21st Annual Conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams in Copenhagen, Denmark, 2004
Long Term Journaling Panel
Author: Ralf Penderak, Germany
Nur der kann mit Bewußtsein leben, dessen Leben zu(m) Grunde gegangen ist, der den ‘Tod’ erlitten hat; nur derjenige kennt seine Erfahrung und seine Lebensform, der über ihre Grenzen ‘hinausgeflogen’ ist.
Merely that may live with consciousness, who’s life went under, who suffered ‘death’; only he knows his experience and his form of life, who did ‘fly’ beyond its borders.
Hans Peter Dürr, Traumzeit, 1985
When it dawned on my, that I wouldn’t only volunteer for, but also present at this conference, it was clear for me from the beginning to join Cynthia Pearson’s long term journaling panel. I kept a journal of day and dreams every since I was sixteen, with changing intensity, and guess I did very profit by doing so.
The topic of my presentation was also undoubtful to me, I didn’t have to search long, because I very feel, that my dreams, especially those called wake induced lucid dreams, helped me coping with situations of suffering and dying in my nursing work.
Wake induced lucid dreaming means entering the dreamstate consciously. It means preserving awareness, while the body falls asleep and then to dream lucid right from the start of the dream.
Lucid dreaming means dreaming, while I know, that I’m dreaming. It means being aware I am in dreamstate, while I’m dreaming.
So, how comes, the subject of death and dying touches me so deeply?
As a child, I well remember that I felt deep compassion with all living. I recall a scene, as a 10 years old boy I have spent more than an hour saving hundreds of midges from apparently drowning in a ditch. Today I know, they were just “dying” as larva, but being “born” as midges.
This example might serve as an illustration of my emotions.
As a teenager I was fond of philosophy and everything challenging common worldview, like telepathy, reincarnation, near death experiences. I was fascinated, but this was in my head. In my guts I feared ghosts and darkness. There are among the first dreams I wrote down at the age of sixteen, one or two dreams similar to lucid dreams. Ever since I returned to trying to fall asleep consciously and to have lucid dreams, sometimes successfully, but only since 1999, the age of 35 I systematically learned dreaming lucid.
I mentioned, I’m a nurse, I started my nursing work at the age of nineteen, after school has finished, doing alternative civilian service in an old people’s home instead of going to the army. Here the confrontation with suffering and dying hit me like a hammer. At first I couldn’t bear the whole situation there, working with the people like in a production line, due to sparse staff. I couldn’t bear anyone of the old folks getting worse, being ill, even dying. My first reaction was anger, in a way I accused the system, I even accused my colleagues of being guilty of the situation. I felt guilty myself. I felt the old people so close to me.
All in all I wasn’t ready to accept death, not ready to let go and to tell myself apart from the suffering of the old people.
But I found ways to channel my emotions into action, I learned the basic nursing techniques and learned to mobilise the old people, do gymnastic, sing with them. So at least something has been done with all that energy.
And after alternative service I decided to become a registered nurse, I began apprenticeship in 1987. Following an example of falling asleep consciously from that time:
July, 1st, 1987: “On The Way Into Sleep”
… a faint dream image: I’m pushing a hospital bed into a room, it is hovering, everything is quiet, the bandage around the upper leg of the patient lying in bed is loosening, he gets more naked. I get aware I’m dreaming, the image is gone, just as I wanted to hold it, it has been there a moment ago. Strange. I feel myself lying below. The other Ralf -my dreambody – is lying below me. I try to open up to this strange thought, this strange feeling. The dream – image is rising again.
This dream shows, how much I identify with the suffering, but the special feeling about this dream is the tranquillity, an air of all this being sacred somehow.
I didn’t know much of lucid dreaming at that time, I wasn’t acquainted with that state of mind. But I began to discover the conscious way into sleep, which later turned out to lead to experiencing my own “small” death and learning to let go and accept dying.
After the apprenticeship I worked on a ward with patients suffering by cancer. Here we had psychological supervision in a group setting. That was very helpful and guess I made the best of it, because I was already into caring for my dreams and emotions. After one year on that ward I began some years of studying human medicine.
From the time of this transition stems the following nearly lucid dream:
July, 2nd, 1991, no title
I am dead. As a ghost I’m hovering around. The physics, I mean the quality of substance, is confusing. I’m fearful. I’m hovering around some landscape. Could be Badendorf (where I grew up) but differently. A view from another dimension. I wonder, why I’m dead, I’m afraid, I can’t return (to life). The answer: I’m dealing so intensely with flying and lucid dreams, that it is haunting me in my sleep, too. I think: So, that is the tribute on the way of advancement, of the evolution of my consciousness.
I’m flying to a human being, I don’t know, who it is. He isn’t material. Our bodies are overlapping and there is a field force pushing us apart, like homonymous magnetic poles.
