Simply stated it is the phenomenon of being consciously aware that you are dreaming. My first introduction to this topic was discovering a book in a second hand store by Dr. Stephen LaBerge, the foremost expert in the field.
I devoured his now classic seminal work, ‘Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming‘ in one sitting. Being a bit of a sci-fi fantasy nerd, the premise was incredibly interesting to me at the time.
In the book, he discusses the possibility of using your lucid dreams as a playground for the mind.
Hours are wasted during sleep time at night, he suggests. Time that could be used more productively by taking active control and influencing the dream experience.
The reported sensations when suddenly ‘awake’ inside a dream are said to provide an incredible clarity similar to that of waking life where the senses are fully engaged, and the conscious thought process is enabled. The dreamscape, characters and story can be shaped and influenced by the orchestrator – You – the dreamer.
Sometimes what the mind conjures, the body perceives to be real.
An example used in the book describes the imaginary act of plucking a zesty lemon from a tree and feeling its scaled surface in your hand. Biting hard into the lemon releases the juices within which spill out and over your hand as the sweet aroma flows up into the nostrils.
Encouraged by this image, the saliva glands begin watering, fooling the body into thinking that it is reality when in fact it is only the imagination. Reading this description alone might have triggered this reaction.
The dream world, when lucid, has all the realness of our own physical world when one becomes alert to the fact they are dreaming. With that knowledge, dream explorers (or oneironauts) can choose to pursue any goal. These could include:
- Travelling to exotic countries in far away lands
- Scoring the winning goal in a Cup Final
- Take on super powers like flying or invisibility
- Have sex with your secret fantasy celebrity crush
- Use the extra sleep hours to practice an important upcoming speech
- Meditate with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane
- Play the Cavern Club with the Beatles in the swinging ’60’s
- Make peace with deceased loved ones
- Kill your Boss (and get away with it!)
The options are endless and only limited to your own imagination. Some skilled oneironauts use their sleep time as an extension of their wake time, practising instruments, learning languages or even conquering fears like public speaking.
MY FIRST, and only lucid dream occurred after reading the book and following the instructions carefully. Initially I was sceptical because it was difficult to wrap my head around the concept and therefore didn’t harbour much hope.
After several weeks of journalling in my dream diary and recognising various repetitive cues that appeared in my dreams, one night I was able to suddenly take control by questioning the oddness of a quirk in my dream – like a bug in the computer. With objectivity I began to question the logic and was startled with a sudden realisation – “I MUST BE DREAMING!”
With that one thought, came a rush of clarity and everything became real in that dream state. As real as this wooden chair I’m sitting on to write this post. As real as the caffeine kick I feel rushing through my bloodstream right now. I walked around in this state of awareness for a few minutes observing the strangeness of it all, touching objects in my dream – walls, fences, the footpath which my body believed to be tangible and real.
When this thought strikes it is usually a frightening realisation for the dreamer and can sometimes startle people out of the notoriously fickle lucid dream state.
I was on an unrecognisable street when I had my awakening. Walking past a row of empty houses contemplating what to do with my new found freedom I suddenly decided it would be quite nice to have sex with Pamela Anderson (Please note I’m talking ‘Baywatch Pammie‘ not ‘Hepatitis 47 year old mother of two Pammie‘). I opened one of the doors and found her there.
Needless to say, we had fun.
It’s hard for me to explain the unbelievable realness of the experience especially to those who haven’t yet had a lucid dream. As the Sufi saying goes – He who tastes, knows.
Unfortunately, I was never able to find my path back to that lucid state again. My motivation had left me after several more weeks of fruitless efforts. The discipline that goes into learning the skill is not an easy one and can be very frustrating.
Since then, movies like The Matrix or more recently Inception have entered mainstream consciousness, suggesting an alternative reality and there are now apps which claim to increase your chances of entering the elusive lucid state.
Could you imagine the possibility where people have their secret dark fantasies fulfilled in the safe confines of their own mind instead of committing adultery, violence and other heinous crime in their actual daily lives?
Science continues to probe into the deep, dark areas of our subconscious while experts still can’t agree on what the is the real purpose of dreams.
It could be that the journey inward is the longest of all, but one that is certainly worth exploring.