BY KITT WALSH
In a world where much of what happens to us seems out of our control, there is a practice (some say a science) that can be of use in grabbing the reins of our own lives–lucid dreaming.
Lucid dreaming’s most simple definition is dreaming while knowing that you are dreaming. You are in the midst of a dream and realize quite clearly that what is happening to you isn’t reality. Lucid dreaming is not the same thing as controlling your dreams, though you can train yourself to more readily do just that, but it can be very helpful in dealing with waking issues like overcoming nightmares, unleashing your creative potential, problem solving, healing, rehearsing scenarios, having adventures (sexual or otherwise) and even spiritual transcendence.
For example, once you realize, in the midst of a nightmare that what you fear can’t be real since you are aware you are dreaming it, you may find the courage to face what you fear, within the dream, and thus defuse it.
According to the Lucidity Institute, the brain is most active during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, when it is unconstrained by sensory input, allowing it the freedom to experience that most creative of states (called “dream bizarreness”) when the “I can’t” of waking life is replaced by total freedom, allowing solutions to problems and new ways of looking at things to make themselves known.
The use of visual imagery on healing the body has long been conjectured and many examples are found in one of the classics on the subject, Exploring The World Of Lucid Dreaming (by LaBerge and Rheingold) where the vivid imagery of dreams is used to actually alleviate pain.
It is the freedom found in dreams that makes lucid dreaming an attractive prospect for many of us. Have you ever gone flying in a dream, feeling literally as “free as a bird”? Or does it appeal to you that in a lucid dream you can make love to Brad Pitt (or Angelina for that matter) all night long no matter the improbability of that ever really happening?
Such freedom even allows us to rehearse scenarios with the consequences of guessing the wrong outcome in our waking lives. Also, since lucid dreaming is the very definition of questioning “what is reality?” the cornerstone of much spiritual seeking, it isn’t surprising that ecstatic (transcendent) states are another thing often achieved in lucid dreams.
Assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of the Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists and Athletes Use Dreams for Creative Problem Solving—and How You Can, Too, Deirdre Barrett said in a recent Scientific American article that we can learn to strategize our dreams, to aim them to a particular subject and while total control isn’t possible (yet), practice does make perfect when it comes to lucid dreaming.
“If you want to problem-solve in a dream, you should first of all think of the problem before bed, and if it lends itself to an image, hold it in your mind and let it be the last thing in your mind before falling asleep. For extra credit assemble something on your bedside table that makes an image of the problem. If it’s a personal problem, it might be the person you have the conflict with. If you’re an artist, it might be a blank canvas. If you’re a scientist, the device you’re working on that’s half assembled or a mathematical proof you’ve been writing through versions of,” she says.
If you’re just trying to dream about an issue or you want to dream of a person, use a bedtime incubation suggestion as you would for problem solving: a concise verbal statement of what you want to dream about or a visual image of it to look at. Very often it’s a person someone wants to dream of, and just a simple photo is an ideal trigger. If you used to have flying dreams and you haven’t had one in a long time and you miss them, find a photo of a human flying.”
Barrett also recommends reminding yourself, just as you are falling asleep that you want to dream tonight and remember it. That simple statement, along with getting enough sleep (therefore ensuring you are getting enough good REM sleep), is the best way to up your percentage of lucid dreams.
Other strategies include:
Keep a dream journal: Write down your dream immediately upon awakening (50% will be lost is you get distracted before you do) or keep your phone at your bedside and record what you remember.
Practice reality checks: While you are awake, ask yourself several times during the day “Am I dreaming?” Consciously look at the time on a clock (a task that is often difficult in a dream), then look away, then back again. Pinch your nose to test whether you can still breathe. Get into the habit of doing these things awake and you will carry the habit into your dreams which will alert you that you are actually asleep.
Look for personal dream signs: We all have them and they occur regularly in our dreams. Some people appear naked in front of a crowd. Personally I get found out having not taken a math class senior year in high school. Whatever yours is, recognize it in your dream as an earmark.
Get a light alarm or Dreamlight: Set it for 4.5, 6 or 7 hours after you fall asleep and, through light clues, make yourself aware you are dreaming without waking up.
Listen to binaural beats: these are different sound frequencies for each ear that the brain interprets as an audio beat. These change the brain’s activities and some scientist think this change leads to lucid dreaming. Find a website with a collection of such beats (there are several apps available on iTunes like Pure Binaural Beats), put in our earbuds and give it a shot.
If you succeed in having a lucid dream, prolong it as it starts to fade. Hold the real world at bay by spinning your dream body around and falling backwards. Experts don’t know why this works; only that it does. Or, in your dream, rub your hands together. This dream movement distracts you from the sensations of your real body.
Remember, if any or all of these techniques cause you to lose sleep, you can limit your experimentation to a couple of nights a week and see how you do with upping your incidences of lucid dreaming.
Whether you solve something that has been bothering you for years, have a final conversation with someone who died or just have a much richer sex life that your “real” one (hello Sam Elliott), lucid dreaming can add a whole other level of satisfaction to those long “wasted” hours of the night.