Lucid dreaming may be the mindfulness practice you never knew you needed.
Ever since secondary school, I’ve had a recurring dream that never fails to scare the bejaysus out of me. In it, I’m late for a very important exam and try as I might I just can’t seem to get there. A stream of obstacles that are out of my control are thrown between me and the exam hall, and without fail, every time I wake from this nightmare, I’m left with a lingering sense of panic.
The thought of being able to control the direction of that dream and make it to my exam on time, or say, wind up on a beach in Bali with a cocktail in my hand instead is pretty appealing, and yet, the concept of lucid dreaming is one I’ve never quite been able to master.
For the uninitiated, lucid dreaming is simple. “Lucid dreaming is when you are dreaming but are aware that it is a dream,” explains dream expert Lauri Loewenberg (www.twitter.com/ LauriLoewenberg). “It’s like having a foot in both worlds: one in the conscious awake world and one in the subconscious dream world. It’s a very cool state of mind because you are awake and asleep at the same time. Once you have this awareness while still in the dream, that is when the fun begins,” she enthuses. “At this point you can take control of the dream and do anything. You can fly, you can walk through walls, you can will your favourite celebrity to appear before you. There are no rules.”
While that all sounds well and good, I wonder about the supposed real life benefits. “Lucid dreaming can be very beneficial in many areas of your life,” Lauri clarifies. “Since you’re able to direct the dream while in it, you can use it as a very viable tool to confront your past, your fears and your issues as well as getting advice, ideas and creative inspiration tailor-made just for you, because it is coming from the deepest, most powerful, insightful and honest part of who you are: your subconscious.”
Perhaps the really great thing about lucid dreaming is that you can explore all of these aspects – fears, issues, trauma – from a totally safe space. “There is zero chance of any harm coming to you and most importantly, you are in control,” Lauri points out. “What I direct my clients to do with their lucid dreams, when using them to overcome past trauma, is to do two things: firstly, ask questions in your dream (you will always get an answer) and then take control and change the dream in any way you wish. Turn your attacker into a slug, for example, or turn yourself into Wonder Woman. You get to take control, give yourself power, and slay your demon.”
Lauri makes a great point. “The reason trauma sticks around is because the event took our power away in some shape or form,” she explains. “This exercise gives you your power back, or rather, reminds you your power was still there all along.”
But it’s not just great for exploring lingering issues from the past, lucid dreaming can also be ace at helping you gain clarity in the now. Facing a change in your career and not sure which way to go? Uncertain about a new relationship? A lucid dream is a safe space to ask questions and tackle the issue head on. “I often suggest the dreamer ask ‘What can I learn from this issue? What do
I need to know?’ while in the dream,” advises Lauri. “Trust me, your dream will answer you and it will be very insightful. Ultimately, what you are doing, is having a conversation with yourself: your conscious mind and your subconscious mind are having an open honest discussion about you. That is a huge deal! Because typically there is always that barrier between the subconscious and conscious mind. The subconscious speaks to us every night through the language of dreams but we have to wake up before we can get the messages it has left for us. And while we may be able to get those messages (by remembering the dream) decoding them is a whole other task. But when you are conscious in the dream, that language barrier is no longer there. It’s extraordinary and so powerful!”
Being the superstitious person I am, I worry about dabbling with something that seems beyond our realm of reality, but Lauri puts my mind at ease. “In my opinion, no [there are no risks involved],” she tells me. “You can not be physically harmed while in a dream. You are very safe in your own head. A lucid dream can become intense but you do have control and can redirect it or wake yourself up. However,” she adds, “if you have Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia or any disorder where Dream-Reality-Confusion can be present, lucid dreaming can be risky.”
With the facts firmly in place, I want to know how to lucid dream. It’s estimated that around 20 to 30 percent of the population are natural lucid dreamers, but what about the rest of us, can we, er, fake it until we make it? Fortunately, Lauri says you can train yourself to dream lucidly.
“There is a school of thought that if you practice mindfulness throughout the day and frequently ask yourself ‘Am I dreaming?’ that this will eventually bleed into your dreams and you may find yourself asking ‘Am I dreaming?’ while in a dream and that will trigger your lucidity.
That can work but it can also take a long time,” she explains. “Since lucid dreaming most often happens closer to the morning, this simple hack can do the trick much faster,” Lauri adds. “Set your alarm for 20 to 30 minutes earlier than you usually do. When your alarm goes off at 6, hit the snooze. You then have 20 or 30 minutes to drift back into sleep, but you won’t have enough time to slip back into deep delta sleep,” Lauri clarifies. “Instead, you will remain in the lighter stages where you are likely to dream but still have enough consciousness to realise it is a dream. Try it for a week!”
Other experts, have recommended keeping a dream journal to become more aware of your dream patterns, but of course, having healthy sleep habits can help too. “Make sure you
get enough!” warns Lauri. “Sleep is so important to mental and physical well being. If you have a hard time sleeping the whole night through, you may want to try two sleeps,” she advises.
“This is the way humans slept before the lightbulb was invented and just may be the way we are wired to sleep. If you are only able to get a solid three or four hours of sleep at night, you may do well to change your schedule. For example, when you come home from work, try to nap for a couple hours. Segmented sleeping may be exactly what your body needs.”
So is lucid dreaming one to add to your mindfulness arsenal alongside meditating, deep breathing and journalling? File it under ‘self care’ and give it a go. You may loathe it, it may change your life. Sweet dreams.