A lucid dream is any dream in which one is aware that they are dreaming. This is a well-established phenomenon that can occur during normal sleep. Various techniques can be learned to consistently induce lucid dreams at will. These techniques can be utilized as a powerful method of consciousness exploration, making lucid dreaming an important field of psychonautics. This article serves as a descriptive and comprehensive breakdown, analysis, and instructional guide regarding dreams and the behavior of their general content, their inherent limitations, and the skill sets necessary to consciously utilize them as powerful methods of self-exploration.
Despite powerful senses of delirium and plot acceptance, there are moments within dreams in which a person becomes aware of the fact that they are dreaming, allowing one to control the dream and its circumstances. These are known as lucid dreams: any dream in which, for an uninterrupted and prolonged amount of time, one is consciously aware that they are dreaming.
This section focuses on gaining a stabilized sense of lucidity within one's own dreams, as well as the techniques for utilizing and harnessing specific control and navigation techniques once this has been achieved.
Improving memory recall
One of the biggest hurdles that many encounter when learning to lucid dream is recalling what their dreams are about. This is easily changed and does not indicate an inability to dream, but simply means that the dreamer's brain does not focus any attention on memorizing them once they are over. The most effective methods of improving memory recall are listed below:
- Keeping a dream journal - Writing out any and all details within a daily dream log will drastically improve one's ability to recall their dreams. Preferably, this should be done immediately after waking up if possible, as it will quickly change one's memory into one which is attentive to its own dreams. The writing style should be in the first person and in the present tense to further improve one's ability to recall the specific plot as it is written down. If there was no dream the previous night, simply write down "I did not dream last night," then continue to use the journal as usual the next day.
- Use memory signifiers - If one is prone to waking up in the middle of the night, knowing that a dream will likely be forgotten the moment one falls back to sleep, simply arrange a random object in such a way that it is clearly out of place, making it easily noticed in the morning. Examples of this would be turning a drinking glass upside down or putting an object on one's computer keyboard. This will act as a powerful memory trigger when it is seen the next day, allowing one to write the dream down in their dream journal.
- Stop smoking cannabis before sleep - It is common knowledge among cannabis users that marijuana suppresses one's ability to dream; this phenomenon has been backed up by a study which indicated that smoking marijuana will inhibit REM activity during sleep, therefore suppressing dreams. Once a person stops smoking marijuana before bed, however, REM activity undergoes a rebound effect and dreams will temporarily become much more vivid than usual.
To determine whether or not one is dreaming, it is necessary to develop a habit of performing frequent reality checks. A reality check involves asking questions such as "Am I dreaming?" or "Is this a dream?" while performing a specific action which is capable of determining whether one is awake or dreaming.
Because most people are not in the habit of asking themselves "Am I dreaming?" while in the midst of a dream, it is necessary to get oneself into the habit of questioning reality to achieve a state of lucidity throughout them. By training oneself to habitually question reality during waking life, the habit will eventually carry over to dreaming life and, ultimately, one will find themselves posing the question while dreaming. When this happens, the odds of realizing one is in a dream, as well as the odds of achieving lucidity, increase greatly.
Listed below are some simple reality checks that can all be used to reliably and effectively determine whether or not one is currently dreaming:
- Pushing one's thumb into the palm of their hand - During a dream, if one is to push their thumb into the palm of their other hand, it will pass straight through the hand and come out on the other side.
- Double taking/rereading text and clocks - During a dream, if one reads text or checks the time on a clock, upon further examination it will be shown to have either changed or be unreadable. This means that every time one looks away and looks back, the information will change repeatedly, appear as nonsensical, or never keep still.
- Counting fingers - During a dream, if one is to look at their hand and attempt to count their fingers, they will quickly realize it is impossible. The number of fingers may constantly change or simply remain somehow uncountable.
- Pinching one's nose and breathing - During a dream, if one tightly pinches their nose shut and attempts to breathe, they will find that they still can.
For the best results, these reality checks should be performed habitually every time the situation changes during waking life, as well as on a daily basis. For example, every time one walks through a door or enters a new environment, every time one talks to a new person, etc., a reality check should be performed. If this is done 10 - 30 times a day, the habit will quickly pass on to one's dreaming life.
An excellent way to remind oneself to perform reality checks is to put notes containing messages such as "are you dreaming?" or "perform a reality check" in places which one frequently looks at throughout the day. For example, putting a visible note by or on one's computer screen(s), writing a message on one's hand, or changing one's desktop wallpaper to the image found on the right (or something similar) will greatly improve general lucidity.
Once lucidity has been achieved, the dreamer will usually have a tendency to become very excited as the realization that one is dreaming washes over them. This flood of emotions rapidly results in dream destabilization and quickly causes the setting to begin to collapse in on itself, and the dreamer either wakes up or falls unconscious before losing lucidity and finding themselves back within another dream.
