The Dream Diary of a Catholic Monk Priest: Otherworldly Origins or Personal Angst?

Gackenbach, J., Allen, N., Barth, M., Blades, M., Boorse, S., Corcoran, C., Davidson, D., Dunkle, A., Elliott, E., Engel, L., Gordash, B., Gupta, A., Hewitt, R., Hillman, C., Hink, V., Jansen, V., Lee, B., Listener, W., Mastel, J., Morrison, K., Nelson, C., Owen, W., Robinson, D., Shouldice, J., Taeger, A., Tiller, B. Witwer, S. & Woodman, P. (1995, June). The dream diary of a Catholic monk priest: Otherworldly origins or personal angst?  Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Dreams, New York City.

In the 10 years of my editorship of Lucidity Letter, a newsletter which became a journal devoted to articles about lucid dreaming and related phenomena, I (first author) came into contact with a variety of interesting contributors. Perhaps the most fascinating for me were the articles, excerpted from letters and dream diaries, of a Catholic monk priest, Father X (Father X, 1985; 1988; 1989; 1990). On Sept. 8, 1990 I received the “final installment” of his experiences, an 82 page, ten year diary. Excerpts from the diary and cover letter appeared in Lucidity Letter, (Father X, 1990).

With his usual humility Father X commented, “I am also aware that I may be overestimating the importance of my experiences, and some may see them as nothing more than the ‘hallucinations’ of a ‘mad monk’. That doesn’t concern me, as my only purpose was to contribute, along with others, to the slowly accumulating data of this most strange phenomenon (p. 55).” By this he meant his lucid dreams and out-of-body-experiences (OBE) which had been with him for 20 years.

His primary analysis of his experiences over his years of contributing to Lucidity Letter was consistently that they were of otherworldly origin, “Every time I enter an experience I feel like an astronaut landing on Mars for the first time and finding a thriving civilization . . . To simply label them as “dream characters” and let it go at that seems to me to be more than over-simple. There is a lot more going on here, as I am convinced that they have some kind of personal consciousness. (Father X, 1990; p. 56).” To further elaborate his otherworldly reaction there is his analysis of the demonic:

Prior to my experiences, I counted myself among those ‘modern’ religious believers who saw the devil as nothing more than a quaint symbol for our own disordered passions, but now, after all these strange experiences — well, now I’m not so sure about that anymore. It is really mind-boggling — the fellow that we thought we had ridiculed into oblivion may actually exist. He is after all the second-most important figure in the New Testament (Father X, 1989; p. 45).

His commentary was always tempered with a clear realization of the skeptical reaction that others of this culture would take:

There are times when I think that it may take another Darwin to figure all this out, because I honestly believe deep in my gut that something very important for the study of human consciousness is going on here. However, I must admit that there are other times when I feel that these experiences have no meaning at all outside my own muddled-up subconscious, that they are just some erratic chemical/electrical connections firing off haphazardly in my brain (Father X, 1990; p. 57).

His concern was brought home later in the same letter (unpublished):

I grew up in a tenement apartment . . . with a hopelessly alcoholic father who was finally pulled out of a river by the … police. . . It was a childhood I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and the scars from it have followed me throughout my life.

As evidenced in my earlier presentation with Don Kuiken at this conference, my work since immigrating to Canada has increasingly been concerned with the relationship between transpersonal or otherworldly type experiences and intrapsychic elements which may or may not account for them or interact with them. This has especially been brought into focus for me in my contacts with Aboriginal peoples (Gackenbach & Prince, 1992; Gackenbach, 1992-93; Gackenbach, 1995).

The paradox of Canadian Native peoples today is echoed in the story of the death of Crowwoman (Gackenbach, in preparation), who finally attained psychological health at the time of her physical bodies disintegration. Her last weeks of life consisted of an almost continual movement from waking consensual reality to the world of the grandfathers from which she would return with information, messages, and visions. Her life is a template of the extremes in Native communities:

the existence of severe bodily illness in the mentally healthy; histories of violence/abuse paralleling spiritual transcendence experiences; and a pattern of family and community obligations and support in the context of a larger culture which stresses individualism.

More specifically, the Natives I’ve come to know see their dreams as foretelling the future, speak of the bear coming during a night ceremony, fear bad medicine, frequently tease each other with hearty belly laughs, are very erotic, sometimes suffer violence, and hold family above all.Whereas many in the dominant white culture seem clustered in the hill of the distribution ranging from pathology to transcendence, it seems to me that Aboriginals cluster at both ends at once. By looking at these extremes I have been somewhat able to see the full range of human experience into which we are all thrown.

It seems that I have come full circle by now addressing this otherworldly/pathology issue from a lucid dreaming diary. With this in mind I decided to use Father X’s dream diary as a class project in a Sleep and Dreams class I taught in the fall of 1994 at Augustana University College.


The 27 members of the class were divided into eight groups of three or four members to analyze the diary from six different perspectives (General Qualitative, Qualitative/Spiritual, Jungian, Freudian, General Theoretical, and Quantitative). Although the students knew that I had “met” Father X in my role as editor of Lucidity Letter they had no access to these articles. In addition to the diary which did not include his letters and thus most of his commentary, they were given a letter I received from Father X in Sept. of 1994 after notifying him of my intent to use the diary in a class project. This letter was not given to the class until they had read the diary at least once.

