Lucid dreaming, or the ability to be "awake" in a dream, has been a profound source of healing, creative inspiration, and insight in my life, which is why I feel called to share what I’ve learned so that others may benefit from the magical gifts this realm has to offer.
One of the most strange and astonishing things that I've noticed about lucid dreaming is that often talking about the phenomena to someone led to them having lucid experiences. Upon some reflection this should make sense: we’re all familiar with having a dream that was affected by what we thought about that day. Thinking about lucid dreaming is enough to influence the dream space to become more lucid. That is my goal with this piece, to seed your consciousness with some ideas and stories of lucid dreaming to make it more likely to happen tonight! As well as giving some practical techniques that will certainly bring it about if you’re interested enough.
There are many comprehensive books on this topic that go into the science, history and practical applications of lucid dreaming. This musing intends to be a short, simple and hopefully entertaining introduction into this vast world, through the lens of some of my experiences.
Many people have used psychedelics, non-psychoactive herbs and supplements to help induce lucid dreaming. Others use high tech devices like light and sound machines or float tanks for the same purpose. If you want to investigate those tools, check out the books I reference at the bottom. While all of these are fascinating tools to explore, none of them are necessary for lucid dreaming. Your intention and maybe a paper and pen are enough to get started on this journey.
The two most common misconceptions I find regarding lucid dreaming is either that it's difficult or that its associated with being crazy. Sigh. I am here to tell you that developing the capacity to have lucid dreams is not hard and it does not increase your chances of going crazy. For many, it is a powerful tool for psychological and emotional healing, as you can revisit experiences and play them out differently, explore the world more boldly in this space and reconnect with your sense of agency.
Unlike some very fortunate people I’ve met, lucid dreaming was not something that came to me automatically. Growing up my mother was severely mentally ill with violent schizophrenia and her morbid visions, intense outbursts, and unpredictable behavior deeply affected my psyche and thus my dreams. So for my childhood through early youth, I had insomnia, severe nightmares and was terrified of falling asleep. (In case you’re left wondering, my mother has been institutionalized for the majority of my life and remains incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital to this day.)
Around the age of thirteen, I began to explore the world of psychedelics. Salvia divinorum was the first significant transformative influence in my life. Each journey was profound in a way I had no reference for: in one I had the sense of becoming the entire universe; in another, I was a conscious orb of light in an infinite field of other orbs, no longer identified with my body, mind, or human personality. These occurrences left me feeling less affected by the trauma I had experienced along with a more intimate relationship with the universe and my place in it. However it was initially all so much more vast and intense than I could begin to process normally - so my dreamtime became consumed working to make sense of and integrate the density of the information. This was the beginning of a new phase of consciousness exploration through dreaming.
The first time I experienced lucidity during a dream took me by surprise. I had been reading a book about O.B.E.’s(out of body experiences) before I went to sleep. At some point, I became aware I was standing beside my sleeping body. Disoriented and unsure of what was happening, I tried to flip a light switch, but my form was ghostly and ineffective at moving matter. I eventually just laid on the ground, closed my eyes longing for this strange experience to end, then instantly the dreamscape shifted to another realm. I gazed in astonishment as a floodgate of possibilities flashed through my dream consciousness. I experimented with laying down to change the dream realm again and again until at some point I realized my thought and desire alone had the power to change it. It was the first of a series of dreams that seemed to be guiding me towards awakening my power and agency within a dream state.
In another early dream lesson, I suddenly found myself on a high plateau thousands of feet in the air in a desolate sun filled canyon. I was not yet lucid, but it was apparent to me the scene was utterly ‘impossible’ for waking life. Intuitively I experimented by visualizing myself on the other side of the impossible canyon and then instantly I was looking back at where I had been standing. It was as if this dream scene was created to begin showing me what was possible.
This lead to years of experimentation and over time I developed the ability to teleport, fly, shapeshift, create other worlds, become anything, interact with other dream beings, conjure anything out of thin air and other seemingly impossible things at will. And these are just a few examples to give you a sense of what is possible. There are infinite possibilities!
Below are a few practices to assist your Lucid Dream Exploration.
Keeping a dream journal is the cornerstone of any lucid dreaming practice. We’ve all had the experience of waking up from a vivid dream feeling impacted by it and then not to be able to remember any details by the time we’ve come back from the bathroom. This is because our waking state and dreaming state are so far apart that by the time we are fully awake the contents of the dream state can’t even be accessed. If we keep a journal by the bed and write down our dream when we first wake up and can remember the dream when we are still halfway between waking and dreaming, then we can read it during the day and access the contents of our dream state while fully awake. By accessing the contents of our dream state while awake, we are building a bridge between our waking state and dreaming state. That ends up being a two-way bridge that also allows us to access our waking state during our dreams which is essentially what lucid dreaming is. To be most effective with this practice we would journal all of the dreams that we remember each morning, read them multiple times throughout the day and in particular, right before bed. This strengthens the connection between the waking and dreaming realms.
