On average, we spend about one-third of our lifetime sleeping – a state in which we experience nothing besides our dreams. Unfortunately, we do not remember most of them and are not even aware of the fact that we are dreaming while it is happening. Instead, it feels more like a movie that we can observe, but not interact with. Now imagine we could consciously use all that time in any way we can think of. Actually, this is possible – and the concept behind it is called lucid dreaming.
What Is Lucid Dreaming?
Lucid dreaming dates back thousands of years and was for example already practiced in Eastern spiritual traditions like Buddhism and Hinduism.
Simply put, a lucid dream is a dream, in which we are aware of the fact that we are dreaming. This allows us to control the content of the dream to a certain degree, depending on our level of lucidity. We can change the environment, the dream characters, and the laws of physics. In a dream, nothing is impossible. Whatever we can imagine, we can also experience.
One characteristic of a lucid dream is that everything feels completely real. All our senses work as usual. We can see, we can hear, we can taste, we can smell and we can touch everything like in everyday reality. It can even seem so real, that although we already realized that we are in a dream, we can fall back into unconsciousness because we simply cannot believe it. Sometimes the sensual experience can even be amplified within a lucid dream and thus might feel more intense and enjoyable than in the waking state.
However, certain differences can still help us realize that we are in a dream, and learning to make these distinctions allows us to experience these states more consistently. Although some might also have lucid dreams naturally, most people actually need to practice for it to happen on a regular basis.
The Use Cases of Lucid Dreaming
We can make use of our dreams in many ways, which I divided into four categories:
- Fun: We can have a lot of fun doing everything we want. For example, we can fly, we can teleport, we can have superpowers, we can have sex, we can eat our favorite food or we can breathe underwater. The possibilities are endless.
- Practice, Contemplation, Creativity: We can also use lucid dreams for practical activities. For example, we can repeat a certain combination of movements for our favorite sport. We can rehearse a job interview or presentation. We can reflect on anything we want, like a business or a research project. We can use the dream to get creative, compose a song, or come up with ideas for a painting. It is a great way to get into a routine, improve our skills, train for certain situations, come up with ideas and solutions, or use our available creativity. Although doing so does not have the same effects as practicing in the waking state, it still can positively influence the way we approach whatever we want to do.
- Self-Discovery, Personal Development: Through the more direct access to our subconscious mind while we are sleeping, lucid dreaming holds great potential for self-discovery and personal development. It can help us explore and understand the depth of our minds and makes it possible to face our fears and solve inner conflicts. Overcoming our deepest traumas within the safety of our dreams can also allow us to better cope with nightmares and to transform them into opportunities for personal growth.
- Spirituality: Exploring the mystery of our dream world can allow us to have insights into the nature of ourselves and reality as a whole. We can make our lucid dreams a metaphysical exploration. Being lucid within a completely different realm of experience enables us to look at everything from a new perspective. It opens a door to a mystical state of consciousness.
How to Lucid Dream
There are a variety of ways to become lucid within a dream. Every person resonates with different methods, so there is no one best approach for everyone. In general, we can categorize all these techniques into two groups. With “Dream Induced Lucid Dreaming” (DILD) we notice that it is a dream while we are already dreaming. With “Wake Induced Lucid Dreaming” (WILD) we consciously transition directly from the waking state into the lucid dream.
Among the variety of available methods, I only present my personal favorites that turned out to be the most effective.
Dream Induced Lucid Dreaming
Dream Journal: Start writing down all your dreams. This way you can remember them more easily and it will help you reconstruct the memory while doing it. I would recommend doing this as the very first thing after waking up to avoid any distractions. You will remember more and more dreams every night and will have a much more detailed memory of the experience. I also recommend reading and analyzing your journal from time to time to get in touch with your unique dream world and to understand its structure and characteristics. It will make it easier to identify typical dream symbols and repeated themes and thus to become aware of the fact that you are dreaming while it is happening.
Reality Checks: Start regularly checking if you are awake or dreaming. This might sound strange because it seems so obvious. However, in a normal dream, we also think it is real although it is not, which shows that we could always delude ourselves. The intention is to implement a habit so that we end up checking automatically while we are sleeping and thus notice we are in a dream. Since it is important that we take these reality checks seriously, it can help to always assume that we are dreaming and to convince ourselves that we are not.
I recommend choosing three to five checks that we can do easily and quickly in every situation about once an hour. My favorite ones are: holding my nose to check if I can still breathe, scanning my surroundings and my body to see if everything looks normal, searching for a digital clock and see if the time is plausible, testing if I have superpowers like telekinesis, or reflecting about where I am, how I came here, what I did before, what day and time it is and to check if everything seems realistic. These are just a few examples and everyone has to find out for themselves which ones work best.
Research & Contemplation: Inform yourself on lucid dreaming on a regular basis and think and talk about it during the day and especially right before you go to bed. The permanent unconscious processing increases the chance of it coming up while we are dreaming.
Affirmation & Visualization: Get into the habit of visualizing and affirming that you will have a lucid dream this night. Trick your mind by confidently imagining it repeatedly until you fall asleep, so it will be more present in your subconscious mind and increase the chance of it coming up while you are dreaming.