In it Father X informed me that, “Lucid dreams and out-of-body-experiences have just about disappeared from my life.” He went on to detail some of the events of his life in the four years since I had last heard from him. Most of the letter was about his two year absence from the monastery when he underwent treatment for alcohol addiction. He liberally excerpted from the reports of the professionals he had been seeing. In addition to a neurological impairment which may have accounted for his paralysis and vibrations which always proceeded his OBE’s these doctors wrote:

The formal personality testing yielded a variety of information quite consistent with Father X’s developmental history and current symptoms. His MMPI profile was valid with elevations of several clinical scales, the highest of which were the psychopathic deviant, the schizophrenic and the depression scales. An individual with this pattern of scores is likely to be feeling a great deal of distress. They are apt to be depressed, tense and moody with a tendency to blame others. The acting out of anger and sexual problems is likely. They are prone to feelings of hopelessness and condemnation. His current level of distress probably makes it difficult to manage day to day life. There is an internal sense that punishment is deserved and they are apt to withdraw from social interaction.

Father X’s letter went on to further detail his diagnosis. About it this monk commented, “Well, I guess you get the point they were trying to make. When they finally finished I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a bunch of people wearing white coats and carrying a net come barging through the door to cart me off to the nearest mental asylum.”

My students felt that reading the letter brought home to them that Father X is really a human being. They also felt that the clinical diagnosis was cold and mechanistic in its evaluation of Father X. At the end of the semester they handed in their analysis of his diary and made in-class presentations in order to get a sense of the whole.


Although the diary covers a ten year period (1981 through 1990) there were only six years of dreams sent, 1985 – 1988 are not included. These experiences actually began in 1974 which was about a year after Father X entered the monastery. He didn’t begin recording them until 1975 but only sent me dreams from two sections; twelve months each from 1981 to 1984 and shorter periods from the other two years (March 27, 1989 through August 21, 1990). This was the material which was analyzed by the class members.

He included the entries from the diary after August of 1990 in his letter to me which he sent in response to his reading the original version of this paper. So the frequency analysis of types of experiences includes this new information while the student analyses do not.

Although he said in his correspondence that the only experiences he recorded were OBE’s, lucid dreams and comments relative to them, there were eight clearly nonlucid dreams which he so identified in the manuscript. His demarcations between dreams/experiences/comments on any one date are not always completely clear but the number of experiences for the diary can be gotten from the paragraph markers. The start of the each paragraph indicates if it was a lucid dream, OBE or other type of experience/comment. There were 318 paragraphs in the section of the diary analyzed by the students with 92% representing distinct experiences/comments and remaining 8% representing transitions from previous experiences. This was obvious in the manuscript because Father X said at the end of each paragraph things like, “the experience ended” or “then I found myself back in my bed”. The few transition paragraphs were major scene shifts in the dream/obe.

For the purposes of creating distinct experiences each of the transition paragraphs were reread and identified as a distinct experience or as the beginning of an experience. In the latter case the adjoining paragraph was collapsed into the experience to create one total and distinct experience. Also all comments were reread and either eliminated from the data to be analyzed or reclassified as an attempted/micro OBE or lucid dream. After these adjustments, 310 of the 350 paragraphs in the entire diary sent to the first author were retained as distinct experiences. Of these 282 were those analyzed by the class members.

Lucid/OBE Descriptive Analyses:

The first set of analyses focuses on the incidence and distribution of the focal experiences, lucid dreams and out-of-body experiences. The diary entries sent after the class finished were included in this set of analyses in order to show the changes in frequency of the experiences across time. Thus 9% of the 310 total experiences were not also examined by the class.

With the additional years entries Father X sent, it can been seen in Figure 1 bar graph:

that there was a gradual decline in experiences from 1981 to 1995. Specifically they peaked in 1982 and spiked again in 1989 but otherwise showed a rather smooth decline in frequency as he commented..

Distribution as a function of month of the year showed a marked dip in July. In terms of days of the month there was a slight dip in the middle of the months with 26.5% experienced in the middle third versus 36.5% for the first third and 37.1% for the last third.

OBE’s were slightly less represented (42.6%) in the bulk of the experiences than lucid dreams (46.8%) with the remaining small percentage taken by experiences which were difficult to identify as either an OBE/lucid dream (8.1%) or nonlucid (2.6%) dreams. It was clear from his diary that Father X appreciated the differences between OBE’s and lucid dreams as can be seen from this Sept 23, 1984 quote, “A couple of out-of-body experiences after I had returned from a short lucid dream.” In the vast majority of his experiences he clearly indicated if it was an OBE or a lucid dream. Several times during the course of one night he had both types intermingled and clearly identified each. However, there was the occasional mixed experience. Here is an illustration, “When I got out of bed to walk over to the door to flick the switch lucidity hit me and I knew I was in an out-of-body experience. (Oct. 9, 1989).”

Thus four categories were derived for some additional analysis (OBE, lucid dream, OBE/lucid, and nonlucid). Two one-way ANOVA’s were calculated with these experience categories on number of lines per experience (an estimate of elaboration) and sequence number in the diary. It can be seen in Figure 2 bar graph of type of experiences as a function of sequence number:

that the significant finding (F(3,309) = 2.53, p = .0575) was due to the nonlucid dreams occurring later in the diary while the OBE’s tended to occur earlier in the diary. As time went on despite his decision to not include nonlucid dreams he felt compelled to include these few. It will be seen as the discussion progresses that this may be of some conceptual importance. As for degree of elaboration of each experience it is portrayed in Figure 3:

this significant finding (F(3,309) = 3.87, p <.01) was accounted for in the main by the more detail spent by this monk in describing his lucid dreams than in describing his other experiences.

