“Curious Minds Forum” debuts with panel on lucid dreaming

Holly Nadler spoke on lucid dreaming while Thad Harshbarger, Judy Hartford, and Nikki Patton listened in. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

We Islanders rejoice when January arrives. Plenty of down time to catch up on pesky household cleaning projects, get taxes done early, read those good books, learn new recipes. By February the closets and cellars are still a mess, bestsellers, tax forms, and cookbooks gathering dust. Even the Olympics, Downton Abbey, and Netflix hits have grown as boring as our own company.

Leave it to Holly Nadler, the sparkling-eyed author, journalist, former bookstore owner, and spiritual searcher, to come up with an effervescent antidote to the Vineyard February blahs.

Her new program, the “Curious Minds Forum,” takes its subtitle from Shakespeare’s ”Hamlet”: “Everything Under Heaven and Earth Undreamt of In Horatio’s Philosophy.” Meetings are at the Oak Bluffs Library, the second Thursday of each month, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm.

The forum, or salon as Ms. Nadler prefers, aims to bring people together to explore with an open mind a variety of subjects esoteric, mysterious, even wild. Ms. Nadler promises, “a little woo-woo.”

Small wonder that Ms. Nadler is excited about such ideas. She developed the popular Ghost Walking Tours. A 20th Anniversary updated edition of her book, “Haunted Island,” with six new chapters, comes out in August.

Lucid Dreaming was the topic last Thursday. Despite the cold and soggy night, the gathering drew a small but engaged audience. Members joined a panel of creative, thoughtful Vineyarders to discuss, explore, and share experiences.

Panelists included Niki Patton, a playwright, writer, and astrologer; writer, editor, and illustrator CK Wolfson; clinical psychologist Thad Harshbarger, Ph.D.; and Clark Maffitt, musician and actor.

According to Ms. Nadler, in lucid dreaming, a person becomes aware, while asleep, that he or she is dreaming. Some even can change the situation or outcome once they realize it is not really happening.

Ms. Nadler recounted an intricate lucid dream and her “rather astonishing” experience of realizing she was actually asleep. “All of a sudden there’s this astounding realization that you’re in a dream,” she recalled.

At that time, Ms. Nadler meditated regularly. She believes, as experiments have shown, that meditation can cause changes in the brain. “When you keep up a devout meditation practice…things start to happen,” Ms. Nadler said.

Panelist CK Wolfson recalled a recurring lucid dream when she was a child in which she felt overwhelmed. Realizing she was asleep, she would tell herself to wake up, or create a better dream ending. “It pleased me to feel a sense of my own impact on my life,” Ms. Wolfson recalled. “It was empowering.”

Ms. Wolfson said she no longer remembers dreams. But she sometimes feels a barely-noticeable hint of a thought or sensation during the day and suspects that it comes from a dream. She added that when walking with her dogs, she often finds herself in a dreamlike, relaxed state in which subjects rise to consciousness, and issues resolve themselves.

Clark Maffitt spoke of fascinating dreams containing numbers — phone, license plate — with no clear connection to his life. There was a conversation with a friend who had died, a poem he felt compelled to wake up write down immediately.

“Think of dreaming as unconscious thinking,” said Thad Harshbarger. “Stuff gets thrown together.” He said dream elements occur in unusual ways, unexpected order.

Dr. Harshbarger, who sometimes works with dreams in treating patients, detailed his lucid dream, an anxious experience of being in his former office, surrounded by strangers dressed and behaving as he had in the past. As the dream grew more unsettling he realized: “This is just a dream!” and that he could change it. Like some others, Dr. Harshbarger finds anxiety can trigger lucid dreaming.

Though lucid dreaming was the focus, animated conversation ranged widely, touching upon Shamanic journeying, Bardo (the intermediate state between death and rebirth) from “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”, and more.

Upcoming forums feature “Astrology: Truth or Fiction” with Niki Patton presenting, and Kristen Henriksen on shamanic healing. Future topics may include ancient healing practices, levitation, premonition, astral projection, and more. “Poltergeists vs. Ghosts” will highlight the work of Pilgrim Paranormal, a group from Plymouth. Ed Merck, “entrepreneur turned sailor turned author” according to Ms. Nadler, will explain “The Presence Process,” a meditation practice.

Ms. Nadler hopes to bring a Buddhist teacher to discuss beliefs about reincarnation. One evening will be dedicated to stories of Islanders who have experienced “close encounters of the third kind.” UFOs and metaphysical properties of LSD may be on the agenda too.

“Audience participation is welcome,” said Ms. Nadler, “as is healthy skepticism, with the program’s core belief that curious minds are open minds.”

“I’m after an open discussion of all things theoretical, metaphysical, and cosmological where people free to throw anything into the mix,” she added. She is happy to receive suggestions for future topics.

Participants chatted long past the 7:30 ending, leaving only when library staff threatened to lock them in. They headed out into the damp chill, warmed by thought-provoking conversation, home to sleep, perchance to lucid dream.