Tip: Pick a journal that you find beautiful and inspiring since it will be the first thing you see in the morning and it will be associated with your dreams. Use this journal for dreams only.
Extra Credit: Have the journal on a dream altar by your bed that keeps your dream state and your attention throughout the day whenever you see it.
Alternative: Some people prefer to use voice memos instead of writing, explore and see which one works best for you.
Belief and Intention.
There are several parts to this one:
1. Wanting to lucid dream and believing you can, makes it more likely to happen.
2. Wanting to do a particular thing within the dream (e.g., flying) and believing its possible makes that thing more possible.
3. Intention and Belief are vital ingredients to accomplish/manifest anything.
4. Lucid dreams are a space where the manifestation of reality from desire/ intention/ belief can happen almost instantly and without limits to what’s possible.
5. Practicing manifesting desires from thought (intention and belief) in the lucid dreaming realm is helpful training for how to use our ideas to manifest what we want when awake.
6. In both the waking state and dreaming states, all action is guided by our thoughts. The clarity with which we can hold our intention and believe it possible determines the focus and energy we will bring to the necessary actions, and thus, the success achieved.
You can probably relate to the experience of watching a scary movie and then having a nightmare or dreaming of being naked in front of an audience the night before giving a public presentation. What this reveals is that the contents of our dream state are influenced by a combination of what we recently took in through our senses along with anything we have an emotional charge with.
Once I realized how much my environment was affecting my dreams, I became much more selective about what I exposed myself to. In the same way that I eat a diet that best nourishes and supports my body for optimal health, I consciously ‘feed’ my mind in a way that will best further my mind and dream space. I choose to surround myself with imagery and environments in the waking state that positively influences my dreams whenever possible. I also avoid unnecessary exposure to violence or horror from movies, news, media and interpersonal relations.
Tip: make your bedroom your sanctuary. Our mind is continually taking in information; create an atmosphere that will positively influence your dreams. Keep the space looking beautiful and inspiring so that you can feel safe and relaxed as you enter dreamtime.
One simple but very effective techniques I’ve found useful is what I’m calling a reality check- the act of taking a moment to pause and verify that you’re awake. Dreams can feel so real we often don't even realize that we're in one. This practice is useful towards influencing a lucid state for a couple of reasons; first, it shows your subconscious that you’re actively interested in exploring your dreams which make it more probable of happening and second if you are dreaming, then you will activate a lucid state; alas, the adventure begins!
There are many different ways to confirm whether you’re in a dream. One of the most simple and straightforward techniques is to try to defy the laws of physics. Make sure not to do anything life threatening like jump off a building or a cliff; try flying or levitating off the ground first. Also, note that elements of a dream tend to morph and change form when focused on so concentrating your attention on the sky or an object and see what happens. More advanced dream checks may include conjuring something out of thin air, changing the realm altogether or shape-shifting, etc.
Not Remembering Dreams.
If you can't remember your dreams, there could be one of several factors at play including not sleeping enough, nutrient deficiencies, or that you’re just not paying attention to your dreams.
Yoga, meditation, audio-visual entrainment, dream-inducing herbs, psychedelics, orgasms, a soothing bath, float tank soak, being in nature, making art (singing, writing, dancing, making music, etc.), and a good night’s sleep can all help with activating dream states. Along with making the intention to dream and giving yourself time to think about your dreams.
A practice: make your bedtime a sleep ritual: take the time to come into a deep state of relaxation and ease with the present moment. As you lay down to sleep imagine yourself floating on a calm, gentle sea of warm fluffy clouds, begin to focus your attention on your breath and the sensations in your body. At some point, you may realize you are not able to move your body. This a natural part of the sleep cycle called sleep paralysis and an ideal place to enter into lucidity, so get excited, think of your wildest fantasy and see what happens!
Our dreams are a direct link to our subconscious, so anything that is left unsettled in our mind will affect them. Nightmares can be terrifying, but there is no such thing as a “bad dream.” It’s all how you perceive what your subconscious is showing you.
