Adapted from Dreaming Wide Awake: Lucid Dreaming, Shamanic Healing, and Psychedelics (Park Street Press), by David. J. Brown
There are levels of lucidity within the dream state, from what has been described as “pre-lucidity” to “super-lucidity.” In the early stages of lucidity development, one simply suspects that one might be dreaming during the dream, while in the more developed stages, one can become just as aware during the dreaming state as he or she is during the waking state. Sometimes people can become even more aware in their lucid dreams than they are during ordinary waking consciousness, and have life-transforming mystical experiences as a result.
During a low-awareness lucid dream, one may be in only partial control of one’s cognitive skills, and sometimes in this state one can make erroneous judgments that seem to be obvious errors upon awakening. One may also initially have poor impulse control: In many of my early lucid dreams, I immediately rushed off to try and fulfill impulsive desires. It took a fair amount of lucid-dream experience before I was able to progress beyond mere attempts to satisfy my most basic unfulfilled desires, as I often found myself simply doing these things without really thinking. With practice, though, I was able to tame these wild impulses and advance into deeper levels of possibility with lucid dreaming, which became part of a deeper, personal psychological healing.
I asked Stephen LaBerge, co-author of the book Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, what kind of techniques he thought were the most effective for producing lucid dreams. Before suggesting any, LaBerge offered these words of advice: “If you were to say, ‘I want to become a lucid dreamer—how should I go about it?,’ I would say, ‘That means you’ve got some extra time and energy in your life, some unallocated attention that you could apply to working on this.’ If you’re somebody that’s so busy that you hardly have time to take a walk, you’re not going to have the time and energy to do this.”
This is an important point: Learning how to lucid dream takes time and effort. One needs to have the time for practicing the techniques, as well as a commitment to developing and improving one’s skill over time. With persistence and dedication, it appears that anyone can master these techniques. Also, just taking an interest in them may be enough to start having lucid dreams. As Celia Green and Charles McCreery write in Lucid Dreaming: The Paradox of Consciousness During Sleep: “For those who wish to start developing lucid dreams, a simple prescription, which may be sufficient, is to think about the idea of lucid dreaming before falling asleep each night. Some people keep a book about lucid dreaming by their bedside and read part of it each night to focus their mind on the idea.”
With 43 books about sleep, dreaming and lucid dreaming piled next to my bedside as I write these words, I couldn’t help but laugh when I read the above quote. In any case, be sure to keep this book by your bedside, and every time you see its cover, remember to question whether or not you’re dreaming.
Aside from reading books about lucid dreaming before going to sleep, there are basically two ways to achieve lucidity in a dream state. The first is by maintaining a certain measure of self-awareness as one is falling asleep, staying conscious or at least mentally alert to a degree entirely through the process of falling asleep and entering the dream state. This can be quite an amazing experience, and I find that I can do it only when I’m in a certain state of consciousness to begin with as I’m falling asleep.
Maintaining an alert and watchful state of consciousness as one is falling asleep can also sometimes be a bit frightening, as it involves passing through the stages of sleep paralysis. I’ve heard people describe the experience differently, but for me it goes something like this: The process of allowing my body to fully and completely relax can produce euphoric feelings and hypnagogic imagery behind my closed eyes. As the experience deepens and I start to fall asleep, I pass through a stage where I’m still aware of my body and my surrounding bedroom, but anxiety-raising auditory hallucinations become superimposed on it.
As my body is humming from the euphoria of deep relaxation, I’ll start to hear people talking outside my house, or I’ll hear someone coming up the stairs to my bedroom. These auditory hallucinations seem completely real, and I always have to convince myself not to be afraid, that they’re just dream imagery (or spirits) and nothing to be concerned about. This takes a lot of willpower; I’ve woken myself up out of the process many times just to make sure there really was no one in my bedroom. However, if I stay with it and surrender to the experience while maintaining lucidity, I start to see more intense hypnagogic imagery—sometimes fractal and psychedelic patterns, combined with an opiate-like bliss. Soon the shifting imagery solidifies into the environment of a lucid dream.
Dream lucidity achieved in this manner has been termed “WILD” by LaBerge, an acronym for “wake-initiated lucid dreams.” One of the methods LaBerge suggests for achieving this is to fall asleep while counting and repeating the phrase “I’m dreaming.” So as one is drifting off into dreamland, one occupies one’s mind with the following sequence: “One, I’m dreaming. Two, I’m dreaming. Three, I’m dreaming …. ” Practicing this technique may help one to stay paradoxically “awake” while falling asleep—but even if one can’t maintain mental alertness during the process of falling asleep, often this technique will cause one to awaken in the dream later, as I have found and others have reported.
Maintaining a vigil state of observing awareness through hypnagogia and into the sleeping and dreaming states of consciousness can be an extraordinarily magical and blissful experience. Every night, it seems, we pass into these mentally playful, image-associating states that are truly psychedelic and absolutely delightful. When I’m in them, they seem instantly familiar, and it appears that I pass through these states whenever I go to sleep, but I almost always forget them. It takes a sustained effort of focused awareness to enter into the lucid-dream state, as well as a commitment to waking oneself up to record what happens, but the results are well worth the effort, I assure you.
This method is in contrast with the other way to achieve lucidity in a dream, which LaBerge calls “DILD” (or “dream-initiated lucid dreams”). DILD involves “waking up” within the dream and realizing that you’re dreaming while it’s happening. This awakening to a greater sense of awareness is usually due to having an enhanced critical perspective, so that one notices something bizarre or strangely out of synch between what is happening in the dream and what one knows to be possible in waking reality. LaBerge calls these strange inconsistencies with physical reality “dreamsigns” and says that if we remember them, they can help us to recognize when we’re dreaming.
One way to increase our chances of experiencing DILD is by actively looking for “dreamsigns” in the records of our dream journals. This is why it’s important to have a written record, as it’s generally easier to recognize common dreamsigns after one examines them laid out in words.
Another DILD technique developed by LaBerge, called the “mnemonic induction of lucid dreams” (MILD), is based on memory training that is meant to be applied just after one has woken up from a dream and can easily fall back asleep. This technique has people rehearsing the dream mentally upon awakening from it, imagining themselves becoming lucid in it, and then falling back to sleep while repeating this phrase: “The next time that I’m dreaming, I will remember to notice that I’m dreaming.”
Studies have shown MILD to be the most effective DILD technique for the induction of lucid dreams. To learn more about MILD, DILD and WILD, check out Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming by LaBerge and Howard Rheingold.