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Dream Meditation Is a Bit of a Snore

Poppycock

Carrie Poppy

August 8, 2016

When the images start, I am already half asleep, which means I’ve done my job. The pictures start shooting in front of my eyes—circles and dots whirling in space, a droplet of water traveling across the screen on the goggles in front of me—as a man with a deep, resonant voice counts down from five: “You will go even deeper into this state of relaxation. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Open your eyes.”

There are words on the screen, but I am not supposed to read them. There are images, but I am not supposed to focus my gaze. There is a score, and a voice coming through my headphones, but I am not supposed to listen too intently. The whole idea is to experience it all holistically. This is dream therapy, and it is the invention of Sandor Lengyel, a Hungarian inspirational speaker with a Tony Robbins-esque following.

This is my second dream therapy experience; my first was also in this room, and the video was the same both times, although I have switched up the voiceover from a woman to a man. My podcasting partner, Ross, is in the chair next to me, also half-asleep with goggles and earphones on. Although we are watching the same video, the staff takes care to “immerse” each client in the experience by blocking out the surrounding world. As Ross later points out, they don’t do a very good job of using the technology. The video is shot the same as any other video, and the affect is more like watching an iPad in bed, than being surrounded by virtual reality.

As I drift off, trying not to fall asleep but instead to stay in the “floating” space where all the benefits are supposed to come, the narrator continues his verbal onslaught. He is saying goofy, pseudoscientific things like, “The universe is real energy, but you are only partial energy, and by connecting with true energy, you can get the totality of true birth.” I made that up, but this is the level of fuzzy thinking. It is so vague and squishy that I cannot hang onto a sentence fragment long enough to analyze it and connect it to the rest of the thought, so each floats through my mind like so much water. And this is what I am told to do anyway: to experience, to feel, and not to think.

The film, which is the only one on offer, is forty minutes long and divided into three acts. The third act is the only one with actual cinematography instead of floating shapes. This one has cheesy stock shots of business people in suits pumping victory fists into the sky, women in bikinis hugging men on boats, and big elephants picking apples off of trees for small elephants. What am I supposed to get from this? What is the lesson here? What do these images mean? Nothing makes sense; it all just floats together. And since I’ve been told not to make sense of it, I’m doing a great job. My favorite image is of an inhumanly attractive man on a pool float, smiling up at me while he lounges in a backyard pool. The camera pans into the sky as he seductively smiles. It is terrifically unclear what the message is, but that guy sure is happy about it.

According to literature handed out at the center, the technology works by synchronizing the client’s brain waves through “special vibrating sound waves,” causing the client to process information in a specialized way in a “pleasant environment.” This magical formula, they claim, has a “pre-planned and built-in effect on the nervous system.”1

The final thirty seconds of the movie are a testament to the power of a thesaurus, as the voiceover lists every empowering adjective he can possibly summon. “You are… alive, creative, energetic, invigorated, liberated, attuned, manifested, actualized, materialized…” the list goes on. Finally, with a whoosh of sunlight, he announces, “You are awake.” The screen transitions to an image of the sea, and I am told to click a button to summon the woman who will come remove my glasses and headphones and offer me tea. My session is over.

As I collect my things, I look around the office, which is decorated with inexplicable posters of people having a good time doing nothing. One woman is sitting in a door jam, having a laughing fit, while wearing the same goggles I was just wearing. One poster is just a close up of an enormous run in a woman’s stocking.

Ross and I sit in the front of the office and sip tea as we chat with the administrative assistant who books the appointments. She does the therapy herself and enjoys it. She can’t quite put her finger on what the results are, but she feels them. This is a theme with dream therapy. Both in the office and on the website, we can’t find what exactly we are supposed to get from this. The “benefits” are supposed to be much like meditation, but they aren’t specific about what benefits they mean. And the website and handouts (I leave with five) make more nebulous claims,2 such as:

The impression I get from the Dream Reality Cinema (DRC) website and the handouts I gather from the center is that Dream Meditation is supposed to help me lucid dream, and that once I can control my own dreams, I can use them to act out any decisions I have to make in my real life. Dreams, then, become a sort of thought experiment, where you walk through your potential decisions, seeing what could be at each turn.

