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Do you realize you are in a dream while you are dreaming? This is called lucid dreaming. Are you dreaming right now? Yes or No? How do you know? When you’re in a dream, it feels real. So how do you learn to know when you are dreaming while dreaming ?
Do you have difficulty remembering your dreams? I often wake up with little recall of what I’ve dreamt during the night, even though I know I have. Then I move position in bed and whatever remote feeling I’ve managed to recollect, flutters away in my post waking moments and is lost forever in the morning fogginess of my mind. I also always think that I will remember a significant dream. Yet that also passes out of my conscious mind with alarming speed if I don’t write it down straight away.
How incredible to realise that we can not only learn to have vivid memories of our dreams, but can actually know that we are in a dream and also control what happens! This is called lucid dreaming and has recently aroused alot of interest through the movie, ‘Inception.’ If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.
Just as amazing is to learn that you spend 26 years asleep on average, which means you have more time dreaming than eating. So, it may be worthwhile to learn how to direct your dreams so you can experience whatever you like, as you are not constrained by the limitations of a physical body or conscious mind.
This article on lucid dreaming comes from a recent radio interview where I talked about how to start having lucid dreams and its benefits. Of course, in psychology the most influential people were originally Freud and Jung who started working with people’s dreams. (See my other articles and blogs on dreams.)
I have worked with thousands of people over 30 years as a therapist using Process Oriented Psychology with their dreams and how to stop nightmares. It is absolutely possible with simple techniques to stop your nightmares, by processing your nightmares and programming your subconscious with one sentence.
Dreams in Process Oriented Psychology are viewed like a snapshot or photograph of your life that you can unfold and process so they make sense to you in your waking life. The dream can also be dreamed on, after you have woken up. Your ‘dreaming body’ is sending you signals from the unknown, unconscious part of yourself. Your dreams are a mirror of yourself and your inner state. eg. If you dream that you are being chased, you can ask yourself, which part of yourself is chasing you and what are you running from? What are you fearful of? The ‘scary chaser’ is also part of your psyche and needs to be understood and integrated. Then it won’t frighten you anymore and the nightmares will stop. You can also ask yourself what was the most unknown and surprising thing in the dream. You can then learn how to understand that.
In Process Oriented Psychology, we don’t as such interpret dreams, but follow the dream-like flickers of experience, entering through different ‘dream doors’ so you can unfold and follow the meaning of your underlying process, rather than having someone else telling you what your dreams mean. By working in this way, you can bring new understanding and integration.
Interpreting dreams is somewhat different.
The dream messages are often in code, hence interpretation of symbols became popular. eg. Falling in a dream can symbolize feeling anxious about letting go, losing control. If we dream about water, this represents our emotions. If we dream of death, we often take it literally and think its negative. Never be literal about your dreams. Death usually means transformation in your life which is positive. Emotional or psychological exposure or vulnerability is very often expressed in dreams through nudity. Dreaming about a baby often means there is something new happening or growth in your life.
What is lucid dreaming?
So what does lucid dreaming mean? Simply explained, you know you are in a dream when you are dreaming. For some, lucid dreaming happens spontaneously. For others, there are methods that you can consistently train yourself in so you can begin lucid dreaming. A friend of mine had an alarm clock that kept ringing and she couldn’t turn it off. She finally took the battery out to try and stop it, then threw it on the floor to destroy it, but the alarm kept ringing. Then she suddenly realized that what was happening wasn’t logical and also not how she normally behaved. She knew then she was dreaming.
So you know you are dreaming while you are asleep in your bed. Lucid dreaming seems to be a bridge between the waking and dream worlds. You are dreaming, yet you are conscious of dreaming.
Often, when we realise we are dreaming, we feel excited and that itself, wakes us up. Then we can try and re-enter that dream again and we can train ourselves to wake up a number of times when sleeping. There is even an app for it now!
Lucidity its most commonly experienced in REM dream sleep. It’s different from a vivid or memorable dream or daydreaming or imagination. Why would we want to know we are dreaming while we are dreaming? Our dreams reflect our inner life and shape and influence our thoughts and emotions. After a while we can also learn to make whatever we want to happen in our dreams, to occur. So it gives us power and confidence and means we can also have more freedom over our life when we are awake and asleep. That’s exciting.
