Lucid Dreaming Boosts Wellbeing
Before I reveal my tips on how to have a lucid dream and what to do when you’re there, first, I have a very timely tale to share. I initially wrote this blog post a couple of weeks ago and I’ve returned to it today after what happened last night.
A juicy dream
Last night I had a mild nightmare. In the dream, I was with my daughter in a department store. She kept running off and I was struggling to keep hold of her. Every time I found her, she ran away so quickly and vanished. It was awful. I was extremely distressed, anxious that I’d lost her forever.
However, the way she just kept vanishing, it seemed ridiculous, unbelievable, I realised how crazy the scenario was – the way she was darting around and suddenly vanishing just wasn’t real – and also I didn’t recognise this wood-panelled and dated department store, I’d never been here before. Hang on, I never go into department stores anyway? Let alone with my spirited toddler.
I froze. I looked around me and then said out loud in the dream: “This isn’t real. This is a lucid dream, this is a lucid dream!”.
Instantly, the stress left me, I was filled with joy. Partly because I haven’t had a lucid dream for a few weeks, and secondly, I was relived to be unburdened by this stressful situation, this was all just a dream. My wellbeing instantly improved. I let her go, so to speak, and just stayed in the situation, observing how I was feeling and what was around me.
I was in an old fashioned elevator but I sensed that I couldn’t get out, that the doors wouldn’t open, and if they did, they would lead me to the wrong floor. But because I was lucid, I knew this wasn’t an issue. This was a lucid dream and I could gently steer my way out of this. Instead of finding an exit to lower floors, I just stepped through the wall (yes, you can do this in a lucid dream, it’s so trippy!), and into another place. (I can’t remember where it took me but I didn’t plummet to my demise.)
I then asked the dream to take me to Barbados, The Bahamas, the Caribbean. I wanted to see the beach.
Surprisingly, instead, my subconscious had other ideas. I was taken to the basement. There were lots of strange objects there. Small creatures made from brown and beige play dough. Like those animated characters from CBeebies! But they were faceless, moving around in a strange way. I felt petrified of them, fearful and a bit grossed-out!
My first instinct was to leave. I also felt a bit robbed that I’d asked to visit a beach and I was faced with this cellar-full of creatures squirming around the floor by my feet.
Aha, amazing, I suddenly realised. These creatures are my shadow self – a Jungian term -the things about oneself that we repress or hide, the things we need to love in order for them to be integrated and to heal. (It’s a sure sign that you’re facing your ‘shadow self’ if you’re either fearful or disgusted by something in a dream, usually it’s something you want to avoid or get away from, like a nightmare!) We all have a shadow side, whether we realise it or not. So to be aware of it is great and if you can access it via a dream, you’re half way to integrating it, and accepting it. If you do, these ‘hidden aspects’ won’t suddenly pop up in your life and give you grief when you least expect it! Or something like that.
So instead of running away from them – pushing away these undesirables – I bent down and picked up each one like I would a kitten and tried to cuddle or at least ