I had a dream as a teenager that is still crystal clear in my mind today. Suddenly I was falling from high above the ocean, utterly terrified of what was about to happen. Even my dream self, it seems, knew enough about water and surface tension to be afraid of falling into it at terminal velocity, much different from jumping into a pool from a diving board. Then, at the peak of my fear, I somehow began gliding at an angle, and soon I was soaring over the water with ease. After a few seconds of flying, it dawned on me that something pretty cool was happening. “Holy crap!” I thought…”I’m dreaming!”
I had never before known that I was dreaming while still in the dream itself (at least not that I could remember). I’d had many vivid dreams that seemed like real life until I awoke to learn otherwise. Sometimes I was happy about that, times where my dreams involved me eluding Chucky from the Child’s Play movies. Other times I was terribly disappointed, times where I thought I had won the lottery or the heart of some beautiful girl I was into but had been too shy to tell her how I felt. This flying-over-water dream, however, was the first time I knew it in the moment, and I made the most of it.
I continued flying, diving as close to the water as I could only to swoop up at the last moment, then gliding as high as I possibly could, feeling the ecstasy of seeing the ocean from a mile above while traversing this dreamworld as a flying human. Yeah, just another flying human…ain’t no thang. Soon enough, though, it was over. I awoke slightly disappointed that I was no longer able to fly but still pretty stoked from what had just happened.
A few years later I began having a recurring dream – bear with me as this gets weird – where I would cross the alley from my house to my friend’s yard and turn to see a rocket sail just past my head. Then I would notice that The Terminator (yeah, from the movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger and all that) was coming up the alley firing rockets at me, trying to end my life. I’d run away from him and seek refuge in a dark building with a large, indoor swimming pool…only to find the T-rex from Jurassic Park emerge from what was now boiling lava water and chase me down as well. My brain takes cinema very seriously.
At some point in this dream, I would always be either hit by a rocket or make it to that building with the pool only to be eaten by T-rex. Then, one magnificent day, I think the fourth or fifth time through, seeing the terminator looked eerily familiar to me, familiar enough to tip-off my consciousness that I was in a dream. My fears completely gone, I would thoroughly enjoy myself dancing around The Terminator’s rockets or sometimes just catching them and setting them down mockingly. Then I would go to that pool and stare at T-rex in awe before jumping up on his back and riding him.
It wasn’t until years later that I heard the term for these experiences of dream awareness: lucid dreams. A lucid dream is one in which you become aware of the fact that you are in a dream and are free to do whatever you wish or alter the dreamscape any way you see fit. They really are some of the coolest experiences our brains can create for us. After reading more about how you can actually “train” yourself to notice that you’re dreaming, I have decided to make it my quest to return to the lucid dreamland I twice experienced as a young man.
There are some interesting statistics on lucid dreaming at I Love Lucid Dreaming, including these cool nuggets:
- About half of us humans have had at least one lucid dream in our lifetime
- The lucky among us (about 20%) have about one lucid dream per month
- Most lucid dreams happen accidentally rather than as a result of deliberate attempts (bummer)
- The two most popular lucid dreaming activities are flying (been there!) and sex (jealous but not surprised)
In starting my renewed quest for the lucid dream, I began with what I’m good at…reading and researching. There are a bunch of online sources that have methods for practicing the skill of catching lucid dreams. Perhaps any of them will work, but I’ve tried to find the common ground from all the sources and come up with a plan. The key point that all the teachings revolve around is getting really in tune with your dreams to the point that you eventually recognize when you’re in one. That’s really it. So now, I give you…
The Better Plan for Lucid Dreaming!
Step One: Have more dreams
This one should be obvious. The more you sleep, the more chances you have to dream. But also, sleep quality matters. Most dreams occur during stage-five sleep, rapid-eye movement sleep (REM), so if you don’t sleep deeply enough to reach REM, you probably won’t dream. Of all the great reasons to get good sleep, lucid dreaming is yet another to add to the list. I tend to enjoy getting eight hours of good sleep a night already, so I’m going to keep doing that.
Step Two: Get Really Good at Remembering Your Dreams
The next key to working your way up to lucid dreaming is to be able to remember the dreams you have. You want to remember the details as vividly as possible, notice patterns, and really get intimate…with your dreams. We’ve all had those days where we think to ourselves, or mention to coworkers during lunch, “You know, I had a weird dream last night, but I can’t remember it for the life of me.” Well, ideally with practice, we would get to the point where we can not only remember that weird dream last night but also retell it to others in all of its detailed glory.
