Most people don't know they're dreaming as they dream. With lucid dreaming, you're dreaming and you know it. Also called "conscious dreaming," the experience starkly differs from a normal dream. A lucid dream is unmistakable; you know one when you do one. Even at (usually) less than 15 minutes in length, a lucid dream packs quite a wallop.
However, for those of us who haven't yet consciously dreamed, some distinctions can help clarify what a lucid dream is and isn't.
- Normal dreams, when recalled, generally remember like a movie; that is, they have the flavor of something happening to the dreamer.
- Vivid dreams are not necessarily lucid dreams. They are just like normal dreams, but hold extra power because of their clarity, detail, and intensity--sometimes having a lasting effect on waking life. An example of a vivid dream is a terrifying nightmare.
Lucid, or conscious, dreams, on the other hand, are remembered like a true memory, because your conscious mind was literally there. They can be vivid; they can be dull. But in all cases you were there, interacting of your own free will.
However, just because you bring your awareness to a dream doesn't necessarily mean you bring complete control--though lucid dreams have the distinct advantage of free will.
And doing as you wish in the limitless dreamworld has obvious advantages for self-understanding, magick, spiritual work, and of course recreation!
How To Do It
If you want to consciously dream, there are specific techniques to get you there, keep you there, and master your dreamworld. While you are practicing those, though, you can increase your chances of lucidity by also:
- Working on Dream recall. This makes lucid dreaming highly likely, and has solid benefits of its own.
- Practicing any magickal, creative, or spiritual work daily.
As with most Dreamwork, you must do real work in the waking world to jump-start yourself the dream world. This is because you normally do not have access to your will in the dream world. So you must push your intention into your dreams through habit forming, self-hypnosis, and brute force methods available with technology. For lucid dreaming, all these methods focus on one result: to make you realize you're dreaming.
"am I dreaming?"
This is a classic, effective, technique. Plus, it works without intimate knowledge of the nature of dreams.
- Throughout your day, look at your hands--or your feet, or your belly, or whatever.
- Still looking, ask yourself, "Am I dreaming?"
- Think about it, and surmise the answer for yourself.
- Answer "yes" or "no."
- Do some other stuff.
Make it a habit; whenever you see your protuberant belly or your shapely hands, whether it's by bringing them into view or by peripheral vision, ask yourself, "Am I dreaming?" Think about it, then answer "yes" or "no."
The more habitual this becomes, the more likely you will ask yourself in a dream, which is what you want to happen.
Remember this guideline when answering yourself: if you are unsure of whether or not you're dreaming, you're definitely dreaming.
After all this work (about 1-4 weeks of it), when you're dreaming, you might gaze at your hands and ask yourself "Am I dreaming?" and respond "yes," launching your awareness into your dream. And there you have it! You're doing it! (You'll know it when it happens).
Looking at a part of your body is useful because
- it anchors the question physically and visually, and can be used later to keep the lucidity alive (see below),
- uses an item you will likely encounter in a dream, and
- is an element you can control.
Other variants of the question are "Is this a dream?" "Am I awake?" and the presupposition "Am I enjoying this dream?" You can obviously make your own question, as long as it makes you consider: which world am I in?
A peculiar side effect of this technique is that, by way of honestly considering the question, you may evoke occasional glimpses into how strange and fascinating waking life truly is.
In that twilight between waking and sleeping, you can give yourself commands. This falls under meditation or self-hypnosis, but has of course a specific bent. Commands like "As I drift asleep, deeper and deeper, I feel I must ask myself: is this a dream? Am I dreaming?" Or "drifting asleep, I recognize the dream approaching..." You can whip up your own version of these. The key part is to command your mind that you will realize when you are dreaming.
waking up and doing it again
When you wake up with a dream on your mind, go back to sleep with the intention of entering the dream in full awareness. This can go under self-hypnosis, too, but has the specific benefit of knowing what dream you are entering--and of course you already know it's a dream. Plus, it gives you a second chance to get lucid!
drink too much water before going to bed
Surprisingly, if your bladder is about to burst, and you are asleep, you will notice it within a dream. With practice, you can associate that feeling, that urge to get up and go, with realizing you are in a dream. For example, you might get up to go to the bathroom, but the light switch doesn't work; therefore you realize you are dreaming. (See Reality Check)
This can sometimes be bad if you are unable to wake yourself up from your dream.
Similar to "Am I dreaming?", you can, in your waking and dreaming life, perform what is called a "Reality Check" to determine whether or not you are in a dream. This usually involves attempting something that is impossible in real life, or trying something that usually doesn't happen in a dream.