But the alleged benefits are physical too. The meditation “is able to fix daily occurring disturbances”3 (whatever those are), and it “synchronizes the brain waves. Even after one Dream Meditation experienced at DRC, the dreamer can expect to spend one to three nights sleeping deeper.”4 However, after two sessions, I don’t find that I sleep any differently.

The claims get weirder from there, and dare I say, more cult-like. In one essay, Lengyel’s wife, a sexologist named Dr. Emese Tóth, writes, “To recapture and retain childhood, youth, strength, openness, and purity is only possible through this Way [Dream Meditation]. The other elaborately advertised ways and roundabout ways are only an illusion, and create only illusions, not reality.”5 In one interview, Lengyel says that he regularly holds ten- to fifteen-hour lectures, in Russia and Hungary, “almost on a daily basis, always on different subjects,” about whatever he feels like talking about at the moment. He says that his students often get just a few hours of sleep a night, necessitating this deep level of relaxation when they do sleep. But students of totalist and cultic environments will recognize this as a classic coercion technique: sleep deprivation is often used as a tool of mind control. Is that the case here? There is no way to say without being there.

Perhaps the strangest moment in all of the literature provided by the DRC is when Dr. Emese Tóth, Lengyel’s wife and business partner, makes a passionate plea for the power of human intuition:

“The natural and much more efficient way of obtaining information is the direct, self-sufficient acquisition. That is, connecting to the raw, unprocessed, original information masses and copying or clearing the source. Completely independent from the media, books or other people. For those of us who were brought up in some kind of a school system, this idea might appear to be unsubstantiated.”

Here, she is clearly arguing that we should look to our own intuition and ability to tap into the “source” (that is, greater human knowledge available to all of us) instead of relying on pesky things such as science and observation. But she goes on,

“However, thousands of experiments, over 50 years of countless scientific documentation and experience all prove one thing, that it is reasonable to say that humans can become completely self-reliant in regards to acquiring information.”6

It is difficult to imagine someone changing courses more quickly or grandly in a single paragraph than this, from advocating trusting your own intuition because you don’t need science (yeah, take that, science!), to relying on science to “validate” your point. And, by the way, it goes without saying that “countless scientific documentation” does not prove that you don’t need studies. If anything, science has shown us repeatedly that our gut instincts are often wrong, our hearts often lead us astray, and our intuition is evolutionarily designed to be over-zealous.

Whatever Dream Reality Cinema is offering me, it isn’t science. It is a pleasant experience—the first time, anyway—but a costly one. And by the second time, I am antsy to finish up the film and go get lunch. Very few movies are worth $80 a pop. Maybe The Graduate. Maybe.

When I got home that day, I slept for a normal amount of time. I didn’t control my dreams. It was a typical night.



Notes

  1. Tóth, Emese. “Short History of the Origins of DRC - Dream Reality Cinema.”
  2. Tóth, Emese. “How Do Conventional and Lucid Dreams Come About? - Dream Reality Cinema.”
  3. Tóth, Emese. “How Do Conventional and Lucid Dreams Come About? - Dream Reality Cinema.”
  4. Tóth, Emese. “How Do Conventional and Lucid Dreams Come About? - Dream Reality Cinema.”
  5. Tóth, Emese. “The New Renaissance of Dreams - Countdown to an Alternative Future - Dream Reality Cinema.”
  6. Tóth, Emese. “How Do Conventional and Lucid Dreams Come About? - Dream Reality Cinema.”

Carrie Poppy

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Carrie Poppy is the cohost of the investigations podcast Oh No, Ross and Carrie. She regularly writes and speaks on social justice, science, spirituality, faith, and claims of the paranormal. She also performs, mostly in funny things. She only has one fully functioning elbow.