Dreams have been held with importance in numerous world cultures throughout history and often connected with aspects of a person’s soul or ancestors. But western society will often dismiss them as irrelevant to your life experience and best ignored with the exception of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung who developed theories of interpreting dreams believing they were accessing the unconscious or subconscious mind. Interestingly many great western thinkers have been influenced by their dreams including Albert Einstein who had a dream that helped the creation of his Theory of Relativity and Rene Descartes who had a series of dreams that helped develop the scientific method. Many more examples of dream inspired creation exist that suggest the content of dreams are valuable and should not be so easily dismissed as nonsense.
The following article will discuss the process Lucid dreaming which is when you become conscious within your dream and feel as if you are awake while in the dream world. Once you are lucid dreaming it enables you to take a measure of control over the scenario and your actions within the dream. Building a practice of lucid dreaming is similar to building a meditation practice because it requires daily practice to get the full benefits. The first part of lucid dreaming will be developing the ability to recall your dreams in the morning; the second will be mastering the hypnagogic state, third will be the capacity to set the content of your dreams and finally will be the ability to become lucid and actively control the content of your dreams.
As lucid dreaming requires practice and the right lifestyle conditions, not everyone will be able to achieve lucidity, but at the very least, the ability to recall your dreams is a great life skill to work on independently of lucid dreaming. Being able to lucid dream is a difficult skill to master, and if you are going to attempt it, please be aware that it will require a lot of willpower, perseverance and discipline. Although you may not be able to lucid dream every night, you should be able to recall your dreams, and this will lead to having more vivid dreams overall. While it is also possible to have a lucid dream spontaneously you will get other mental benefits from developing this nighttime meditation practice which should be your goal even in the absence of lucid dreams.
The Lucid Dreaming Mindset
What dreams are from a scientific perspective is inconsequential to the practice of lucid dreaming as you will still get the benefits of the skill as long as you continue to practice the nighttime meditation techniques. But it is important to keep a healthy scepticism about the content of your dreams and never get overwhelmed by the results by attaching them with a rigid meaning. Approach lucid dreaming with an attitude of playful experimentation, do not take the content of them too seriously as it doesn’t mean it’s a prediction of a future event. Keep a scientific mind and record them for observation and comment, examine the results while maintaining perspective of all the other factors going on in your waking life. Lucid dreaming is not an escape from reality but rather a practice to enhance your experience of reality so you can become a more well-rounded person in your waking life.
The first step on the pathway to lucid dreaming is developing the ability to recall your dreams in the morning after you wake up. How you will build this capacity will depend on your dedication at making it the very first thing you attempt to do every single morning. The simplest way is to get a blank notebook that you leave next to your bed every night when you go to sleep, then when you wake in you immediately begin to journal any recollections you have of your dreams. The dream journaling must be the first thing you do when you wake up as you start to forget the content of your dreams the longer you wait and the more you get distracted with thoughts about your upcoming day. Avoiding distractions or interruptions to your journaling is critical which is why it is not recommended to journal into a phone or laptop as it is far too easy to get distracted while using those devices. Even if you find yourself unable to recall your dream when you wake up, you should still grab your journal and start writing as you may find that once you write, you remember small fragments of your dream.
Dream journaling every morning will begin to help you gather your thoughts in daily life or at the bare minimum can provide you with inspiration for the rest of your day. Keep up the habit of dream journaling for at least 1-3 months and attempt to improve on the level of detail that you can recall in your dreams. Consider the time you spend doing this as the process of building your mental dream recall muscle; it will start small, but with persistence, it will get larger and better developed.
After a few months of keeping a consistent dream journal and improving your ability to recall dreams, you can now begin the process of formulating dream incubation which is where you proactively choose what the content of your dreams will be about. The first method of dream incubation is to repeat an affirmation that you will dream about your desired topic, continuously repeat this to yourself as you are falling asleep similar to how you may have heard of people counting sheep as a way to help you fall asleep or a mantra used in meditation. The second method is to use visualisations of your chosen dream subject and to visualise in as vivid detail as possible yourself in your dream, work on refining your visualisations by continuously increasing the level of detail that you can imagine. The third method is to use a physical representation of your dreams and place it on your bedside table or under your pillow to always remind you of your desired dream and make it a part of your sleep routine. An example of this physical representation may be to use a feather to tell you that you want to experience a dream where you are flying or a seashell to visit a tropical island. You may want to combine these techniques to see what works best for you and experiment with them over multiple weeks to find one that works best for you.
The Hypnogogic State
Hypnagogia is when you are consciously experiencing the twilight zone between sleeping and waking or sometimes during heavy meditation. Consider this hypnogogic state as the prelude to the lucid dreaming state, become aware of it and begin to notice it. During hypnagogia is a superb time to practice your dream incubation techniques. Salvador Dali the artist and Thomas Edison the scientist both used similar methods to engineer the hypnagogic state so it could be employed as a source of inspiration and insight. Both men would rest in a chair while holding a metal object loosely in their hand that was positioned over another metal object so that when they would begin to fall asleep, the metal object would drop and make a loud enough noise to wake them from their nap. The napping technique would allow them to experience the hypnagogic state and both men would immediately write down whatever thoughts or insights they had received.
Mnemonic-Induced Lucid Dreaming
MILD is a technique of continually testing your reality during your waking day to check if you are dreaming or not. The concept of this discipline is that if you consciously do this repeatedly, it will become an unconscious habit that you eventually will attempt to perform during a dream and will notice that you are dreaming. As it is reliant on it becoming a habit you will need to be disciplined in using this practice every day, for instance, you could set a watch to beep every hour and when it beeps you ask yourself “Am I dreaming?”. Other examples are to ask yourself if you are dreaming every time you see the back of your hands or every time you walk through a doorway.
Another method is to check your watch once and check it again soon after, and the times are likely going to vary wildly between each check of the watch if you are dreaming. You can also do more than just ask yourself the question if you a dreaming and instead do a physical action to check. A physical reality check is where the phrase “Pinch me; I must be dreaming” actually has a practical application to achieve a lucid dreaming state as the pinch in a dream is unlikely to feel like a pinch. Another physical action is to make a little jump when you check if you are dreaming and if you are dreaming you will likely float or not land as you would under the influence of gravity. The techniques of MILD may take a month or two months, but you want to make it such a habit that you will try to do it in a dream. You can also place signs around your house/car that ask the question if you are dreaming.
Wake-Induced Lucid Dreaming
WILD is a technique that is used to enter a lucid dreaming state by remaining conscious through the hypnogogic state. WILD substantially eliminates the need to perform the reality checks employed in the MILD technique as your body goes to sleep, but your mind slips directly into lucid dreaming. Preparation, before you go to sleep, is required to be able to perform this procedure and should involve avoiding all electronic devices and getting yourself into a relaxed, and meditative state before going to bed. Once you are in bed, relax all your muscles and set a rythem of controled deep breathing. Once you are completely relaxed you should begin visualising, starting with shapes, then seeing if you can make the shapes move and then eventually imagining an entire scenario. After you have visualised a scenario start to imagine your body lifting iitself up off the bed and place it into the scene you have created. With practice you will be able to perform these visualisations all throughout the hypnogogic state and eventually when you put yourself into the dreamscape you have created it will become a lucid dream.
Wake Back To Bed Lucid Dreaming
WBTB is a method that involves waking yourself up in the middle of the night for a brief amount of time and then falling back to sleep. The short time spent awake can help you recall your dreams better and allow you to slip into a lucid dream. To practice the WBTB method set your alarm clock for 6 hours after you go to sleep and when your alarm clock goes off get out of bed and wake yourself up completely. You want to keep yourself awake for 20 minutes; you could use this time to read over your dream journal to get you thinking about your dreams and the lucid dreaming experience. After 20 – 30 minutes of being awake lay back down in bed and practice dream visualisations while you drift off to sleep. The theory behind this practice is that when you wake up, it should be at a time when you are experiencing REM sleep, this leads to you being conscious during your REM sleep cycle. When you go back to bed, you should immediately drift into REM sleep from your conscious state making a lucid dream easier to attain.
Consistent Practice and Dream Yoga
Once you have a foundation of dream journaling and are practising dream incubation, engineering the hypnogogic state and the lucid dream induction techniques all that is left is to practice over many months and even years consistently. It may take a long time to experience a lucid dream and even when you do it may not be achievable every night although some practitioners do claim this is possible. If you do become a skilled lucid dreamer, then you may wish to look into the practice of Tibetan Dream Yoga which is an esoteric practice that in involves visualising Tibetan letters and goddesses while sleeping in the position of the Buddha. Dream YogaThis is for advanced meditators and was historically only to be done in a monastic setting where they would continue their practice while they were sleeping. Dream yoga is a more advanced practice but once you have a foundation of lucid dreaming it is certainly worth exploring.