Sunday, 11 August 2019

Experiencing a Lucid Dream

If you have never experienced a lucid dream before, your first question is likely to be 'what does a lucid dream feel like?' Becoming consciously aware that you are dreaming is akin to entering a portal to a completely different world, where your ultimate fantasies can materialise and become 'true'. The laws of physics can break down or be manipulated in ways your waking mind may not be able to comprehend, but in a lucid dream, you experience it as if it is your actual reality. The lucid dream world is responsive to your thoughts, feelings, wishes and desires. I would liken it to a movie plotline where you are writing the script while simultaneously experiencing and observing it unfold before you. 

The clarity, stability and intensity of the lucid dream experience is variable and dependent on the dreamer maintaining peak levels of conscious awareness during the lucid dream experience. 

Our waking reality is shaped by our sensory interpretation of our environment, receiving stimulus via sight, sound, touch, smell and taste which our brain processes, to put it very simply. Our dreams 'sythentise' or artificially create these sensory experiences, using our memories and imaginations as their source material. 

I will give you one dream example of my own to illustrate an oddity here. Dreamers tend to achieve successful flight in a dream by moving their arms in a swimming motion (and often the front crawl/butterfly movement) rather than flapping their extended arms, like a bird would. This is because humans have never experienced the true feeling of achieving organic flight (using only their own body) in reality. Very few humans have experienced the sensation of being weightless, or suspended above solid ground with no support to hold them up other than their own body, as would be the case if in mid-air. The most similar physical sensation a human is likely to have in their memory is being in water - and keeping afloat by swimming. Therefore, our dream self is able to use that real life memory of a similar or analogous physical sensation to 'create' that 'reality' in the dream world. 

Sometimes the synthesised physical sensations of the lucid dream world are especially intense, pleasurable and stimulating. Sensations may be far more heightened than the dreamer experiences them in reality. This is why some people liken lucid dreaming to a psychedelic drug trip - but unlike recreational substances, lucid dreaming presents absolutely no physical risk and is much safer for your mental health and wellbeing! 

Many lucid dreamers (or 'oneironauts' to use the proper term) pursue lucid dream scenarios in which they can indulge and satisfy their primal instincts and urges, due to the intensified, yet often highly realistic physical sensations of the lucid dream. 

One of the most common physical sensations of a lucid dream is heightened colour - everything might appear more vivid. I have also noticed the malleable nature of vision in a lucid dream - people (dream characters) and objects/environment appear solid and realistic when looking at them directly, but can also shift and transform into other things - sometimes because I consciously will them to (dream control) and sometimes because the dream (i.e. my subconscious) is itself creating and recreating the fabric of the dream around me. 

When first entering or waking up from a lucid dream, my vision goes blurry or darkened. Sometimes my field of vision shrinks from full-screen to a letter-box, framed in black. If I have just entered the lucid dream and I am finding it hard to focus my vision and stabilise the lucid dream so that I can enjoy it, I order myself to have clarity - and this does improve the clarity of my vision and other physical sensory experiences so that I can begin a lucid adventure.

The taste of food in lucid dreams is often an incredibly heightened experience - with the added bonus of having no effect on our nutrition or health. When eating a familiar food in a lucid dream, the flavour and sensation is maximised based on our memory of what that food tastes like in reality. If trying a new food for the first time in the lucid dream, the taste of that food is shaped by our waking expectations of what that food might taste like. As your 'dream taste buds' won't become accustomed to the flavour of the food in a lucid dream, each bite or swallow will be just like your very first experience. 

When I hear the voices of familiar real life people - or real life fictional characters - in a lucid dream, their voices are typically extremely close to my waking knowledge of how they sound - even down to slight intonation and vocal patterns.

I use the physical sensation of touch in a lucid dream to stabilise it. It is essential for lucid dreamers to learn lucid dream stabilisation techniques as soon as they are beginning to induce lucid dreams. Lucid dreams are often very precarious and transient experiences - they are difficult to maintain (often due to increased arousal, which wakes you up) and short in terms of time spend lucid. The REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage in the sleep cycle is when all dreams take place - this stage of sleep is characterised by increased brain activity and is very close to wakefulness. 

A lucid dream is even closer to the waking state, as we have even more increase in brain activity - including activation of some parts of the brain which are not routinely active in normal, non-lucid dreams. Stabilisation techniques help you calm down and lower your arousal so that you can maintain the lucid state and prolong it. One of the best stabilisation techniques relies on the physical sensation of touch. When lucid, I often experience some vague, shadowy sense of what is happening in my real life reality - typically, this will be the feeling of the weight of my real life duvet on my body, sometimes over part of my face. This is because the lucid dream is on the borderlines of sleep and wakefulness and real life sensory input is competing with that synthesised in the dream world.