Religious Diary Themes:

Prayer and Positive/Negative Imagery:

Religious themes were the focus of several analyses either directly or indirectly. Father X clearly stated that the experience followed an specific prayer routine, called an office, or a general mass from very early in the day. The two offices he referred to repeatedly in the diary were Lauds, which is a prayerful rejoicing for the gift of a new day, and Vigils, which during holy times can last the greater part of a night with a liturgical format of reflection and prayer but at other times can be quite brief. Lauds is the first office of the day and usually takes place just before dawn. The term Lauds is derived from the Latin word laudate which literally means praise. Vigil is a very different office which commonly takes place just before a major church holiday or a sacred remembrance of a saint.

One can conclude from his diary that 48% of the experiences were from naps following religious services of some sort. Another more pragmatic distinction between Lauds, Mass and Vigils is that the experience after Vigils are sometimes after a night of sleep deprivation while those experiences after Lauds and Mass are naps after some sleep the night before. Some percentage of the remaining may be from naps but that is unclear from the diary. This association of naps as useful in increasing the frequency of lucid dreams has been empirically verified by LaBerge.

The qualitative-spiritual group examined the positive versus negative quality of classically Christian imagery as a function the two prayer practices, the office of Lauds and the office of Vigil. They hesitated in using a good/evil or God/Devil distinction in defining positive and negative imagery because an image representing God can invoke a positive reaction if it offers an image of God’s agape love. If, however, the image reflects the wrath of God, it invokes a negative response. They focused on explicit religious imagery rather than on implicit imagery. The latter would be open to much more speculative interpretation and given that the author of the diary is a monk it is reasonable to assume that there should be ample explicit imagery to the extent that dreams reflect our daily lives.

The office of Vigils was mentioned 95 times in the diary while the office of Lauds was mentioned 18 times. This group used 68 experiences which occurred immediately after the office of Vigils and 12 following the office of Lauds in their analysis. Of these 80 experiences 18 or 23% evidenced explicit Christian religious imagery. Thus the majority of the dreams they examined did not have much explicit Christian imagery. Following Lauds 42% of the dreams had explicit religious imagery whereas following Vigils only 19% had such imagery. This imagery was fairly evenly distributed between the positive and negative type categories.

Rather than conclude that Father X demonstrates a balance in such imagery based on their quantitative analysis, they concluded that Father X appears to have a problem with balancing the negative and positive, both within himself and within the church as an institution. These incongruences were in the main between the nature of the image and the priests reaction to the image in the dream. These Lutheran college students point out a parallel to Martin Luther, a monk in the Augustine order who described his dreams as mental torture which were attempting to find a balance between the love and wrath of God. Here is an example from Father X’s diary of a positive religious image being greeted with a negative response:

It looked like it might be a church so I walked in. Well, there was something that looked like an alter with a lot of different things on it, one of which looked like a crucifix, so I headed for it, but about halfway a man stopped me and asked me what I was doing there. I told him that I was heading for the crucifix on the alter so that I could honor and worship our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. At the mention of Christ’s name he seemed to flinch, and he grabbed me and pushed me against the wall and accused me of being an agnostic; then another man came up and joined in and we all began fighting with each other.

Continuing their analogy to Martin Luther they note that just as the struggle for balance played itself out in Martin Luther’s intestines, which tormented him during his years in the monastery, it may be that this struggle is manifest in Father X’s drinking. This seems evident from this dream excerpt:

When I got to the door of the church I noticed a large glass window at a right angle to the church filled people. I found the door, and when I entered I could see that it was indeed a very plush cocktail lounge .

This tension between his alcoholism and spirituality was especially evident in this dream segment:

. . . I found myself in a bedroom beside the monastery cloister. One of the monks was helping me put on my monastic habit in preparation for mass. . . . When I got to the door of the church I noticed a large glass window at a right angle to the church filled with people. I found the door, and when I entered I could see that it was indeed a very plush cocktail lounge.

So even though Father X was preparing for a mass, the temptation to drink was more pressing then performing the rites within a service.

Services and OBE/Lucid Frequency:

The next set of analysis on type of religious services is computed on the entire diary while the student’s analysis are on the segment mentioned earlier and further illuminates their findings. It can be seen on the Figure 4 bar graph:

that of the 309 experiences from the total diary, 52% had no reference to religious service, 31% referred to the office of Vigil, 11% referred to mass, and the remaining 6% to the office of Lauds (X2 (3) = 164.08, p<.0001).

Sequence number and lines per paragraph also differed as a function of religious service. It can be seen in this next graph (Figure 5):

that experiences following mass occurred later in the diary than those following vigils (F(3,308) = 6.86,p<.0001), with the other two categories falling in between. Even though there were more experiences following no religious service reports and following Vigils it can be seen in this next bar graph (Figure 6):

that there was more elaboration of experiences following mass and lauds (F(3,308) = 5.29, p<.001). In an analysis of type of sleep experience versus type of service (Figure 7):

the percentage of lucid dreams did not substantially vary across service category (X2(9)=15.92, p<.0685). In contrast OBE’s were considerably less frequently experienced by this monk after mass while the lucid/obe mix was most often reported by him following mass. There were so few nonlucid dreams that very little variability as a function of type of service could be identified.

Blackmore (1988) and others have argued that OBE’s are attempts to reconstruct reality under hyper and/or hypo arousal conditions. For instance, under conditions of extreme physical or emotional pain (hyper) or at or near sleep or near death (hypo), it is more adaptive for the system to reconstruct the mental model of self in world with self as located outside of the physical body. Thus when Father X has experienced one or more nights of partial sleep deprivation due to the practice of vigils he approaches sleep/early morning nap in a hypo condition thus primed for reconstruction of self in the world in the form of an OBE. After sufficient sleep deprivation the REM model building mechanism will kick in while awake. Typically this takes at least 72 hours but may happen with prolonged short nights of sleep. Also the fact that he was an alcoholic and it is a natural REM suppressant would leave this monk primed for mental model reconstruction.

The Vigils occur at varying lengths over several nights so that by the time Father X was experiencing an OBE he may have been quite sleep deprived. Additionally, when in the hypnogogic or presleep state one is especially susceptible to auditory and visual hallucinations. Finally, there may be some form of sleep paralysis going on. This illustration from his diary from Jan. 21, 1982 illustrates several of these potential causal elements:

A short out-of-body experience after the office of Vigils. After the paralysis and vibrations came over me I had some difficulty in pushing myself out, but finally I managed it and found myself standing in the middle of a room similar to my own. I didn’t have the presence of mind to see if there was a bed with a body in it as I just walked over to the door and opened it. I was confronted by a young man wearing extremely bizarre clothes who was trying to push his way into the room; I tried to push the door closed on him but he was too quick for me, and he just pushed me back into the room, knocking me into a chair; and I could feel some pain from his push. As he walked toward me I found that I couldn’t move out of the chair; I was just about glued to it. As he got closer to me I started spitting at him, and he began spitting right back at me; then his face began changing into one big eye; then it ended.

I have argued elsewhere (Gackenbach, 1992) that OBE’s, Near-death experiences and UFO Abduction experiences are generally inaccurate, if powerful, attributions of the state of the organism. Most, but not all, occur in states of either sensory underload (at or near sleep) or overload (physical or emotional stress). Even the UFO abductions from a car typically occur while the driver is in an deserted stretch of road, with many at night. Such low or constant stimulus driving conditions certainly induce hypnagogic or trance like states which are highly susceptible to fluid mental modeling processes. At these two extremes of the arousal continuum it is easier to reconstruct the mental model of lived world. Thus we see the face valid attribution by the experients of their apparent reality status (“I am out of my body”, ” I am dead”, or “I am being abducted by aliens”). So too in nonlucid dreams there is an inaccurate attribution, “This is real and I am awake.” However, in the case of the lucid dream the attribution process is accurate (“I am dreaming.”).

These three experiences, OBE, NDE and UFOE, are some of the few imaginal realms that are more “real” than dreams (as are lucid dreams) but like nonlucid dreams they carry the same inaccurate attribution. For most of us dreams are our strongest experiences which regularly appear to occur “outside” of consensus reality. When we are dreaming, while in the dream, it feels real. Even if we know it to be a dream while still in the dream, it still feels real or even hyper-real. But in the vast majority of dreams we suffer a peculiar “single-mindedness” (Rechtschaffen, 1978) in that we are sure we are awake. Typically we have no idea that we are dreaming while we dream. So too in the “dream-like” experiences (while awake, asleep or somewhere in between) of OBE’s, NDE’s, and UFOE’s, we are certain that what is occurring is “real” in the same sense of waking consensus reality. In lucid dreams we “wake up” to the dream reality without loosing its felt sense of reality. And so too rarely might an experient of these other experiences accurately attribute the true nature of his or her state. But as with dreams these accurate attributions are the exception, not the rule.

This experience from Worsley (1988), the first lucid dreamer to signal in a sleep laboratory from sleep that he knew he was dreaming, illustrates this point. In speaking about lucid dreaming, which he directly enters from the waking state by lying for up to 2 hours on his back and not moving, Worsley comments:

I am not given to superstition or believing in ‘unnecessary entities’ but perhaps the term “dream” is a little too bland to do justice to the ultra-realism of these experiences. For instance, if one “dreams,” as I have, in rich tactile and auditory imagery of being examined in the dark by robots or operated upon by small beings whose good will and competence may be in doubt, or abused in various ways by life-forms not known to terrestrial biology, it can be very difficult to keep still. I have found that if I do not keep still this peculiar state of consciousness usually evaporates in a moment. That can be very useful as an escape route but it can be annoying to lose it when the success rate is not high and each attempt takes two hours or more. I like to regard myself as at least a moderately intrepid investigator, but I have to admit that in spite of being intellectually of the opinion that what was happening was only internally generated imagery, I have flinched during these episodes on more than one occasion . . . I suspect that many “UFO abduction” experiences, as well as out-of-body-experiences are examples of the same kind of thing. (p. 51).

