I began to lucid dream as a teenager sent off to boarding school. It was a perfect learning environment: since the world around me was so controlled and defined, I felt powerless over my external experience. At the same time, my inner life was just beginning to blossom. If I wanted adventure, I had to find it within my own mind.
One day my art teacher, Cecil, taught our class yoga nidra. In yoga nidra, the practitioner falls asleep yet remains fully aware. He called it a relaxation exercise and only years later did I understand the context of what we had practiced as yoga or meditation. We all lay down on our backs, arms extended, and followed Cecil’s instructions as our conscious minds moved deep into the hidden layers of our unconscious and subconscious. It was amazing.
Later that night, no longer in a meditative state but just going about strict, boarding-school life, I had a series of epiphanies about who I am, why I do the things I do, and how I can better control myself. It was clear to me that the ideal lever in the complex cogs of personal growth and self discipline is enhanced self awareness. Without the momentary glimpse into the depths of the mind that yoga nidra had provided, I would not have made such fast progress.
The first two things I did in my pursuit of lucid dreaming was purchase Stephen LaBerge’s book, Lucid Dreaming, and start a dream journal.
I was perfectly disciplined in making contributions to my dream journal. As the pages filled, my ability to recall dreams became stronger and stronger until I was remembering four or five dreams each night, in vivid detail.
While it was a hassle to wake up and record dreams so often, losing maybe an hour of sleep each night, it was worth it. This discipline single-handedly increased the fidelity of the dreamworld and made it possible to attain some level of familiarity. As my habit of performing state tests and questioning reality was ingrained, becoming lucid in the dream world became inevitable.
I had been hyping up this goal of mine for weeks, maybe months, and was taken aback by the qualities of my first lucid dream. It felt so ordinary. It felt normal, as if being conscious in the dream world is how life might naturally be. It was not so exciting, but typical.
When I woke up in my dormitory bed I felt this mixture of excitement for what I had accomplished, and an expected coolness. I kept writing down my dreams, I further ingrained the habit of questioning if I was dreaming, and moved on.
I had a series of lucid dreams where I quickly woke up after becoming lucid. I was too excited — I needed to stay calm, but I didn’t know how.
Then in one lucid dream, upon becoming lucid, I felt a sudden impulse to look deeper into the dreamscape and watch details emerge and the definitions and textures deepen. This was the key to remaining lucid: immediately upon realizing that this is a dream, strengthen and engage the dream world by paying very close attention to every detail.
In that same dream I went flying for the first time. I willfully lifted myself into the sky, like Peter Pan, understanding that my imagination and confidence form the boundary of what is possible.
Shortly thereafter I had a sexual experience while lucid dreaming, and learned a valuable lesson: indulging desires in the dream world comes along with all of their real-life consequences. I felt personally embarrassed with myself for being so narrow in the application of my will, as if I had missed the whole reason I was learning to lucid dream due to one simple impulse. Flying was more fulfilling. Facing fears was more fulfilling. Cultivating self-awareness was more fulfilling.
After developing some proficiency in lucid dreaming and exploring what’s possible, it quickly became evident that the real benefit of lucid dreaming is neither exciting nor glamorous. The best part is just being more self aware.
Most of our personal problems lie at the periphery of our conscious experience. Lucid dreaming — and improved awareness of dreamtime in general — brings these challenges and insights to a conscious level, making it easier to evolve in the ways we want to.
Every gardener can attest to this truth: just being aware of a problem oftentimes solves it.
I gradually stopped practicing lucid dreaming, although continued to have flashes of lucidity. I think I was tired of writing down so many dreams, and as my interest waned, my attention shifted elsewhere. One of the keys to lucid dreaming is really wanting to do it — an intention is half of the battle. From an intention, our attention points toward the goal and then it’s almost inevitable that we succeed, especially with something so imaginative and perspective-oriented as lucid dreaming.
Years later I began studying yoga with my teacher, N, at a small, Buddhist university in the US. We were studying dream yoga, and N told me and the class after reading from a sutra or ancient text, that karma is impacted 10 or 100 times more in a dream than in waking life. We can clear out karma, or form new karma, particularly when we are conscious in the dream world. So if one is to awaken in the dream world, they’re advised to meditate, as progress is sped up 10 or 100 fold.
Over the next few weeks I again had lucid dreams, and I followed my teacher’s advice. Meditating in the dream world felt incredible — not just amazingly joyous, but also fulfilling and profound, as if there was nothing better one could possibly do.
Now I am retraining myself to lucid dream.
I feel like life is shorter than ever before. Days pass, and then months pass, and I don’t want to squander these few moments of being awake and present on planet earth. Our lives are remarkable and wondrous, but they are short. Lucid dreaming allows me to move through life more slowly, to make the most out of each day (or night), to be maximally present.
As I build up the tools and techniques to lucid dream, I’m surprised at how much easier the whole process has become. Part of it is that my yoga and meditation practice has made working with the substance of the mind easier. But mostly, approaching lucid dreaming again with a fresh perspective — with a beginner’s mind, and with a little bit of confidence — makes everything more clear and obvious.
My main techniques are as follows…
1 / Write down dreams every night. At least one, but ideally all of them. One trick here is to remain motionless immediately upon waking up — once we move our bodies, we shake off the residue of the dreamworld.
2 / Question reality and perform state tests. I built an iPhone app with Am-I-Dreaming reminders, and I receive between 1 and 4 reminders randomly each day. Each time I get a reminder, or each time I experience some oddity in the world around me, I perform a state test. For state tests, I look at text twice and see if it has changed, or I try to fly, or I try to change some feature of the environment using my imagination.
3 / Deepen awareness by meditating.
4 / Before falling asleep, perform a resolve-strengthening exercise like forming a sankalpa (Sanksrit: “determination” or “intention”). This helps dream recall and also induces lucid dreaming.
5 / In the middle of the day, practice yoga nidra. This is the most consistent way to induce a lucid dream.
Thanks for tuning in to my journey with lucid dreaming. I hope that it serves your personal journey and inspires you to go deeper.