Conscious, or Lucid Dreaming: The Practice, Techniques, Benefits, and Fun

Commonly referred to as "lucid dreaming", conscious dreaming is a skill that anyone can learn to master. By consciously dreaming you can gain control of your dreams, learn about yourself and the world, and discover a whole new meaning of "reality".

The mind is an unknown portal to some of the deepest levels of mankind. Sigmund Freud said that dreams open this portal, revealing the subconscious that lies within. Can humans harness the dream-state and truly experience the sub-continuities as they unfold, instead of just reflecting on them in the morning? If so, can man control and explore this new frontier at the end of the portal? The answer being yes, may come as a surprise to many, but those who have heard of something called “lucid dreaming” know that the portal can indeed be entered. To lucid dream is to not only be aware that you are dreaming while in a dream, but also to have the full consciousness and awareness of “self” as one would in an “awake” state. It turns out to be a very real thing that nearly anyone can do, and it opens a whole new realm of experience.

The amount of dreams one has at night is generally misunderstood, with the assumption that on most nights dreams don’t happen at all. The fact is that a person does dream every night, and multiple times, but a foggy memory can make it seem otherwise in the morning. A good example of man realizing how much dreaming he has actually been doing can be cited from Andrea Rock’s book, The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream:

…a man in his thirties sits patiently on the edge of his bed in the sleep lab, idly watching TV while electrodes are glued to his scalp to record his sleeping brain’s electrical activity…Each time he’s in the midst of REM sleep, he will be awakened   via intercom by the soft voice of a researcher, in a monitoring room down the hall, who will ask him to describe his dream images and the emotions associated with them. “I only occasionally remember my dreams at home, but in the lab, when they wake me while the dream is still going on, I can always describe the settings and characters, and I realize I must be dreaming like this every night,” he says. (101)

There is nothing inherently difficult to understand about the concept of lucid dreaming; experiences of lucid dreams vary for many people, but the common understanding is having a conscious, or “awake” state of mind while in a dream. This could be compared to wearing a technologically advanced virtual-reality suit where one would be able consciously explore a virtual world. The virtual world is like a dream; putting on the suit is falling asleep, and the removal of it is analogous to waking up. Upon the removal of the virtual-reality suit, a continuous stream of “awake” consciousness would carry through, unbroken, and the virtual experience could be reflected upon as if it had be just another part of the waking day. The stream of self-aware consciousness is continuous from one realm of experience to the other: from the virtual world to the “reality” world, just as a lucid dreamer‘s consciousness can flow from the dream state to the waking state and visa versa.

As far as lucid dreaming goes, the actual level of awareness varies. When lucidity is high, one is well aware that nothing experienced is “real“, and realization may arise that there is nothing to fear; no harm can be done by any situations that may seem precarious. This is where full “consciousness” is attained. With low-level lucidity, although partially aware of the dream state, one is not aware enough to have a great impact on the dream. Not completely conscious of the situation, some aspects of the dream may be accepted that would not normally be in the ordinary world (it might not be found strange at all that a dog flies around the living room, etc.) With low-level lucidity the realization may also quickly fade and the whole dream may be accepted as reality. Attaining lucidity does not immediately mean that one is in control of the dream. Obviously, the best chance of controlling one’s own actions in a dream is with a high-level of self-awareness, but even then it may not be possible to exert much control, at least, at first. According to Robert Moss, when talking about conscious dreaming in his book Conscious Dreaming: A Spiritual Path For Everyday Life, says that, “The point is that dreams are wiser than our everyday minds and come from an infinitely deeper source. To try to “control” this source, to interfere with the authentic flow of dreams and to justify this on the ground that they are “only dreams,” is the ultimate delusion of the control freak who lives in the ego.” (116-117) He describes the dream state as if there is a subconscious guidance involved, and the “flow” must be allowed to take its course in order to truly be in touch with dreams, though they are also very malleable through personal choices or actions.

