Lucid dreaming is having awareness that you are dreaming, while you are dreaming.
What if right now you suddenly realized that you were actually dreaming and that in this domain you could do anything imaginable?
This awareness while dreaming has been studied extensively by Dr. Stephen Laberge, who has more than 20 years of research experience at Stanford University. After attending his workshop, I have become more and more interested in this practice.
Most of our dreams are just replays of our daily memories: we go to work during the day and dream of work at night. (that’s the worst, isn’t it?) But occasionally we’ll have a dream that sticks with us – we might ponder it, or think about it throughout the day – or maybe we have had a recurring dream since childhood that really baffles us. These are the dreams that I am fascinated with.
Most people have experienced the recognition of being in a nightmare, maybe right before awakening. What if you could choose to stay in it, exploring what it is that is causing you to feel so fearful?
Why could this be beneficial? If you have a phobia of spiders, for example, you can face it in your dreams. You may also improve areas of your life like public speaking or social anxiety.
Lucid dreaming has also been studied in athletes who want to perfect their skills. The same neural pathways are engaged during dreaming, therefore sensory-motor pathways can be strengthened.
Lucid dreaming can be especially beneficial for people who struggle with nightmares. If you can become lucid in a nightmare, you have essentially gone from being in a horror movie, to watching a horror movie. By dealing with the source of the nightmare, you can address fears that might be too difficult for you to address in any other way.
Dr. Laberge tells the story of a recurring dream he had of a troll chasing him. He’d had this dream throughout his life and had always run, eventually waking up in a cold sweat. After he began lucid dreaming, he was able to turn around in his dream and ask the troll what it wanted. Dr. Laberge also teaches that if you can change the way you perceive such things, for example, telling yourself that maybe the troll just needs your help, then you can approach it with compassion. He was able to actually hug the troll in his dream, and realized that it was a part of himself that needed to be accepted and loved.
Sometimes it may seem that the nightmare is happening to us, when in actuality, the nightmare is you, trying to be heard. Nightmares can be hugely valuable because they are powerful dreams that are usually making powerful psychological statements. As you learn to face these fears, they will cease to be nightmares, and actually become amazing ways for addressing parts of your subconscious mind that you have disowned, denied or rejected.
Carl Jung called this our shadow side. He also said that the shadow is the seat of all human creativity – it’s just the part of ourselves that we’re unwilling to face. Understanding our dreams can help us understand ourselves. Once you have this conscious access, you can address any part of yourself.
Anything you might treat through hypnotherapy, you can treat with lucid dreaming.
Lucid dreaming offers sub-conscious exploration, psychological growth, and self-discovery. It offers us the opportunity to be more awake, more aware, and more joyfully engaged in our everyday lives.
The Buddha told his disciples to regard all phenomena as dreams. The more we recognize the falsehood of these projections, the more readily we will recognize the dream state for what it is, and begin to live more lucidly. Waking up from the dream is the central metaphor of Buddhism: the dream of separateness - of “self” and “other”.
Practicing lucid dreaming can lead to similar benefits that meditation does: strengthening our capacity for mindful awareness.
Try these techniques to practice lucid dreaming:
1. Remembering your dreams is the first step to lucid dreaming. This is probably the most important thing you can do to start the practice of lucid dreaming. Keep a pen and paper on your nightstand, and as soon as you wake up, jot down your dream. If you awaken in the night from a dream, jot down enough so that you can write it out in the morning.
Keeping a dream journal is important so that you can read through your dreams and recognize “dream cues”. These are things that tell you it’s a dream (ie: pigs flying, a dead relative, being naked in public, giant spiders, etc). Reading over these mindfulness triggers makes you more likely to recognize the fact that you’re in a dream if you see them again.
2. Go to sleep each night with the intention to lucid dream. Using diaphragmatic breathing, fall asleep with the thought, “tonight I am going to be aware while I dream.”
It is also a good idea to make your bed into a place just for sleeping (don’t use technology, eat, watch TV, or work). Your bed should be for sleep and sex only. You’ll be surprised at how much this will improve your sleep in general.
If you don’t typically remember your dreams, try setting an alarm. Since REM periods happen in 90 minute intervals, set the alarm 4.5, 6, or 7.5 hours after you go to sleep. Once you wake up, don’t move – just try to recall as much as you can about the dream you were having. When you have remembered all you can, roll over and record everything you remember, especially how you felt in the dream. The better you get to know your dreaming mind, the more you’ll be able to recognize when you are in it, and become lucid.
The next time you wake up during the night after a dream, try this: Write down everything you can remember about the dream. Then, lie back down and say to yourself, “I will become aware while dreaming.” Really set this intention deeply in your heart. Then try to visualize yourself back in the dream you were just in.
3. Develop a habit of asking yourself if you’re dreaming. Throughout the day, as much as you can, ask yourself if you are dreaming, and develop a habit of either looking at your hand, looking at a clock, or touching a wall. Look away, and then look back again.
Once you develop a habit of doing this while you are awake, you will be more likely to do these reality checks while you are in a dream, and when you look at your hand, for example, you will become aware that you are dreaming.
This can take several weeks of doing this exercise 30-40 times per day. Techniques like these are helpful because the dreaming mind struggles to replicate a detailed pattern.
Another habit to create is to do reality checks when something “weird” happens during the day. For example, an experience of deja vu, or someone saying the same thing at the same time that you do. These are examples of things that, while in a dream, will typically cue you in to the fact that you are dreaming, if you are in the habit of doing reality checks.
Practicing this mindful awareness will increase lucidity not only in our dreams, but in our waking lives as well. The Dalai Lama said, “More awake- more aware; more aware- more kind; more kind- that’s the point”.
Email me - I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!
Shari Taylor, MSN, PhD
723 Hillary Street
New Orleans, LA 70118
I write about human behavior, meditation, body awareness, and a variety of other things that pique my interest.