Sunday, 16 August 2015

The Lucid Spectrum - Levels of Lucid Dreaming

When I discuss lucid dreaming with other lucid dreamers, I am often asked 'was this a lucid dream?' Sometimes it isn't entirely clear if the dreamer was in fact lucid or not. This is because lucidity isn't an 'all or nothing' state - lucidity exists on a spectrum, with different levels of conscious awareness. 

Some lucid dreamers refer to 'layers' of lucidity and use percentages of 'lucidity' to delineate the various levels. Others may refer to 'minor' and 'major' sub-categories within each level of lucidity. I feel that this approach overcomplicates the topic and prefer to use 5 basic levels to describe the layers of lucidity which exist on the lucid spectrum. 

The different levels of lucidity which can be experienced in a dream affect many aspects of the dream, such as: 

  • The clarity/intensity of perception within the dream
  • The stability of the dream
  • The clarity of thought within the dream
  • The length of the lucid dream
  • How much control is possible within the lucid dream

Level 0 - The Non-Lucid Dream
This is the default dream state, which I also refer to as a 'normal dream'. 

In a non-lucid dream, the dreamer is completely unaware that they are dreaming and all events within the dream are accepted as reality, even the most irrational or bizarre aspects. 

The dreamer is unable to control aspects of the dream action or their dream thoughts. 

These dreams are the product of the subconscious and tend to be shaped from memories, emotions, wishes, desires and fears. Non-lucid dreams are not based on waking logic, but rather primitive feelings and urges. 

Often strange connections or associations are made within the dream and some aspects may be symbolic or transformed. The non-lucid dream is a reflection of the dreamer's conceptual understanding of reality. 

A beginner lucid dreamer may dream about lucid dreaming, but they do not become lucid.

Level 1: Pre-Lucid
When pre-lucid the dreamer starts to critically question the reality of the dream and become suspicious that they are in fact dreaming. This may be as a result of recognising a dreamsign or noticing that something is so bizarre that this must be a dream although for the most part, the pre-lucid dream is experienced as a Level 0 non-lucid dream. Events and dream characters within the dream are perceived as reality.

However, the dreamer does not become fully conscious that they are dreaming, although lucid dreaming may arise within the pre-lucid dream as a subject of the dream narrative/plot. The dreamer may dream that they are lucid or trying to lucid dream or even perform a reality check without actually achieving the lucid state. At this level of lucidity, reality checks often yield the same results that the dreamer expects in waking reality.

This scenario seems paradoxical and illogical, but this is because the pre-lucid stage is determined entirely by the faulty logic and cause/effects of the dream world over which the dreamer has no control and very limited insight and understanding.

Dreaming of lucid dreaming without becoming lucid often happens to beginner lucid dreamers, whose waking minds are focused on the topic of lucid dreaming (or reality checking), and the desire to become lucid in the dream state, to such an extent that 'lucid dreaming' enters their dream as a form of 'day residue' before they have quite developed the ability to actually achieve lucidity.

When the dreamer questions whether they are dreaming, they probably won't arrive at the correct conclusion. The dreamer may have access to limited waking memories, thoughts and inner awareness which allow him to notice bizarre elements or faulty logic within the pre-lucid dream state, although the dreamer's questioning will fall flat and not amount to anything more than a niggling feeling that something isn't quite right. 

Level 2: Semi-Lucid
This level tends to over-lap slightly with the pre-lucid dream layer, and it may be difficult to distinguish between a pre-lucid dream and a semi-lucid dream.

When semi-lucid, the dreamer may attain lucidity, which is then easily lost - the dream may fade to black as the dreamer wakes up, or the dreamer may just enter a non-lucid dream (Level 0). 

Semi-lucid dreams are characterised by a very basic level of lucidity. It is most often experienced by way of a DILD (Dream Initiated/Induced Lucid Dream).

The semi-lucid dream does not feel quite like reality and it is hard to stabilise. There is low focus and clarity, which is why the dreamer may slip in and out of lucidity/conscious awareness. 

The dreamer still accepts the dream, largely as a form of altered reality and most of their actions are bound by the physical laws and inconsistent nature of dream. 

