Karen Konkoly [ 13 NOV 2015 | Sleep Engineering | 11:19 ] This could be a dream. Do you remember how you got here?
The best way to test reality is to read something twice. When you’re awake the words will always stay the same, but when you’re dreaming the words will always be different.
Dreams can seem vague because when you’re awake all you have is a memory of them. It’s like thinking about yesterday. Even if you remember exactly what happened, it still doesn’t feel like you’re there anymore.
When you’re inside a dream though, the world feels exactly like it does when you’re awake. It feels exactly like this. What I’m talking about is lucid dreaming and in my presentation today I’m first going to give an overview of Lucid Dreaming, and how to do it, then discuss the benefits of Lucid Dreaming, and finally discuss my perspective on how lucid dreams can bridge the gap between your conscious and your subconscious.
So first: what is Lucid Dreaming?
According to Stephen Laberge, one of the founders of Lucid Dreaming research and a mentor of mine, the most basic definition is just knowing that you’re dreaming while continuing to dream.
This creates a spectrum of lucidity where that simple awareness is at the bottom.
You know you’re dreaming and you don’t wake up.
However, as you become more lucid, you can start to control your actions. Do things that you intended to do in your next lucid dream and, as you become more lucid still, you can control your dream environment.
Everything around you is made up of the same stuff as you are. You can control anything you want.
But, even so, lucid dreams might not always go exactly the way you intended to.
And with that, as you become more lucid still, you can start to recognize the symbols for what they are in your lucid dream.
Why can’t you do a certain thing? What does that mean for the inner workings of your subconscious?
A recent example of a lucid dream I had, that was in the middle of the spectrum of lucidity, was I was lying in my bed and I knew I was dreaming. I was lucid and I was pumped so what I wanted to do was have a transcendental experience.
I was trying to jump up out of my bed and fly through the roof and into the heavens and transcend anything ever possible for normal human experience.
However, I could not achieve this goal because of this: Yes, there was an Evil Carpet Man standing on the side of my bed looking down at me and every time I tried to jump up they just forced me down. So even though I had control over my actions, and I knew I was lucid, I could not control Evil Carpet Man.
I also did not know why they were there.
But even though that’s kind of a negative experience with lucid dreaming it can actually be very fun and beneficial and anyone can learn how to lucid dream.
The best predictor of Lucid Dreaming ability is simply Dream Recall Frequency and Dream Recall Frequency is a learnable skill.
The best way to improve your Dream Recall Frequency is to keep a Dream Journal.
Every time you wake up in the middle of the night, or in the morning, write down or record anything you remember about your dreams.
Every emotion, anything you can remember, and as you keep doing this you’ll get better and better.
Once you start to remember at least about one dream every night, start to look back through your dream journal and find Dream Signs.
Dream Signs can be any strong emotion or recurring event. They could be crazy and ridiculous — like people changing shapes or you being able to fly — that’s a Dream Sign.
But it could also just be anything uncanny and they’re different for everybody.
You will have your own personal Dream Signs.
Once you start to recognize these, within your Dream Journal, start to look back throughout your Dream Journal and notice the patterns and look for them when you’re awake.
Once you notice Dream Signs while you’re awake, you should do a Reality Test and, as I said before, the best way to test reality is to read something twice — because the dreaming mind is so unstable.
The words will never be able to stay the same.
A lot of people don’t encounter words in their dreams that often so what I always do is keep a bracelet on, mine that says, “awake in your dreams”, but any words will do.
That way, whenever you need to do a Reality Check, you have your bracelet and you can read the words twice.
I just confirmed I am awake.
That way, if I’m not wearing the bracelet — and I always wear it when I’m awake — I also know that I’m dreaming if I’m not wearing it.
Remembering to do Reality Tests throughout the day requires training your Prospective Memory.
Prospective Memory is remembering to remember.
You need to remember to do your Reality Tests throughout the day and, as you do them, positively affirm it with this phrase, “the next time I’m dreaming I will remember to realize that I’m dreaming”.
If you say this each time you do a Reality Check you’ll be much more likely to actually realize that you’re dreaming the next time you are dreaming.
These are techniques you can do throughout day to become lucid.
But there are also things you can do at night.
As you’re falling asleep, my favorite technique to do is called the Mnemonic Induction Technique. For this technique, as you’re falling asleep at night, rehearse the last dream that you had over in your head, the last one you remember, and visualize it.
And every time you get to a Dream Sign , visualize yourself doing a Reality Test, and realizing that you’re lucid, and then visualize yourself enacting whatever you wanted to do in that lucid dream.
If you meditate on this, as you go to sleep, then you’ll be much more likely to become lucid the next time you dream.
But the icing on the cake for becoming lucid is to wake up in the middle of the night.
If you wake up about six hours after you fall asleep, and stay awake for at least half an hour, and activate your mind, then when you go back to sleep you’ll go right into REM sleep and 90% of lucid dreams happen in REM sleep.
