The following is excerpted from Lucid Dreaming: Accessing Your Inner Virtual Realities, published by Daily Grail.
You may have had one or more spontaneous lucid dreams, but if you want to be able to have them more frequently, and more robustly, then you will need to work at it. You can let your “dream-awareness” nights transform into the nights on which you practice the development of lucid dreaming. As with any other skill, do not be discouraged if it takes a little time to become proficient. The first lucid dream is the most difficult one, and so if you do get the gift of an early lucid dream experience, or if you have had a spontaneous one in the recent past, you are already over the first hurdle. But even if this is not the case, if you diligently practice your chosen methods from those presented in this chapter, you will learn to achieve lucidity in your dreams.
The Nature of Lucid Dreams
Although lucidity is usually accessed through normal dreaming, do not confuse lucid dreams themselves with vivid dreams. They are a state of altered consciousness in their own right, distinct from even the most vivid of normal dreams. There are, nevertheless, varying degrees of lucidity, ranging from a fleeting flash of conscious awareness within an otherwise ordinary dream to “high” lucid dreams of apparent total realism containing astounding detail. There is a whole set of gradations in between. Lucidity is directly proportional to the clarity of your awareness within a dream: the more fully conscious and aware you become within a dream, so will the dream scenery take on greater richness, reality and depth accordingly. Alan Worsley has noted that the level of lucidity can vary even in the same dream. At its best, lucid dreaming creates a verisimilitude of physical, waking reality — and sometimes even more intense than that.
You have to find ways to alert yourself within a normal dream that you are dreaming, but the level of consciousness that has to be achieved requires a fine balancing act between falling back into unaware dreaming, or waking up from sleep altogether. It is virtually a form of yoga that can only be learned through trial and error. Emotional control, even a measure of detachment, is necessary to maintain a lucid dream experience for any length of time. If you become too excited, you wake up; if too absorbed in the content of the lucid dream, there is a risk of slipping back into ordinary, non-aware dreaming. “Like crossing a narrow board, you must keep your balance to avoid falling one way or the other,” Garfield advises.
Lucid dreaming can be accessed in any REM period in a sleep cycle, but the very best time is in the longer and more energetic REM periods occurring an hour or two before you normally awake. Keith Hearne states flatly that lucid dreams are essentially “a phenomenon of the second half of the night”. But lucid dreaming can also be accessed in the midst of hypnogogic imagery at the onset of sleep, as we shall see later. At the other end of the sleep cycle, awakening, there are other opportunities to gain dream lucidity, as we shall also learn.
There is no problem in remembering lucid dreams — you can recall them just as well as you remember events in waking life. This is because the conscious self is involved both in waking awareness and in lucid dreaming. Nevertheless, we advise that you keep a written record of your lucid dreams just as you do of your normal dreams.
The perceptual quality of lucid dreams is noteworthy. In the way that we can distinguish subtle differences between, say, a photographic print and a newspaper photograph, so too does a lucid dream have a specific visual texture. There is usually a prevailing clarity of light and a translucency to colours almost as if they were illuminated from within. Lucid dream lighting tends to have that sort of crystalline purity one might get a hint of on a crisp, clear sunlit winter morning, with ice crystals glinting sharply and the white snow and frost vividly contrasting with a flawless azure sky. In one dream, Patricia Garfield felt that light emanated from inside her own eyes, and it is true that the lucid dreamer can often be particularly aware of the dream-body’s eyes. Keith Hearne, for instance, noted tightness around the “eyes” with which he gazed on a lucid dream scene, and we would say that it feels rather akin to putting on a pair of eyeglasses that are not quite the right prescription — there is a very mild sense of optical strain. This seems to be related to the nature of lucid dream consciousness in that to maintain the necessary level of lucidity a way of “seeing” within the dream needs to be evolved.
Virtual versions of all sensory modalities can operate in lucid dreams, though not necessarily all together in a single dream. Although the visual sense usually predominates, smell, taste, touch and hearing are all able to make their appearances in the lucid dream state. In a few rare cases, it is possible to have one or more of these sensory modes as the dominant ones.
In even in the most realistic lucid dream, however, words on a page tend to be elusive. The dreamer might be able to read a page of writing quite readily, but when the book is looked at again the words will have changed in some way. A similar effect is noticeable on digital clocks seen in lucid dreams.
Then there is the issue of how dreamers image themselves in lucid dreams. In reality, there is no need to have a body at all in the lucid state. One could simply be what the German lucid dream researcher, Paul Tholey, called an “ego-point” just floating around or entering into dream characters at will. But we are so used to carrying an image of ourselves in waking life that the habit usually persists into the lucid dream state.