The first desire to have a lucid dream comes from the pleasure and excitement of actually experiencing a lucid dream-state, being able to control one's dreams through actions that are not possible in every day life. The most frequently anticipated of these dreams is the ability to fly, and another is sex. For those who have had a lucid dream, it is commonly held that lucid dreaming can be the most wonderful experience in life. This would lead people to want to be able to continue the lucid experiences and further personal development. Unfortunately, many people do not progress beyond a basic level of lucidity. The initial excitement wears off, and lucid dreaming becomes infrequent.

If one chooses to pursue lucid dreaming at a higher level, lucidity can offer a tremendous opportunity for personal growth. Dreaming is a stage in which each action is the most real simulation that a person can have. Compared to awake rehearsal, dream rehearsal offers many advantages, particularly its lack of social or physical consequences. In the profoundly vivid world of a lucid dream, one can prepare for possible future events and scenario’s which may prevent mistakes. Some examples of using lucid dreaming for rehearsal can be things like social events, public speaking, difficult or awkward confrontations (such as firing someone, or expressing something to someone), and more. As previously stated, nightmares can also be controlled by a lucid dream. Being aware that the nightmares are not real can stop them in their tracks, potentially forever. The brain has been exercised to recognize the problem and solution, thus exercised for general problem solving purposes.

Although experience plays a role in one’s ability to consciously dream, personal belief and confidence is key. If one lacks the confidence to believe something can change or happen in a dream then it will probably not occur, resulting in failure of control. Instead of changing the dream, however the lucid dreamer can control personal behavior. This kind of dream control is most beneficial during nightmares. Rather than attempting to change the dream, the lucid dreamer changes attitude in the dream. By maintaining the confidence to realize that it is merely a dream and that physical damage cannot be sustained, the lucid dreamer can allay fear, which is the only real part of the nightmare. Changing attitude in such a manner usually transforms the nightmare into something more peaceful. Depending on the person, a lucid dream may take many routes. Once it is learned how to consciously dream, one may be able to move into different levels of dreaming once thought not perceivable.

How though, does one begin to lucid dream, and with full “awake-state” consciousness? As many dreamers are unaware that they are dreaming while a dream is in progress, something peculiar can occur to spark awareness into a lucid dream. That spark for lucidity remains a mystery that researchers are still trying to fully understand, as the answer could be the key to the larger question of what gives us our unique sense of self-awareness in waking life. The general consensus is that there are two main pathways that lead to a lucid dreaming: dream-initiated, and wake-initiated. A dream-initiated lucid dream occurs upon the realization that one is dreaming while in a dream. This can happen if something in a dream (taken first as reality) stands out as unusual. Perhaps it is something that couldn’t possibly happen in your typical waking reality. For example, it might be noticing the ability to breath underwater, or to wear shorts and a t-shirt in the snow. This cues the thought that, “I must be dreaming,” and based on the intensity of that realization, as well as luck and practice, lucidity may vary from slight awareness that fizzles away, to a full blown awareness and “waking” consciousness. In a wake-initiated lucid dream, the individual goes from a normal waking state directly into the dream state without a break in consciousness. The awake-consciousness is carried along, without lapse, into the dream state with the dreamer. Rather than a “spark” of realization initiating the lucid dream as in the dream-initiated entrance, a wake-initiated lucid dream starts from awake-consciousness, just as the case when putting on a virtual reality suit. The effectiveness of both initiations vary from person to person.

Learning how to lucid dream is all about keeping the dream going once the realization of the dream is initiated. It does take a bit of practice, but anyone can do it! There are many methods used to practice lucid dreaming. One that is very useful, and possibly the most important, is dream recall. Rather than allowing the dream from the night before fade from memory, it is important to try to remember and reflect upon the dream. When one starts to think about and remember dreams, mind is more involved in the topic, and will be more susceptible to realization that one is dreaming while in a dream. Having a dream journal is an excellent and fun way to do dream recall. With lucid dreaming practice makes perfect. The possibilities that lie within the practice of lucid dreaming are endless, and it’s never to late to start.

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Bryan Wilson
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Posted on Jul 4, 2011