the best book I’ve read on the subject is Conscious Dreamer, by Robert Moss.
Or start with these short Youtube videos: