My friend, Chris, first told me about lucid dreaming in elementary school. To be honest, I thought he was making it up. Knowing that you're dreaming and controlling them? That's impossible! There's no way. What is this, The Matrix (side note: that movie hadn't come out until I was in high school)? I couldn't even fathom how it would happen. After all, I didn't even remember 95% of my dreams. But with time, and still at a young age, I started to see glimpses of it, some of which are pretty common among all of us, like:
- Having a dream within a dream
- Knowing that we're dreaming but not being able to do anything about it
I distinctly remember a nightmare I had at a young age, in which I realized that it was just that–a nightmare–so I found my mom in the dream and asked her to wake me up. She did, but then I just popped right into another dream.
I'd call that a semi-lucid dream, because while I knew I was dreaming, there wasn't really full control. I find that most people think this is what a lucid dream is, but in reality (no pun intended), you can control a lot more. For example, in that dream, I could've just started flying and gone to a new place or even killed the monster or whatever it was that was scaring me (if I wanted to stay in that same place). But I didn't come to this realization until college which, not coincidentally, is the same time I started meditating.
One of my favorite lucid dreams that I remember is seeing my dad in a dream, who had already passed away from cancer in waking life. Because of my awareness, I was able to pick up on this cue that I must be dreaming since he's alive, and then proceeded to ask myself if I was dreaming, and realized that I was. I looked at my hands (I'll tell you why later), and then decided to fly, or really float, up above my dad, so that I was able to look down at him–seeing him smile and show how proud he was of me, something that I knew he would be in waking life, but to actually see it was extraordinary.
Experiences like those took me down a path to trying to have more and more lucid dreams, and the more I had, the more fascinating they became. I actually got to a point where I could start experimenting with them. One example is that I always wondered what it would be like to meditate in a dream. By meditate, I simply mean to focus on my breath while acknowledging thoughts and letting them go. So when I had a lucid dream, I remembered that I really wanted to try this, so I sat down right where I was, which was in the dirt, looking at the sunset, and I started to meditate. I focused on the breath, and that's all that happened. But as I lost concentration after some amount of time, probably only 10 or 20 seconds, just like in waking life, a different thought started to creep in. Essentially, I was forgetting that I was in a lucid dream because my mind started wandering, and I noticed the world started to spin–a sort of dizzying sensation–but not to a point where it's very uncomfortable. I realized, “Uh oh… I'm waking up.”
I had the most calm and peaceful awakening ever because I knew I was waking up in the dream. I actually woke up with my eyes closed because I was fully present through that whole transition. It was crazy… I never felt so well-rested after waking up in my entire life. And it was pretty early in the morning, and if you know anything about me, that's not when I feel my best.
There are actually professional lucid dreamers out there, called oneironauts, who do other experiments that are really cool, and maybe I could tell you about those some other time.
So what's the point of all of this? We spend about a third of our lives sleeping, so why not spend more time thinking about it, talking about it, and even controlling our dreams? Because of this impact on me and the fact that we can actually make use of this time–creatively, or to tackle our own issues, or to come up with ideas, or even just for fun to challenge the physical and social laws of our waking life–for all these reasons, I want to share with you some steps to take if you want to start having lucid dreams yourself.
#1 Start a Dream Journal
This might be the hardest, but probably also the most effective, in my experience. If you take this to the extreme, you can dream journal every time you wake up in the middle of the night, which will probably be a few times, so you can end up writing a few dreams every night. Trust me, I understand how difficult that is, so the less hardcore option is to put a little note on top of your alarm clock, or wherever you first look in the morning, and write on it:
“What did you dream about?”
So when you wake up, when you see that note, don't just think about it. You need to actually write it down.
The dream journal has multiple purposes: first, if you're someone who thinks you don't dream, this will show you that you do, in fact, dream just like everyone else. The second purpose is that you can technically have a lucid dream, but forget about it by the time you wake up, which would be really sad. The best way to improve dream recall is by doing just that: recalling your dreams more and more, and writing it down is the best way to do that. You actually don't have to write it down because technology has advanced and you can record yourself with audio or video talking about it if you want to, and that would probably save you time, but if you share a room with someone, that might not be so easy. But in either case, keeping a dream journal is going to increase your dream recall, guaranteed. And that's the first step to lucid dreaming.
But that's not the only reason for it. Dream journaling also gives you insights into how you might be able to catch yourself dreaming. For example, if you continue to have dreams with certain emotions or objects in them, you can train yourself to notice this as a dream sign, which I'll talk about right now.
#2 Look for Dream Signs
If you follow that first step, you'll start to recall more and more dreams every day and you'll probably start to see patterns. Maybe you always have dreams about work, and you can turn this into a dream sign. In regular waking life, whenever you get to work, or your desk, or wherever you feel like your dreams occur, you should stop and question yourself:
“Am I dreaming?”
Actually think about it for 5 or more seconds. Look around. Look at your hands. It's difficult for our imaginations to get our bodies perfectly, so if you look at your hands, you'll likely be able to tell that something just isn't right. And one day (or night, I should say), you'll ask yourself if you're dreaming, and you actually will be dreaming.
But let's say you do the journal and don't notice any patterns–they're just random. There's another similar strategy that works:
#3 Create Your Own Dream Signs
Take something you do frequently, like opening a door, or looking at your watch if you have one, and make that your dream sign. You can also do it with a specific emotion, but I find that a little more difficult to do. But in either in case, whenever you do that thing, or feel that emotion that you've chosen as your dream sign, again, in real life:
- Ask yourself if you're dreaming
- Actually think about it
- Look around and at your hands
- Then move on
Another option that requires less work and mental energy is to simply set an alarm to go off every couple of hours on your phone. When it rings, turn it off, but do the same thing. Go through the motions to really question if you're dreaming or not. This can have the same effect. You'll find yourself asking if you're dreaming within a dream, and if you follow the routine, you'll realize that the world isn't what it seems.
It's amazing to me that people talk about meditation so much–about mindfulness and being more aware of the present moment–but only address it in waking life. You can be aware of the present moment in your dreams, too, and meditation is a skill that will cross over into both worlds. As I mentioned earlier, I first started having recurring lucid dreams when I first started meditating habitually, and that is definitely not a coincidence. It's actually pretty obvious when you think about it, that having that kind of awareness of my thoughts and mind in waking life would help me have better awareness in dreaming life. They really go hand in hand, and meditating will most certainly help you not only have more lucid dreams, but also control them better.
#5 Think About Dreams More
That about your dreams, and dreams in general, more. Maybe read some blogs or a book about lucid dreaming before bed, or watch a video about it (there's lots on YouTube), and you'll find that the more you think about it, the more likely you'll be to have a lucid dream. If it's on the mind during waking life, it'll surely be on the mind in your dreaming life as well.
So those are my steps to becoming an oneironaut for yourself. The more of these steps you follow, the more lucid dreams you'll have, and the better they'll be. Let's make use of those 8 hours. I can promise you that they'll be some of the most vivid and enjoyable moments in your entire life.