To Sleep, Perchance to (Lucid) Dream
“All men are great in their dreams,” Freud once said, probably emphasizing the last three words. Sadly, most of us are not the center of the waking world. Ah, but when we’re dreaming, we exist in a mysterious place that revolves around us. Dreams are projections of our own minds, “a series of images, ideas, and emotions occurring involuntarily,” according to the American Heritage Dictionary. Of course we’re at the center. They’re about us. They are our creations. But that doesn’t mean we’re in control. Dreams can quickly turn to nightmares full of pain, anger, and fear. If we could manipulate our own dreams — if we could control what happened in them — we could unearth infinite possibilities.
Enter lucid dreaming: the sensation of dreaming and knowing that you are dreaming. The concept has existed nearly as long as we’ve been dreaming — even Aristotle talked about it. More recently, scientists have started to explore the psychology of the lucid dream and its implications. Dream awareness is one thing, but what excites most people about lucid dreaming is the possibility of controlling their dreams. Envision ruling a universe, in which your actions are only limited by your imagination.
There are countless ways to start lucid dreaming. Here are three of our favorites:
I. The Buddhist Approach
Dream Yoga, a spiritual Tibetan Buddhist technique, is said to increase spiritual understanding through work with dream experiences. The goal is to “apprehend the dream,” or achieve an awareness of the dreamstate, in order to “observe the purest form of conscious awareness.”
The (very) basic technique is simple: just recognize that you are dreaming. Compare the waking state to the dream state, grow aware of the similarities and differences, and recognize your own consciousness and its role in your dreams. Then, when you wake up, make sure to recall your dreams and meditate on them.
Practitioners of Tibetan Dream Yoga claim they are able to maintain control over their emotions, both conscious and subconscious, and expand their self-awareness.
II. The Scientific Approach
When it comes to the science of lucid dreaming, Stephen LaBerge of the Lucidity Institute is the foremost expert. In a study, LaBerge found that it is easier to initiate REM sleep (the type of sleep in which people experience dreams) after sleeping for six hours, staying awake for 15-30 minutes, and then going back to sleep.
LaBerge is also known for his MILD (Mnemonic Initiation of Lucid Dreams) technique. MILD consists of several steps, similar to those of Dream Yoga, to initiate lucid dreams:
- Dream recall: remember your dreams.
- Dream signs: look for things that only appear in your dream.
- Reality check: recognize when you are and aren’t dreaming.
- Set the intention: tell yourself that your next dream will be lucid.
III. The Tech Approach
Besides the countless books out there written on the topic, there are several gadgets you can buy to help guide you into a lucid dream.
One is the Remee ($95), a fancy sleeping mask similar to something LaBerge created. It induces lucid dreaming with a series of embedded LED lights that flash during REM sleep to remind your unconscious mind that you’re dreaming.
If you don’t feel like spending $95, there’s always an app for that! Shadow, the innovative dream journal app, focuses on dream recall. First it gently wakes you with a series of escalating alarms, then prompts you to “type, speak, or answer questions to record your dream the moment you wake up.”
With so many different approaches, it is clear that lucid dreaming has fascinated all sorts of people. And with good reason. It promises an immersive journey into your own imagination, an experience like none other.
— Gordon Gottsegen