To stabilise the lucid dream, and distract myself from the real world stimulus which is penetrating my dream and threatening to wake me up, I either rub my hands together, or rub my hands on my thighs. Another highly effective technique is to touch something in the lucid dream environment, such as a wall or a tree. 

Another thing which can lead to premature waking from a lucid dream is heightened arousal - in other words, too much excitement at the realisation (conscious awareness) you are experiencing a lucid dream. Remaining calm in addition to stabilising the dream using other techniques as described above can help you to combat premature waking from a lucid dream.

You can feel pain or unpleasant physical sensations in a lucid dream. In a normal, non-lucid dream, your subconscious is responsible for controlling all of the physical sensations of the dream. In a lucid dream, even if you haven't mastered dream recall, your conscious mind begins to intervene, tweaking the dream and your experience of it. 

Unless you have chosen to actively seek out pain or unpleasant physical sensations, any pain in a lucid dream is likely to be the product of your subconscious. You might have a strong expectation or preconception that pain will result from a certain scenario, and therefore your dream reflects this expectation by giving you the physical sensation of pain. You will have established neural pathways for pain, based on real life experiences. So dreams can replicate the physical sensation of pain in highly realistic ways. In a lucid dream you can command or will yourself to stop feeling the pain, and focus your attention on something else, which is often effective. In the lucid dream state, while your physical experience of pain may be extremely uncomfortable, it is not accompanied by the psychological fear that you have sustained some form of tangible physical damage or harm - the experience of pain is consequence-free. 

I see a lucid dream as an opportunity to have a conversation with my subconscious mind. You can ask the lucid dream to show you something - such as 'show me what I want most in life' or 'show me my deepest fear' etc - whatever the lucid dream shows you could be a 'truth' which your real life waking mind has not been able to communicate to you as clearly as your subconscious can in the lucid dream state. 

Another way I attempt to communicate with my subconscious in a lucid dream is via dream characters. When I meet dream characters in lucid dreams, depending on the scenario, I may attempt to exert lucid dream control over the dream character, but at other times I allow them to have full autonomy. Having a conversation with an 'autonomous' dream character is essentially a conversation with your subconscious, as the dream character is a projection of your subconscious, as is the very fabric of the dream itself. All dreams are reflections or projections of our subconscious, but if we are not lucid, we are only aware of what our subconscious might have been trying to tell us after we wake up and analyse/interpret our dream. This becomes difficult when we do not necessarily have perfect dream recall. 

The beauty of a lucid dream is the fact that your conscious brain is 'awake' or active and therefore you can not only remember your lucid dream almost as well as any waking life experience (at least this is my experience of lucid dreaming), but you have access to at least some of your logical, fact-checking mental abilities, so you can engage with and question what is happening in the lucid dream and manipulate events to suit your own agenda, which is not possible in a normal, non-lucid dream.

Due to the fluidity of the lucid dream experience, our perception of the space we inhabit is not grounded in the same way it is in waking reality. In a lucid dream our location awareness is limited to whatever we are focusing on at that particular moment. You are so absorbed in your immediate space and time that you almost forget the wider world which exists beyond it. If I become lucid in my bedroom, I am only aware of my direct vicinity (and what lies just beyond it) if I am specifically focused on that. If my focus shifts, purposefully or otherwise, my location is not solid or reliable - and therefore it can shift and transform. 

Once you have mastered lucid dream control, you can use the malleable nature of the lucid dream world to your advantage - you can command/will your lucid dream environment to change using lucid dream visualisation techniques, or you can use doors to portals into new lucid dream locations.

Memory in dreams works differently to memory in waking reality, because certain parts of the brain are inactive, even in a lucid dream. In normal, non-lucid dreams it is common to have little to no access to your real life waking memories - you may even experience false memories which link to the particular dream scenario you are experiencing. Additionally, it is often very difficult for the memory of the dream itself to consolidate in the short-term memory, due to the fact that our brains do not need to remember our dreams - the dream process itself is psychologically significant, but upon waking, there is no necessity for us to remember exactly what happened in our subconscious minds while asleep - the dreamwork has already done it's 'magic', so to speak. The fact dream memories are so flimsy and transient is why it is essential to record dreams immediately upon waking before the dream memories fade and slip away forever.

