Saturday, May 30, 2009

Experiments with Lucid Dreaming

The other day, a blogger that I read posted an interview with the creator of a site called World of Lucid Dreaming. While the primary focus of the interview was on turning a hobby into an online business, yesterday I got curious and clicked through to read a little bit about what she had to say on lucid dreams.

What is a lucid dream?

A lucid dream is any dream in which you are conscious that you are dreaming, and able to control to some extent the dream world. Sometimes this control is minimal; simply being able to behave as you normally would in the waking world, while your subconscious throws things at you in the dream. Other times, this control can be much greater, allowing you to do things you never would be able to in life such as fly, or explore underwater without apparatus, or whatever interests you.

Lucid dreaming sometimes happens by accident; I certainly have had a time or two in the past where I was dreaming and realized it was a dream. But according to World of Lucid Dreaming, you can also learn to deliberately begin dreaming lucidly, and train yourself to be more and more proficient in both bringing on the lucid dreaming state and controlling the state when you've arrived.

Why would you want to dream lucidly?

There are a number of claimed benefits for dreaming lucidly. The ability to do anything opens a wide range of possibilities, including facing your fears in a completely safe environment, pre-planning and experimenting with conversations before they happen, and practicing new abilities under a wide range of circumstances. Advocates claim benefits to creativity, problem solving, confidence, skills, and sense of self.

I'm not sure I buy any of that, but the number one reason given to try lucid dreaming, and one that is hard to argue with, is that it's FUN! Being able to even partially control your dreams means playing in an environment unlike any one you're likely to experience in real life. You can literally 'experience your dreams' right from your own bedroom.

How to start lucid dreaming

The website has tons of different information, tools, and techniques you can try to begin lucid dreaming. There are a few key ideas. The first is that since this is all mental, thinking about dreams and lucid dreaming, trying to remember your dreams, and talking about lucid dreaming will all help to cue your mind in to the fact that you want to do this. By thinking about it, you can help get it through to your subconscious that you want to experience your dreams, and make it more likely.

Secondly, the entry point to a lucid dream is the realization that you are dreaming. Once your conscious mind realizes that it is within a dream, it wakes up and allows you to begin taking control of that dream. Don't worry, the subconscious is still there too, providing all of the scenery, but you can begin to act under the direction of your conscious mind. Since one way of doing this is to do something that is impossible, and use that impossibility to realize you are dreaming, World of Lucid Dreaming recommends beginning to sprinkle 'reality checks' throughout your day. If you do these reality checks regularly enough, you will begin to do them in your dreams as well, and they can become the basis points for triggering a lucid dream.

You can find a full list of suggested reality checks here, but the pair I chose are attempting to push the index finger of my right hand through my left hand, and attempting to see without my glasses. If either of these succeeds, I'll know I'm dreaming, and hopefully that will trigger the lucid dream.

First Attempts

I decided to try this out yesterday, and see if I could trigger some lucid dreaming. I was hopeful because apparently regular meditation is helpful; the practice it gives you in shifting between different mental states while awake can be quite useful in making such shifts while sleeping as well. So I began reading about the different techniques, selected my reality checks, and began performing them every few hours during the day. The website claims that most people can learn to lucid dream in sometime between 3 days and 3 weeks, and I was hoping that with my meditation practice I would fall on the shorter end of this.

Surprise! I actually had two, short, lucid dreaming experiences last night, on my first night of trying! This is certainly not all of the way to success, and who knows if I'll be able to continue having lucid dreams, but it is certainly encouraging! I also remember both of the dreams, at least the lucid parts, and normally I barely remember any of my dreams.

In the first, I was roughhousing in the pool as I used to do when I was working with kids in a daycare. Upon loosing a particular battle, I was underwater and realized that I could still breath. That realization was what cued me in that it was a dream, and just as World of Lucid Dreaming promised I was suddenly able to begin taking control of the dream. I tried to fly, but failed, so settled for walking a bit. I was able to explore a very interesting complex of pools, and had just left to go outside when I woke up suddenly. I doubt the whole dream (or at least the lucid part) lasted more than 5 minutes, but it was still exhilarating to have controlled part of it!

The second lucid dream was more interesting. I was looking out over a river delta feeding into the ocean, when for whatever reason I decided to try my reality checks. The first one, sticking my finger through my hand, behaved as I would expect but when I lowered my glasses I was still able to see! This woke me up to the dream state, and I was able to take control. This time, I had much better control over the state; I was able to fly out over the delta, and see in great detail the red-rock crags of the gorge the water was coming out of, and the swirling water. The other cool thing was that I was able to slow down the passage of time, and look at the swirls of the water in slow motion. I've always been fascinated with fluid movements, so this was REALLY cool! I also explored a bit more, looking at some docks near by, and people on the docks. At that point I woke, after what subjectively felt like maybe 10 minutes.

In conclusion

I don't have a huge number of conclusions yet, as I'm still very early in this experiment, but I do have one big one: Lucid dreaming is real! And you can trigger it deliberately. I'll write more posts on this as I learn more or have more successes, but my first experience with deliberate lucid dreaming was a lot of fun, and I'm extremely excited to keep learning and experimenting with it.

Have any of you had experiences with lucid dreaming? Or thought about it before? Let me know in the comments!


  1. I've also been interested in lucid dreaming for a while now. The reality check I chose (actually, the only one I read about back when I was researching this stuff) was based on reading: apparently written text is rarely static in the dream state, so if you happen to find yourself near something you can read, the text will likely change between the first and any subsequent readings. I've successfully triggered a lucid state at least twice by re-reading signs and noticing that their text had changed.

    That said, I also had an extremely convincing dream in which I was able to hover at will above the ground, and despite attempting numerous times (in the dream) to prove it must not be real, I still failed to trigger a lucid state. Needless to say I got pretty excited in the dream but what seemed to be a real new ability, only to wake up to dissappointment soon after =).

  2. When I was in highschool, I had a lucid dream completely by accident. At the time, I didn't even know what a lucid dream was and had never heard of the concept before. I was dreaming, and all the sudden I was aware of that fact. I soon found that I was able to fly and I could conjure things and people at will. The dream didn't last long and I soon woke up, amazed and wanting to do it again. I have never had a lucid dream since.

    After searching online, I discovered that it was called lucid dreaming, and I read up on it a bit. The three main points I remember are similar to what you said, though you only hinted at the first and third, which I think are actually fairly major:

    1) You have to remember your dreams. It is very rare for me to remember my dreams, and if I do they very quickly fade from memory. The suggested technique to overcome this was to start a "dream diary", where as soon as you wake up you write down every detail of every dream you had that night. I've never attempted this myself, though, so I can't acount for its accuracy.

    2) There are certain tell-tale signs that you are dreaming. What I remember most clearly is that electronic devices don't work as expected. They suggested getting into the habit of flipping lightswitches when you enter rooms and periodically looking at your watch. In dreams, these rarely work. I actually had a dream once where I was flipping a light switch on and off and it didn't do anything, but I found that I could "will" the light on and off. It was not a lucid dream, however, as I just found it odd and did not realize I was dreaming.

    3) Usually, as soon as you realize you're dreaming, you will wake up. This is quite frustrating. There are no "good" ways to prevent this besides practice and experimentation, but the suggestions given were to "ease" yourself into the realization and try not to overreact to it. Additionaly, apparently spinning in circles helps!

    I recently watched a very interesting video by a professor at UC Berkeley his experiments on the correlation between sleeping and memory. It made me wonder how frequent lucid dreaming might enhance or even distrupt the process. Personally, I wouldn't want to screw with my sleep until I knew one way or the other!