Paychonaut Kurt Robinson described lucid dreaming as “a way to get four to six free psychedelic trips a month without doing any drugs.” This is a bit of an exaggeration, but only just.
A lucid dream is a dream where you’re aware you’re dreaming, and able to control what’s going on. Instead of being a passive spectator in Dream World, you can choose to change the setting, summon new characters, fly into the air, or conjure new scenarios.
Lucid dreams are a unique and powerful way to explore the psyche. They allow the conscious mind to discover, probe, and possibly even reprogram the subconscious. Besides which, lucid dreams are fun! They’re the best time you can have while motionless and alone in bed.
While lucid dreaming definitely comes more easily to some than others, it’s a skill anyone can learn with the right technique and some practice.
Here’s how I learned to lucid dream in a week. The following steps are geared towards DILD: Dream Induced Lucid Dreaming. This is when you’re in a normal dream, realize you’re dreaming, and go lucid. We’ll discuss other forms of lucid dreaming at the end.
The first step is becoming more conscious of your dreams. Once you build a bridge between your waking mind and your dreaming mind, you’ll be well on your way to lucidity. Start by writing down your dreams.
As you get in the habit of recording your dreams, you’ll find you remember more. Instead of fragments, you’ll wake up with whole long sequences. When this starts to happen, you’re ready to move to step 2.
Tips for documenting your dreams:
Full disclosure: I’ve been carrying out this step since I was fourteen, which was likely a factor in how I was able to lucid dream so quickly. If you’ve never written down your dreams, and hardly ever remember them, getting to lucid dreaming might take longer. That being said, once you start, you may be surprised at how quickly you progress!
Reality checking is the practice of checking to see if you’re awake or dreaming. If you get in the habit while you’re awake, you’ll start doing it while you’re dreaming. This may spark lucid dreams.
Examples of reality checking:
Get in the habit of reality checking 10 times per day.
For whatever reason, most people find it easiest to lucid dream when sleeping on their backs. When sleeping on my back, I often place a second pillow next to my head to lean on.
When I first got into lucid dreaming, I stumbled across a neat trick: I found that if I woke up to pee in the middle of the night, I’d often lucid dream afterwards. I started drinking a lot of water before bed, which would cause me to wake up at around 6am, and in my remaining two hours of sleep, I’d usually go lucid.
Some people set alarms for this time of night, but this strikes me as unnatural: You risk waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle, which is more likely to spark sleep deprivation than lucid dreaming.
The trick with this step is getting awake enough that you’re not going to immediately zonk out, but not so awake that you’re unable to fall asleep again.
Mexican Dream Herb, or Calea Z, is often used to aid with lucid dreaming. It inhibits “dream switching,” or changes of scenes between dreams, and makes dreams more vivid. Calea Z is supposed to make it easier to get into a lucid dream, and to remain in one once you’re there.
Personally I’ve never had much success with Calea Z. I find I stay in the same dream for longer, but I often just get stuck in a monotonous dream-reflection of daily life. For example, I once took Calea Z and dreamed of myself apartment hunting. Instead of moving on to a more exciting dream, I kept coming back to the apartment and making small talk.
That being said, many people have remarkable, visionary lucid dreams on Calea Z. I’m a bit envious!
You’re in a dream, and suddenly you realize: I’m dreaming! Then, your eyes open in your bedroom, and you’re awake.
Or: You realize you’re lucid. You freeze, unsure what to do; and the flow of the dream takes over. You’re in a different scene, and you’ve forgotten you’re dreaming.
When I was new to lucid dreaming, I encountered both of these issues. Fortunately, I got some advice from experienced lucid dreamer Barbara Joan Johnson which helped me get past this stage.
First off, if you’ve gone lucid and you feel you might wake up, Barbara suggests moving (walking/swimming/flying) in a circle; this will help ground you in your dream body, preventing your consciousness from latching on to your physical body and waking up.
Second, if you find yourself going lucid and forgetting you’re dreaming, you may want to form a plan for when you do go lucid. Barbara suggests the “fly or fuck” strategy: as soon as you go lucid, either fly into the air, or conjure someone to have sex with. If you’ve decided ahead of time what you’re going to do, you won’t get “decision shock” when you go lucid: all you’ll have to do is carry out your previously formed plan.
So far we’ve been discussing DILD, but another approach to lucid dreaming is the WILD or Wake Induced Lucid Dreaming method. WILD is when you drift from wakefulness into a lucid dream, without falling into normal sleep first.
I’ve experienced both WILD and DILD and I have to say, I much prefer WILD. These dreams tend to be more vivid, and the feelings more intense. That being said, I often experience a kind of positive sleep paralysis while in WILD: In a bizarre reversal of everyday life, I can alter every aspect of the world around me, but I can’t move my body. When I do try to move it, I wake up.
Another disadvantage of WILD is it’s harder to reliably induce. I’ve most often experienced WILD when sleep deprived and taking and nap in the middle of the day. If you ever find yourself in that circumstance, I’d highly recommend giving it a try.
MILD or Mnemonic Induced Lucid Dreaming was created by Dr. Steven Laberge and involves repeating a mantra to yourself throughout the day and before bed to help induce lucid dreaming. These mantras could be “‘Next time I go to sleep, I’ll have a Lucid Dream” or “When I dream, I’ll realize I’m dreaming.”
You’ll want to repeat the mantra throughout the day, out loud when possible and in your head when not, and increase the frequency of repetition as sleep approaches. Repeat the mantra right before bed, and anytime in the night that you wake up.
MILD lucid dreaming is a subcategory of DILD and works best when combined with steps 1–5 above.
Lucid dreaming may seem daunting, but if you work at it, you’ll find yourself enjoying results much sooner than you anticipate—and they’ll be well worth it. As Barbara says, “You can train yourself to do it quickly. The more experienced you are the more control you have, the longer the dreams can be, the more healing happens. Through bearing witness to your subconscious, you can discover and face your fears and bring that knowledge and guidance to your waking life.
“Heal or fuck around though, so much fun too!”