According to experts, lucid dreaming is a natural untapped ability that all of us possess. We just have to learn how to harness it.
We ALL already dream every night (even if you don’t remember) and we are all conscious human beings by day. Combining these two states is perfectly possible – it just takes some targeted mental training.
Below I’ll summarize some practical instructions on how to have lucid dreams, including my personal favorite lucid dream techniques.
What Is Lucid Dreaming?
Lucid dreaming is the ability to “wake up” in your dreams. It is the conscious stirring inside an unconscious dream world.
Most noticeably, conscious dreams look and feel extremely vivid and tangible, on a par with waking life. The difference between a normal dream and a lucid dream is like watching a movie with a bad TV signal vs actually starring in it.
Lucid dreams are NOT psychic premonitions, telepathy, shared dreams, vivid nightmares, sleep paralysis, ghostly bedroom experiences, or just really vivid dreams. Lucid dreams are 100% real and scientifically proven.
A lucid dream begins when you realize that you are dreaming, which makes you become self-aware. This gives you the full mental faculty to consider the dream in context and explore in “live”. You have the power to control yourself, the scenery, the plot, and other dream elements if you choose.
With experience, you can accomplish all kinds of feats – like flying through space, creating new worlds, summoning specific characters and having realistic sex. But dream control is just the beginning which opens up many diverse applications for your dreamworld.
How to Have Lucid Dreams
The majority of lucid dreaming techniques train your mind to:
Increase your dream intensity and dream recall
Learn how to recognize when you’re in the dream state
Become more self-aware in your daily life through meditation
Advance your visualization skills to enter dreams consciously
Habitually program your dream content with reality checks
Having frequent lucid dreams will become a way of life. You’ll be more successful in your efforts if you incorporate these techniques into your everyday habits. After all, your dreams reflect your thoughts, experiences and emotions from waking reality.
That’s why just thinking about how to have lucid dreams could potentially produce your first lucid dream tonight!
Now, there is no guaranteed method of having a lucid dream tonight. However, there are many tried-and-tested techniques which can increase your chances, even more so over time.
5 Ways to Have Lucid Dreams
Here are five basic techniques to kick-start your lucid dream training:
Spend an hour learning about lucid dreaming today – This website has hundreds of articles to get the idea ticking over in your mind.
Every time you open a door, do a reality check – Try to push your hand through the solid door and question whether you are dreaming.
Imagine what you will do in your first lucid dream – Close your eyes and vividly imagine your first lucid dream as you go to sleep.
Incubate a lucid dream as you fall asleep tonight – Recall your imagined dream as you fall asleep, thinking “I will lucid dream tonight”.
Repeat the last step every time you wake up in the night – especially in the later stages of sleep (after 4-5 hours).
These beginner techniques are simple and effective with regular practice. But don’t just read this and forget about it – actually DO IT!
Once you’ve spent a day committing to all five techniques, it’s time to move on to some advanced lucid dreaming techniques.
What’s The Best Way to Have Lucid Dreams?
I’ve been lucid dreaming since I was 14 years old and I’ve spent the last five years researching and writing about lucid dream control on this site.
Understandably, I get a lot of emails and the most common one goes like this:
“What’s the BEST way to have lucid dreams? I don’t have time to read up about everything – I just want to do the one technique that works best!”
Of course, no-one would waste their time on techniques that don’t work. They are all valid in their own right, each enhancing different aspects of your psychological and physiological opportunities to lucid dream.
I find that lucid dream techniques work best in combinations, eg:
Writing in your dream journal and doing lots of reality checks.
Daily meditation and night-time dream incubation.
Adjusting your sleep cycles and take a dream supplement.
So, you can start to see now that there is no “best way” to have lucid dreams that applies to everyone.
I know that’s not a very satisfying answer, but it is undoubtedly true. As a consolation prize, I’m going to share the best way for me to have lucid dreams, speaking quite generally, over the years.
My Lucid Dream Routine
Over the years I have found that following these techniques – usually in combination – produce the most lucid dreams:
1) Night-Time Meditation – There is a wonderful half-sleep state I go and explore whenever I am in bed and drowsy. I lie very still and relaxed and allow my mind to drift. I hold on to that thin strand of consciousness while allowing my body to fall asleep.
Not only is this deeply relaxing, it creates all kinds of interesting hypnagogic sensations: floating out-of-body, seeing geometric patterns behind closed eyes, auditory hallucinations and emerging dream scenes. This method is great for increasing your self-awareness, visualization skills, and learning how to walk your mind directly into a lucid dream.