There are a few methods to practice in this regard. First, you can simply start by sitting in bed for two or three minutes each morning trying to recall any dreams you had before getting out and starting your day with a cold shower (cold shower optional…no correlation to lucid dreaming). Try to remember every little detail, what you did, who was involved, how pretty she (or he) was, and how good the steak tasted after flying to Texas Roadhouse with your pet camel. Or was it an emu?
You can also start a dream journal. Leave a notepad on your nightstand and write down your dreams with your astronaut pen that writes upside down. And, of course, write down any good jokes you came up with that night too. Another effective tool here is meditation – as it seems to be for so many things – because it increases awareness, even in your dreams, thus improving the chances that you’ll remember the details later. I mean, come on, meditation just makes your brain better, y’all!
Step Three: Get Really Good at Recognizing When You’re in a Dream
Here is where all the magic starts to happen. All that hard work from steps one and two is just building up towards this, being able to finally recognize your dream when you’re there. That’s now a lucid dream! You can start to notice those recurring details and patterns from dreams to clue you into your dreamworld when you arrive.
You can pinch yourself to see if it hurts (you usually don’t feel pain in dreams), you can check the clock two or three times in a short period to see if it changes way too much (your brain usually doesn’t keep time consistent), or you can read something two or three times in a short period to see if the words stay the same (the brain also doesn’t usually track that consistently). Eventually you become better at noticing distortions and aberrations that help distinguish between dreaming and wakeful consciousness. Maybe your hands look fuzzy or wavy or too big. We all probably remember a dream in which those things happened, but we want to notice those things for what they are while we’re still dreaming.
Furthermore, you can make these tricks habit during your waking life to increase the likelihood that you’ll carry the behaviors into your dreams as well. As neurotic as it may make you feel, you can check your watch every few seconds, look away frequently while reading, and pinch yourself a lot throughout the day. Worst case scenario people will just think you are an allegrophobic crazy person who forgot your prescription reading lenses and is stuck in a classic solo Groundhog Day / St. Patrick’s Day hybrid celebration over and over and over again. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been in one of those…
Step Four: Try Not to Freak Out When You Realize You’re in One
Just when you think you’ve made it to the promised land, you might wake up and blow it too early. Often times realizing you are in a lucid dream excites the brain so much that it wakes up and ruins things before they’ve even really started to get good. It’s like you’re a kid again and your dad has his buddies over playing poker, but you have school in the morning, so you still have to go to bed at 9:30, and your brain is like “But Daaaaad! Cool stuff is happening! How can I possibly be asleep now?!” even though “cool stuff” is happening IN your sleep and your brain doesn’t know any better, so it wakes up and screws itself over. Don’t let this premature waking happen to you.
There are some tricks that have been discovered to prevent this unfortunate scenario. The reasons why these tricks work seem to be unknown, but many of the lucid dream research sources I’ve read claim that you can sometimes hold the dream by spinning around really fast or rubbing your hands together (also really fast) to take your mind off of things and remain dreaming. Alternatively you can try calming down and taming the nervous system, staying in the present to “ground yourself” in the dream. Again, meditation becomes a very helpful practice in this regard.
Step Five: Game On! Play!
So you’ve gotten enough good REM sleep, you’ve gotten good at remembering your dreams and their patterns, you’ve recognized that you’re in a dream, and you’re even able to calm yourself down enough to not spoil the big show. Now what do you do?! Go hog-wild! Do those things you’ve always wanted to do without consequences! Jump off buildings. Fly over stuff. Sleep with attractive people. Tell off an ex. Tell off your boss. Swim down to the bottom of the ocean to see what things are really like near deep hydrothermal vents. Put butter in your coffee. Actually, you can put butter in your coffee when you’re awake too, it’s quite delicious and gives you hours of sustained energy.
You can be the new frontman for Queen. Or AC/DC. Or punch Axel Rose in the face and finish the rest of “Paradise City” for him. Dodge bullets Matrix style and then shoot Neo to show him he wasn’t so fast after all, changing the entire course of human history in the process. Feed the animals in the zoo and see what actually happens. Drink soda after eating Pop Rocks. Use the handicap stall. Park in a handicap parking spot. Ride in a wheelchair. Wait…FLY in a wheelchair! WAIT…turn into a mermaid and THEN fly in a wheelchair!
