Dreams part 3: The phenomenon of lucid dreaming

October 24, 2010 at 4:56 pm Leave a comment

If you’d rather read the series of dreams post in sequence, then click here for post one (Freud’s theory of dreams) and here for post two (several more theories on dreaming).

Now that we’ve explored some of the most prominent theories as to why we dream, let’s look at the amazing phenomenon known as lucid dreaming. Dreams are an area of particular interest to me, so I hope you enjoy reading this post as much as I’m sure I’ll enjoy writing it! Maybe some of you will even attempt to train your brain to dream lucidly? Let’s get going!

When we sleep, it would appear the rational part of our brain also takes a nap. In a dream, it is not strange for you to meet your mother with her face upside down. It’s completely normal to go to work and see your colleagues with green skin and scales, and of course, taking a brisk stroll in the park with a pet jaguar that’s blue rarely draws any attention. I’m pretty certain that in waking life, all of these things would at least make you look twice – if not, then you’d probably think you’re dreaming, right?

Strangely enough, when you’re asleep and roaming the land of nod, the most weird and random of events don’t even phase your mind. You continue dreaming and accepting the occurrence of such happenings without question. Well, that’s not always the case.

So what is a lucid dream?

A lucid dream refers to when you’re aware you’re in a dream. In other words, rather than just accepting the events in your dreams as normal, you are completely aware that what you’re experiencing is not real. You are effectively consciously dreaming. It’s important to note that you’re still physically asleep when these occur. Some people explain lucid dreaming as a method to control your dreams, and whilst partially correct it’s important to understand that there are limitations. You’re not simply walking around in some second life; it’s your brain – not a wardrobe to Narnia!

Looks fun, right?

The levels of lucidity

  • Pre-lucid: Something is “not quite right” in your dream. You have this niggling feeling that there’s something weird going on. When you wake up, you realise “of course, it was a dream! That’s why things were weird!”
  • Low lucidity: For just a few moments you realise you’re dreaming. “Whoa! I’m in a dream!” you find yourself saying. Before you know it, things are weird again – but seem normal; you’re back in the flow of your dream and not lucid any more.
  • High lucidity: You’re completely aware that what you’re experiencing isn’t real. You’re in a dream world, and you know your body is still asleep. Everything is so much more intense and real – with some people even claiming they reach orgasm with the huge rush of energy and power. In many ways, it’s like you are right now, reading this post. What can you hear? What can you see? Is there a glare on the screen? Shadows? Smells? Background noise? Feeling? As vividly as you can explain them now, you can when lucid.
  • Absolute lucidity: You are the master. From the moment you enter the dream, you’re in control. You know before you sleep that you want to dream lucidly. You’ve practised for ages, getting the technique perfect. You know that you will have a lucid dream. You have pre-defined goals and activities you want to accomplish whilst dreaming, and as soon as you reach lucidity, you take control and aim to achieve your goals. Rather than beginning to dream and looking for “dreamsigns” (explained later) to achieve lucidity, you actually enter the dream consciously.

Are lucid dreams scientifically valid?

Until recently, there was no solid evidence of their occurrence. I recently read an amazing book by Stephen LaBerge (which I would highly recommend if you’re interested in trying lucid dreaming), which recounts some of the studies he has done to validate lucid dreaming as a real science. He told of a study where he moved his eyes in a lucid dream, which moved his eyes in real life. This on it’s own is useless, but he arranged a pattern of eye movements (up, down, right, up, left, down for example) and performed them in a lucid dream. Amazingly, his eyes in real life moved in that exact pattern; lucid dreaming was proved to actually take place! This is one of many studies Prof. LaBerge has conducted, but yes – lucid dreams are scientifically valid!

How do I achieve lucidity?

As this isn’t intended to be a guide as to how to dream lucidly, I’m just going to explain the principles behind how people become lucid in their dreams. If you’re looking for a step by step guide, see the website references down below. Alternatively, check out the book shown in the link above; it’s very in-depth, well written and most of all, very cheap! Everything you’ll need to know about lucid dreams are in there.