2) Dream Journaling – If there were one technique that is absolutely essential to frequent lucid dreaming, it is to keep a dream journal. Spend 10 minutes writing down your dreams each morning and you will find that not only will your dream recall and intensity increase, but you will have many more moments of spontaneous lucidity in the dream world. Ignore this at your peril.
3) Incubation – This means “planting a seed” of an idea into your unconscious mind, so that you may recall it while dreaming. It’s nothing to do with Inception. One way to incubate a lucid dream is to say to yourself “I will have a lucid dream tonight” while performing meditation or self hypnosis. Another way is repeatedly think about your desired dream plot or a dream character you’d like to meet all through the waking day. In the same way that horror movies can incubate nightmares… your thoughts and daydreams can incubate specific dream content which can trigger your lucidity.
I’ve touched upon quite a few different techniques here and you may even feel that is a little overwhelming – so where do you start?
Here’s a brief look at some of the best techniques for bringing the light of lucid awareness to your dreams.
It isn’t meant to replace a committed, consistent study or focus such as the opportunity offered by our course, but perhaps it can serve as a jumping off point for those who want to efficiently focus their efforts without delay.
Some techniques are less suitable to a regular daily work schedule, however, the more you can focus on the various techniques and lucid dreaming in general, the more frequent will be your lucid dreams.
[ Master dream recall: No other practice is more effective. The main barrier to realizing when one is dreaming is that our waking and dreaming minds are not connected nearly as much as they could be with simple intention, practice and focus. Making a consistent effort to remember dreams will help your waking mind to ally itself more closely with your dreaming awareness and will also allow you to become more familiar with your personal dream content – characters, settings, feelings or sensations that seem odd (though only after you awaken) because they’re often not a usual part of your waking experience. This will then allow your waking reasoning and reflective capabilities to be more present in dreams so that you recognize unfamiliar or unlikely surroundings or feelings while you’re still actually experiencing them in a dream. Success with lucid dreaming is most likely if you recall one dream or more per night, in fact you may already be having lucid dreams and simply not remembering them. So, to increase dream recall: As you go to bed, clearly ask yourself to remember your dreams when you awaken in the morning or during the night. When you do awaken, keep your eyes closed (or shut them if already opened) and remain as motionless as possible. Gather as many images, feelings or impressions as you can and then rise and quickly jot them down in a notebook (which you keep bedside), no matter how brief or vague they may at first seem. You’ll be surprised at how much more you begin to remember as you write. This is also an excellent way to increase intuitive capabilities, since dreaming and intuition are closely related. [ Arise during the night: Research has proven that morning naps after a period of wakefulness are extremely productive times for lucid dreaming. This is for (at least) 3 reasons: (a) We have more REM (dream) activity per sleep cycle as the night progresses (i.e. more dreams, more chance of a lucid dream), (b) There’s much less time between when we fall asleep and when REM sleep begins than at the start of the night (about 90 minutes compared to 5-20 minutes during a morning nap), so we have more chance of bridging the wake-sleep “forget-as-you-pass-by” barrier, (c) we tend to sleep more lightly (with much less or no deep sleep) as the morning approaches.
This technique probably requires the most motivation, but also provides the best pay-off. Week-ends or vacation are a particularly good time to try it. The best method is to arise either 1½ or 3 hours (1 or 2 sleep cycles) earlier than usual, stay awake for 30-90 minutes, and then return to bed for the remainder of your postponed sleep. During the period of wakefulness, it’s important to “get awake” to some degree. Some of the best activities for this period are: taking a midnight walk (lots of fun!), love-making, and especially meditation (vipassana technique is particularly good). Ideally, anything that brings or maintains presence of mind. [ Visualization (MILD) technique: This technique is extremely effective, although it can be difficult to focus upon since it’s practiced while falling asleep. The basics are: Before going to bed, use the autosuggestion method for promoting good dream recall and the occurrence of lucid dreams, and then (ideally) use the following technique on a previous night’s dream: When you awaken after any REM period, arouse yourself and recall as many dreams as possible using the dream recall methods. Before returning to sleep (while sitting on the side of your bed is best so as not to doze off before finishing the technique), tell yourself “The next time I’m dreaming, I want to remember that I’m dreaming“, then imagine you are back in the dream from which you just awoke, remembering it step by step, scene by scene, except that this time you see yourself recognizing that you’re dreaming (ideally when something odd occurs) and carrying out some planned activity (see below). Then lay down, and focus upon your intention followed by the visualization as many times as you can until you fall asleep. [ Stay present as you drift asleep: As you lie ready for sleep, especially after waking during the night, focus upon your breath and simply observe any thoughts that arise, without getting caught by them. If you do, and later “snap