Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams is more than a book on lucid dreaming, although lucid dreaming plays a pivotal role. It is a book on consciousness and dreams with an emphasis on the psychoanalytical study of repression in dreams. The book is laid out into three pieces: the history of REM sleep and the effect of the EEG on dream theories, consciousness and lucid dreaming, and the power of repression in the waking and dream states.
Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams begins where modern day dream research began: the origin of the EEG machine in monitoring sleep. McPhee describes how the EEG machine captures sleep cycles and what those sleep cycles are. He points out how the EEG findings led to the downfall of Freudian sleep theories. Freud had believed dreams represented problems. If one didn’t have dreams, one didn’t have any problems. The EEG machine proved that everyone dreams and that not remembering those dreams does not mean that those dreams didn’t occur. The EEG machine also presented the paradox of REM sleep: “during dream sleep, people were deeply asleep but at the same time the eye movements and neural activity of the brain were indistinguishable from those signals generated by an awake person.” This observation led researchers to define consciousness. After a brief discussion of which, McPhee presents Dr. Wallace Mendelson’s definition: “Consciousness is a duality. It is the seemingly paradoxical ability of being able to experience sensation and, at the same time, of being able to experience oneself experiencing that sensation.”
McPhee then explores various theories on why we are unconscious in our dreams. He presents his theory that dreams are not guardians of sleep but rather disturbers of sleep and that the body takes responsive action to those dreams so the sleeper will not awaken. The body does this two ways: 1) paralyzation and 2) deprivation of consciousness. The body cannot physically act out the dream and the mind cannot consciously reflect on the actions of the dream. Conscious reflection would cause the dreamer to realize he is dreaming (or lucid dreaming). This realization of dreaming upsets the physiologic balance of dream sleep causing the dreamer to awaken. This is a common experience for first time lucid dreamers.
McPhee then devotes 40 some pages to techniques for awakening consciousness in the dreamscape. He stresses the importance of first learning “to awaken the consciousness while awake.” In other words, develop critical awareness. McPhee draws a clear distinction between consciousness and wakefulness. He relies on Russian philosophers Georgi Ivanovitch Gurdjieff’s and Peter Ouspensky’s practice of “self-remembering” – our ability for simultaneous reflection and duality. This is the ability to not be single-minded but to observe yourself and the observation at the same time. Later in his book, McPhee devotes a whole chapter to a passage by Gurdjieff dealing with self development and self knowledge. But first the reader is guided through a series of steps for recognizing the dreamscape followed by tips for maintaining lucidity.
The remaining half of the book deals with the psychoanalytical aspects of dreaming. This is the meat of McPhee’s book and begins with a chapter appropriately entitled “The Language of Dreams.” In it, McPhee asserts that dreams are representations of our thoughts and that free association is the core of all dream interpretation. The reader is introduced to transparent dreams – those dreams in which “the thoughts and concerns that created the dream are readily apparent to the dreamer” and nontransparent dreams – those dreams in which the dream is left to interpretation.
The dream interpretation lesson advances with the introduction of “disguised dreams” – those dreams in which the meaning remains obscure. The source of disguise being of course, repression. A link is drawn between repression and distortion (don’t worry, McPhee explains all of this “dream talk” for the novice psychoanalyst) in waking experience to distortion in dream experience. McPhee points out that “distortion in dreams is a function of how much we want or do not want to admit an awareness” and “if our dreams are representing areas about which we feel great anxiety, then out of deference to the desires of our conscious perceptions, dreams invariably transform [distort] themselves.” McPhee continues with a lengthy (but good) discussion on repression, including how feelings and awareness are moved from the unconscious to the conscious decision making level. So lengthy, he admits “for a book on dreams to concentrate as much as this one does on repression is unusual.” However, McPhee strongly believes repression is the “single most relevant aspect of dreaming that dream workers need to learn.”
McPhee concludes that “the achievement of transparency in one’s dream life is a great accomplishment. The transparent reflection of feelings and awareness indicates that the dreamer is succeeding in his or her efforts to remove the distorting filters of repression, which previously were erected to buffer him or her from experiencing difficult feelings and awareness’ directly.” The reader is left with a call to continue in his psychological growth.
Overall, Stop Sleeping Through your Dreams is a good reference for those interested in understanding more about dreams and what they represent. Although some readers might normally shy away from a book solely on repression in dreams, they may be thankful for the insight gained from the inclusion of repression in McPhee’s work.