There are some upcoming topics that I want to cover that use lucid dreaming as their foundation, so now seems like a pretty good time to do a "how to" post for lucid dreaming. For those of you who have not come across this term before, a lucid dream is a dream in which you become conscious of the fact that you are dreaming, and thereafter you are able to take some measure of control. This can occur from the very beginning of a dream or at some point during the dream, but once you are lucid, your actions from that point become logical and intentional.
Before we delve into techniques to reach this desired state, let's first spend a minute or two on the types of Lucid Dream induction.
- Dream Induced Lucid Dreams (DILD) - This is the probably the most common form of induction. It is simply the act of becoming aware that you are in the dream, whilst in the dream.
- Wake Induced Lucid Dream (WILD) - This method provides lucidity from the very beginning. WILDing is the act of drifting from the conscious state directly into the Lucid Dream.
- Mnemonic Induced Lucid Dream (MILD) - This technique was created by Steven Laberge and is based on the practice of repeating an affirmation or mantra before going to sleep that will hopefully make its way into your subconscious and spark lucidity.
Of these three, I personally found the WILD method to be the most difficult to learn, and even to this day I struggle with it and using it, I only have about a 30% success rate. That being said, there is no reason you can't employ more than one at a time and there are some highly effective practices that you can put in place to help increase your overall success rate.
Building your Dream Recall
First, it is important to have good dream recall. If you are someone who never remembers your dreams, what does it matter if you have a lucid dream? You won't remember it anyway. So what if you are one of those people who do not dream? Good news! You are not! :) We all sleep in cycles and every 90 minutes or so you begin another cycle. Each of these cycles contains an REM sleep period where we dream. If you don't remember dreaming, don't fret, with some persistence and determination, dream recall is a skill that can be learned. Just follow the simple (although not always easy) steps below:
- Keep a dream journal! - This is incredibly important! Write down every dream you have; even if it is just the tiniest snippet of a dream or even the vaguest of impressions. Over time, those vague impressions and tiny snippets will likely turn into paragraphs and then pages.
- Take advantage of your first waking moments - Get in the habit of turning your very first thoughts in the morning to last night's adventure. Before you even open your eyes, think back to what you were doing just five minutes ago.
- Use leading statements - If you don't remember your dream upon first awakening, prompt your subconscious with leading statements like "a moment ago I was...", or "I was just about to...", or "I was on my way to...".
- Review common themes - If using leading statements doesn't do the trick, I have found that just reviewing random (but common) scenarios rapidly for a minute or two will often spark a memory. I will think about work, and driving, and then about biking, then about having a conversation, or cooking a meal, or mowing the lawn. Each of these thoughts will be just a brief second or two unless I hit upon something that suddenly feels familiar.
- Work backward - If I can only remember a very brief segment of a dream, I will try to work my way backward from that memory. Quite often that memory is the end of the dream, so working my way backward will sometimes lead to the recollection of the entire experience.
- Don't wait! - (Now for the hard part) Write down your dreams when you have them. If you wake up at 2:00 AM and you remember a dream, get up and write it down. Don't wait for morning. Our brains seem to have a built-in dream eraser that is almost guaranteed to wipe out any recollection of even the most vivid dreams if they are not recorded right away.
What you journal on is up to you. It just needs to be convenient and close at hand. I personally use an Android app called Diaro. It was a couple of bucks, but well worth it. My dreams are backed up to the cloud and dropbox, exportable to PDF, and it is easy to give them a title and then tag them with keywords so they are easily searchable later.
One of the best habits to get into when attempting to learn to lucid dream is that of performing reality checks. A reality check is simply a check that will tell you if you are dreaming or not. This is where daytime practice becomes critical to success. You need to start performing reality checks throughout the day. Some examples of reality checks are:
- Flip on and off a light switch - light switches tend to misbehave in dreams and lights will remain on or off when flipping them.
- Look at your hands - another strange phenomenon is that our hands almost never look normal in a dream. If you have never looked at your hands while dreaming, give it a try and you will see what I mean. They may be fat and bloated, or covered in waxy peeling skin, or they may melt right before your eyes.
- Breathe through a plugged nose - Obviously, we don't need to breathe in a dream, but we can, and even better, we can do it right through a plugged nose.
- Try to read text - Text has the habit of changing sporadically and small text, in particular, has the habit of not even being legible at all. If you are having difficulty reading text or the text in front of you is turning into hieroglyphics or jumping around on the page, there is a pretty good chance that you are dreaming.
- Try to use any sort of electronics - I can't say I have heard this one anywhere, but personally I have found that electronics don't work right in a dream. My phone makes regular appearances in my dreams and it never functions correctly.
- Jump - If all else fails, this is a great one. Jumping in a dream will often lead to floating, jumping far too high, or not being able to get your feet off the ground at all as if you now weight two tons.
Your goal now is to select a few of these reality checks (or one of your own) and practice them throughout the day. You can start by setting an alarm to go off once an hour and every time that alarm goes off, you will do your reality check. What works even better is if you associate a reality check with a common place or event that appears regularly in your dreams. This is where a searchable dream journal comes in handy. If you dream about your phone regularly, every time you look at your phone in waking life, perform a reality check. If your dreams regularly include trips to the bathroom, do a reality check every time you go to the bathroom. When you perform these checks, do not just do it half-heartedly and then go about your day. Stop for a moment, do the check, and think to yourself "what would be different if this were a dream? How is it that I really know I am not dreaming?". You need to build the habit during waking hours so it will happen spontaneously while you are dreaming.