back”, focus right back on your breath. [ Autosuggestion: As you go to bed, or if you awaken during the night, put yourself in the frame of mind of genuinely expecting that tonight or sometime soon you will become conscious within a dream. Clearly convince yourself in a friendly, assured (rather than pressured) way, and then let it go like a seed planted in your subconscious. [ Plan a lucid dream activity: Realizing that you are dreaming is exciting – the thrill is great, but can also awaken you, especially if you’re not sure what to do next. Imagine you’ve really been focusing for three weeks and all of sudden you realize you’re dreaming, only to awaken from excitement. It’s quite common – unless you have some specific activity to focus on right away. To continue past those first few moments of lucidity, plan in advance something specific to do in your next lucid dream. Many people choose flying, but the options are truly limitless. Let your imagination take you. The best activities for maintaining a lucid dream are those that engage you in the dream scenario. [ Perform reality checks as a habit: Always Test First and then Decide when you have even the slightest inclination that you might be dreaming. In this way you won’t miss valuable lucid opportunities. Also, throughout the day, ask yourself as often as you can remember, whether you are dreaming, and perform a test to find out. This may seem silly, but it will carry over by habit to the dream state, and you will be very glad (for once) when you find that your check has bounced! The best test is to read some text, look away and quickly look back. If the words change – you are dreaming! It helps to try to get the words to change. A digital watch is excellent for this. If there is no text nearby, look at your hands for a good 5-10 seconds to see if they appear wavy or odd in any way – as they most often do in dreams. [ Be patient and persistent: Although many people experience success the first night or during the first couple of weeks, lucid dreaming is a skill that requires time and focus to master. In this regard it’s more like learning a sport or musical instrument rather than learning to ride a bike where you get it from one day to the next for good. Try to maintain a relaxed and playful attitude of looking forward to your dreams while being willing to let it happen all in good time. Trying too hard or being too serious can be limiting factors. Dream recall, lucid dreams and even motivation all tend to come and go naturally in cycles, and also depend upon what else is going on in our lives. Continued practice of these techniques over at least a few months is more likely to bring mastery than a few intense but sparse attempts – a weekly study group of people with a like interest is unmatchable for sustained motivation and inspiration. Once you start on a cycle of focusing on some of the exercises, stick with it for at least a four or five days, because consecutive nights seem to have an additive effect. [ Keep your life in balance: The subtle energies, ideology and realizations connected with lucid dreams and related experiences are very powerful and often of profound waking influence, at least psychologically. The approach of “as-much-lucidity-as-possible-as-fast-as-possible” is strongly discouraged. Such an approach can bring great imbalances and even unnecessary calamities into your waking life. There’s no need for fear, but do remain aware of this important point. Remember that trees stand as tall and withstand storms only as deep as their roots go, so stay grounded and maintain a healthy outward daily focus. To help regain balance if trouble arises, eat and sleep well, and maintain social connections. Other suggestions include getting a massage, going for extended exercise outdoors, and focusing on simple day-to-day tasks and therefore removing your focus from dreams and inner life for a while.
The above title may seem odd, if not a complete contradiction. Why would anyone suggest that nightmares or anxiety dreams might be helpful?
If you’re in the half of the population that has experienced an anxiety dream or nightmare within the last month, then this may even be what you’re wishing you could get rid of, right? Some people who had nightmares or recurring dreams early on in life even manage to block their dream recall entirely in order to stop being upset by such experiences. This unfortunate view of “bad” dreams as things to avoid is precisely the reason for the above title and for this article. An avoidance or denial approach is much like putting a Band-Aid on a car’s blinking oil light because the light seems annoying.
Of course, fifty or a hundred miles later, it would be greatly preferable to have understood the warning. Obviously, it’s even better not to have the light blinking, but if it does, then it’s important to do something about it since it’s there for a good reason. One certainly wouldn’t be very wise to disable it. Though perhaps not obvious, the simple fact is that most nightmares and almost all recurring dreams are similarly trying to provide an extremely valuable service to the dreamer. If we block them, we are likely missing their immediate benefit; if we remember but ignore them, we may well be missing the vital message that they are trying to bring us about our life.
Almost everyone has experienced one or more dreams that contain anxiety or outright fear. For some, unpleasant dreams or nightmares recur repeatedly; for others, the content may change while the theme remains the same, such as scenes of falling, or of being pursued or attacked, late or unprepared for a presentation or an exam, stuck in slow motion, unable to move or scream, or naked in public, to name a few common themes. This type of experience, when unpleasant, is usually associated with lack of progress by the dreamer to recognize and solve related conflicts in life.
