Lucid Dreaming - Are You Awake?
Our nightly opportunity for self-inquiry and integration
You're alone in an old house that looks oddly familiar, yet you can't quite place yourself. The tall table, the three-legged chairs, the palm tree blowing outside, the white cat purring and darting at your feet, all of it feels strangely recognizable, and yet there is an understated sense of apprehension in the air. Suddenly, the door knocks three times in a loud and rickety boom, and you hear a menacing voice outside say "Why is this door always closed?! Open up already!"
Understandably, you're put off by this outburst, and yet even the voice seems familiar as well. You think, "Have I been here before? Is this déjà-vu?" You hesitate, and you wonder if you should just pretend you're not home, but you then feel a strange sense of abandon as you find yourself making your way over to the door, while the white cat continues wriggling on the carpet.
You open the door, you hear a gush of wind blow through, and a man in a large coat and a black metal helmet is looming in the doorway, clearly annoyed at how long it took you to open up. Despite your discomfort and uneasiness, you feign politeness and ask him "Can I help you?" He effortlessly detects your insincerity, as if he can read your mind, and he snidely retorts "Is that how you treat a neighbor?" He takes a step forward and stares down at you, but just as you start contemplating slamming the door or calling for help, you notice something odd - the symbol on his helmet keeps changing. It's changing shape in real time right before your eyes! Every few seconds, it morphs and bends into new patterns, some recognizable and some like blobs of Rorschach nonsense.
Then, it dawns on you! You've been training yourself to look for details like this: inexplicable changes in what should be stable reality - lights not working, clocks malfunctioning, your car brakes feeling like sludge, but here, it's his helmet! You put it together. With an almost other-worldly confidence, you say to the man, who is still standing over you in the doorway, "Ah, a dream neighbor, are you?"
His tough scowl slowly shifts toward a wry smirk, and his eyes begin to soften and sparkle with vibrant colors. He says, now in the voice of an old friend, "Now that's the recognition I was hoping for. Glad to have you here. I have something of yours". He extends his arm and hands you an old book with a bookmark somewhere in the middle of the pages. You remember how important it is to stabilize the dream environment, so as you mindfully and reverently take the book from him, saying "Thank you, sir", almost with an emotional choke in your voice. You feel the smooth cover with your fingertips. You try to bend the book a little. It feels solid and real. You weigh it in your hands - it's lighter than you would have guessed. You open up to the bookmarked page and find that it's on the first page of a chapter titled "Breath and its antecedents".
As perplexed as you are from all of this, the text underneath the chapter title starts to get less clear. The words start to drip and wiggle and become unintelligible. You try to stabilize the scene, but it's no use. You feel light-headed and the scene goes dark. The sound of the wind vanishes, and you find yourself, eyes closed, lying on your back, mouth open, acutely aware of how hot your feet are under the blanket. The clock reads 4:37am. You've woken up from yet another lucid dream, this one the longest one you've had in months. "Next time," you think, "I'll focus more on his face. I'll ask him who he is. I'll ask him: 'What would you like me to know?'" You write the whole dream down, including your new dream intention, and you go back to sleep, acutely aware of whatever may happen next.
Sleep and Dreams
The dream state is a normal function of sleep. We pass through predictable sleep stages every 90 minutes or so, and we almost always have at least one dream per cycle. Everyone dreams every night, usually multiple times, even if they don't remember their dreams, and how much one dreams depends on how long one sleeps. As of now, dreaming's primary function is still up for debate, but the strongest running theories suggest that dreams are integral for emotional processing, for memory consolidation, for creative recombination, for simulating potential futures, and maybe even for correcting cognitive "overfitting", allowing us to learn more efficiently.
It's a process that has been experienced, investigated, and (frequently) venerated for all of recorded human history, and likely for much longer than that. Dreams are can be odd, exhilarating, disturbing, terrifying, and ecstatic, and, for hundreds of millions of people the world over, they are personally fascinating. But, as fascinating as they are, 'normal' dreaming is not the topic here.
What is lucid dreaming?
Stated simply, "lucid dreaming" is the experience of knowing you are dreaming while you are dreaming. Whether or not you can control the content of your dreams is another matter. If you know you are dreaming, then you are lucid. And if you are lucid, countless potentially transformative doors open up to you.
While lucid dreaming as a phenomenon has been reported for millennia, it finally made its big break into the scientific mainstream with Stephen LaBerge's work in psychophysiology back in 1980s. Since then, the 'spiritual sport' of lucid dreaming has made a huge subcultural impact on the high-openness crowds around the world. You can find books, articles, videos, courses, and even entire retreats focused around the art and practice of lucid dreaming. But why are so many people so entranced by this peculiar psychological phenomenon?
