Suddenly, I realise I’m dreaming. Everything clunks into clarity and I take in my surroundings: a huge room with high ceilings, chandeliers hanging over my head. I’m amazed at how real it all feels – despite having lucid dreams before, becoming consciously aware while sleeping never really loses its novelty. I’m aware that my name is Greg Woodin, I’m aware that my physical body is soundly asleep in my bed, and I’m aware that I have a life outside of this strange realm. And it occurs to me that this is my chance to ask myself some questions. To tackle some issues that have been troubling me for some time…
In his essay The Doors of Perception, acclaimed author and philosopher Aldous Huxley described consciousness as a ‘reducing valve’, funnelling our subjective experience with the world into the mere trickle of information we have available to us in ordinary waking reality. This was what Freud was thinking of when he described the unconscious mind, the cognitive compartment where all our hidden phobias and desires are said to reside. When it comes to mental health, this poses a particularly worrisome question: how can we truly know ourselves when we only have access to part of the larger whole?
Lucid dreams grant permission into these restricted sections of our psyche. They are windows into the workings of the mind; creations of the unconscious. In everyday life, we are so absorbed with playing the main character that we can lose sight of what’s really going on in our heads. By becoming conscious within our dreams, we can examine our thought processes objectively as they present themselves through the dream scenario, and identify the negative patterns and loops many of us unknowingly fall into. We can try out new behaviours, ask ourselves tough questions – and, hopefully, get some answers. You might wish to dig down to the root of your social anxiety, confront your aversion to intimacy, or face your fear of death head on. It really can get that deep, and all of this can be accomplished in an environment where you are completely safe and free to do whatever you want.
But how do we go about becoming conscious in our dreams? First, if you’re serious about learning to dream lucidly, you’ll need to remember at least one dream per night. Many people claim to never remember their night-time excursions, but if that’s you, one simple way of improving your dream recall is by keeping a dream diary. Store this diary within easy reach of your bed and write down anything you can recall from your dreams as soon as you wake up. Clutch onto any fading fragments that present themselves before they disappear, and if you really can’t remember anything at all, just write ‘no dreams’. Your dream diary serves as a reminder of your intention to remember your dreams, which helps to boost dream recall. This step is doubly important because, if we don’t remember our dreams, we could have lucid dreams all the time and simply forget we had them.
The second method I use is the reality check: at least ten times a day, survey your surroundings and ask yourself, ‘Am I dreaming?’ To the non-lucid dreamer, this may seem pointless – but once you’ve dipped your toes into the waters of lucidity, you’ll realise just how capable our brains are of creating wholly realistic worlds for our dream bodies to inhabit. Except in dreams, there are tell-tale signs: you go to the barbers and Daniel Radcliffe cuts your hair (this one happened to me), or you meet with a relative who’s been dead for several years. When we awaken we realise just how weird our dreams have been, but, crucially, while we were immersed in dreamland we were completely convinced of its reality. Because our waking preoccupations often form the basis of our dreams, by asking yourself ‘Am I dreaming?’ enough while awake, you should start to ask this question whilst dreaming. And when you spot something that could never happen while awake, then will come that eureka moment – ‘Ah, I’m dreaming!’ – and you will become lucid.
The final method I’ll discuss here is the MILD (Mnemonic-Induced Lucid Dream) technique. As you’re in bed trying to get to sleep, repeat in your head, ‘Next time I’m dreaming, I’ll know I’m dreaming’. Focus on this thought and try to make it the very last thing you think before falling asleep. This technique works with prospective memory: remembering in advance to do something at a specific future point in time. For instance, you might think to yourself, ‘Next time I go to the shop, I’ll remember to buy some milk’. Success with this method clearly depends, then, on whether you’re the sort of person that would remember or forget to buy the milk once at the shop, so it’s worth brushing up on this skill in your waking life first. If you’re successful, the next time you dream you’ll remember this mnemonic and become lucid.
As you gain confidence in the dream world, you might teach yourself to fly, star in a film about yourself, or play football with Lionel Messi – remember, in the dream world, nothing is impossible. But as your proficiency grows, you can begin to gently guide these nocturnal adventures into experiences of healing and self-development. Settle on a question you want to find the answer to, or a skill you want to work on – for example, ‘I want to become more confident’ – and drill this into your head. Write down your intention in your dream diary before you fall asleep, or incorporate it into your mnemonic while practising the MILD technique. Do whatever you need to do to carry your intention with you from wakefulness into your dreams. And if you find yourself in a seemingly unrelated dream scenario, feel free to shout out your intention aloud (with your dream larynx, of course) to switch things up. It’s all in your head, after all: what happens next is up to you.
Lucid dreaming opens up a direct line of communication with parts of ourselves we never knew existed, helping ultimately to improve our everyday lives. With practice and dedication, we can learn how to access these ethereal, otherworldly states of consciousness at will and connect with our inner selves. Not a bad way to spend our time asleep.
World of Lucid Dreaming: http://www.world-of-lucid-dreaming.com/
Exploring the World of Lucid Dreams by Stephen LaBerge, PhD & Howard Rheingold: https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Exploring-World-Dreams-Stephen-LaBerge/034537410X/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&qid=1501157027&sr=8-12&keywords=lucid+dreaming
Lucid Dreaming: A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming Conscious in Your Dreams by Charlie Morle: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lucid-Dreaming-Beginners-Becoming-Conscious-ebook/dp/B00QASO8B8/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1501157027&sr=8-2&keywords=lucid+dreaming