Though it has been scientifically proven that we all dream every night, fear of nightmares or other anxieties or misguided beliefs about dreams and the unconscious can block dream recall. This can usually be overcome by learning about the useful nature of dreams and by recognizing that the majority of nightmares, like a bitter but quite necessary medicine, represent opportunities for personal healing through much-needed emotional release. They are often indirectly warning us about current behavior patterns or psychological imbalances that we need to remedy if we don’t want such unpleasant dreams to repeat, or worsen.
Sometimes, such imbalances or patterns resolve themselves as the dream percolates into waking thought and we unknowingly respond and make adjustments in our life. But if we block, deny or ignore such messages from the subconscious for too long, then it usually speaks ‘louder’ to get our attention often by bringing related events, which I call daymares, into our waking hours. These daymares show up as sickness, accidents, relationship difficulties or other unfortunate personal circumstances that force us outright to deal with the issue at hand. Interestingly enough, such events often have repeating themes as well, such as recurring relationship patterns, for example.
Psychologist Ernest Rossi has put forth that one important function of dreaming is integration: the combining of separate psychological structures into a more balanced and comprehensive personality. Renown psychologist Carl Jung observed that portions of our whole personality which we knowingly or unknowingly judge become disowned, and are frequently projected outward in dreams, taking the form of aggressors, devils, monsters, intimidating animals or natural events (e.g. tidal waves), and so on. Jung referred to these symbolic figures as “the shadow”. Whether we become aware of such elements of our shadow through nightmares or daymares, re-accepting these judged and disowned portions of ourselves is the message and the awaiting gift.
So, we truly are lucky to have such nightmares, since they provide a natural ‘pressure-release’ therapy for the psyche, and especially since they may even provide what amounts to an early cure if we listen to, make an effort to understand and then act upon the valuable insight that dreams try to bring us. The goal is still to put an end to nightmares and recurring dreams, but by evolving them into more beneficial scenarios, and not by blocking, ignoring or denying them.
Fortunately, there exist treatments for nightmares that do not involve medication and which have shown to be very effective. Some of the most useful techniques include dream rehearsal, dream lucidity, guided imagery and mainstream therapies such as gestalt, psychosynthesis, focusing, or other such methods.
One approach is lucid dreaming where one recognizes during a dream that one is dreaming, hence gaining a degree of conscious control. This approach is demonstrated by this woman’s dream:
“After many recurring nightmares where I’m pursued by some terrifying figure, I learned of lucid dreaming and had the following dream: ‘I’m in a frantic car chase with the pursuer right behind me. Swerving into a parking lot, I bolt out of the car and run with him hot on my heels. Suddenly, the scene seems familiar and I realize that I’m dreaming, though the lot and trees still seem more real than ever. Drawing upon every ounce of courage that I have, I swirl to face my pursuer, repeating to myself that it’s only a dream. Still afraid, I scream at him, “You can’t hurt me!” He stops, looking surprised. For the first time I see his beautiful, loving eyes. “Hurt You?” he says. “I don’t want to hurt you. I’ve been running after you all this time to tell you that I love you!” With that, he holds out his hands, and as I touch them, he dissolves into me. I awake filled with energy, feeling great for days.’ Not only did the nightmare never return, but more importantly, I now find myself much better at facing unpleasant situations at work and in my personal life. Following what I learned in the dream, I’m much better at standing my ground and expressing my feelings when needed and appropriate, whereas before I would usually avoid or run from such situations.” (M.R., San Jose, CA)
Suggestions for Common Nightmares and Recurring DreamsIt has been extensively demonstrated that various nightmare and recurring dream themes are quite universal, even cross-culturally, and that such situations can be transformed into positive and even pleasant experiences. The key to such evolution is a change of perspective, often accompanied by a new emotional response to the situation such as taking on an attitude of acceptance, curiosity and exploration to replace the existing reaction of fear or judgment (as in the dream example above). When these types of dream are connected with deep traumatic waking events, such as abuse, war, death, etc. the evolution of the dream into a more positive form may understandably take longer and require more waking attention and focus.
Though there is no unerring rule as to what any given dream might be about, a good rule of thumb is to re-experience the feeling of the dream and find out where this same feeling shows up in our waking life (often alluded to by the setting of the dream, though perhaps figuratively). This is the rule of associative logic – the dream associates to our life, and sometimes to our past, by a specific feeling.