When you discover, for example, that you can fly, then you become aware that you are dreaming, and enter lucidity. Some common reality checks (with corresponding waking-reality exercises) are:
- light switches don't work. (turn light switches on and off)
- dead people show up. (ask yourself if any of the people around you are dead)
- you suddenly jump to another space. (how did you get here?)
- you can't remember where you might have been 10 minutes ago. (try to remember)
- long-gone acquaintances talk to you. (is this person you're talking to a long-gone acquaintance?)
- the sky is magnificently colorful. (look up)
- books, magazines, and signs have jumbled letters. ("I must not be dreaming because I've could read this paragraph")
- Reality becomes resistant to analysis. ("I need to read this book to know if I'm dreaming, but my eyes have been glued shut, so I must be dreaming")
- [please, more examples, dreamers!]
Once you recognize one of these things, you will realize that you are dreaming (or not) and enter lucidity. Because you exert the effort during your waking life, this habit of checking reality will transfer into your dreaming life, where you can reap the benefits.
Another form of reality checking is reading through your dream journal. Some people have recurring "themes" or places within their dreams; if you recognize one of these themes or places, then you can suddenly be aware you are dreaming, and enter lucidity.
From listening to a talk show as you go to sleep, to using light-emitting products, there's a wealth of gadgets that can help you get to lucidity. This could be a section in its own. Alarm clocks, hypnotic tapes of music and voice, computer software, and the like are all available to help the struggling dreamer try to get a hold on the elusive lucid dream.
Whatever the technique is, if it informs you when you're dreaming, use it. If you come up with another effective trick, well then, record it here!
[It would be nice to have rankings of the effectiveness of these techniques: is this possible?]
keeping the dream alive
One of the difficulties with lucid dreaming is that lucidity is transient (my guess is that your conscious mind is too damn slow and deliberate for your unconscious mind, and your unconscious mind will simply take off without you), and many lucid dreams are very, very short, as in "one second" kind of short. Maintaining lucidity is difficult, but a skill that can be mastered. Here are some techniques.
- Remember the body part? Well, when you feel yourself losing lucidity, look again at that body part, study it, pick out the lines in your hands, and tell yourself that you are dreaming. Usually this will extend your stay.
- Spin in place. Why this works, I don't know. But spinning on your axis when you start to lose lucidity is very effective, perhaps because of the disparity between your real body lying in bed and the physical movement in your dream. In any case, it will extend your stay, but a common experience is that your current dream will shift to another, completely different dream. Used with the technique above, you can choose to stay where you are by looking at your body, or you can change your dream by spinning, at your will.
The WILD (Wake Induced Lucid Dream) is a technique similar to sleep-induced astral projection, in that the dreamer tries to maintain consciousness while their body falls asleep. Unlike sleep projection, the desired state is obtained by embracing the hypnagogic hallucinations rather than going on to experience vibrations.
With this technique, the dreamer will throughout the day actively try to see if they're dreaming. Once this becomes habit, the hope is that they'll remember to do so while they're actually dreaming, and become aware of the fact. Some of the suggested reality checks are as follows:
- Checking the time - time perception usually acts strangely in dreams.
- Trying to read - In dreams it's difficult to read, and it may change while you're looking away.
- Try breathing while plugging your nose without opening your mouth.
- Try to push your hand through objects (or your finger through your palm)
- Use an Inception totem with impossible intent.
- If you wear glasses, take them off and see if your vision gets blurry.
- Looking at your hands - for some there'll be something off (wrong number of fingers, wrong sizes, etc).
Note that complete and total awareness is required for these to be effective, or they may be done out of habit in-dream without inducing lucidity. Additionally, a dream journal must be kept to keep from forgetting any lucid dreams. To make reality checks easier to remember, some recommend choosing a trigger to associate with reality checking, such as whenever you walk through a door, whenever a phone rings, or any other common occurrence. Reality checks should be frequent, but not inconveniently so (every 1-2 hours is common).
- Spider. The Wild FAQ. (Oct 11, 2009). Retrieved from http://www.ld4all.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=35799
- Mew151. WILD - An user friendly tutorial. (Dec 30, 2009). Retrieved from http://www.ld4all.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=36378
- Rebecca Turner. Reality Checks: The Gateway to lucid dreaming. Retrieved from http://www.world-of-lucid-dreaming.com/reality-checks.html
- What Reality Checks Have Worked Best For You. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.reddit.com/r/LucidDreaming/comments/14m1f6/what_reality_checks_have_worked_best_for_you/