you awake?

during dream, the limbic system (the part of the brain that governs emotion) is extremely active, reacting to dream content as though it were processing real events; the prefrontal cortex (which governs “higher” functions such as logic and planning), on the other hand, has its activity decreased dramatically.

the average person has enough difficulty keeping his emotions in perspective when she is awake; it’s no wonder, then, that we almost always take for granted the extremely odd events in dream and respond to them as if real.


if a waking person responds automatically to emotions, without active feedback from the prefrontal cortex, he is in a state similar to dream. one of the major goals of undoing is to give the prefrontal cortex more control over emotion by generating the growth of nerve fibers from the prefrontal cortex to the limbic system and brain stem. this results in a greater degree of “awakeness” in daily life; it can also lead, by the same function, to lucid dreams.


the other night may car broke down, and I had an anxiety dream about it falling apart, piece by piece, while i drove it. for some reason, i suddenly remembered that, in reality, only my radiator was damaged, and there was no reason for my car doors to be falling off…so i thought, “i must be dreaming.” i grabbed the wheel, drove the car off a cliff, and flew around ecstatically until I woke up. what had happened? my prefrontal cortex had kicked in and i simply noticed something was odd, deduced that i must be dreaming, and decided there was no real reason to feel afraid.

now think about how that might work in waking life……………………………………….


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7 Comments on “you awake?

  1.  by  mr.g

    yes. thank you riley. keep it short and simple… i love it. this reminds me of gold’s injunction to always look around at the details of the spaces we find ourselves in. inevitably something always seems a little off. those little details can project us into a direct awareness of the bardo or dream nature of things. then its high time to find a bardomania shop….

    happy holiday shopping!

  2.  by  Chris

    Very interesting… the nature of dreams are a bit blurry, but when you realize it’s a dream, everything gets clearer, the colours, sounds and everything…

  3.  by  So Loon

    Very nice, Thank You Riley! Exactly the information about the brain we’ve been looking for. And so concise!


  4.  by  Xephyra Xephyru

    Do you believe that emotional factors or associative content ultimately determined this particular decision you made by choosing the action of ‘driving the car off the cliff’ upon realization that you were dreaming? Or do you believe that there was possibly another cause at work which determined your decision (such as reason, logic or planning?)

    I ask because I also perform ‘suicide’ scenarios as well when I realize that I am dreaming. When awake I have tended to conclude (or justify) my decision because it is a way to ‘test my realization’ but after reading your entry I am starting to doubt my assessment. I suspect (for me personally) that such decisions to ‘prove’ the dream that force myself to awake are actually an emotional response to the illumination which is being played out through psychic simulation. For me anyway, the act of self-extinction is an escape route for responsibility, rather than going lucid, which is the acceptance of responsibility. I instead always opt to reject the dream world due to ingrained associations regarding the artificial qualia which I disdainfully come to find myself trapped within. In reading some of your *RU/UY-related materials on here I wonder how well you can relate to my experience, if at all.

    – 2X

    •  by  riley


      It’s hard to say what caused what in my dream….the act of going off the cliff wasn’t anything about suicide per se, only wanting to take advantage of the pseudo-lucidity by doing something that would ordinarily be impossible, or at least a really bad idea, and experience the freedom of that. since i was in a car, driving recklessly seemed like just the thing.

      I agree that lucidity in dreaming is about taking responsibility, and I’m definitely not an adept here: I usually wake up soon after realizing i’m lucid, and have a hard time changing scenes or even solidifying the environment at times. Lately, though, i have been reading and playing guitar in my dreams, sometimes with difficulty, suggesting more cortical function…..but it doesn’t always happen lucidly. Dream is a huge wilderness that we really don’t understand….

      If you’re opting out of your dream world due to “ingrained associations,” i’d guess you’re opting out of being stuck in your own emotional/cognitive rigidities. If you continually choose “suicide” to escape your dream world – which is really your inner world, or an aspect of it – that’s at least something to reflect on…You may be actively avoiding something uncomfortable about yourself.

      Or maybe you’re just enjoying free expression of the destructive/self-destructive impulse that is so hard to find healthy expression of in the waking world.

      I’d suggest that the relevant reasearch question is, are you acting or REacting when you choose to opt out of dream?

  5.  by  Majore Hoo-Hoo

    I was reading about sorcery illumination and shamanic illumination in Peter Caroll’s Liber Kaos! last night after reading this and I had a strange idea that maybe dreams could be a good “lab.” When we tend to wake ourselves up in dreams instead of successfully turning lucid, it’s a lot like the destruction of the lamp as depicted in sorcery illumination. When we actually can do it and then proceed to attempt lucidity in our waking lives… that’s… something else.

    •  by  riley

      Ah, Liber Kaos!…..

      Dream may be a good lab for those advanced in dreaming techniques – but reliable self-modification is hard when the thing you’re trying to modify (most usually related to emotional compulsions arising in the limbic system) is in high gear, and the thing you use to modify it (your neocortex) is fast asleep.

      Without gradually bringing more cortical function into dream, you’d likely be swimming upstream.

      Which is not to discourage you, only to say that it seems ambitious!

      If you do carry out some experiments, though, let me know – I’d love to hear the results.

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