I want to stress that the felt reality of these experiences, be they OBE, NDE, or UFOE, is profound and should not be understated. But a sense of hyper-reality has also been reported in lucid dreams (Gackenbach & Bosveld, 1989). Because of it the relatively unsophisticated observer, which is probably most of us, often concludes that such experiences are “real” in the sense of consensual waking reality. Only in the case of the lucid dream does the experience feel real while we experience it even though we are fully aware at the time that it is not “real”. Thus lucid dreaming represents a breakthrough of sorts for these types of experiences, in the sense of the “waking up” called for in the meditative traditions.

Religious Holidays:

Religious significance in Father X’s diary was also examined as a function of dreams/experiences around religious holidays. A couple of groups examined this perspective as well as the first author, who did it from the perspective of a quantitative analysis of type of experience.

One of the Freudian groups looked at his dreams around three holidays (Easter, Christmas, and Thanksgiving) to see if there was an increase in aggressive content associated with the holiday months relative to non-holiday (February, June, August, and September) portions of the diary. These holidays were chosen because there were several references in the diary to his father’s uncontrollable drinking around the months of Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas/New Year’s. It can be seen in this Figure 8 graph:

that in a chi square analysis of holiday/nonholiday versus type of sleep experience (OBE, lucid/OBE, lucid dream, nonlucid dream) for all but nonlucid dreams there was a higher average incidence per month during the nonholiday than during the holiday months (X2(7) = 32.48, p<.0001). the reverse was true of nonlucid dreams.

Moreover this group found that of the sleep experiences which did occur as a function of holiday, there were considerably more aggressive dreams in the holiday months (mean = 4.11/month) than in the non-holiday months (mean = 1.38/month). This group argued that the increase in aggression was due to the abusive alcohol consumption by his father in his family of origin as a child. Holidays for Father X were reminders of the worst times thus his primary coping mechanism (OBE/lucid experiences) were less frequent in these months and his aggression was more evident. Consistent with this interpretation is this excerpt from his psychological assessment:

He suffers from tension as a result of sitting on negative feelings trying to suppress them. A relatively high degree of self-focus was noted, aggression is readily perceived in others. He generally expects hostility from the environment and feels quite vulnerable.

This focus on aggression and its relationship to alcohol consumption is evident in the following dream segment:

An attractive lady of about 40 who was acting as bartender came over and I told her to give me the biggest drink in the house, because I was “totally pissed off” . . . While she was gone I started mouthing off in a loud voice calling all dream creatures “nothing but a bunch of assholes,” and if they thought they were going to intimidate me they better start thinking again.

Another group looked at changes in dreams as a function of one holiday, Easter, for each of the six years of diary entries. They used the Hall and Van de Castle (1966) system of content analysis. Although there were no obvious references to Easter in these dreams, several scales showed higher incidences before Easter; aggressive interactions, friendly interactions, negative words, while after Easter increases were shown in these scales; characters, sexual interactions, activities, color, large and small size, negative linearity and positive intensity, negative evaluations, time references. Clearly there were more increases in dream elements as a function of Easter than decreases.

The increase in characters, most of which were in the group category, may simply reflect groups of church attendees not ordinarily in Father X’s world. The drop in aggression after Easter may be due to the religious overtones of the holiday, the resurrection of Christ and the forgiveness of sins it implies, or due to family of origin memories that drinking was higher at holidays so that when the holiday is over there is relief. These interpretations, however, do not fit with the decrease in friendly interactions after Easter. The increase in sexual interactions after Easter may have religious overtones with the image of rebirth of the Christ and sex as central to conception and birth.

Activities doubled from before (n=12) to after (n=27) Easter. Central among activities is the increase in movement which could be seen as the dreamer controlling his movements more thus he is affected by Easter in a positive manner in that he feels less helpless. This richness of appreciation is also apparent with the big increase in references to color and several other positively tinged descriptive elements. Easter seemed to have a positive influence on Father X which may be due both to the relief at seeing the end of the holiday and the memories it elicits regarding an alcoholic father and to the Christian concept of rebirth through the resurrection of Christ.

In sum all the types of analysis around religious services and holiday showed an effect. Interpretation of this effect is a combination of religious practice and family of origin problems.

Content Analyses Across Time:

What seems to be occurring from his diary is an emergence of feelings associated with his childhood trauma and with this emergence a decrease in one of his coping mechanisms, OBE’s and lucid dreams. Half the groups looked at various dream element progressions across the ten years of the diary. Possible early versus late diary differences were analyzed for all information. The first four years represented the early diary years and 1989 and 1990 the last diary years. Because the last two years only had partial years of diary entries their numbers were converted to twelve month entries in order to equalize them with the early 12 month diary entries. Ten of the 27 tests showed a significant or near significant difference from early to late in the diary. Father X was more happy and more angry including nonholiday aggression and holiday thanatos images late in the diary than early in the diary. Additionally there were more doors and fewer masks late in the diary.

The presence of masks in the diary was mentioned by many of the student groups. One of the general qualitative groups focused exclusively on the role of faces/masks in the diary. They defined these as any physical entity that obscures the dream ego’s vision, including glass-like and metal masks as well as veils, curtains, and nets.