This can be extremely frustrating but easily overcome through the simple stabilization technique of maintaining sensory input through the basic action of rubbing one's hands together. This technique keeps the dream perfectly stable and grounded. This can be further taken advantage of by continuously rubbing one's shoulder with their hand to maintain sensory input while walking around and admiring or exploring the environment.
The effect of lucid destabilization does not occur to all lucid dreamers and as a result has lead some to believe that the effect may be a placebo effect.
Activities and control techniques
Once lucidity has been gained and the dream has been stabilized, the dreamer can now begin to practice taking control of the dream and exploring their own mind. Through the power of expecting an action or task to work, anything is possible within the dreamscape and this can allow for some truly incredible experiences in which the only limit is one's imagination. The most common of these actions and the techniques used to achieve them are listed below:
- Enhancing clarity and detail - If the dream is blurred and low in clarity or detail (level 3), one can enhance and improve these factors (level 4) by verbally stating aloud "enhance visual clarity" and simply expecting it to work.
- Spawning objects - If one desires to spawn objects such as vehicles, weapons, food, people, etc., this can be done through two different methods. The first is walking into a room and simply expecting to find the object in a particular location, and the second is drawing the vague shape of the desired object in the air with one's hands while simultaneously verbally commanding the object into existence through expectant dialogue such as "A jetpack is going to appear in front of me." The more specific the detail of the request, the more accurately the object will fit one's desires when it spawns.
- Travelling to new locations - If one desires to travel to a new location, there are two methods through which this can be done. The first of these is to spawn a door by drawing its shape in the air and stating clearly where one would like it to take them before walking through it. An example of this would be the statement "this door is going to take me to my childhood home." The second is to verbally state where one would like to visit while simultaneously spinning around in circles. Once one has stopped spinning, they should find themselves in the desired location. The more detailed the request, the more accurate the outcome will be.
- Flying - There are different styles of flight that people use, each with a varied level of success for each individual. Methods such as swimming through the air as if it were water, “Superman style” (one arm outstretched), “Airplane style” (both arms out), and "bird style" (gliding through the wind, flapping one's arms to navigate air currents) are often used. There are a few methods of getting up into the air, such as jumping or willing one's body to rise into the air. Perhaps the easiest method of flying is to use a tool that the dreamer spawns in, such as a jetpack or a broomstick.
- Shape shifting - Many people try to shapeshift into animals or creatures by willfully changing their body parts one by one. This is usually ineffective, as the body changes back quicker than one can complete the process. A much more effective technique is to turn the transformation into an instant process by spawning a tool which will help one to transform. An excellent example of this would be to spawn a magical transformation pill which can be swallowed or a magical wand which can be waved in order to instantly transform one into their desired form.
- Having sex - Many people learn to lucid dream purely for the sex it offers. This can be difficult, as it is often very challenging to maintain lucidity during the act of dream sex and the chosen partner may shift into an undesirable form part way through. In order to have sex within a lucid dream, all one needs to do is simply initiate it with a dream character; they will be perfectly compliant. Orgasms, which are often far more powerful than those found in waking life, are completely attainable with practice.
- Body swapping - To swap bodies with another person, simply climb into them from behind and wear them over one's skin like a wetsuit. The most interesting application of this technique is the way in which it allows one to experience extremely convincing and detailed sex and/or orgasms as the opposite sex or within an entirely different body altogether.
- Taking drugs - An excellent way to change the course of the dream is to ingest drugs which one may or may not have tried in real life. This will result in inducing the expected effects without any real ingestion of the drug itself. However, this action is extremely limited and incapable when it comes to psychedelic visual geometry.
- Eating food - Another great activity within the dreamscape is eating food. This results in food which tastes even richer and more detailed than any food found within real life, and is extremely pleasurable.
Most lucid dreamers practice specific techniques that aim to increase their chances of becoming lucid. The efficacy of some techniques, mainly MILD, could be no more than a placebo, however they do work for most lucid dreamers. It is important to remember when attempting a technique that some techniques work better for some people whilst others do not. It is important to experiment with different techniques to find what works best for you. However with most things in life, for the techniques to be effective it requires patience. Try to avoid switching between techniques more than once a month as you could potentially spoil your progress on a certain technique, even if you have had no results yet. It is also possible to combine techniques, however beginners are recommended to stick to one and get good at it.
- Finger Induced Lucid Dreaming (FILD) - FILD is defined as waking up from sleep, then doing light repetitive movements with the fingers as if one were playing the piano with their index and middle finger and allowing the body to drift off to sleep while the mind stays quiet, but conscious, until a dream is perceived. This process usually lasts for several seconds to a few minutes.
- Wake initiated lucid dream (WILD) - This is a technique in which one maintains consciousness while their body falls asleep. It can be read about in detail here.