I have no intention of providing an absolute dream dictionary (since dreamers and their experiences relating to specific symbols are so individual) and have no illusions about prescribing instantaneous solutions or cures, however a great number of people have gotten a lot of help and insight by learning about universal nightmare and anxiety dream themes which they are also experiencing. Here are some of the most common themes (with positive outcome examples for each scenario) and suggestions about what the dreamer might look at in waking life:
· chase or attack: The pursuer usually represents a fearful or disliked aspect of our shadow, and hence an exaggerated version of a denied or inhibited portion of our own personality that would benefit us if integrated and appropriately expressed. (ideal outcome: standing our ground, facing and dialoguing with our pursuer, and eventually, acceptance and embrace)
· falling dream: Am I feeling heavy, unsupported, out of control, worried about something? How can I feel freer, lighter? Also: do I need to be more grounded? (ideal outcome: flying or floating freely, landing safely if we choose)
· car out of control: Is life too hectic, out of control? How could I slow down, act more peacefully and “enjoy the ride”? Is there an important choice (i.e. intersection or turn) coming soon in my life where I need to slow down in order to turn safely in the wisest direction (ideal outcome: driving well & within speed limits, walking, bicycling, or rollerblading peacefully, taking more quiet time to clearly contemplate important upcoming choices so that I don’t go off track or crash)
· unprepared or late for an exam: Am I feeling unprepared for some upcoming event or deadline, quite possibly at work? Unconfident about my performance? Am I worrying needlessly or do I actually need more preparation in order to feel confident and do a good job? (ideal outcome: feeling assured about oneself, performing well, making sure to schedule wisely in order to peacefully meet a deadline)
· stuck in slow motion, unable to move or make any noise: Where am I feeling stuck in life, like I’m getting nowhere because worry is paralyzing me or slowing me to a stop, perhaps also where I am unable to voice my true feelings? What can I do to change it? (ideal outcome: relaxation and acceptance, and eventually, peaceful, confident action & self-expression)
· embarrassed to be nude or scantily dressed in public, though nobody seems to really notice or mind: Where in life am I feeling unconfident, embarrassed, unskilled? This type of dream is usually pointing out, by the fact that the other characters in the dream don’t really notice, that we are the only one viewing ourself this way, and usually mistakenly so. (ideal outcome: comfortable with oneself as is, confident)
· personal injury, dismemberment: What part of my life—not usually the physical body—have I been neglecting, mistreating, forgetting—i.e. dis-membering as opposed to remembering? (ideal outcome: healing)
· trapped, locked in: Where am I feeling trapped in life? How might I open myself up to a new perspective, and explore new courses of action? (ideal outcome: breaking out, exploring new rooms or places)
· drowning, threatening waves, tsunami (tidal waves) or flooding: Am I blocking, denying or feeling overwhelmed by my emotions? How might I better acknowledge, accept, and feel these feelings — feekings which often include vulnerability? (ideal outcome: swimming, surfing, breathing underwater)
· helpless, abandoned, or crying baby, young daughter/son, monkey, bunny, pet, or small animal: Have I been taking care of my “inner child”? Is there a creative project or relationship that I have forgotten or abandoned that needs my attention? Maybe I need to laugh more, play outdoors, express my creativity, be more spontaneous, or enjoy more personal warmth and intimacy? (ideal outcome: caring for baby or animal, playing, simply having more fun)
Though they are generally symbolic of psychological processes, some dreams and nightmares are intended as guidance or warnings on a very practical level. For example, if you were to dream about the brakes failing on your car, it might help to ponder whether you are figuratively having trouble “slowing yourself down” in your life, however, it would also be very wise to check the actual brakes on your automobile in waking life.
Assuredly, not all precognitve dreams are about dire events, though when they are, such nightmares or anxiety dreams warn of current behavior trends, courses of action, or decisions which may soon become detrimental unless we change them, as exemplified in this dream by Stanford University pioneer sleep researcher Dr. William Dement:
“Some years ago I was a heavy cigarette smoker, up to two packs a day. Then one night I had an exceptionally vivid and realistic dream in which I had inoperable cancer of the lung. I remember as though it were yesterday looking at the ominous shadow in my chest X-ray and realizing that the entire right lung was infiltrated. I experienced the incredible anguish of knowing my life was soon to end, that I would never see my children grow up, and that none of this would ever have happened if I had quit cigarettes when I first learned of their carcinogenic potential. I will never forget the surprise, joy, and exquisite relief of waking up. I felt I was reborn. Needless to say, the experience was sufficient to induce the immediate cessation of my cigarette habit.”