The first thing important for lucid dreaming are dreamsigns. It’s worth noting that becoming a frequent lucid dreamer is not something that comes overnight; you need a lot of “training” as it were, and it takes time to get your brain used to recalling dreams etc. Anyway, dreamsigns are certain themes that you encounter frequently in dreams. The easiest way to work out your personal dreamsigns is to start your own dream journal. Not only does this allow you to see common themes and aspects in your dreams, but it helps improve dream recall (after all, what use is lucid dreaming if you won’t remember them when waking?). I have my own dream journal which I kept for about 4 weeks now. I have noticed a significant increase in the clarity in which I recall dreams now, and also the number of dreams I recall in one night. Even if you aren’t interested in lucid dreaming, a journal can be a rewarding endeavour! Either way, themes I find common in my dreams are seeing myself when I’m young, being at home when I’m actually at University and going food shopping (I know, what the…?). If I’m dreaming now, I can look for these particular signs which may indicate I’m dreaming. It’s safe to say it’s unusual to walk next to a younger version of yourself, so when I see this I often stop and think “hang on, this is impossible – I’m dreaming!”.

Reality checks are very important once dreamsigns have been identified. You need to get used to checking whether you’re awake or dreaming, so that you’ll naturally begin to do this when asleep. There are a number of things that can be checked:

  • Reading – when in a dream, text is unstable. You might read a page of a book, look back and find all the text has changed. Or changed to pictures/symbols. Or disappeared altogether!
  • Clock reading – time is also unstable in dreams. When you read clocks, time tends to change in a matter of seconds. Look at a clock, look away, then look again. Has the time altered significantly? If so, it’s a safe bet you’re in a dream!
  • Flying – can you fly? This is rather self explanatory I think…
  • Breathing – hold your breath, or pinch your nose. If you can still breath (usually through your fingers) then you’re dreaming.
  • Mirrors – can you walk through mirrors? Or even walls? Where does it take you? If you can do this then you’re dreaming. Something to note with mirrors is that sometimes they can be very scary. When you’re asleep, mirrors tend to reflect the inner “you”. This can sometimes result in a horrifically distorted image of yourself – so just be prepared to see how you REALLY feel about yourself…
  • Body morphing – can you stick your finger through your hand? Can you change things about your body that would normally be impossible? Yes? Then you’re dreaming!
  • Use the nearest light switch – lights are also unstable in dreams. When you flick a light switch, does the light stay off/on? Does the light change colour or intensity? If so, you’re most likely dreaming! That is unless the fuse just went…

That is a few of many “reality check” techniques; learning to do these frequently will lead to a lot more lucid dreaming.

WILD, MILD and WBTB

Two methods to induce lucid dreaming are WILD (Wake Induced Lucid Dreaming) and MILD (Mnemonic Induced Lucid Dreaming). WILD is a technique used to induce lucid dreaming before actually falling asleep. This technique can be very difficult to achieve and takes a lot of time to perfect. It involves reaching something called the hypnagogic state, which is essentially the “border” between being asleep and awake. If one can stay aware during this state, you will enter the dream still aware. During the hypnagogic state, the lucid dreamer may see colours, images, lights and a vast array of other things. If they keep paying attention to these stimuli, a WILD can be achieved.

MILD’s, on the other hand, are induced whilst in the dream already. This was previously mentioned above, whereby the dreamer performs reality checks and looks for dreamsigns. It also involves repeatedly telling yourself that you will be aware in a dream before sleeping. So before falling asleep, simply repeating “I will lucid dream. I will lucid dream. I will lucid dream” will increase the chances of this occurring. Other techniques involve visualising a lucid dream you might have, and thinking about what you’ll do once lucid.