There is a strong link between meditation, spiritual awakening and lucid dreaming. You become more aware of your life, moment by moment which is the basis of mindfulness practice. You are not distracted or following your thoughts or emotions. Your mind is very clear and focused and then you are more in charge of yourself. Your thoughts don’t drive you. They just come and go, like clouds passing in the sky. This focus and intention you develop in meditation helps you have strong intention to have lucid dreams.
Over 1000 years ago, Tibetan Buddhists wrote about and practiced dream yoga which is linked to lucid dreaming. Tibetan dream yoga is the original form of lucid dreaming. Just like lucid dreams, the aim of this is to awaken the consciousness in the dream state and the ultimate goal in Tibetan dream yoga is to become enlightened.
Techniques to learn and understand lucid dreaming
- Firstly, you need to have a strong intention and focus. It’s the same as anything in life that you want to achieve. Where you place your mind and intention, you create more chance of it happening, So begin to think strongly and clearly, ‘I will have a lucid dream.’ Before you go to sleep or if you wake up, concentrate clearly on your intention and tell yourself, “Next time I’m dreaming, I will remember I’m dreaming,” repeatedly, like a mantra. Put real meaning into the words and focus on this idea alone. If you find yourself thinking about anything else, let it go and bring your mind back to your intention. See and visualize yourself having a lucid dream. Some people have fast results but if you don’t, remain consistent and don’t give up. Its like learning a new skill such as learning to drive. It needs alot of practice.
- Bring mindfulness and awareness, exactly the same as in meditation. You learn how to develop a clear and focused mind and not be distracted by thoughts and emotions. Most of us have no control over what we think and feel. It just happens to us. Our thoughts jump from what to eat for breakfast to worry about work. We feel sad because a relationship broke up and then we shift to thinking what plans we have to for the weekend. We just get caught up in endless stories about who we are, how we look, what we want, what’s going wrong in our lives. We follow every story in our head and then we believe they are true. So to prepare to have a lucid dream, we can start by bringing our mind back to the present moment, time and time again.
- You need to setup and practice excellent dream recall. Otherwise you may have a lucid dream but you won’t remember it! Also when you remember your dreams well, you can become familiar with their features and patterns. This helps you to recognize them as dreams while they are still happening.
- Once you wake up, immediately ask yourself “What have I dreamt about?” Don’t move or you are likely to forget instantly. Keep lying still and keep your eyes closed and have patience. Write down or record any dream or dream fragment that you were able to recall in your dream journal, so keep pen and paper by your bed.
- Write as much detail as possible while keeping a dream journal. Always write down your emotions and chain of events in the dream. It doesn’t matter if the dream doesn’t make sense at first, or even later. What is important is that you keep writing down your dreams and all the states and feelings and sensations you had while in the dream.
- Start recognizing what the major symbols are in the dream whether it is people, animals, music or emotions. Try to recall the bigger things that happened such as flying, meeting aliens, seeing loved ones who have died etc. These are called dream signs, which once you recognise, you will know you are dreaming.
- Programme your subconscious mind during the day. Do reality checks by asking yourself during the day, ‘am I awake or am I dreaming? Or put a C or A written on your hand, for Conscious or Awake and look at it during the day. You can also count your fingers or check the time on a clock as often can’t see the time on a clock when in a dream. This will constantly remind you to ask yourself the key question you have to ask in your dream. Once you know you are in a dream and you don’t get excited and wake yourself up, you can then begin to learn how to control and direct what happens in your dream.
Benefits of Lucid Dreaming
- Meditation and lucid dreaming helps raise your awareness and to live more in the moment. This benefits you, so you don’t overthink too much about the past or worry about the future. Your dreams are a reflection of your inner life.
- It’s fun and you can use your imagination and creativity.
- You can learn to fly in your dreams.
- You can resolve nightmares or fears.
- Yes, you can even enjoy lovemaking with anyone you desire. This seems to get alot of attention!
- You can rehearse waking life events.
- You can explore states of consciousness and experiment with new behaviors.
- Since dreams are unconstrained by any external physical or social laws, only your imagination would set the limits to what you might experience in dreams. When you are lucid, you suddenly realize, ‘this is my world, this is my dream. I can do anything I want to do in my dreams. There are lots of other methods and also good books on lucid dreaming so just look them up on Google or Amazon and start practicing. You can also join a dream group or lucid dream group or work with someone like myself on your dreams or nightmares.
Happy Lucid Dreaming.