Lucid dreaming is the art of becoming more conscious during the dream. When we are dreaming and realize “Hey, I’m dreaming!” we have a unique opportunity to interact with the dream with purpose and, of course, with amazement.
Lucid dreaming is truly one of the most amazing experiences I have ever known. To look around and know that everything you see is an imaginary realm is simply mind blowing, especially because it feels more real than waking life. Colors are more vivid, perception is clearer, and joy can rush through so strongly that your feet will lift off the ground. (The dream ground, I mean.)
And it gets even dreamier when you realize that the other dream figures want to talk to you and show you, well… they show you what you’re ready to see. They can be friendly and other times they can test your boundaries and the limits of your courage. Occasionally, they will let you in on a secret or two that can remind you that the world is not at all what it seems.
I’m speaking so vaguely here because lucid dreaming is really what you make of it. In the moment, it is a mirror of your own intentions and desires. But over time the mirror changes you, making you clearer, stronger, and yet also more flexible, more centered, and ready for anything life throws at you.
There’s really no one way to lucid dream – after all, people from hundreds of cultures have been using lucid dreaming for thousands of years for all sorts of purposes, including out-of-body travel, shamanic healing, communication with plants and animals, finding answers to dilemmas and solutions to problems, dissolving the self, and exploring the mythic realm for self-knowledge and for social leverage too. Lucid dreaming is culturally-mediated; there is no final authority to the Highest aims of lucidity.
On a personal note, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the practice changed my life forever. As a teen and a young adult, I was haunted by nightmares. Lucid dreaming helped me face my fears, literally. This initiation into conscious dreaming helped me build courage in my waking life too and to take more risks (emotional, physical and spiritual). More than anything, lucid dreaming has shown me that the greatest hurdles and roadblocks are the ones I have put up in front of myself.
To put it mildly, lucid dreaming is the greatest teacher I have known.
Is lucid dreaming the same thing as dream control?
No, these are actually two different aspects of dreams. You can manipulate your dreams without being aware you’re dreaming, and you can be lucid without controlling the dream. What lucid dreaming offers is the ability to make a choice. To control yourself, your actions, and your reactions. As great Hindu mystics remind us, karma is not what happens to you; it’s how you react to what happens to you.
But sure, you can conjure up whatever you want if the intention is strong enough. Of course, once you let that cat out the bag it will behave as it wants…
Technically speaking, there are lots of ways to become more lucid in dreams: volition or making choices, meta-cognition (thinking thoughts and noticing your emotions), as well as levels of understanding that “this is a dream.” For example, I sometimes realize I’m dreaming and then try to teach another dream figure that we are dreaming. (Most of the time, they don’t want to hear it.) Interestingly enough, one lucid dreamer friend of mine suggests that the dream is more lucid when all the dream figures understand.
But at the end of the night, a dream is “lucid enough” if your consciousness level is appropriate to the task at hand. You don’t need to remember your social security number or every detail of your sleeping location in the middle of a dream to prove you are lucid; this kind of fact-finding can actually diminish the magical qualities of the dream itself.
Consciousness moves around; it changes in an instance, and this is true of lucid dreams too. So, whether your state of mind reflects a mild self-awareness or some kind of transpersonal bliss, a lucid dream is always good enough. We don’t judge our ordinary dreams, so I don’t believe in judging our lucid dreams either. We will always have another opportunity to choose differently again, to try a new strategy or take a different path.
That’s my quick introduction to lucid dreaming. Now, the question is, why would you want to become more conscious in the dream anyways? Here’s the short list.
Benefits of Lucid Dreaming
- Facing fears
- Exploring the dream world
- Safely engaging in fantasies
- Finding inspiration for puzzles, scientific problems, or works of art
- Composing music
- Contacting ancestors or people who have passed on
- Asking for spiritual guidance
- Deep meditative practice
Many therapeutic applications of lucid dreaming have been researched as well, such as:
- Facing the past for emotionally “stuck” individuals
- Developing courage for sexual assault victims
- Experiencing bodily freedom for quadriplegics and the wheelchair-bound
- Overcoming Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome for soldiers and abuse victims
- Visualizing physical therapy improvements
- Reducing nightmares and sleep paralysis