When you go to sleep, at the beginning of the night, you mostly have deep sleep. Whereas most REM sleep happens at the end of the night — which is why waking up in the middle of the night is the way to go.
Now I’m going to discuss how you can use lucid dreams.
Lucid dreams can be used for improving waking performance and this has been shown a lot in athletics. A recent study surveyed 840 German athletes. They were elite German athletes — a lot of them were Olympians– and the study found that a lot of them used lucid dreams to practice their sport in their sleep.
Of those that used lucid dreams, 77% thought that practicing in there lucid dream actually helped them when they were awake.
One anecdotal example was of a diver who liked to lucid dream dive and, as they went off the diving board, in their dreams to slow down time — so that they could perform all these complex twists and turns before they reached the water. This helped them do that when they were awake and time was working normally.
Another example is of a martial artist who wrote to The Lucidity Letter. During the day they were trying to learn a new martial arts technique and that involved advancing on their opponent. However their natural instinct was to back away and they were too afraid and could not overcome their natural instinct to learn this technique when they were awake.
However, they knew about lucid dreaming so that night when they went to bed they performed lucid dream induction techniques and they became lucid in their dream.
They immediately went to their dojo and started practicing the technique on their opponent and because they knew they were dreaming they were no longer afraid and they could continue to do the move over and over in his dream, more successfully, on the dream opponent every time.
And when they woke up the next day they could do it in real life.
Lucid dreams can also help if you have nightmares because recurring nightmares can provide an excellent opportunity and a Dream Sign to become lucid. Because, if there’s a monster chasing you, that’s pretty clear Dream Sign that you are dreaming.
A lot of people’s natural instinct, if they became lucid in a nightmare, would just be to wake themselves up.
But it can actually be very therapeutic to deal with whatever internal conflict is causing your nightmares in a Lucid Dreaming platform.
Some suggestions for what to do if you do become lucid in a nightmare:
Instead of waking yourself up, try to treat the monster with compassion. It is made up of the same stuff as you are and by treating it with kindness you’re treating yourself with kindness.
Along with that you could ask the monster how you can help it. See if you can solicit any wise words from your subconscious. Ask it what’s wrong or what you can do.
And finally, if you’re even more lucid, you could switch places with the monster. Take on its perspective and apologize to yourself for scaring yourself.
One famous example of a lucid dream as therapy for nightmares is from Steven LaBerge.
They had a dream that they were trying to teach in the classroom but there was a giant ogre on the other side of the classroom and all the students were in disarray. They’re throwing chairs. And this ogre was there and nobody was listening to them.
But the ogre became a Dream Sign and they realized they were dreaming and became lucid. So they tried to treat the ogre with compassion and at first they couldn’t because it was repulsive and had these boils on its face and they just couldn’t love it at first.
But they kept trying and eventually in their dream, just this stream of loving compassionate words flew out of their mouth and unto the ogre and then in the dream the ogre dissolved into Steven’s heart and the classroom was at peace. When they woke up they felt a lot better because they used a lucid dream to integrate whatever conflict was causing that ogre — even though they never figured out exactly what it was.
Finally, I’m going to discuss my perspective on how lucid dreams can bridge the gap between your conscious and your subconscious.
Oftentimes we are imprisoned by our minds. We experience the world from a perspective locked inside our own heads and it feels like there’s a fundamental separation between who we are and the world going on around us.
I’m going to call this an Ego-Based Perspective.
In many dreams we can have this Ego-Based Perspective as well. But when you become lucid in the dream you can practice acknowledging the way your subconscious construes reality to make it seem like this. Because when you’re in a dream, and when you’re awake, everything you experience inside and outside of you is all equally created by your mind.
So acknowledging this can give you a Situation-Based Perspective, as opposed to an Ego-Based Perspective, that can help you look at the situation as a whole.
An example of this is Nancy.
Nancy was walking along outside their apartment one day and they tripped and fell in the mud. They were very embarrassed, but their secret admirer Joe comes up and tries to help them up.
However, Nancy is way too embarrassed and just shoos them away.
Now Nancy is sad because they are lying on the ground covered in mud and Joe is sad because this person they liked just rejected them.
Nancy’s situation was made worse with an Ego-Based Perspective.
They focused on their own embarrassment and they construed Joe as somebody who could embarrass them.
But take a step back and look at the situation. If Nancy saw someone fall on the ground. They would be happy to help them. And if their help were accepted, then they would feel better because they were no longer on the ground covered in mud.
Nancy would feel better because they got the chance to help somebody.
Having a Situation-Based Perspective allows you to make the best decisions for the situation as a whole. If you think about it, that’s the most real thing anyway.
If everything we experience is all equally a construal of our mind, then all that we have in common are these common situations.
Lucid Dreaming gives you a hands-on way to practice having a Situation-Based Perspective by allowing you to literally step into the shoes of every other person and thing around you — even at the same time.
The wisdom and compassion that you can learn from a Situation-Based Perspective will allow you to make better decisions for yourself and for everyone else impacted by your decisions.
Karen Konkoly is a Researcher affiliated with Northwestern University