But because it is an image, it can be changed and distorted. Garfield has reported that she has appeared in various guises in her lucid dreams, including as a man and as a half-animal, half-human figure. J.H. Whiteman, a South African researcher, found himself as a girl in one lucid dream, and remarked on the detailed difference of bodily sensibility he experienced. Alan Worsley has conducted some particularly bizarre experiments. On a number of occasions he has passed his dream-body’s forearms through each other, experiencing a “dragging” sensation. On another occasion, he was able to sink his dream-body’s hands into his dream head, inside of which he felt the tissue of a brain.
A Lucid Dreaming Supermarket
We have given each of the lucid dream induction “packages” described below a “brand name”. Look at all these packages as if you were browsing along a supermarket shelf. Pick out those that have an initial appeal for you, and leave the others until another visit if necessary.
The Days of our Lives
It has been noticed by several researchers that busy days in which you meet a lot of people, do considerable travelling or are involved in numerous activities, seem to provide nights particularly susceptible to lucid dreaming. In her Pathways to Ecstasy, Patricia Garfield notes that after such days “I might also be tired, anxious, exhausted, sick or feeling fine, but I am usually stimulated with many activities, ideas, and people.”
Life is But a Dream
One can begin preparation for the planned night of lucidity during the day, and every day. Whatever you are doing, ask yourself: “Am I awake or asleep? Is this reality, or is it a dream?” In other words, develop a habit of testing your state of consciousness until it becomes an automatic reflex. It can then carry over into your dream life, and consequently provide a critical cue for lucidity. Paul Tholey suggested that the question should be asked at least five to ten times a day. You can also programme yourself to ask the question at set times of the day, such as when coming home from work, or by setting a wristwatch alarm. You might even write a cue card that says “Is this a dream?” and put it in your wallet, pocket, on your desk at work and so forth, where it will give you occasional, unexpected reminders to test your state of consciousness.
This method originates in Tibetan dream yoga, where the novice is instructed to think continuously that “all things are of the substance of dreams”. It is a powerful technique. As Stephen LaBerge has remarked, how can you expect to ask yourself if a dream is a dream when you are in one, if you never question your mental state in waking life?
A-scent Into Lucidity
All the lucid dream incubation methods use memory as the main ingredient in one way or another, whether it is to form a habitual action, employ visualisation, or to try to carry an intention over into the sleeping state, as with normal dream incubation. A powerful adjunct to this process can be the use of scent. We have all had the experience of smelling an odour that immediately conjures an image of something from earlier in our lives. The olfactory sense connects to the limbic system, where the hippocampus interprets smells and helps form memories, and where the amygdala is thought to play a role in emotions. Smell is therefore a highly suitable sense to use as a mnemonic aid. And scent can reach into dreams. This was shown by Saint-Denys. He constantly used a certain perfume while he was visiting a particular holiday location for two weeks. He used it only at this place. Some months later, the perfume was applied to his pillow during the night. Sure enough, it induced a dream of the vacation spot. In more recent experimentation, Alan Worsley found that odours influenced the content of his lucid dreams, and that differentiation of scents was possible in the lucid dream state. There were some anecdotal reports in the 1980s that scent had been used for cueing subjects for lucid dreaming while they were in the REM state, and there is ongoing research into the effects of fragrances on sleep in general.
The power of scent is associative. That being so, you can select a fragrance speciﬁcally to accompany a chosen induction method. For example, when asking yourself if you are dreaming in the day, sniff the selected fragrance from a bottle of essential oil or perfume at the same time. Or, burn a particular incense when you do your bedtime incubation (this would be best as an essential oil, as that can be both vaporised as an incense and sprinkled on the pillow as a fragrance). The scent can act like a “carrier wave”, reminding you in your dreams of the induction or critical awareness you have been working on to trigger you into lucidity. It is of course important that the scent used has no other associations for you, and that you ensure no other smell is involved when you do your incubation.
Oiling the Dream Machine
Essential oils can be used in other ways than solely for scent. Some have specific sedative and hypnotic characteristics, as noted earlier with regard to Clary Sage. You might also experiment with classic sleep and dream producers such as lavender, rose, myrrh, and patchouli. You might mix your own dreaming blends (and some are available commercially). One is frankincense with myrrh and sandalwood, or another suggestion would be a mix of equal parts of Clary Sage, rose otto, jasmine and vanilla. Also, the essential oil of nutmeg is available, and this can be inhaled by sprinkling a few drops on the pillow or bedclothes. (As advised previously, if you apply oils directly to the skin, make sure they are suspended in a “carrier oil” such as grapeseed, almond or jojoba. Only one or two drops of essential oil per tablespoon of carrier oil are necessary, and the mixture should be stirred or shaken before use to ensure that the essential oil is dispersed in the carrier. Do not ingest the oils. Essential oils used for these purposes should be unadulterated and of therapy standard.)