I don’t know, whatever tickles your fancy; this is your lucid dream!
Lines I Won’t Cross to Get There
I will admit, as much as I’m into this new quest for more lucid dreams, there are some things I’m not willing to do. I’m going to try to squeeze as much of this out of my dream time as I can without compromising other things I believe are in my best interest. I think I have a pretty solid game plan even if it does exclude some of the following things researchers also claim can be effective.
Lots of the how-to guides talk about waking up mid-sleep, even intentionally by setting an alarm, because that boost in wakefulness can increase your likelihood of being semi-conscious again when you drift off to sleep and begin dreaming. I’m not really too keen, however, on ruining my sleep cycle or getting so roused in the middle of the night that I can’t get back to sleep.
Some sources even recommend getting up and walking around and being so diligent with the dream journaling that you do it every time you wake. I’ll keep the dream journaling to first thing in the morning, and I might even stick simply to mental recall rather than actually writing things down…unless that doesn’t produce results for me; then I’d be willing to step up to journaling.
I have also read a lot about visualizing dreams, even going as far as to visualize dreams during the day while you’re awake, even telling yourself you’re dreaming when you’re not. I’m of the opinion that this could lead to some psychotic issues that I could do without. Seems easy to lose your grip on reality and be one of those people who jumps off of a building in real life because they convinced themselves they could fly. I’d rather keep that to my dreams. If it means sacrificing some, or all, of my lucid dreams in the process, I’m willing to take that risk.
There are also some techie devices out there that claim to be able to help reach lucid dream states. One thing I have seen for sure are the binaural beat tracks you can listen to, but I also glanced over some other things that I assume involve electrodes or other vibration and sound devices. I didn’t pay much attention, honestly, as I intend to do this au naturale. I have also spent lots of money on other devices and don’t feel this is an area in which I want or need to invest cash. Likewise, there are some online training courses or programs, but I’m just going to use the free stuff.
Another Form of Life Extension (or at Least Consciousness Extension)?
A cool thought that I just had about lucid dreams, which also ties back into one of the themes here at Bert Betterman, is that lucid dreaming is somewhat a form of life extension. At the very least it is certainly a life-extension derivative of sorts in that it is a consciousness extension. I mean, we all have to sleep, but if you wake up without dreaming, or at least not remembering any of those dreams, it’s kind of like eight hours wasted, at least from an hours-of-consciousness standpoint.
If you’re able to remember your dreams, and better yet, be aware that they are dreams and control them to do as you wish, you have all that extra time to do cool things. And you can probably do way cooler things in a lucid dream than you’d ever do awake. Looking at it that way, chasing down lucid dreams seems like a no-brainer win/win situation to me, a very worthwhile endeavor in the spirit of making the most of life.
Future Updates and Posts
So basically I intend to follow this lucid dreaming plan for a while now and see what it produces. If I get really good at it and have some rad lucid dreams, I’ll surely write a follow-up post and tell you all about my experiences. If it doesn’t work and I don’t have another lucid dream, then I’ll just never bring up the topic again, and you’ll have forgotten all about this post by then, so we’ll be forgetful and ignorant together. It’s really a win/win situation with absolutely no pressure on me, a fully hedged bet that works out no matter what. Perfect.
Lucid Dreaming Resources
If any of this fascinated you but you’d rather read it straight from the guys who actually know what they’re talking about, here are some of the resources I found while researching lucid dreams:
- Lucidity.com – They have a nice little FAQ section as well at this link.
- World of Lucid Dreaming – I mostly read the article “How to Have a Lucid Dream.”
- WikiHow – What don’t they know how to do? Here’s their lucid dreaming article.
- Daniel Steinbock – He writes about lucid dreams (and other stuff)…including this article.
- And for Reddit users, there’s also a subreddit for lucid dreaming.
Tell Us About Your Dreams!
I tried to type that without sounding creepy. Or like a cheesy motivational speaker. But seriously, have you ever had lucid dreams? Did you have them but didn’t know what they were called until now? Have you had other weird, non-lucid dreams you think other people wound enjoy? Are you a pro at lucid dreaming and want to share your experiences and tips? If you answered “yes” to any of the above, please leave a comment below and tell us all about it! I can’t think of a better way to procrastinate on work than writing and reading about wild and crazy dreams.