It is confusing.
This dream was incubated, I set my intention to fly and visit someone. This intention was set by the exploring, fascinated researcher – self part of me. But it did unexpectedly lead me to face my fear of death. Only later did I discover the link of my personal fear of death to my difficulties in coping with dying of patients. But both is about accepting and letting go.
And so, more and more consciously and deliberately, I learned to let go, I went through little personal deaths many times while trying to cross the border to the land of dreams consciously.
I feel this means learning to die for me. It means letting go of my form of life, it means “flying” beyond its borders in the sense of Dürr, whom I quoted in the beginning of my presentation.
Following an example of a wake induced lucid dream I experienced after two years of systematically learning lucid dreaming. Please in the following report pay particular attention to the shifting of my forms of life, to the transition from perceiving my physical body to perceiving my dreambody in different forms. Consciously going through these transitions is what I feel essential for me in my learning to die, in my learning to let go and accept, whatever there is.
Some explanations of upcoming terms:
“Hypnagogic imaginary”, “hypnagogia” is what everybody sees on the way to sleep, just these more or less fragmentary pictures occurring during onset of sleep.
“Sleep paralysis” is a word for our normal, every night inability to move physical body during dreamstate. We are rarely conscious of being in sleep paralysis, we normally experience our dreams in that time of paralysed body.
July, 24th, 2002, Dream: “Brachiating” into and through a dream:
I shift in and out hypnagogic imaginary. Sometimes I feel, as if I were
in sleep paralysis. I try to rub hands to create / stabilise
the dreambody. One time I fail, I rub physical hands. I open my eyes,
confirm it, but soon am into deep relaxation again. Two times I succeed
in rubbing dream – hands, but can’t enter dreamstate totally.
Then I have enough of lying on my back and turn onto the right side.
I shift in and out hypnagogia again, until I am able to simply watch a
An attractive woman stands in front of a green waste bin, turning her back
The picture is fuzzy, but I watch it for maybe one or two seconds, focusing
on holding it in my mind, feeling detached, calm, observing.
Then I reach out (with my dreambody hands) for the bin (the lady had disappeared).
I actually feel the rim of the dream-bin in my dream-hands. I keep on holding it, feel a
rush of sexual arousal. For an instant pondering, I decide to let it happen,
although I think, I have better things to do. All that actually happens is,
that my dreambody rubs the bin shortly. Then, cooled down, I have a look
inside the bin: Empty.
I turn to focus on the dream-environment: Still looking fuzzy. I concentrate on
my hands, my mouth and tongue and my feet to set an anchor in the
At least it works for stabilising the dreambody. The visual stays blurry.
But I can see cars, I touch them and “brachiate” from car to car, I mean I’m pulling my dream-body forward with my arms, this seems to be the only possibility at this time to move in any way.
I am in a backyard of a mansion, surrounded by tall grey walls. I find a passage,
continue brachiating through. As if my whole back were lame and weight a ton. I can only move legs and arms to somehow push and pull my heavy body forward. I ask myself, why it has to be this hard.
Suddenly all the visual fades. And the dreambody, too. Only the right hand
is still there and the point of observation, I am now, circles around the hand through the grey void, as if I am a satellite. I focus on the hand, feel it, suddenly there is a puddle, there is water close to the hand, mirroring blue skies. From this “seed” the new dreamscene grows:
I am standing in a floor, heading towards another room, where a window
shows a mansion on the other side of the road. There are some objects on a shelf on my left side. I touch them, but make my way towards the window. A window pane on the other side of the road reflects very bright sunlight. That is amazing me, as I’ve rarely (or never) seen such intensive sources of light in dreams. …
I want to know more and stare into the light. The circle of the sun gains substance and I
see blue skies now, too. The light isn’t that intense anymore. I
remember, that staring at one point too long often causes (premature) awakening. And so it is: I am immediately “back” in physical body. Satisfied, nonetheless:
I have finally made my way in and out of a fully blown up dream with full awareness, without a gap of consciousness.
Now I hope you understand, why wake induced lucid dreaming means facing a “little” personal death for me.
If there is some effect of crossing the border to sleeping and dreaming consciously time and again, it is loosing fear of the greater sleep and dream, we are all facing: Our own death.
You may all know the wording: “Sleep is the little brother of death.”
Today, when I’m with the dying patient, when all our efforts of preserving life have failed, or when the patient declines to artificially prolong dying, when all these questions are settled, I can simply be there. I don’t feel guilty, I’m not angry. I’m just there and accept and let go. And I believe, that the dying is now experiencing a quest similar to mine, when I’m falling asleep consciously. Today I transfer from my dreaming experience, that my way into the unknown of death will be similar: A transition into a new form of life.