We all dream, even those of us who think they don't! Some of us even dream while we are awake. But let's turn that around. How would you like to be awake while you dream? I'm not talking about daydreaming; I'm talking about lucid dreaming.
What does lucid dreaming mean? Well until recently it didn't mean anything in the academic world and the rest of the world tended to dismiss it as nightmares at best or a mental problem at worst.
Then, in 1968, Celia Green, a writer on psychology, discovered there actually was a state between dreaming and being fully awake; a state where you could be awake inside your own dream!
Imagine being awake inside a dream! In what must best described as a balance between emotion and reason the dreamer accepts the reality of the dream while knowing it must by its very nature be inherently unreal.
This level of awareness gives the dreamer some control over what he or she does. On the one hand this might be viewed as fun; almost like having a computer game in your head, on the other hand controlled experiments with lucid dreaming have been shown to lessen the occurrence of nightmares and help with psychological problems like self-harm.
Scientists are even working on recreating near-death experiences lucidly to give them a better and, hopefully, safer understanding of the phenomenon.
Controlling their dreams seems to give the lucid dreamer a greater sense of control over their own waking lives. Practiced lucid dreamers can use the hours spent asleep as extra thinking time or create a virtual playground in their own minds.
It all sounds like fun, doesn't it? Weird, and a little scary, but fun nonetheless. Surely, though, you have to be adept at this kind of thing. Don't you need special, mystical powers to be a lucid dreamer?
It seems not. All you need is curiosity, a sense of adventure and a few hints on how to do it. After all, they are your dreams. Why shouldn't you be allowed to explore them?
A simple technique everyone can practice is Dream Recall. This is sometimes referred to as the first step towards lucid dreaming. By recording (either vocally in a recorder or simply with a pen and paper) your dreams you become more familiar with them. You will come to recognise repeated patterns, certain recurring symbols. This kind of recall will bring you consciously closer to your dreams.
It's usually best to record dreams immediately upon waking as they have a habit of flitting away shortly afterwards. If possible stay in the same position you were sleeping in, keep your eyes shut if you can and talk yourself through the dream in real time, as if it is still happening to you.
Increasing familiarity with your dreams will enable you to recognise these patterns or symbols when they occur again. This moment of recognition might be all it takes to tell yourself, "This is a dream!" That's the moment you become a lucid dreamer. From then on in the dream is yours, if you can keep from waking up.
Because your REM cycles, or dream activities, get longer and deeper as the night goes on, setting an alarm to wake you a few hours before you actually need to get up can help induce lucid dreaming. The chances are that you were already dreaming. Lying in the dark rested and with nowhere else to go you are in the perfect position to recapture that dream and now, with your awareness of lucid dreaming, you may find yourself able to direct what happens next.
Alternating your wake-up times, or the Cycle Adjustment Technique, can have a similar effect. By setting your alarm early one day and for the normal time the next and keeping repeating you can confuse you body into being ready to wake when it doesn't have to. In other words you are half awake already, but probably still dreaming. Where you go from there is only a matter of determination and practice.
The ultimate in lucid dreaming, though, has to be the WILD (wake initiated lucid dream) stage. The WILD adept learns to recognise the hypnagogic state which occurs as one moves from wakefulness to sleep. By maintaining conscious awareness in the passage through this state it is possible to go directly from wakefulness to lucid dreaming.
But isn't it dangerous? Don't you risk getting confused between dream and reality? Well, no. Because dreams are still fantastical experiences. If you aren't sure whether you are awake of asleep, try sticking your finger through your leg, or put your head in a bucket of water. If the finger goes all the way in and you can still breathe in the bucket it's a dream! Enjoy!