In a lucid dream, memory functions are slightly improved - at least in my experience, my memory of the dream itself is pretty accurate and clear, and I tend to have decent access to my real life waking memories while in the lucid dream. However, I only tend to have memories of things I am actively focusing on or thinking about in the dream - unless I am specifically attempting to access a particular waking memory, it is simply absence or out of reach. This may vary for other dreamers. One way to improve memory in the lucid dream state is to set yourself a lucid dream intention - while awake set yourself a goal for your lucid dream and then when you find yourself in that lucid dream state, recall your set lucid dream intention and attempt to will it into existence. For example, you might set a lucid dream intention to travel to a specific location, meet a specific dream character or ask your subconscious a specific question. Some people refer to these lucid dream intentions as 'lucid dream goals'. Managing to achieve a lucid dream goal is immensely rewarding and a sign that your lucid dreaming skills are improving. 

Dream control is a cognitive i.e. a mental process which requires intention and will-power to achieve. Many beginner lucid dreamers conflate lucidity with dream control, but the 2 things are not synonymous. A lucid dream without any dream control at all is still a lucid dream. Sometimes letting go of the desire to actively manipulate a dream and letting your subconscious desires shape the lucid dream narrative can be very illuminating and insightful, as well as exciting. There are many techniques which can help you improve dream control and manipulation. The only limits to what you can achieve in a lucid dream are your preconceptions, expectations and powers of imagination. 

Once you are able to induce lucid dreams (or if you naturally, spontaneously experience them, but want to explore dreamwork further), you can develop a lucid dream skill set which will intensify, enhance and enrich your lucid dream experiences. This lucid dream skill set includes:
  • Experience a fully lucid dream
  • Improve the clarity and stability of a lucid dream
  • Prolong the lucid dream
  • Accurately control physical movements within a lucid dream
  • Learn lucid dream visualisation techniques
  • Learn to change the lucid dream location/environment and travel to a desired place/time
  • Meaningfully interact with lucid dream characters
  • Enter a dialogue with your subconscious from within a lucid dream
If you are new to lucid dream induction or dreamwork, there are some indicators as to whether you might be particularly receptive or predisposed to lucid dreaming. That said, anyone can learn how to induce lucid dreams, it just takes more time and effort for some people. If any of the following apply to you, you might want to consider learning how to induce lucid dreams and improve your lucid dream skill set:
  • You experience vivid and intense daydreams - are you able to visually create a fantasy scenario in a day dream? This skill makes it easier to induce lucid dreams using both the DILD (Dream-Initiated Lucid Dream) or WILD (Wake-Initiated Lucid Dream) induction techniques
  • You have strong dream recall - do you recall a dream most nights? Dream recall is essential for all dreamwork
  • You wake up naturally (without an alarm) often - waking up naturally from REM sleep (the longest, most fruitful stage of REM sleep occurs right at the end of the sleep cycle, just before you would naturally wake up) aids dream recall - waking up from an alarm is intrusive and interrupts your dreaming, causing you to potentially lose your dream memories
  • You experience vivid and intense dreams - this is the perfect set up for progressing onto lucid dream induction. Vivid and intense dreams are a signal that you are getting sufficient, good quality REM sleep and have good dream recall/memory - both essential for lucid dream induction!
  • You have intentionally woken yourself up from a nightmare or night terror in the past - this is a sign that you possessed clarity of thought in the dream state at a time when you needed to exert some control or manipulation over your dream
  • You have previously experienced lucid dreams - not only are you more likely to be able to identify the lucid dream state (or semi-lucid state), but you will already have a firm belief in the possibility of lucid dreaming. Remember preconceptions and expectations are often what hold us back, so knowing you have experienced a lucid dream in the past can increase your confidence that it is possible again in the future
  • You experience false awakenings, out-of-body experiences (OBEs) and/or sleep paralysis - these provide excellent gateways into a lucid dream and therefore are perfect for lucid dreamers to harness and use to their advantage in lucid dream induction
  • You practice meditation or mindfulness - meditation aims to increase conscious self-awareness which is also key to lucid dreaming. Many aspects of lucid dream induction require increasing conscious self-awareness, reflection, visualisation and critical thinking. Some lucid dream induction techniques incorporate methods which are based around meditation
  • You have a strong desire to lucid dream - our dreams are created from not only our subconscious, but also our real life waking experiences, thoughts, emotions and memories. Consolidating or cementing a desire or intention to experience a lucid dream while awake can enable this desire or intention to penetrate or infiltrate our dreams, so it is beneficial to regularly and actively remind yourself of your desire to lucid dream
  • You are enthusiastic about dreaming - the most interest you have in dreaming and lucid dreaming, and the more attention you pay to your dreams in your waking reality, the more likely you are to be successful in inducing a lucid dream. This is why keeping a dream journal and discussing your dreams regularly are key to lucid dreaming success
  • You play first-person video games - in a video game you are immersed in a synthesised, simulated reality. Research has shown that regular video game players experience superior spatial awareness and control in lucid dreams, mirroring the cognitive skills they use when gaming

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