Identify Dream Triggers
Dream triggers are people, places, or things that make regular appearances in your dreams and can make you question whether or not you are dreaming. To really make an effective list, you will need your dream journal to go off of. For example, there is a particular building that I dream about almost weekly. There are dozens of mentions of this building in my dream journal and yet, this is a building that I never go to in real life. Anytime I am in this particular building in my dreams, it acts as a trigger. I say to myself, I am never here in waking life. This must be a dream. I then follow that realization with a few reality checks just to make sure. A trigger could be a loved one that has passed on or an old car you used to drive in high school. It could be anything as long as it is out of place and is encountered frequently.
Mantras and Affirmations
Written or verbal affirmations as your last waking thought can go a long way in improving your chances of success. Before bed, take a piece of paper and pen and write an affirmation 20 or 30 times. Then as you lay in bed, just repeat your affirmation or mantra over and over again, keeping this as the last thought in your mind as you drift off to sleep. Some example phrases that can be used as affirmations are:
- Next time I sleep I will realize I am dreaming
- Tonight I will have a lucid dream
- I am dreaming.... I am dreaming... I am dreaming...
Feel free to come up with your own. Pick something that resonates with you.
Following the steps above will help you make great strides towards both the MILD and DILD methods of lucid dream induction.
Wake induced lucid dreams
I find that the WILD method takes a bit more work. I didn't actually learn to successfully employ this method until after I had learned to project using the direct method where you put your body to sleep while keeping your mind awake. When I am in the void state where my body is deeply asleep, I can let my mind start to wander. Sometimes I even give it a little help and I start imagining nonsensical scenarios or I remember previous dreams. The less logical and abstract these thoughts are, the more effective they seem to be. This act of cycling through dream-like thoughts will kick off a slew or hypnogogic imagery. If I can follow that imagery and allow the transition into sleep to proceed very slowly, I can sometimes hang onto my rational mind as I make the transition and step directly into a dream, lucidity intact. This sensation is a lot like inducing an out of body experience without the associated physical sensations. I would be interested in hearing how others have employed this technique because as I said, even after loads of practice, my success rate is probably only around 30% using the WILD method.
Wake-Back-To-Bed (the Deferred Method)
As we talked about briefly, we sleep in cycles. REM sleep occurs at the end of each of those 90-minute cycles. What this means is that you will very rarely, unless you have had a recent nap, jump directly into a dream when you fall asleep. Due to this cyclical pattern of sleep, your chances of lucid dreaming are greatly increased after you get some good rest in; four to six hours to be precise. For the best shot at inducing a lucid dream, you will use the wake-back-to-bed or deferred method. This is the practice of setting your alarm to wake you up after four to six yours, getting up for 15 to 45 minutes, and then going back to sleep. Doing this means that you are no longer exhausted and that 15 to 45-minute break wakes you up a bit so you won't fall asleep to quickly or deeply when you lay back down. This would also be a great time to repeat your affirmations or mantras. So what should you do during that waking period? How about re-read this post? :) Write in your dream journal. Read previous dream journal entries. etc.
Once your 15 to 45 minutes is up, don't go back to your bed. Find a different place to lay down that is not usually associated with sleep. This will become your lucid dreaming practice space. It could be a couch, or a recliner, or a mat on the floor. This is one more way to train your mind so it will know what to expect. Subconsciously your mind will say "oh! I am laying in the chair! It must be time to practice lucid dreaming!"
Maintaining and Deepening
One of the things that you will quickly find as you start practicing lucid dreaming is that these experiences are never as long as you would like them to be. Once you gain lucidity, it is a constant effort to remain in the dream environment. This is where Maintaining and Deepening come in. Maintaining and Deepening are techniques that will anchor you in the dream state a little longer and will add clarity to your experiences and good news, they are incredibly easy to learn. Your goal is to engage your senses and don't linger too long focusing on any one thing. You should constantly be looking around scrutinizing small details of the objects around you. You should be picking things up and touching things briefly from every angle possible. Once you have engaged with some object, quickly move on and turn your attention to another object. Put food and non-food items in your mouth. Crawl on the floor and run your hands through the carpet. Sing or even just talk to yourself.
These actions need to be done almost constantly to guarantee the longest experience possible. If you feel the dream start to fade, refocus your efforts on engaging your senses until the dream becomes clear once again. You might think this will make it hard to do any real exploring if you have to spend all your time touching everything in sight. Be creative with it. When I want to travel, I will run or fly, dragging my fingers on the ground or running my hands through trees. Other things that have helped me improve my clarity are spinning quickly in circles and a technique I took from William Buhlman, simply demand "Clarity Now". It is incredible how responsive the dream environment can be to your demands.
Saturate Your Mind
One of the things that lead to more lucid dreams than anything else for me aside from regular reality checks is constantly bombarding my mind with information about lucid dreaming. Watch YouTube videos about lucid dreaming, read books about lucid dreaming, talk to your family and friends about lucid dreaming. Keep it at the forefront of your mind throughout the day and it is likely to work its way into your dreams at night.
Practice and Persistence
Don't give up on this. Even after a couple of years of practice, my lucid dreams tend to be hit and miss. They do become more frequent with effort and persistence, though, so rest assured, you will get there if you put in a little effort.
That is about all the advice I can offer based on my experience. Please let me know how this goes for you and I would love to hear if you have additional steps that you take that lead to your success that I have not covered here.
Good luck and happy dreaming!