The dreamer may not have access to all of their waking cognitions or abilities, although at the higher end of this layer, they may be able to use limited waking logic and inner awareness within the dream state to shape their own actions and decisions (i.e. 'If I do X then Y will happen') or question the bizarre events within the dream. The dreamer may 'think' with faulty dream logic and will typically treat almost all aspects of the dream or dream characters as if they are real.

However, there is no conscious control (i.e. no conscious awareness that this is a dream) or full understanding of consequences, as the dream narrative maintains its own bizarre sense of logic and cause and effect which binds the dreamer. 

The dreamer cannot change the fabric of the dream itself, but may be able to explore it at will, although they will be easily distracted, causing them to lapse back into a non-lucid dream state. 

The dreamer may be overpowered by the laws of the dream and their conscious decisions/actions - such as trying to move or say something - may be frustrated or even rendered impossible. This is a limbo state between non-lucidity and full lucidity. 

The dreamer may also experience the effects of sleep paralysis while in the dream state which can be either a hindrance to their movement in the dream or act as a trigger for full lucidity.

This is the layer of lucidity which is often experienced in a false awakening which has not been transformed into a fully-lucid dream.

Events within the dream often have a similar effect on the dreamer as they would in real-life - i.e. physical or emotional responses are similar to those experienced in the waking state.

Level 3: Fully-Lucid
The dreamer has full conscious awareness that they are  dreaming and has access to their waking thoughts and memories. There is no doubt as to whether the dreamer is dreaming - they are certain and are able to test this by a reality check or using their waking logic. The dreamer is aware that everything they experience is the product or projection of their subconscious mind.

The dreamer is able to exert volition over their interaction with the dreamscape and dream characters and has complete control over their own body and mind unless they are experiencing the effects of sleep paralysis (which can sometimes penetrate the dream). However, the dreamer will be aware that their movement is being restricted by sleep paralysis and can use techniques, such as moving their dream body, to break free from it.

However, the dreamer may not always be able to control the fabric of the dream, the laws of the dream or the actions of dream characters. Being fully lucid does not mean having full control. You can be fully lucid and have very low levels of control over what happens in the dream.

Control may be limited to self and the immediate dream environment. If fully lucid and bound by the laws of the dreamscape, the dreamer may have to abide by pre-set 'rules' such as physically travelling from one location to another, or using a door to enter a room. They may not be able to change the physical and sensory aspects of the dream in any way, although they will be fully aware that they are operating within a dreamscape so will not mistake it for reality.

The fully-lucid dream may result from a WILD (Wake Initiated/Induced Lucid Dream) where there is no lapse in waking consciousness as the dreamer seamlessly transitions from wakefulness into the lucid dream state. In these circumstances, the dreamer does not require a trigger for lucidity - they are lucid from the outset.

The dreamer experiences higher levels of clarity and focus.

It is possible to simply observe the lucid dream as a passive witness - i.e. to watch the complexities of the dream unfold without actively participating or controlling the dream. The dreamer is aware they are watching their dream - it is akin to watching a movie.

Level 4: Super-Lucid
In a super-lucid dream, the consciousness of the dreamer surpasses full lucidity and find themselves in the role of 'dream architect' where they can change the fabric and laws of the dream in any way they wish - there are no boundaries to what the dreamer can do within the dream or their level of control. The super-lucid dreamer has absolute control over both themselves and the dreamscape. The only limit is the dreamer's imagination.

The dreamscape can be transformed simply by thought/will-power and the dreamer is able to control other dream characters freely and manipulate them in any way they can conceive. 

This layer of lucid dream is characterised by perfect clarity, focus, stability and control.

The super-lucid dream may result from a WILD dream, where there is no lapse in waking consciousness as the dreamer seamlessly transitions from wakefulness into the lucid dream state.

A dreamer experiencing a super-lucid dream may have a strong sense of enlightenment. 

This is the state which Tibetan Buddhist Dream Yoga practitioners seek to reach. Through meditation in the dream state, the dreamer may be able to dissolve the dream and access their 'higher self' and aspects of their subconscious which are not available in other lucid dream states. Lucidity is uninterrupted and the dreamer is able to surpass the visual/sensory information, conceptual elements and fabric of the dream. This is the purest form of conscious awareness.

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