Lucid Dreaming – An Introduction

Lucid dreaming is something I’ve been aware of for several years now, but for many folks, “lucid dreaming” doesn’t ring a bell.

For movie lovers, lucid dreaming is similar to the film ‘Inception’, in that one has the ability to be aware that they are in a dream, whilst still dreaming. After this realisation (becoming ‘lucid’), the dreamer may consciously manipulate their dream world. They can fly, shape-shift, fight zombies – the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. The main differences between Inception and the reality of lucid dreaming however, is that there is no ‘shared dreaming’ world (dreams are an individualised experience) and dying in a dream does not mean dying in reality (thank goodness).

Lucid dreaming has been practised for centuries, often with mystical connotations, although it was not until the 1980s that psychophysiologist Stephen LaBerge conducted scientific studies on the phenomenon. LaBerge essentially confirmed the reality of lucid dreaming and has since published several books on the topic, along with methods to induce and control them.

Some people may argue that the idea one can be in a dream and have full consciousness is unlikely. They may argue that I may just be “dreaming that I am aware of being in a dream”. Having practised lucid dreaming myself, I know it is “real”. Regardless of whether I am dreaming that I know I’m in a dream or not, I have experienced what it feels like to be alert in my dream and it is certainly a different feeling to being in a non-lucid dream. In a non-lucid dream, I might walk with someone, trying to get to class, even though that someone is supposed to be abroad and I’m no longer a student, and I’ll accept it all as absolute truth. In a lucid dream however, I can realise the logical gaps in the dream and then I can do what I want. In a non-lucid dream, I might be afraid of the crazy murderer that chases me. In a lucid dream, with sufficient control, I could turn them into a cake and eat them. Therein lies the difference, my friend.

Lucid dreaming – How can I do it?
There are many methods to induce lucid dreams, from willingly inducing sleep paralysis, to post-waking methods. I would suggest beginners start off with the Dream Induced Lucid Dream (‘DILD’) method. This means going to bed, sleeping, and at some point whilst dreaming, you become lucid. It is the most common and arguably easiest method.

These are the steps I would suggest you take:

1. Keep a daily dream journal
Firstly, you want to be more aware of your dreams. Naturally, our brains wipe out dream memories after we wake as the day goes on. There’s a smart reason for this – we do not want to get reality confused with dreaming. That’s also why we might say some days that we don’t remember what we dreamt about last night, or we might say we didn’t dream at all. In reality, it’s common for us to have several dreams a night.

Within the first 30 minutes of waking, try and think about the dreams you had that night. They will come to mind and soon you’ll be able to count them in succession. Write down what you can, it should not take more than 10 minutes. Over time, your dream recall will become more detailed and you’ll remember more dreams. During my time, I’ve remembered having upwards of 5 dreams some nights and remembering their order and what they were about. Given how private dreams can be, I’d suggest a computer document if a physical journal isn’t ideal for you.

The more you give value to your dreams, the easier it is to be aware of your dreams when you’re dreaming.

2. Develop a ‘reality check’
A reality check is something you do to test whether you are in reality, or actually in a dream. In the film Inception, the protagonist uses a spinning top totem as a test. If the spinning top spins perpetually, it’s a dream. If it does not, and eventually stops rolling, it tells him he is in reality. The idea of a reality check is that it is done in reality with frequency and because of this habit, it may be done when dreaming to test whether you are dreaming or not. If successful in a dream, it will alert you that you are dreaming.

A downside for keeping spinning tops is that they can get lost. Often a surefire reality check for many lucid dreamers is instead checking ones hand. My hand has four fingers and one thumb. If I press a finger into the palm of my hand, it doesn’t go through the other end. In a dream, looking at your hand often reveals flaws. You may notice you have six fingers, or two fingers, or that actually can push your finger through your palm. I check my hands once every few hours and it only takes a few seconds. There is no magic formula, so long as the reality check is relatively consistent, it will be useful.

Find what kind of reality check would work for you, or even perform several methods. Another common reality check is holding your nose and trying to breathe in through it. Often in dreams, one can still breathe in air despite holding the nose.

Something will be inconsistent with reality. When you notice this, you will have a ‘eureka’ moment and become lucid in your dream.

There we go, that’s a lucid dream.

3. Staying in the dream and increasing clarity
Of course, to maximise your exploration of lucid dreaming, becoming lucid is only part of the experience. Often the realisation of being lucid brings a lot of excitement. Adrenaline surges and uncontrolled excitement are dream killers. It may wake you up, thus taking you out of the dream. Often lucid dreams can also be initially blurry, which can also throw you out of the dream if you lose total focus and think about waking up.

When you become lucid, stay calm. Breathe slowly and deeply if you can. What you should do is look at your hands again, or focus on an object until it becomes clearer. This will keep you grounded in the dream (known as ‘anchoring’). Other anchoring methods include affirmations, such as saying ‘I am anchored in this dream’ or something similar to tell yourself to stay inside it. Some lucid dreamers have benefited from spinning around in the dream, as this brings greater body consciousness within the dream for the purpose of anchoring.

Any of these methods or a combination should help. The main point is to try and stay in the dream and to stay focused. Over time and with more lucid dreams, you’ll become even more comfortable about that ‘eureka’ moment and be able to stay in the dream for longer.

4. Dream control
Whilst being aware that you’re in your own dream world is fascinating, controlling the dream can be even more exciting. When you are lucid, after anchoring yourself into the dream, you should think about dream control. This means bending your dream according to your own will. There’s different ways of seeing this:

a) Minimal control (just chillin’): This would mean moving about in the dream and saying what you’d like in the dream, whilst maintaining consciousness that you’re actually in a dream. It involves doing normal things one would do in reality and requires little imagination and experience. Surprisingly, this is still exhilarating when you realise you’re in your own world.

b) Medium control (controlling the narrative): It is likely you will become lucid halfway through a dream you’re having. There is likely already a plot going on. You might have for example been dreaming of camping with friends. You could decide to stay in the dream and simply play along with it, but this time knowing full well that it’s a dream. You might introduce new ideas to the your dream character friends or change something you don’t like about the dream, and essentially take a backseat with the ability to manipulate as and when necessary. This requires a bit more control, because it could involve say, imagining you’ve found treasure under the ground or changing your friends’ clothes a different colour. Stuff like this requires volition and will to manipulate the dream.

c) High control (Doing your own thing): You could decide to abandon the dream narrative all together, and instead jump up, start flying towards space and relaxing on Mars whilst you eat a unique chocolate you’ve just invented. Here, clearly, there are no limits. You could essentially do whatever your mind can imagine. This ability of full manipulation can be tricky to do but can be done with experience.

Use your will: I’m often asked ‘well, that’s all well and good, but how do you manipulate the dream?’ And the answer is quite simply by having volition. Imagine it, believe it will happen and then do it. It may not be easy at first. I’ve had experiences for example where I’ve wanted to spawn special drinks out of nowhere but instead I spawned  common juice drinks. It’s cool, but it’s not what I was looking for. One of the easiest and common things to try out is flying. If you become lucid and anchored, lift your feet and think about wanting to fly. It’s an amazing experience and most people can do this in lucid dreams.

Have confidence and over time you’ll find you can do whatever you put your mind to in a dreamworld of which you own.

Concluding Thoughts
So, that’s a summary of lucid dreaming for you, but this is a discipline with a wealth of information available. for example is a good free online resource if you’re still interested. I’ll also likely post more on lucid dreaming in the future!