Monday, May 12, 2008

Recursive Dreams are Scary

Last night I had a rather creepy experience. Though I can't be sure, it might have been due to the combination of a late night meal, over tiredness, and doing a short but intense Vipassana session right before bed. Anyway, the scary thing was that I dreamed I couldn't wake up.

I've got really good dream recall, and have been practicing gaining lucidity in dreams for many years now. Realizing I'm dreaming is not a big surprise to me, and it happens maybe once a week or so on average. A common side effect of beginning to influence your dreams once you realize you are dreaming is that you tend to wake up.

This time the problem was every time I realized I was dreaming and started poking around at things, my wakeup was false. I was dreaming that I woke up. This has happened to me before, and usually just means I've lost my lucidity and that leads me back to the normal chaotic realm of dreams. This time I remained fully aware of what was going on.

As this continued to happen, I began to get more panicked, and with it, my dreams become more frightening. The thing more-or-less started when I walked into the hallway of our apartment and found a room that didn't really exist in our building, and my mom suddenly appeared.

From that, I went to waking up in the bed with my girlfriend kneeling over me crying saying "Please don't kill yourself". Then when I started to float, I knew that was a dream, and woke up again, this time wishing to wake her up and make sure what I dreamed wasn't real. When I tried to get her to roll over, she spun in place but her back was always to me. So I woke up again.

This time there is a sickly looking dog laying at the foot of the bed and she's crying again, "You know I love animals!". At this point my mind starts getting so tightened up, I start frantically repeating "I have to wake up".

Thoughts go back to "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" and at the time I'm cursing the movie for feeding my imagination, because as powerful of a scene that is to see, it sucks to live through it.

I start thinking more existentially: "Why can't I wake up?". My mind recalls all of the lucidity triggers it can, in an attempt to gain control of the nose-diving jet my brain has been piloting through all of this. Each time I wake up, I try to float. Again and again, it works. Fuck!

I look at the clock and the numbers are all fuzzy. Doesn't matter, I keep falling asleep and waking up and each time things get blurrier and slower and foggier. I feel like the scene around me is melting and that my muscles and arms are mush. I look out the side window ready to resign....

Wait, the side window? Our bed faces the window. Eureka!

Moments later I'm kissing my sleepy girlfriend and rambling on about my scary dreams and I'm sure that even if she was humoring me for the moment, she'd rather get back to bed. After a few minutes I calm down, knowing for sure that I was no longer dreaming.

What a wild ride that was, but I'm glad it's behind me. Oh crap... I'm starting to float again.


Jia said...

"Why can't I wake up?"
because you were too tired!
You might (oh you will) argue it's totally irrelevant, but it appears similar to the experience that I needed to wake up for an early class but I didn't want to; so I practice waking-ups in my dream...

Gregory Brown said...


Almost certainly too tired.

Your story reminds me of how in high school I'd set my alarm for 4am to get up for 7am, so that when the alarm went off, I could sleep a couple more hours. :)

mark_s said...

that just happened to me and I googled it - found your site

That's a terrifying and amazing experience indeed

I figured it most often happens when you sleep during the day as a rest on a couch or something. Maybe it has something to do with tiredness.

Thanks for your post, that's quite amazing level of details you could remember

Gregory Brown said...


It's only happened to me once so I'm not sure what caused it, but yeah, it's a wild experience.

Interesting that you've had it too.


Tom said...

I have a pretty strong attachment to dreams, too, but I have an awful recall capability. The thing is that, while I was dreaming the other night, I started wondering (inside my dream) about those dreams you have when you have fever (those in which something happens over and over again and you can't rest at all). In my dream, I found "recursive dreams" in wikipedia. Today I googled it and found your awesome story. Not exactly what I was looking for, but great nevertheless.

alkaz said...

yea i experienced the exact same thing last night.. and i googled it.. found ur article.. and i can so relate to it.. i got so scared.. i called a fren.. cos in my dream i was calling that fren to wake me up.. it is really scary...

jonas said...

Just had a similar experience myself. I'm no stranger to lucid dreams - taking control is amazing. Haven't had much luck with AP. But this was interesting.
I wasn't feeling well tonight and knew I had to take a nap shortly after work. I was lying on my side and got out of bed after lying there for awhile and thinking I might as well just get up. I was interested to discover that the bulb was out when I tried to turn on the light and took the bulb out and shook it. Then I was lying on my side again. So I got out of bed and double-checked the light and lo and behold! The bulb had burnt out. I was amazed at the dream-precog-thing and laughed to myself about it. But I still wasn't awake. Over and over again, I kept finding myself sleeping on my side still - at least a dozen times. At one point, I just lay there cracking up that I was lying on my side about to get up when I knew that I really wouldn't. Eventually, it got strange and I ended up outside talking to people who said they were between worlds too. And finally, here I am. :)

xerao said...

This was my experience, I slept that night after having massive reading sessions on Quantum Physics and Philosophy.. and i have too trained my brain to realize that i am in a dream while i am dreaming. My first dream was that i was going to bed and falling asleep, this is Level 1 , at level 2 (dream within a dream) i had the same dream again i.e. going to bed and falling asleep. This continued for 10 to 15 iterations after i experienced something which i cannot describe in language. After a few moments of that experience (fractions of a second) i tried to wake up only realising that i had woken up in one of the recursive level of a dream. The amazing thing was i could see and visualize everything around me (my housemate sleeping in his room, the cars parked on the road side etc even though there were walls surrounding the entire room. After this point i tried to break free from the recursion and found that i was unable to breath normally and was sweating profusely. Sometime later i woke up in a bad state. What a crazy experience

Narges said...

I had similar experience last night. In my dream I went to bed and slept. Then I dreamt in my dream that I talk to someone and ...
I waked up in my dream and I talked to someone else and I said my dream to her. Then I waked up again and I found my self in the real world. (but now, I'm not sure about the reality of this world, I think it's a dream too and finally I will wake up.)

Gregory Brown said...

Well, if you're dreaming it's at least a shared dream. Your comment does not *appear* to be a a hallucination to me.

Joshua said...

I am 13 right now, yet i have been experiencing with lucid dreaming since a year ago.I came to this topic because i had a 7-dreams dream, and i didnt find it scary or terrifying, but fun. I also respald mark_s's comment, since i slept on a couch today