The final technique is WBTB, which stands for “Wake Back To Bed”. This involves setting an alarm for a few hours earlier than normal (I know… awful!) and then completely cramming your head with lucid thoughts. Browsing websites, reading books and checking out forums related to lucid dreaming are very effective. After you can’t possibly think of anything other than lucidity, go back to bed and fall asleep again (maybe using the MILD technique for maximum effectiveness?), and the chances are you will achieve lucidity. Although this method requires an earlier bed time and an early arising, it is one of the most effective ways to achieve lucidity in dreams.

Whoa! I’m lucid! Now what?

Well the first step is to remain lucid! Although this sounds obvious, a lot of people who first lucid dream only have them for about 10 seconds or less. Why? The pure excitement of being lucid wakes most people up – or sometimes the weirdness of the new experience. Sometimes you don’t even wake up; the lucidity just fades away, and you don’t even notice! So how can you prevent yourself waking up?

  • Control your mind: You’d be surprised how obedient your own mind is. Try giving it commands such as “Increase lucidity” or “Give me clarity!” This not only helps keep a grip on the lucid awareness but can remove any blurriness around you.
  • Spin: By spinning, you’re allowing yourself to focus on the physical sensations that you are experiencing. This in turn means you can focus on remaining lucid.
  • Focusing on objects: Try focusing on a prominent object in the dream scene – preferably the one that actually helped you gain lucidity in the first place. If there is nothing of interest to focus on, try looking at your hands. Whilst focussing on them, repeat “I am lucid, and I will remain lucid” to yourself.
  • Have a purpose: Make sure you know what to do when you’re lucid. Mucking around doing nothing is a surefire way to sleep back into unconscious dreaming. What do you want to do when lucid? Keep it in mind and it will help you remain in the lucid state.

So now you’re firmly in the state of awareness, you’re free to explore! You can do anything you desire: flying, exploring unfamiliar dream lands, sex with that hottie you’ve always fantasised about… anything you can imagine. Something always worthwhile doing is facing your fears and confronting enemies. When you’re not lucid, you’ll often run from things chasing you. Why not turn around and see what they really are? It can be rewarding to discover what was giving you nightmares, and very often turns into a positive experience. Talk to random people, explore, look at the skies, listen to wonderful music… more than anything, enjoy the experience!

Who was that mysterious person in your dream? No better way to find out than through lucidity!

Personal experience

In my first lucid dream, I woke up after about 5 seconds unfortunately! I was walking around in my primary school, accompanied by myself when I was about 8. I remember touring the school with my younger self and thinking, “hang on a second, something here isn’t right”. I looked at the floor and there was a pair of rolled up socks on the ground. At that point, I realised it was impossible to be walking with myself from the past, and gained lucidity. It felt like I almost ‘warped’ into myself, like I just jumped into my own body. My hands were light and began to float. There was a shadowy figure opposite me, but there wasn’t enough clarity to make him/her out. I became overwhelmed with a feeling of power, and floated off the ground. At this point, I woke up – confused but still feeling that power. The whole of the next day, I was in a fantastic mood! I am now continuing to lucid dream at a steady rate, and hope to do many many more things!

More reading for people keen to experience this phenomenon.

These sites cannot be faulted:

http://www.ld4all.com/guide.html (make sure to check the forum also to talk to other lucid dreamers!)

http://www.wikihow.com/Lucid-Dream (an excellent step-by-step guide with great tips)

http://www.lucidity.com/LucidDreamingFAQ2.html (in depth frequently asked questions covering everything you’d want to know)

And of course, as if I haven’t recommended it enough, there’s Stephen LaBerge’s book which covers absolutely everything! Here’s the link again incase you missed it: click here. At the time of writing, it was only £4.27 – bargain!

I hope that you enjoy the world of lucid dreams as much as I do!
Happy exploration!

Sam Eddy.

Entry filed under: Biopsychology. Tags: , .

Theories of cognitive development: Jean Piaget. Colours in Consumer Psychology.

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