Tinnitus and Lucid Dreams

This old fellow isn’t done yet, either.

For the past month, I’ve recalled nothing but fragments of my dreams. I must be dreaming each night whether or not I remember doing so. I wish I were aware of more of these nightly narratives. Life seems a bit like a sunbleached ad in an old storefront without them.

Last night I anticipated that I’d have a lucid dream because I have an odd symptom that heralds their arrival. I have tinnitus in one of my ears. When I am on the verge of having a lucid dream, I will wake briefly at night and feel a sensation in that ear that is akin to the haptic feedback on a cell phone, except it seems that a puff of air is escaping from that ear drum as I feel the vibration. My ear will “puff” at regular intervals, about every 30 seconds. I know that I am not just dreaming this sensation, for I have gotten out of bed and used the restroom, with the puffing going on twice a minute the whole time.

Once back in bed, I will quickly fall back to sleep. The vibration in my ear has been happening off-and-on for so many years that it no longer disarms me. I’ve grown to think of this symptom as a call from my subconscious to pay close attention to the message it is about to deliver to me in a lucid dream.

I used to think that tinnitus was just a physical phenomenon. I thought of my damaged ear drum like a guitar string that had grown too slack to stay in tune. A couple years ago, I read Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks, and this fascinating book taught me that tinnitus is actually an auditory hallucination related to hearing loss. My experience of tinnitus as a sign of a forthcoming lucid dream suggests to me that the membrane between hallucination and dreaming may be much thinner than expected. If I wake immediately from a lucid dream, my ear puffs for a few minutes more.

The puffing last night was indeed followed by a lucid dream. In this one, I dreamed about a dog. I will forewarn you that the opening scene of the dream was melancholy. My husband and I were attending a wake ceremony for a dog that I do not know in my waking life, but I had the sense he had appeared in my dreams several times. I don’t know if this sort of thing happens to anyone else. I sometimes dream of things, places, or people that I can only recognize from other dreams instead of real life.

There were about 30 people in attendance at this memorial event. The dog was on a gilded platform with a canopy, and there were reeds and flowers arrayed around his body. He had short black fur riddled with white hairs that betrayed his advanced age. People were recounting his loyalty and spirit as they drank beers in his memory. At a moment no one happened to be looking at him, the dog began to cough and sounded just like a person.

Everyone gasped for joy. A half-drunk man dropped to his knees in the front of the dog and proclaimed, “Get that boy a cough drop! I knew he wasn’t done!”

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