“What dreaming does is give us the fluidity to enter into other worlds by destroying our sense of knowing this world.” – Carlos Castaneda
Have you ever become aware you were dreaming?
Did you walk around your dream? Did you look up and down and left and right? Did you search? Did you meet others? Did you realize that you were in a place only you could be in?
You can become aware of a dream, and participate in it. This is a real phenomenon called lucid dreaming. It’s pretty damn bizarre, but it couldn’t be more interesting.
What Is a Dream?
Dreams take you places. They can be incredible, horrifying, humbling, and worth remembering. But what’s the point? What are they for?
Dreams are a universal human experience that can be described as a state of consciousness characterized by sensory, cognitive and emotional occurrences during sleep.
There is no cognitive state that has been as extensively studied and yet as frequently misunderstood as dreaming.
Psychoanalysts and neuroscientists are concerned with different aspects of dreaming. Neuroscientists want to know about the cognitive mechanisms that lead to dreaming, while psychoanalysts want to know what the contents of a dream reveal about a person’s subconscious.
The age-old question seems to be, do dreams have meaning? Or are they just random neural firings that create a world of bizarre nonsense? After decades of research, the jury is still out.
The Appeal of Lucid Dreaming
Carl Jung had a lot to say about dreams. He believed dreams were the subconscious’s way of delivering messages to the individual. The messages are, of course, delivered to you symbolically.
A symbol is the best possible formulation of a relatively unknown psychic content
People who vividly remember their dreams say that dreams always have a defined narrative structure. Every night you get thrust into a story that seems to come from nowhere.
So, can you get insights into yourself, and your problems, by learning how to lucid dream?
Here’s what’s strange: If you learn to lucid dream, then you can ask the characters in your dreams questions. Even crazier, they will give you real answers.
Imagine being able to face your nightmares. Imagine being able to talk to the monster in your head and ask him what his deal is. Imagine breaking bread with your demons.
Is that strange? Well, so is dreaming.
How to Lucid Dream
Several methods have been discovered for making lucid dreaming more likely. Here are the main ones:
Good Sleep Hygiene
You need to enter REM sleep if you want to lucid dream. Sleep experts argue that you can’t start lucid dreaming if you don’t have healthy sleep habits to begin with.
Once you set the intention lucid dream, you want to prime your consciousness to focus on it. You do this by writing down what dreams you have every morning as best as you can remember them. This allows you to pick up on common themes that you will be more likely to recognize in a dream.
Perform Reality Checks
Do small tests throughout the day that answer the question, “Am I dreaming?” The more you do this, the more likely it will occur to you to perform a check-in your dreams. Example: Press your finger on your palm to make sure it’s solid.
Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams is the process of remembering an old dream, focusing on something specific about it, and saying to yourself that you’re going to experience that dream again and become lucid that night. Give yourself affirmations like, “I will return to that dream.”
Wake Back to Bed (WBTB)
You set your alarm for five hours after you go to sleep. Then you get up, do something else for 20 minutes, then go back to bed. This makes you a hair more aware as you fall asleep and increases your chances of becoming lucid.
It’s easy to get too excited once you start lucid dreaming. Try to stay calm so you don’t jar yourself awake.
Dangers and Objections to Lucid Dreaming
Lucid dreaming isn’t all wonder and amazement. Even though you can’t be harmed in a dream, some risks come with making lucid dreaming a habit.
- Lucid Dreaming Is Harmful to Those Prone to Psychosis
Lucid dreaming can blur the lines between a person’s internal world and reality. Studies show that this creates the risk of driving people further into their psychotic fantasies.
- Poor Sleep Habits
Frequently waking up and falling back to sleep can have negative effects on your rest, and your mental health.
- Shaky Therapeutic Evidence
Some psychologists believe that lucid dreaming can be used to treat nightmares and PTSD symptoms by allowing dreamers to exert more control over their psyches. It’s unclear how lucid dreaming contributes to this, and how effective it is.
- Waking Sleeping and Sleepy Waking
Researchers believe that lucid dreaming could make your waking states more sleepy and your sleeping states more aroused. This could further contribute to poor sleep and to the reality-bending aspect of lucid dreaming.
Anything worth doing involves risk. That includes exploring your mind. Performing reality checks and doubting the world around you is just not going to be good for some people. When we’re talking about your sanity, you need to watch where you step.
But if you know you have a strong grip on reality and your sleep habits, and you don’t set high expectations about whether you can heal yourself this way, lucid dreaming could be like spelunking a cave.
What It Could All Mean
We all have an internal world. We all have fears, biases, backgrounds, and parts of ourselves that we would rather not look at. How much of it influences our behavior? How much of it needs to be addressed?
Examining the contents of your dreams in a meaningful way would probably take a lot of time, and it would have to be a team effort. You would need an open-minded therapist to help you with it.
To me, the greatest benefit of lucid dreaming would be adding an element of adventure to your life. It is yet another avenue for exploring your consciousness.
I don’t think you should try to do it all the time, but it is a chance to see something new.
Every night, you enter an explosive, symbolic, personal world, all between your ears. You need to stop and appreciate how wild that is, and how dreams are another way to explore the grand mystery of being alive.