Faces and masks are devices used to conceal or alter one’s identity. We all use masks and different faces to deceive and hide from others our true self. Masks have long been associated with hiding the true nature of a person. Evidence dates the use of masks to the Paleolithic cave paintings some 30,000 years ago. With the diverse history masks have held for many societies, there are only a few interpretations that most ascribe to masks. Throughout the diary there is a myriad of references to masks but the incidence declines in the latter years of the diary. Father X may have resolved some of his inner conflicts associated with these dreams or perhaps no longer needed to or could “mask” his personal angst.

Here is a 1983 illustration from the diary:

I find myself outside in the bright sunshine. My vision is not too good, and when I put my hand to my face I can feel another of those hard, metal masks, but his one has a piece of cellophane over it which I easily pull away; then I pull the first metal mask off and look at it; it has a brown color to it with openings for the eyes, nose and mouth, and a bright coloring around all the openings; then I pull the second mask off and it seems to be like the first except that it is a lot more fragile as there doesn’t seem to be much body to it, like a bunch of straps sewed together; when I start to pull the third one off the experience ends.

The increase in happiness and anger late in the diary along with the decrease in masks and increase in doors implies an opening up of the emotions which had haunted him for years which peals away the layers of masks with more doors as entries to new areas of self.

The type of sleep experiences did not differ as a function of time in dairy in this analysis except nonlucid dreams which were significantly more mentioned by Father X late in the diary. This is of interest as Father X made a point of not mentioning them for so many years even though he had them. He felt the value of the diary was in the lucid dreams and OBE’s and not in the nonlucid experiences. Yet he began to see value in the nonlucid dreams towards the end of his diary years. Also the increase in elaboration of experiences, as implied by number of lines per experience, late in the diary implies that perhaps more meaning was emerging.

Experiences after Mass went up while those after the Office of Vigils went down. Early in the diary he virtually never mentioned mass which came increased in incidence as precipitating his experiences later in the diary. Early morning Mass relative to Lauds, which showed no difference, is a more elaborate celebration of the divine at the start of the new day. Vigils being an all night process results in sleep loss and thus that alone could account for Mass-Lauds and Vigils differences. More can be seen in the next set of analyses.

Given Father X’s focus on lucid dreams and OBE’s as his very reason for sending the diary to scientists it is incumbent on us to specifically examine the role lucidity/OBE’s played relative to the other variables. This correlation matrix between the various sleep experiences and elements analyzed by the groups gives some insight into the relationship between elements and sleep experience form. Those correlation coefficients which were .5 or greater are bold faced in the table in Figure 9.

The most obvious trend in this table is that there are only three correlation’s above .50 with OBE’s frequency while there are 14 to 15 for the other three type of sleep experiences. Not only were fewer things related to OBE’s, the direction of the relationship is often the opposite as the other sleep experiences and of quite a bit less magnitude. This pattern is less clear for nonlucid dreams than for the two lucid type experiences. So for instance, happiness, sadness and anger were positively and strongly associated with lucid/OBE’s and lucid and nonlucid dreams and negatively and weakly associated with OBE’s. One could argue that lucidity for Father X was associated with a wide range of emotions and dream experiences while OBE’s were less uniformly characterized. Perhaps lucidity can be seen as being in some sense without a mask. However, several of the groups of students also pointed out that Father X used lucidity to gain control over unpleasant dream situations and was most often used to escape.

Blank/Pure Consciousness Experiences:

A reconceptualization of a set of waking experiences of Father X allows further interpretation and theoretical contextualization. Father X’s experiences occurred during sleep (86%) and during waking (14%). This graph (Figure 10):


shows the relative incidence of each type of experience. Waking experiences were identified as one of two major types, comments and what Father X called blank experiences. These waking blank experiences are not necessarily mutually exclusive to sleep. For instance, waking blanks in a few cases evolved into what he called OBE’s or lucid dreams further OBE’s began from his perspective from waking. In any case the majority of the waking/commentary types of experiences were comments on OBE’s and typically included descriptions of vibrations and other phenomena classically associated with the out-of-body experience. He identified the waking blank experiences as distinct. For instance from Jan. 14, 1983 he wrote:

I was just resting on my bed fully clothed. It was one of those strange (as if they all aren’t strange!) experiences where I wasn’t thinking of anything so my mind was completely blank and my eyes closed, then suddenly it seemed like a television set went on in my head ……

However as the blank experiences progressed they got increasingly complex and he was increasingly involved in them so that by the end of the diary entries they were full blown OBE’s or lucid dreams. If these blank experiences are conceptualized as experiences of pure consciousness then their developmental relationship to the rest of Father X’s experiences would be consistent with previous conceptual work I have done on these experiences.

My thinking (Gackenbach, 1991) parallels recent theoretical work in developmental and transpersonal psychology which posit stages of human growth beyond Piaget’s endpoint of formal operations. Although most post-formal operational approaches continue to emphasize all of development as a function of the dynamic interaction between biology and environment a third potentially important domain has been suggested. This domain, consciousness, is the most appropriate for considering the role of “consciousness” in sleep. Due to the focus on the development of consciousness recent theorists in both developmental (Alexander, et al., 1990) as well as transpersonal psychology (Wilber, 1987) have postulated stages of development that are not only beyond the traditional Piagetian endpoint of formal operations but also see the next major shift in development as moving past representation to “post-representation”. Such post-representational models characterize consciousness in sleep as an illustration of “the Self becoming de-embedded from and hierarchically integrated (“[that is] witnessing”) all previous, representational levels of mind (Alexander et al., 1990; p. 33),” including dreaming. In other words, consciousness in sleep, as illustrated by the lucid dream, is an early manifestation of post-formal operational functioning in sleep. During the lucid dream the representational capacity is still dominant even though there seems to be a de-embedding from the normal orientation of the dream ego. After all although we know it is a dream, the dreamt representation remains and in fact the awareness of dreaming does not hinder the “felt reality” or “otherness” of the dream experience. Gackenbach argues this is but a starting point which with full development of the self moves past the dream ego actively engaged in the dream environment to a post-representational aspect where consciousness quiet and separate from the dream environment. This has been called witnessing sleep.