Somehow, dreams have access to information above and beyond the physical senses, both in terms of geography and time. Exactly how this is possible is an extremely interesting question, both for the individual who has such experiences, and, in general, for the scientific community—where a solely objective investigative approach often misses a lot of valuable clues about the nature of reality, especially when it comes to the realm of subjective experiences such as dreams. My view is that the state of consciousness from where our dream experiences arise is not the same as the “normal” physical waking state (which varies a great deal also), and so perceptions which come to us from such a state (and similarly with meditation, and even day-dreaming and deep states of creativity) arise from a framework beyond our physical one, and hence come from outside our normal framework of time and space. Therefore, it is actually no great surprise and even somewhat common (especially with dreams) that we can sense, through a faculty other than the five physical senses, information which, within the physical world is either ahead or long past in terms of time, unavailable to us in terms of physical location or geography, or unknown to us though others in our life are aware of such information.
Catholic Bishop Joseph Lanyl dreamed of the assassination of the arch-duke of Austria, François-Ferdinand de Habsbourg. In vain, he tried to reach the arch-duke to warn him of the assassination which occurred June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo — the event that triggered the first world war.
A few days before his assassination, American President Abraham Lincoln, who was very attentive to his dreams, dreamt of his own corpse laid out in a room in the white house. Martin Luther King also seems to have had a precognitive dream about his death a few months before his assassination.
A day before the Titanic’s demise, a woman on the infamous ship dreamt of the horrible event that was to occur the next day. She told her husband, who scoffed at her worries and ignored her pleas. However, the dream so affected her that she secretly prepared herself the night before and had all her children sleep in their warm clothes in order to be ready at a moment’s notice. During the night, when the ship struck the iceberg, she and her children managed to escape and be rescued. Her husband, sadly, went down with the ship.
That it is possible to know about future events not only courts the disbelief of skeptics, but also often scares people who have such precognitive dreams. Such experiences are actually somewhat common, so people’s apprehension is rather unfortunate, because the cultivation of such dreams can really be a beneficial skill, much like a natural talent in music or writing or dance, and can truly become a helpful gift developed both for the benefit of the dreamer and for those around him or her, as shown by this dreamer’s premonition:
“I had a dream where my father had blood pouring out of an eye from an accident involving the machine he was working with, and I knew he had lost his eye. Upon awakening, I immediately phoned my parents and asked my father what he was planning that day. He said he was going to work in his workshop with his drill and circular saw. Hearing this, I strongly urged him and eventually got him to promise to wear safety goggles while he was working. Then I spoke to my mother, told her the dream, and convinced her to keep a close eye on Dad. That night, Dad phoned in disbelief to tell me that a piece of wood had flown off the saw right at his eye and shattered the safety glasses. He was very grateful and admitted to me that it was truly a miracle that his eye was untouched.” (S.B. Montreal, Qc)
So instead of wishing you sweet dreams, which you’ve heard many times before, I will go one step further, with your greatest fulfillment in mind, and wish you truly pleasant nightmares.
Recurring Dream & Nightmare Resolution Exercise: Re-scripting a dream
Select a nightmare or upsetting dream which you’ve recently had (especially if it happened this morning!) and either from the recurring dream suggestions above or on your own, re-design a different ending to the dream. Choose something which leaves you feeling empowered, free and confident, and great about the new scenario, instead of the way you felt during or after the actual dream. Before lying down to fall asleep tonight, sit in a comfortable position and relax your body and mind completely for a couple minutes. It may help you to alternately tense and relax different parts of your body, and witness instead of concentrate upon any thoughts which cross your mind. Let it all go until tomorrow. Then, once you’re calm and quiet, mentally visualize or remember the dream you’ve selected for this exercise, running through as though you were watching a video, except at the point where things begin to turn unpleasant, replace the old ending with the new empowering one you created earlier, and imagine it as vividly as you can, “making it up” as you go if you need to. Make it a special point to experience the new feelings of confidence, freedom and empowerment that your new ending gives you. Then give yourself the clear suggestion that not only are these new thought patterns now spreading into your waking life, but also that tonight or some time soon you may have just such a dream, which includes the new, more fulfilling ending. You may even suggest to yourself that you will recognize the dream as a dream, while it’s happening, in which case you can consciously direct it as you feel appropriate towards a more uplifting outcome.
“Flying” dreams can teach us several things about our current existence. We can learn that our ordinary daytime reality, although determinative today, is not absolute. It was not so for all time. Evolution of consciousness demonstrates that other forms of consciousness and world are prior to our own, present form. These past forms are not gone forever but are still present as historical psychological presences and can be accessed as such by us modern people. To do so we have to overcome two insidious habits of thought, the first being our conviction that positivism is and was the only form of consciousness and world and the second being our fearful clinging to the familiar, which prevents the unknown from penetrating to our vitals and initiating us into wisdom.