Wake Induced Lucid Dreaming
Preparation: Calm your mind through meditation and relax your body with techniques like progressive muscle relaxation. This creates the perfect foundation for transitioning into a lucid dream. Besides, implementing the DILD methods mentioned before can also help you to be more successful with the WILD techniques
Transition: Try to stay conscious and alert inside your mind while your body falls asleep to slowly transition directly into the lucid dream. When you go to bed, find a comfortable position, and make sure that you will not have to move again until you sleep. A good way to relax our muscles and to stay conscious is to lie on our back with your arms left and right a few centimeters away from our bodies, the palms of our hands pointing upwards, and our legs laying a few centimeters apart from each other with our feet slightly falling outwards. Close your eyes and keep them closed all the time. Breathe deeply, let go of any tension, and start visualizing a dream you want to dive into. Just stay in that position and go on with the visualization while being totally relaxed and patient. After a while, you might feel that your body vibrates, gets heavy and you might hear a buzzing sound. This is when sleep paralysis starts – a state in which your body already falls asleep to prevent you from moving your actual body while you move within the dream. You will start seeing colors and forms building up in your mind’s eye. Do not focus on it, do not get distracted or attached, but just let go while staying conscious. The dream scenery will slowly start to form. Try to picture more and more details and if the dream becomes vivid enough, try to ease yourself into it, feel your dream body, and finally interact with its world. Another way is to visualize your dream body floating or moving out of the sleeping body. All this might feel strange or frightening at the beginning, but try to stay relaxed and breathe deeply. Remind yourself that this is totally normal and just part of the process.
Wake Back To Bed (WBTB): One way to increase the chance of success is to wake up after around five hours of sleep. You then stay up for about an hour doing things like informing yourself about lucid dreaming, or reading your dream journal, or meditating – and then go back to bed doing the aforementioned DILD techniques. This is a way to time our sleep cycles and thus to be in the perfect condition for lucid dreaming.
Lucid Dreaming Best Practices
These are just some examples of all the possible ways. There are still many other common approaches and new ones are coming up regularly. I would recommend combining all these methods and experimenting with different ones to maximize the chance of success.
I was more successful with the DILD techniques and think that they are easier for most beginners. Yet some believe that in the long run, for more experienced practitioners, the WILD techniques can work more consistently.
In the beginning, it is likely that we experience dreams with a low level of lucidity, meaning that we only have little influence over what is happening. Sometimes we can also have pre-lucid dreams, in which we are aware of the possibility that it might be a dream, but still have no conscious control over what is happening. There are many nuances to this practice and it is important to have in mind that even when we already had experiences like these, that there is still great potential for further discoveries.
If you are ever frightened by any of these experiences, try to embrace them and convince yourself that you are completely safe. Nothing can harm you because everything you experience is just inside your mind. It is simply a matter of practice and over time your level of control will increase. You will get more relaxed as you notice that all the power is in your hands and that it all depends on how well you master your mind.
One of the most important things on this entire journey is to be patient and to keep going with the practice even when you do not get immediate results. Some people have their first lucid experience after some days of practice. Some need three weeks, some need six weeks, some need ten weeks. It is different for everyone and depends on various reasons you cannot fully control. The only thing you can do is to take the practice seriously and not to give up until you have your first lucid dream. Often it is so mind-blowing that the experience alone motivates you to continue. In the end, everyone can learn it and it is only a matter of how committed we are.
Another important factor is to approach the techniques with no expectations. Sometimes we can get so excited that we wake up too quickly. Try to stay calm and mindful while it is happening. It can also help to combine lucid dreaming with meditation. You can meditate before you go to bed, while you are in bed and also while you enter the lucid dream. The more conscious you are in your waking state, the easier it is to become conscious within your dream.
Lucid Dreaming and Spirituality
The deeper we go into this practice, the more we can realize how mysterious dreams really are. How can our mind deceive us so much that we are not even aware of the fact that it is just a dream? And how can something feel completely real, although we know it is not?
If we compare our dreams to our normal waking state, we could say that the difference between the two is that our waking state feels more real than our dream state. But how do we know this is true? When we transition from a normal dream to a lucid dream, we can realize how our notion of what is real does not mean anything. We can be so sure it is real but then find out that it is not. So what exactly is the difference between the two? Even from a scientific standpoint, both experiences are similar regarding the fact that they are both generated in our brains. And both feel similarly real.
This raises the question: what does it even mean for something to be or feel “real”? How do we know if something is real besides using our intuitive evaluation – which, as we can find out by examining our dreams, is not necessarily accurate? What does that say about our “normal” reality?
Some might object and say that the difference is that in dreams we can imagine anything we want, whereas normal reality follows strict rules. But if we look closer, we can actually see that both experiences follow certain rules. For example, a dream also has certain laws of physics. They are just more flexible than the ones in the waking state and might seem absurd compared to what we know. But if we compare the two experiences with an open mind and with no prejudices and assumptions, we can identify many similarities.
In the end, both are just experiences. Only our thoughts label the one as more real than the other. If we are fully present with the experiences themselves, with no interpretations, we can realize that in their most essential nature, they are both the same. This does not mean that our normal reality is a dream or that our dream is actually real. It just questions the validity of this distinction in itself and opens our minds for a deeper exploration of what reality is.
How to Get Started With Lucid Dreaming
Before you get going, I recommend doing more research on that topic for yourself and find out your own reasons why you want to try it out. Experiment with different methods and see what works for you. A good place to start could be books like “Exploring The World of Lucid Dreaming” by Dr. Stephen LaBerge, “Are You Dreaming?: Exploring Lucid Dreams: A Comprehensive Guide” by Daniel Love or “A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming: Mastering the Art of Oneironautics” by Dylan Tuccillo, Jared Zeizel and Thomas Peisel.
Have in mind that this is just the beginning. After you had your first lucid dreams, the next challenge is to increase the lucidity and stability of the dream over time. There is great potential to go deeper into this world and to explore all its opportunities. Although you can have your first success relatively quickly, it is still a long journey to fully comprehend the depth of this practice.
Now it is up to you. Go and have fun exploring and discovering the unbelievable mysteries of your dream world.
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