I have identified tentative stages in the movement from lucidity to witnessing. Initially the actor is dominant and the observer is minimal, it simply recognizes that the self is dreaming. Then a fuller awareness may emerge such that the observer may recognize that the dreamer can either engage the dream story or move to a separate, quiet position. The receptive stance moves one toward a witnessing form of consciousness and consequently the emotionally impactful quality of the dream fades. Awareness itself becomes the dominant feature. When you are completely absorbed in only the awareness it opens up again in forms that are often difficult to describe verbally; such as it is “visual but not visual, more like the light of being”.

As can be seen in this graph (Figure 11):

when each experience was assigned a sequence number it was possible to look at the relative development of each type of experience over the course of the diary (F(5,307)=5.40, p<.001). OBE’s developed first followed by lucid dreams, mixed lucid/OBE experiences, blank visions, blank OBE’s and finally blank lucid dreams. The last two types of experiences developed quite late and primarily accounted for the statistical significance in the diary. In part because these blank experiences developed late in the diary they were quite infrequent in terms of the total types of experiences as can be see in Figure 12 graph (X2(5)=344.80, p<.0001).

The degree of elaboration of each experience can be estimated from the number of lines per paragraph (a paragraph is a separate experience in all but 8.6% of the total cases). This next bar graph (Figure 13):

show that blank experiences emerging into lucid dreams were most detailed by Father X and all three types of blank experiences were more elaborated than the three type of sleep experiences (F(5,307) = 3.75, p<.003). This may in part be an artifact of the lack of blank experiences so that when they happened he took extra time and effort to record them. At the least one can imply that they represent something special to this monk. In sum blank type experiences were few, developed late and a lot of words were used to describe them.

For someone new to the experience of pure consciousness the contrast of “no sense of defined boundaries of physical body'” could also get confused with the OBE. But in pure consciousness there should be a sense of no fear or negativity with no sense of getting lost or trapped. The “world” gets constructed from pure consciousness so for instance in a content analysis of these experiences in sleep versus lucidity or witnessing dreams, there were more state transitions associated with it in deep sleep as only the constructions can fill in the blank of nothingness and thus become transitions. The point of the development of pure consciousness experiences is to integrate our bodies with higher states of consciousness not leave them behind. If in fact his “blank” experiences are experiences of pure consciousness this would imply, consistent with the rest of these findings, that in some way he was moving toward a healthier, if more painful, way of being in the world.


After a highly dysfunctional childhood which left its scars Father X discovered a mental trick to avoid confrontation with the emotional baggage of his past, knowing he was dreaming and escaping or being out-of-body. This seems to have been an effective technique for many years and so dominated his dream life with its otherworldly feel that he kept a detailed record and sent it to interested psychologists. By 1990 this avoidance seemed not as effective. These major findings illustrate the conclusion that his major defenses no longer worked and his long surprised inner turmoil was emerging. First from the perspective of content:

  1. In the early versus late analysis it was found that Father X was more happy and more angry including nonholiday aggression and holiday thanatos images late in the diary than early in the diary. Additionally there were more doors and fewer masks late in the diary.
  2. The escape/defense that OBE’s and lucid dreams may have offered him were less frequent during holiday months than during nonholiday months when the emotions associated with his memories of the holidays may have overwhelmed him as was the case toward the end of the diary period.
  3. When he did have an experience during the holiday months they were more aggressive.

Changes in experience type over time also address this conclusion.

  1. A decrease in all experiences except nonlucid dreams over time.
  2. Lucid dreams emerged later in the diary than OBE’s as identified by sequence number.
  3. Nonlucid dreams which he considered irrelevant to his diary recording were not included in the beginning but he found them compelling enough to include toward the end.
  4. Nonlucid dreams were greater than all other sleep experiences during the holidays. For all other experiences the opposite was the case, greater during nonholiday months.

Confirmation of these trends in the diary came in the form of a recent letter where Father X explained that a couple of years after the end of his diary Father X entered a treatment program for his alcoholism. It may be that after many years hidden away from society in a monastery and hidden away from his pain in lucidity/OBE’s it finally broke through. At the very least his behaviours became disturbing enough to the community that they paid for his long treatment from monastery funds as they had no insurance for such an event. After 20 years of these experiences and alcohol addiction treatment, Father X points out that lucidity and OBE’s have virtually left him. Unfortunately, he feels that the therapy was all a failure.

