Today I want to talk about lucid nightmares using the metaphor of frightening Near Death Experiences (fNDEs). Both of these states of consciousness are under-reported, most likely due to the taboos I explored in Part I of this series.
In general, Near Death Experiences have been compared to lucid dreams for decades. In both of these “altered states,” the dreamer/visionary undergoes a conscious journey into unknown territory. The journeyer often sees white light, goes through a tunnel or vortex, and meets with ancestors or recently deceased family members. Seeing images of the divine, and having conversations with unseen “entities” is also a strong pattern in both NDEs and lucid dreams.
REM Intrusion or Otherworldly Journey?
The difference, of course, is that NDEs occur after a serious brush with death. And, also, lucid dreamers interpret this class of experience as “a dream” while people who have a NDE interpret their experience as “real.” Interestingly, some neurologists have suggested that NDEs may be due to REM intrusion into waking consciousness. In my mind, this neurological perspective does not reduce a NDE to a biomechanical glitch.
Instead, this material layer complements the imaginal experiences. NDEs are psychologically real, and have been shown in many studies to change people’s views of reality and positively mark their lives forever, REM intrusion or not.
But not everyone has a good time in their NDE. The white light, the life review, feelings of love and acceptance…. these are the most common reports, but others have decidedly frightening NDEs. Bruce Greyson and Nancy Evans Bush first collected anecdotes and established a typology back in the 1980s. These frightening experiences include:
- Phenomenology similar to peaceful near-death experiences but interpreted as unpleasant
- A sense of nonexistence or eternal void
- Graphic hellish landscapes and entities
Are frightening visions authentic, or just a reflection of fear?
The attributes above are common in lucid dreams. For instance, the eternal void is something I have discussed recently in this post about imageless lucid dreams. And here’s how researcher P.M.H. Atwater describes the following characteristics of Hell-like visions:
lifeless or threatening apparitions, barren or ugly expanses; threats, screams and silence; danger and the possibility of violence and torture; a feeling of cold (or temperature extremes) and a sense of hell.
While some have suggested that these negative NDEs are reflections of the fear of the visionary, I believe they are equally valid experiences as positive NDEs.
By giving credence to the dark nights of the soul, we have an opportunity to face the wider spectrum of the human visionary capability. Brushing off negative imagery as reflections of fear only stigmatizes dreamers and visionaries, and therefore devalues the warnings and messages these visions may have for ourselves and our communities. We may be arresting psychological development, as well as our collective intelligence, by whitewashing spirituality to only appreciate visions of light, love, and wholesome interconnectedness.
What Comes Up Must Go Down
I tell this story because those dreamers who suffer from lucid nightmares often feel persecuted, misunderstood, and that they are “doing something wrong.” Any path (be it for fun, self-knowledge, or self-empowerment) is beset with darkness and light. This is true of dreamwork, spirituality, and any creative process.
The next step is to explore alternative ways of framing lucid nightmares. This means delving further into fear, our core beliefs about the world, and the cognitive underworld of dreams where these attitudes take shape. I’ll cover this and some tactics for navigating this bizaree world in my final post in the lucid nightmares series.