Our dreams are a mystery to us. These expansive places that can be titillating, horrifying, and everything in between. What if we could control those dreams though? Would we wreak havoc and give into our lesser Angels and our carnal desires, or would we explore? Would we get lost and what would we uncover? The movie Inception takes us into a world where people can control dreams, and Mark Staufer, the screen writer behind Russel Crowe’s upcoming Bill Hicks bio-pic believes in both the power and the existence of lucid dreaming.
Inspired by that belief and the dream world — Staufer is in the process of constructing a truly epic, multi-platform fiction project that will utilize the page, the web, and other available technologies. I spoke to the author about this project, The Numinous Place, his beliefs on lucid dreaming, the power of Kick Starter, and storytelling.
Can you describe lucid dreaming for the uninitiated?
Mark Staufer: The first thing I should say about lucid dreaming is that it is not a new thing. I guess you could say that as soon as we started becoming aware of our dreams — and we were aware of our dreams a lot more in ancient times — we started to learn to control them. And so there’s been a kind of rediscovery in the last half century of what is possible in the dream world. So lucid dreaming is just becoming conscious in your dream world — its forming the ability to wake up inside your dreams and then [you] control what happens in your dream world.
It’s a teachable skill and there is a very strong spiritual element to it amongst the Tibetan Buddhists — they call it dream yoga and they view the dream world as very similar to the experience which we all enter immediately after death, so part of their teaching about lucid dreaming or dream yoga is that if you learn to control your dream life you will have a better chance of moving on to enlightenment after death. But for you and me, since we’re not Tibetan Buddhists its an opportunity to fly and travel back in time and have sex with beautiful women and do a whole lot of other stuff that we always wanted to do in the real word.
Now I imagine the appeal — and you spoke to this earlier — is a dual existence that offers one half of a life that has the potential to be a boundless kind of consequence free state, but what is there to stop people from staying in a dream world? I mean countless sci-fi stories show a world where we lay contently hooked up to life support lost inside our own minds — could lucid dreaming be a of gateway to that kind of bent utopia?
Staufer: Yeah, I think that the problem with lucid dreaming at the moment is, that the dream world is one that is difficult to control and keep stable. You need to practice and become very good and persistent at controlling the dream world and it’s a place that you can only stay in for an hour if you’re very, very good but I think the future of this thing is sort of limitless. But its kinda weird with Total Recall being released — I haven’t seen it, but the original was all about this sort of thing.
I truly believe that with advances with neuro-tech and supplements, that there will be this duel existence that we will be able to inhabit a “Sim’s” like life in the dream world and our normal waking life.
Is that a good thing though? If people get used to [having] a part of their lives without consequence, is there a concern that it might bleed out into our actual existence?
Staufer: I dont know that its a world without consequence though, we dont…
Well, lasting consequences I mean…
Staufer: I understand. I think that the better you get at lucid dreaming, I think you realize that there is a spiritual aspect to it and after the initial entry into a life that has no consequence as you say — there are no Newtonian laws ruling our lives in the dream world — you pretty soon get bored with that and you want to move on to something else. You want to move on to testing the parameters of the dream world and discovering what its there for. Going back to the Tibetan Buddhists again: there is a profound connection between the dream world and the afterlife, and if we can find that mechanism in there somewhere we will be able to travel to the afterlife eventually.
What’s the basis for those who oppose this or call it a fantasy?
Staufer: I think there is also kind of a big psychiatric push back against this. The Freudians especially dont like Lucid Dreaming, they think dreams are sacred things that are being sent to us from our sub-consciousness and that we shouldnt be mucking about with them and trying to control them.
I gotta say, some of my dreams don’t exactly seem very sacred.
Staufer: But Jason they could be messages, right? They could be messages from your sub-conscious.
I suppose — “Go out to Vegas, marry three strippers…”, I suppose that’s a message from my sub-conscious.
How does The Numinous Place play on these ideas and these fears?
Staufer: I began The Numinous Place with a kind of thought that I worked out from a particularly vivid dream about 10 years ago. And the thought was: “Wow, what would happen if we developed the technology to film dreams?” and my first response was, “Jesus, we wouldn’t need Hollywood anymore.” I wasnt here in LA at that stage, now that thought wouldn’t occur to me since I’m now a part of it.
My second thought was: “What if we can use the dream world to travel to other places like the afterlife? Is the dream world a destination or is it a part of the journey?” So that’s where this all began and so as I started kind of throwing ideas around and thinking it through and slowly willed myself to go to the computer to start work on it — which is the hardest part of all this — I started thinking to myself “I need to tell this in a different way”, I want to use all media. I want to try and capture a whole bunch of chaotic thoughts, I want to capture the chaos and then with every version of story telling available, I want to put it all down because I believe that using video and audio and all these different elements and all of these different story telling techniques allows for a really realistic and believable experience.
The only way that I believe that, you know, talking about movies of the dream world, REM movies as I call them, is by actually showing them. I have transcripts of them and I could write a screenplay about them, but it’s not goona have the visceral impact in a story unless you see somebody’s REM movie and that’s where I sort of started from in terms of sitting in front of my computer.
How much of this came from your experience with lucid dreaming?
Staufer: A lot of it and I think about the same time something else really odd happened to me. I havent lucid dreamed, to my knowledge, [for] my entire life and I was speaking to a friend and we were talking about our earliest childhood memories and he said his earliest childhood memory was walking, and he said he could see his parents and walking between his parents. Then he asked me what my earliest childhood memory was and it kind of hit me like a sledgehammer: my earliest memory was of flying and it just came to me and then I just started remembering all of these other dreams from my childhood from my early childhood and I remember controlling them and I remember doing things in the dream world and I just simply had absolutely forgot about them. My adult brain had taken over and I just discounted that I could do this. So in the course of re-entering this whole life I have also started lucid dreaming again.
Going back to the book: what makes these efforts to tell a story beyond the page — the comic book, the website, the fake news articles, the apps — what makes those different than the kind of viral marketing campaigns that we’re seeing attached to projects large and small? What makes them something more than well crafted tie in products?
Staufer: First and foremost it’s a great story. We’re using all storytelling techniques to tell the story and that makes for a really interesting ride and its goona be right there in front of you on the page. You’re goona download it on your iPad or your iPhone. And so this linear story starts to take shape and you can go off and investigate other little clues if you wish too, but at the end of the day its a great story and its just told in a different way.
You guys are using Kickstarter. Could this live without Kickstarter do you think?
Staufer: It’s a tough one. When I first started forming this idea, I started going to investors and investors wanted too much of my equity and publishers just freaked out about it. They just didn’t know what to do with it.
Do you think it presents a threat to the standard way of writing?
Staufer: Absolutely it does. I mean publishers are totally scared of this. It doesn’t fit into their narrow confines or parameters of what storytelling is because it uses all storytelling techniques and they cant get their heads around it. For me, it’s the logical next step of digital story telling. At the moment words are just moved from the pages of the book to the screen and we’re not using these devices that have been developed that kids now use to read and experience amazing stories. As adults we dont have that becase nobody has written something specifically for these devices and that’s what The Numinous Place is: real, live, digital storytelling that works best on an electronic device rather than on a page.
Why do you think people are ready for a new kind of storytelling? I mean the old way has lasted for quite some time with great succes, why do you think the time is right for a change?
Staufer: Storytelling is always goona be here in whatever form it takes and this isn’t goona supercede it, its just another way of telling stories and the bottom line is you gotta have a great story before you can tell it.