In a recent letter to the first author Father X said that this quote from Karl Menninger says a lot of how this monk sees himself:

When a trout rising to fly gets hooked on a line and finds himself unable to swim about freely, he begins with a fight which results in struggles and splashes and sometimes an escape. Often, of course, the situation is too tough for him. In the same way the human being struggles with his environment and with the hooks that catch him. Sometimes he masters his difficulties; sometimes they are too much for him. His struggles are all that the world sees and it naturally misunderstands them. It is hard for a free fish to understand what is happening to a hooked one.

After I wrote up this summary of the classes findings and my own observations I sent it to Father X. In a letter dated January 13, 1995 he answered, “I have always thought that my damaged psyche was only responsible for kicking open the door to this other world, and was not a major factor in contributing to the content of my experiences.” This truly lovely man went on to say:

But I am only a layman and I’m sure that most psychologists will hold a completely different view on this subject. I certainly found that out at the treatment center; the psychologists there wouldn’t even entertain the possibility that this other world or “Parallel Reality”, if you will, might exist on its own apart from my mind; according to them, my psyche and my psyche alone was responsible for these weird experiences I was having; consequently, I have resigned myself to the fact that I will continue to be a population of one who believes in the reality of this other world. The idea is not as farfetched as it may seem. Some reputable scientists are now talking about something called “Hyperspace” which may conceal Parallel Realities, Time Warps and a 10th dimension. But I have to say that with the ending of my experiences, my belief, which was constantly being reinforced with each new experience, is not as strong as it once was, but it is still there.

He closed his letter with a lucid dream which occurred just before he wrote me on Jan. 13, 1995, “Because my experiences are so rare now, I don’t record them anymore, but this particular experience happened recently and it had some interesting features to it so I thought I would include it.”

In the pre-lucid phase of the dream I was walking through an unfamiliar city when I came upon this bridge which I walked under without any difficulty but when I got to the steps leading up to the main street they turned into a brick wall, and this is when lucidity hit me. Knowing that I was in a dream I just leaped into the air and started flying over the city. Off in the distance I could see this huge tower with a concrete platform on top of it; there were a group of men on the platform playing some musical instruments; as I got closer to them they started waving at me, and I landed right in the middle of them. There were about six of them of various ages and appearances, some had beards. They all had big smiles on their faces and when I told them that I was from the planet Earth they started laughing uproariously as if I had said some big joke; then one by one they dived off the platform into the water below; when they hit the water they all dissolved into black spots; I followed them off the platform but I landed on solid ground. I continued wandering around the city and noticed how dirty and ill-kept it was; there was all this strangely shaped feces lying around; then from out of a side street marched an army of ants waving swords and riding on the backs of these huge dragon flies; after they passed me I saw some young children going into a house that might be a school so I followed them in.


Alexander, C.N., Davies, J.L., Dixon, C.A., Dillbeck, M.C., Oetzel, R.M., Muehlman, J.M. & Orme-Johnson, D.W. (1990). Higher stages of consciousness beyond formal operations: The Vedic psychology of human development. In C.N. Alexander and E.J. Langer (Eds.), Higher stages of human development: Adult growth beyond formal operations, N.Y.: Oxford University Press.

Blackmore, Susan (1988). A theory of lucid dreams and OBEs. In J.I. Gackenbach and S.L. LaBerge (Eds.), Conscious mind, sleeping brain: Perspectives on lucid dreaming. NY: Plenum.

Father X (1985). Lucid dreams of out-of-body experiences: A personal case. Lucidity Letter, 4(2), 62-67.

Father X (1988). Letter to the editor. Lucidity Letter, 7(1), 80-82.

Father X (1989). Reflections on lucid dreaming and out-of-body-experiences. Lucidity Letter, 8(1), 35-45.

Father X (1990). Reflections on 20 years of ‘conscious’ sleep experiences. Lucidity Letter, 9(2), 53-57.

Gackenbach, J.I. & Bosveld, J. (1989). Control your dreams. NY: Harper & Row.

Gackenbach, J.I. & Prince, W. (June, 1992). Dreams and autobiographical experiences from Alberta natives and nonnatives. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Dreams, University of Calif., Santa Cruz.

Gackenbach, J.I. (1991). A developmental model of consciousness in sleep: From sleep consciousness to pure consciousness. In J.I. Gackenbach and A. Sheikh (Eds.), Dream images: A call to mental arms. N.Y.: Baywood.

Gackenbach, J.I. (1992). Childhood Experiences of Higher States of Consciousness: A Literature Review and Theoretical Integration.

Gackenbach, J.I. (1992-93). Adaptiveness of childhood transpersonal experiences in two Cree women: A Study. Lucidity, 11, 107-122.

Gackenbach, J.I. (1995). Reflections on Dreamwork with Central Alberta Cree: An Essay on an Unlikely Social Action Vehicle . In Bulkeley, K. (Ed.). Dreams, cultures, and values: The philosophical horizons of modern dream studies. NY: SUNY Press.

Gackenbach, J.I. (in preparation). The traditional death of Crow Woman, Winnipeg, Blizzard.

Hall, C.S. & Van de Castle, R.L. (1966). The content analysis of dreams. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Rechtschaffen, A. (1978). The single-mindedness and isolation of dreams. Sleep, 1, 97-109.

Wilber, K. (1987). The spectrum model. In D. Anthony, B. Ecker, & K. Wilber (Eds.), Spiritual choices, NY: Paragon.

Worsley, A. (1988). Lucid dreaming: Ethical issues. Lucidity Letter, 7(1), 4-5.