The Power of Place
Memory and place are curiously linked. This was recognised in the classical world by a system called “the method of loci” (‘method of places’). In this memorising technique, a person commits to memory the visualised layout of a building, or any geographic location that provides a suitable number of separate spots, like rooms, or houses and shops down a street, or even islands in a bay. If the person wants to remember a list of items, he or she “walks” in their mind through the visualised locale, and mentally assigns each item on the list to a separate spot within the imagined scene. Each item becomes visually linked in the imagination with the visualised spot. When the time comes to retrieve the list of items, the person simply “walks” back through the memorised locale “seeing” the items that had been “deposited” earlier in their various places. It is a proven method for recalling information that is otherwise difficult to retain in one’s mind. We can use this mnemonic power of place in our quest for lucid dream induction.
Think of a place you frequent most days. A good choice would be the kitchen in your home. This is for three reasons: you visit the place a lot, it is convenient, and in a study of a hundred lucid dreams Keith Hearne found that familiar locations like the kitchen figured by far the most often as interior settings in lucid dreams. Actually, there is a fourth reason — you are likely to have a fridge in the kitchen. So write boldly in felt tip on a slip of paper or card “LUCID IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS”, and fix it to the refrigerator door with a few of those little fridge magnets. Day in, day out, as you pass through the kitchen or busy yourself there, catch sight of the note on the fridge, and think of (or hum, whistle or sing) the tune of the Beatles’ song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. Prime your dreaming mind by incorporating into your incubation procedures an intent to visit the kitchen in your dreams and of becoming lucid when you do so. It will be only a matter of time until either the kitchen figures in your dreams, or some associated image — jewellery, frozen wastelands, glittering ice crystals in the sky, the Beatles, the tune – does so. Then, unless you have a particularly stubborn dreaming mind, you will be triggered into lucidity.
A lucid dream can sometimes be triggered simply by changing your sleeping arrangements. So try a shift from a mattress to a water bed, or go to sleep on the floor or a sofa for a night. Make it part of a special induction procedure. If you are really keen and adventurous, you might even arrange a fairly uncomfortable sleeping situation, so you will tend to wake quite frequently during the night.
Take a Deep Breath
Little modern research has been done on breathing with regard to lucid dreaming. In Tibetan dream yoga, “pot-shaped” breathing is recommended. In this, you expel the used air in the lungs using three exhalations, then inhale taking the air into the bottom of the lungs while raising the diaphragm slightly, making the distended chest and abdomen rounded and similar to the shape of an earthenware pot, and holding as long as possible. This is repeated seven times. Another type of breathing that can cause mind states similar to lucid dreaming is hyperventilation, rapid shallow breathing, which psychologist Stanislav Grof has incorporated into his “psychotropic” breathwork technique. However, this form of breathing can be dangerous, leading all too easily to blackouts, and should not be undertaken without expert supervision.
Take Your Positions
As far as posture goes, lucid dreamer extraordinaire, Alan Worsley, reckons he lucid dreams best when he sleeps in a facedown position with his forearms under his chest and fists to his cheeks. This sounds uncomfortable, and Worsley admits that the position sometimes makes his arms go numb, but is very effective for him. When not sleeping specifically to have lucid dreams, he lies on his side. Because research in this area is as sparse as in breathing techniques, you will have to experiment. Try out various sleeping postures, and when you achieve lucidity, make a note of the sleeping position you had adopted.
Dream with a Plan
When you incubate a dream, plan to do something specific in it, and tell yourself that this will trigger lucidity for you. Garfield suggests flying, as that in itself often leads automatically to lucidity in a dream. As part of the induction procedure, spend some time observing birds in flight, read about birds, aircraft, levitating yogis — anything that carries the message. Tholey recommended planning to carry out a simple action in a dream, such as slowly waving an arm or looking at your hands.
Today’s researchers have sought to invent electronic ways of inducing lucid dreaming and associated mental states. There have been some successes, but no panaceas. Even if you use an electronic aid, it will not automatically confer lucidity in your dreams, and you will need to work with it as you would with any other method. A disadvantage is that electronic aids are of course more expensive than using psychological induction methods. For some people, though, the use of an instrument may appeal.
One of the most widely-used devices is the NovaDreamer, developed by Laberge’s Lucidity Institute in California (www.lucidity.com). This ingenious instrument consists of a lightweight, padded eye mask ﬁtted with a tiny computerised electronic circuit and red LEDs in the eye positions. Infrared sensors detect the rapid eye movements indicative of REM sleep, and this sets oﬀ a programmable selection of light and sound cues which can enter the wearer’s dreams, hopefully triggering lucidity.
Keith Hearne has used monitored breathing as a basis for a possible lucid dream device. Sessions with prototypes did apparently prove successful.