I am a dreamer! By that I mean more than the fact that I dream like everybody else or that I fantasize. I dream, yes, but I have also developed a discipline of dreaming over a period of twenty five years, while living in the USA. I returned to Australia in 2003 where I continue on a daily basis. My discipline of dreaming includes the usual practices of dreaming, recording, and recalling. I also strive to bring my daily life into relationship with the dream. This effort includes developing new habits of thought and giving up others – often very difficult to do. For example, during the course of the day, if I feel weighed down and depressed, I recall my dreams and explore whether my current mood or feelings are more related to them, than say, the observable facts of my outer life.
This one example requires wrenching away from the cultural habit of “explaining” everything in terms of our positivistic bias which states that the only reality we are embedded in comes through the senses. Dreams therefore are commonly understood as only reflecting some aspect of our external, daily lives. This habit is reinforced by another habit of clinging to the familiar at the expense of the unknown. For example, if I dream of an encounter with an old friend who is driving his car to my house, we interpret the dream in terms of my actual relationship with my actual friend, who may in fact own that kind of car. In this way we assert that outer reality (positivism) is the prime reality and we also cling to the familiar aspects of the dream. With these two habits in place we tend to ignore any unfamiliar aspects of the dream e.g. that my old friend never had driven to my house in actuality, and we strengthen the belief that our existence is determined by one reality only, the reality of the senses.
These two habits have consequences!
Positivism is the philosophical stance that asserts that the only reality that determines our lives is the one that can be verified by our senses. It is the basis of the sciences and our knowledge systems. Today we have taken these formal aspects of positivism much further. It has now become common sense, meaning that a habit of thought has developed and become unconscious so that we lead our lives in a way that is determined by the habit of thought. For example, if we cannot verify or give positive evidence for an assertion, that assertion is dismissed as “unreal”. This has the effect of undermining the truth value of assertions made by speculation, intuition, imagination, memory etc. Segments of our population are then downgraded to the marginalized, or worse, the insane.
Clinging to the familiar is a habit that is institutionalized today in the forms of our legal system, insurance companies, politics, and financial systems—all of which deal with risk-taking, or going into the unknown, by a fear reflex, aggression, or punishment. In this way our fears of the future have firm soil from which to grow quickly into paralyzing terror and knee-jerk reactions that can be devastating to individuals, communities, and nations, as we so often see today.
As habits of thought, positivism and clinging to the familiar are not seen as such of course. They are simply “buried” in our ordinary every-day conduct. Common Sense!
Changing any habit requires at least two conditions: an experience that contradicts the habit and which cannot be denied; and conscious cultivation of a new habit that is born from the new experience and which can, over time, replace the old habit. Dreams can become such a vehicle for change for individuals and culture and I want to illustrate this with an example from my own life. Over the years of my dreaming, I have had a long series of dreams of flight, which include passing through walls, ceilings, as well as flying in the form of birds, butterflies, or human. Here is one, to give you a taste:
I feel myself floating up and realize I have come out of my body. I move around the room and then expand out over the country side, above. I feel free and unafraid: This is the fruit of all those years of effort where I had entered these states before, each one with its own teaching. All those years of preparation! I freely fly around and see an intense white light below that attracts me. I want to go there but also not yet as I want to play. I am filled with delight and playfulness.
I now see a strange city that is full of prosperity-order and beauty, bustling with life.
I go to a bar and notice that I can go through walls, etc. My body is transparent to solidity. As I swing my arm through a wall, electric light playfully emanates. I playfully swing my arm through a Bar Tender’s belly. He notices a feeling and acts like Mr. Messenger from City of Angels: “I can’t see you but I know you are there.” I laugh gleefully.
I am happy playful; and delighted. Ascending again I begin to get concerned that I have wandered too far afield. As I have this fear, I gently come back to my body in bed and wake up with the memory of having been on a flight.
We have a huge difficulty in understanding these “flying” dreams today because they are so unfamiliar and because of our incorrigible habit of considering reality only in terms of solidity— “things” being separate from us in every way (positivism). But, as I said, part of my discipline of dreaming is to challenge old habits of thought. Such dreams as this one can thus become initiatory. Let’s explore this a little.
You can see in the dream description above some hints of what I actually experienced in my flight. Two qualities emerge that today are ordinarily in conflict—playfulness and fear! We can only play if fear is absent. Now of course fear can be present as part of the play. For example a “monster” can rush at me and I get a real fright, but the soul delights in this fear. It is delicious and sought after by the soul. We can see this quite easily in children’s play. They seek situations that induce fear and we can hear the secret delight in the squeals and shrieks that are quickly followed by, “Let’s do that again!”