How do people use lucid dreams?
The limits on how to use lucid dreaming are determined solely by your imagination and by your focus. Generally speaking, however, people tend to use lucid dreaming in the following ways:
Fun! - Want to fly? Want to surf 200-foot waves? Want to listen to majestic music in space? Lucid dreaming has got you covered.
Fantasy - What are your deepest desires? How would you like to simulate those desires in a full sensory virtual reality, one that feels as real (and sometimes even more real) than waking life? I'll let your mind fill in the gaps on this one.
Problem-solving - Are you feeling stuck in a rut? Are you wondering how to outsmart a seeming limitation in your life? Lucid dreaming can give you the breakthrough you've been hoping for.
Rehearsal - What big event is coming up for you? Are you going to attempt something dangerous that you've been practicing for? Are you going to perform or present in front of a high-stakes crowd? You can rehearse very realistically using lucid dreaming.
Addressing nightmares - For many people, dreams are a source of dread. How often are you waking up afraid to go back to sleep? What if you knew how to not only put an end to your fear, but how to also transmute your nightmare into a source of insight and joy?
Self-therapy/Spiritual transformation - Lucid dreaming affords you chances every night to deliberately enter into a focused, relaxed, and open state where your mind will answer any question you ask it and will respond to any request you make (although often not in ways you would expect). What could you come to terms with in this state? What might you let go of here?
All of these categories have practices and techniques that can be learned and implemented in order to prompt dreams in line with their intentions. By practicing the relevant mental patterns in waking life, you can prime yourself to carry them out in your dreams, especially if you can become lucid inside the dream. The benefits are deep and potentially life-altering if you can cultivate the necessary skills and discipline.
The Unpopular Truth
As stupendous as all of this may sound, it doesn't come easily. Like any truly impressive and useful capacity, consistent and transformative lucid dreams only come from commitment, discipline, sacrifice, and courage. You will not have much success with lucid dreaming without getting plenty of sleep, without picking up new daily psychological habits, and without being willing to work through very realistic situations in your dreams that may push up against your constructed internal walls. This is deep work, and it's fully worth every minute of effort, but those minutes are many, and they can be quite confronting.
Our modern world does not train us to focus and commit in this way. We are led by the nose from distraction to distraction, from pacification to pacification, and from illusion to illusion. But we can overcome this conditioning. We can deliberately reengage with our dreams in a conscious way, in a way that opens internal doors that we may have forgotten long ago.
Almost everything you can do in a coaching or therapy session, you can do in your dreams, and quite possible with even greater profundity, as you are swimming into the waters of your unconscious mind with the lights on. Many of the modalities that I talk about on this site intersect in the lucid dream, including hypnosis and hypnotherapy (vivid imagery and emotion), meditation (deep focus and mindfulness), and cognitive behavioral therapy (strategic practices of thought and investigation). What's more, lucid dreaming requires sufficient sleep, which is so valuable that it might as well be a type of therapy in and of itself (and a particularly effective one, at that).
In summary, lucid dreaming, when developed, becomes a crucial and unfathomably deep source of wisdom and insight. You have countless options for how to spend this uniquely potent time in your internal life, many of which are extremely positive for our wellbeing. Unfortunately, many people simply succumb to the winds of psychic fate and let their dreams do whatever they will, or even ignore them all together. But this need not be the case. Dreams are a resource of personal engagement that remains unmatched in modern psychology and phenomenology. All you need is direction, discipline, and resources (see below).
Everything you need to get started (and it's free!)
If I've piqued your curiosity, allow me to introduce you to The Lucid Dreaming Firehose. This is a video series that I made that will give you everything you need to get started with lucid dreaming today. It's deliberately short and to the point (less than 2 hours worth of videos), and comes with a detailed PDF guide and additional resources, should you decide to completely nerd out like I have. Follow this link below to my YouTube channel, watch the videos, check out the guide, and get ready to take back hours of nightly integrative potential from the void of unconsciousness. The personal benefits are almost impossible to overestimate.
The Lucid Dreaming Firehose - Full Stream
If you would like coaching on how to apply the techniques both in and out of dreams, please feel free to reach out through the Contact page on my website, and we can set up your free first session.
In sessions, we can go deep into the theory, practice, and fruits of lucid dreaming. We can use various psychological techniques to create 'waking lucid dreams' that will enable you to practice and refine these instincts so that when your eyelids close and you're snoozing away in your bed, your mind can dive deep into the majestic landscape that is the dream world.
Thanks for reading!