- Mnemonically Induced Lucid Dream (MILD) - In short, MILD is telling oneself as they are in bed, ready to sleep, that they are going to become lucid once they start dreaming, then visualizing oneself in a dream becoming lucid. This should be repeated until one falls asleep.
- All Day Awareness (ADA) - This is a technique which involves maintaining complete, mindful focus on the present moment, all day and every day. This allows one to remain completely aware even when they are dreaming. This is perhaps the most effective and effort-intensive lucid dreaming technique. It can be read about in detail here.
- Use of dietary supplements and oneirogens - Certain foods or dietary supplements reportedly modify the quality of dreaming, but this is mostly backed by anecdotal evidence only. There also exists oneirogens, substances specifically used to induce vivid dreams.
Internally sourced sensory input
The most fundamental component of any dream or hallucinatory state can be defined as some form of perceivable sensory input. This differs from everyday sensory input in that it is received from an internal source created by one's own mind, as opposed to an external source within the immediately perceivable surrounding environment. The dreamscape of a human being is capable of manifesting completely realistic, convincing, and detailed equivalents of all five senses across varying degrees of vividness and intensity.
Internally sourced sensory input can be broken into five differing levels of clarity which are broken down and defined below:
- Imaginative visualization - The lowest level of a dream is extremely common and occurs frequently during waking consciousness on a daily basis. It can be defined as the heightened state of mental visualization that one drifts into when daydreaming or using the imagination. This state results in a level of visualization that is mostly felt internally within the mind's eye, instead of visually perceived. It can be described as a short-term detachment from one's immediate surroundings, during which a person's contact with reality is blurred and partially substituted by a visionary fantasy. The generation of the details of this internal visualization are partially autonomous in nature but mostly controlled by the content of one's current thought stream.
- Partially defined hypnagogia - As one begins to fall asleep, the experience of daydreaming and general imagination begins to progressively heighten and form into what is known in literature as "hypnagogia". This is defined as the experience of the transitional state between wakefulness and sleep, and generally consists of hearing indistinct noises and seeing faded imagery behind closed eyelids.
- Fully defined hypnagogia - As the vividness and intensity slightly increase, the spontaneous imagery becomes fully defined in its appearance and detail, and is now seen within one's direct line of sight under closed eyelids. Alongside of this, audible noises such as fleeting voices, music, and general auditory hallucinations are often present.
- Partially defined dreams - As the ability to hallucinate increases, random flashes of spontaneous hallucinatory scenarios begin to show themselves. At this level, the hallucinations no longer consist of fleeting imagery on the back of one's closed eyelids, and instead become sustained as all-encompassing settings which surround the dreamer in what feels like a sudden breakthrough into an alternate reality. In terms of sensory vividness, the dreams are not completely defined in their appearance or sound. This means that they often display themselves as partially to completely blurred and transparent. Alongside this, the dreamer's physical body will also still feel at least partially connected to the real world. Other senses such as touch, taste, and smell seem to be extremely vague or entirely absent altogether.
- Fully defined dreams - At this level, all five of the senses are replicated perfectly as the dream becomes completely realistic and indistinguishable from that of everyday reality, in terms of the detail and sensory vividness which they provide. These sensations are equally capable of including both positive sensations, such as sexual orgasm, and negative sensations, such as pain.
With regards to the perspective in which dreams are perceived, just like literary plots, dreams can be experienced through four alternate vantage points which are described and listed below:
- 1st person - This is the most common form of a dream and can be described as the perfectly normal experience of perceiving the scenario from the perspective of one's everyday self and body.
- 2nd person - This can be described as the experience of perceiving the dream from the perspective of an external source of consciousness, such as another person, animal, inanimate object, omniscient being, etc..
- 3rd person - This is essentially an out-of-body experience and can be described as perceiving the dream from a perspective which is floating above, below, behind, or in front of the dreamer's physical body. For unknown reasons, many people consistently and exclusively dream in the third person perspective.
- 4th person - This is particularly rare, but entirely possible, and can be described as the experience of perceiving the dream from the perspective of multiple vantage points simultaneously.
At level 4 - 5, dreams consistently manifest themselves through the essential component of extremely detailed imagined landscapes, locations, and sceneries of essentially infinite variety. These environments act as the setting in which the plot of the dream occurs. The geography of these settings is capable of rendering itself as static and coherent in its organization, but will usually result in a non-linear, nonsensical, and continuously changing layout which does not typically obey the rules of everyday physics. In terms of the chosen location, appearance, and style of these settings, they seem to be selected at random and are often entirely new and previously unseen locations. They do, however, play a heavy emphasis on replicating and combining real life locations stored within the dreamer's memories, especially those which are prominent within one's life and daily routine.