In both the waking state and dream realm, it’s helpful to ask the nightmare to reveal its true nature to you. Once a while back, I had a recurring nightmare of a formless demon ghost that haunted and tormented me through many different dreams. When I finally got the courage to confront the demon ghost and ask why it was there, it transformed into a small crying girl; it was unquestionably old childhood trauma. I picked her up and hugged her close to my heart and awoke with an expanded sense of trust in my capacity to care for myself.
If you don’t want to have nightmares then don’t watch horror movies or put nightmarish content into your mind; don’t watch the news or dwell on negative things. The dream space is mostly processing unprocessed material from the waking state. It can be unprocessed material from childhood that needs therapy or unprocessed material from the day. If someone is stressed out or in fear around something in life like mourning a breakup or death etc., it will likely arise in the dream space to be processed. One way to influence more positive or lucid dreams is to actively take space in your waking life to process the content of your life. If you want to have lovely dreams it’s important they don’t have to process your unresolved psychological material.
A few practices to assist you with clearing your mind for dream space are as follows:
- Write out whatever is on your mind - especially anything that was stressful or impactful during the day.
- Do forgiveness practices around people you have an emotional charge with and come up with a few possible resolution strategies.
- Identify negative recurring thoughts and beliefs, then use some process you find effective for shifting them. (If you don’t have a helpful tool for this, “The Work” of Byron Katie is simple and effective.
It’s important to be patient and loving with yourself during this process. To accelerate healing you may benefit from adding in various forms of psychotherapeutic work including inner child work, attachment theory work, somatic therapies C.B.T. and D.B.T., T.R.E., breathwork, yoga, guided entheogenic sessions, etc. Continue to observe your dreams to notice the progression of your healing.
Tip: Actively take in beautiful images and thoughts to influence your dreams.
Help to normalize this ability. Share and talk about your dreams openly. Start asking people about their dreams. The ability to lucid dream could profoundly change the course of one's life. Especially for anyone that has P.T.S.D., any form of trauma, a terminal illness, depression, anxiety, purposelessness, etc. It could give someone reason to live or bring joy and fulfillment to one’s last waking days.
Sleep Paralysis and O.B.E.’s (Out of Body Experiences)
O.B.E.’s.: typically involves the experience of floating outside of your body and sometimes where you can look back and see your physical body. It’s possible to experience an O.B.E. preceding the initiation of a lucid dream state. If this happens don’t freak out and don’t worry: you’ll wake up, you’ll be fine - you’re not going crazy. You just got the advanced trip so get excited!
Sleep Paralysis: this is a phenomenon where you become aware that you’re sleeping but can’t move your body or speak. It commonly happens when you’re falling asleep or waking up. It’s also possible in this state to hear, feel or see things that are not there. Do your best to relax and trust that your body will wake up. Since you’re in a partially awake sleep state, this is the perfect time to enter a lucid dream, so start visualizing where you would love to go!
What's Real?: if you no longer know if you are dreaming or awake for an extended period, then suspend your lucid dreaming practice, get grounded and find an experienced guide that can help you.
If you’ve tried all this and still nothing is working, then you might need more than this short essay ;) Get a proper book on lucid dreaming. (I listed a few of my favorites on the bottom of post.)
“We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” - Buddha
We are creative beings. We are continuously creating our reality with our thoughts, words, and actions. Ultimately our thoughts are the deepest of these three, influencing both our speech and action. Every great wisdom tradition points to this insight as central; so many spiritual practices are focused on learning how to direct the mind. From my experience, lucid dreaming is one of the most potent tools for training the mind that I’m aware of.
In lucid dreams, our thoughts create the reality we are in, nearly instantly. We can move between paradise and nightmare with nothing more than a change of perception. The fact that our thoughts take form immediately and graphically create a perfect mirror for our mind and a training ground for navigating our thoughts.
While in waking life, our thoughts don’t completely change our reality instantly (fortunately)...they affect it for sure...affecting our experience, which affects how we perceive and how we act...which affects the nature of our relationship with the world...which creates “our world.”
Creating and navigating fantastical worlds through lucid dreaming is not only amazingly fun but is a profound education for how to create the life and world we want when we wake up.
I wish you magical experiences and profound lessons in the lucid realm, and ever-growing skill to manifest the life you most want to live.
"Dreaming Wide Awake: Lucid Dreaming, Shamanic Healing, and Psychedelics" by David Jay Brown
"A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming: Mastering the Art of Oneironautics" by Dylan Tuccillo
"Healing Our Deepest Wounds: The Holotropic Paradigm Shift" by Stanislav Grof M.D.
"The Adventure of Self-Discovery: Dimensions of Consciousness and New Perspectives in Psychotherapy and Inner Exploration" by Stanislav Grof M.D.