This is a normal aspect of play, captured so well in fairy tales which were originally for adults who could thus feel fright, even horror, all belonging within the tale itself and which thus can be safely left behind when we return to ordinary reality. But there is another fear that is the enemy of play and the imagination. This occurs when the fear is so strong that it solidifies the object of fear and the natural fluidity of the child’s imagination cannot continue. We can see this when the play gets disrupted with tears and a refusal to go on, or maybe toys get destroyed. The “monster” threatens to break out of its “fluid image” status of reality and become a “solid thing” in ordinary outer reality.
We can see that the dream brings together play, delight, laughter, beauty, with flying (levity) and a kind of fluidity in the world where objects can therefore be penetrated (walls, bodies, etc.) Obviously, if we take this “pairing” literally then we lose the meaning. I can laugh, and be delighted, in positive reality without being able to penetrate walls or people. Neither do I fly. But in the dream I did! And it was very convincing. The dream had a compelling quality to it. I was not to equivocate about the experience while in the dream. While in the dream I really did fly and penetrate walls etc.
We can see in children’s play a similar quality of reality. Objects do fluidly shift in meaning, becoming this now and now that, without complication. And children often “levitate” during play, much to their shock when they step off the table and come crashing down. You can see that they were really flying in “play reality” and momentarily lost sight of their co-existence in ordinary outer reality. I think falling out of bed during a flying dream (“coming down to earth”) is very similar. In fact we can sometimes be jolted awake by a strong sense of dropping or falling, implying that we were flying in what we call the dream state.
If we take these facts seriously for a moment, then we can see that flying dreams, or the play state, when we are in them as one figure among many, are showing a different reality, one that is no longer available to us in ordinary waking life. Upon awakening we fall back into our normal self-awareness and the world also contracts into its normal state of solidity. Children appear to have access to this alternate reality in waking life through the “magic” of play, for a while, but as the velveteen rabbit found out from the nursery magic fairy, “When [toys] are old and worn out and the children don’t need them anymore, then I come and take them away with me…”
So far then we know that to take such dreams literally violates our present reality of positivism and also that to regard them as belonging only to the world of childhood, is merely to generate nostalgia and little else.
There is another response, another way!
Flying dreams can teach us that there are other realities that we once inhabited (childhood, and as well, our deep past). This teaching immediately opens the question of whether positivism, our current reality, is as absolute as we might think. It is beyond the scope of this essay to explore the implications of this statement but we can say here that “flying” dreams, if taken seriously, open up the entire question of the evolution of consciousness and its corollary, of the world. It turns out we can conclude that positivism and its correlative world of solidity is not absolute but relative to history. Our present world of sharply defined objects and equally sharp self-awareness, separated from each other by a gulf is a historical development. They simultaneously emerged out of former statuses of consciousness and world. These considerations can have an effect of giving our present lives meaning when we realize we did not come into existence as psychological beings, out of nothing, but instead we emerged out of a long series of historical transformations in the structure of consciousness and world.
The second teaching from such dreams is that past forms of consciousness and world appearing now as “flying” dreams are not gone forever, but are still present to us as psychological presences. Our past is still present to us in our dreams and thus available to us in some way, in experience. We are not cut off forever from our past, i.e., from our past being. One reason this may be hard to believe is that “flying dreams” present themselves often in positivistic images, i.e., those forms that we associate with outer, waking life (my solid body, other solid, sharply defined objects).
So we tend to dismiss the reality of such dreams since they collide with what we know is real today, i.e., positive reality. This where the other habit I mentioned, of clinging to the familiar is relevant to “flying” dreams. If we see ourselves flying “in” our solid body form in a dream, we reduce the image to the familiar, i.e., literally flying, and are therefore forced to reject the dream’s reality (“flying”). What is necessary here is to overcome that habit of clinging to the familiar. It is the flying that is unfamiliar and it is the corresponding fluidity of the world that is unfamiliar so, if we focus on these unfamiliar qualities, along with our knowledge that we are dealing with a psychologically real state of affairs, then we can ask how we may wakefully and deliberately re-enter such a state, psychologically, i.e., in such a way that its reality gains the same status as our current ordinary reality but is not conflated or confused with that ordinary reality.
In asking this question, and putting it this way, we are entering the domain of art and creativity. There is a domain of creativity that artists, and others, are quite aware of and seek with deliberate intent—a domain that seems to contravene the laws governing our positive reality, yet which has great convincing power. Again, a huge topic, but perhaps the taste here may whet your appetite for more.