Within the settings themselves, relevant and irrelevant objects or props will be placed in seemingly appropriate or inappropriate locations throughout them. These can be interacted with in exactly the same way that any real life object can, but can often react in unexpected and spontaneous ways (although they usually behave exactly as the dreamer expects them to).
Across the setting of almost any dream, the scenery is inhabited and populated by conscious dream characters who can be spoken to and communicated with in extreme amounts of detail. These entities appear to be the inhabitants of a perceived independent reality -- they are expectant of one's appearance and interact with the dreamer in various ways.
Regarding their appearance, dream characters can show themselves as literally anything, but will usually display themselves as perfectly ordinary people. These people are equally likely to be complete strangers or randomly selected people which the dreamer has encountered throughout their life. The more prominent and emotionally significant the person is, the more likely they are to be encountered within the dreamscape.
There are distinctly different types of dream characters which one may encounter, each of which represents a particular subsection of one's own consciousness through both their visible form and their personality. These can be broken down into three separate categories:
- Representations of the self - The simplest form of dream character can be described as a mirror of one's own personality. It can take any visible form, but clearly, adopts an obviously identical vocabulary and set of mannerisms to one's own personality when conversed with.
- Representations of specific concepts or people - This category of dream character is by far the most varied type in terms of its visual form and immediately perceivable personality. It can be identified as a simulated representation of any internally stored concept and adopts an appropriate personality to fit this to an amazing degree of accurate detail. For example, this specific concept could include people one has met throughout their life, fictional characters, or symbolic representations of abstract concepts such as emotions or key parts of one's own personality.
- Representations of the subconscious - This category of dream character can take any visible form, but adopts the personality of what seems to be a conscious controller behind the continuous generation of the details behind one's own dreamscape and internally stored model of reality. When conversed with, it usually adopts an attitude which wants to teach or guide the dreamer and assumes that it knows what is best for them.
When communicated with through spoken word, the level of coherency in which these entities can reply varies greatly, but can be broken down into four distinct levels of communication:
- Silence - This level can be defined as a complete unresponsiveness from the side of the dream character and an incapability of speech, despite their obvious presence within the dream.
- Partially defined incoherent speech - This level can be defined as audible linguistic conversational responses and noises which sound like words but do not contain any real content or meaning beyond a vague sense of emotional intent.
- Fully defined incoherent speech - This level can be defined as audible linguistic conversational responses and noises which contain fully defined and understandable words, but often lack grammatical structure or general coherency.
- Partially defined coherent speech - This level can be defined as audible linguistic conversational responses and noises which contain fully defined and understandable words with a partially defined grammatical structure and general coherency, which conveys its point on a level that may not always be fully understandable, but is still capable of conveying a general point.
- Fully defined coherent speech - This level can be defined as audible linguistic conversational responses and noises which contain fully defined and understandable words, as well as fully defined grammatical structure and general coherency, which conveys its point on a level that is on par with the dreamer's own intellect.
Scenarios and plots
Each of the above components is randomly shuffled and spliced into any number of an essentially infinite variety of potential plots and scenarios. These may be positive or negative to experience and are difficult to define in a comprehensive manner, in much the same way that we cannot predict the plot of abstract literature and films. They can, however, be broken down into extremely basic occurrences which generally entail visiting some sort of setting(s) which contains within it interactive lone or multiple dream characters. Alongside these, unpredictable plot devices and events force the dreamer into becoming involved within the specific scenario of the particular dream.
These scenarios and plots can be linear and logical, with events that occur in a rational sequence which lead into each other through cause and effect. They are equally likely, however, to present themselves as completely nonsensical and incoherent, with spontaneous events that are capable of starting, ending, and changing between each other repeatedly, randomly, and in quick succession. The plots themselves can either be entirely new experiences that are unlike anything experienced within the real world, old experiences such as accurate memory replays, or a combination of the two.
Regarding the amount of time in which they are experienced, hallucinatory dream plots and scenarios usually feel as if they are being experienced in real-time. This means that when 20 seconds have been felt to have passed within the hallucination, the exact same amount of time will have passed in the real world. At other points, however, distortions of time can make themselves present, resulting in plots and scenarios that can feel as if they last days, weeks, months, years, or even infinitely long periods of time.
An important part of any dream that contains obviously unlikely and absurd scenarios is a strong sense of uncontrollable and powerful plot acceptance. This sense of plot acceptance allows the dreamer to accept any plot as it comes as a completely real event in which the results of one's own actions will have genuine consequences regarding the dreamer's life. This delirium motivates the dreamer to avoid danger, solve puzzles, and accept the scenario as reality even if it is clearly and undeniably more likely to be a dream than an event which could never occur within waking life. It is also possible in some anecdotal cases for a dreamers thoughts inside the dream to shape the dream, however this is not common.
- Marijuana, Sleep, and Dreams, Psychology Today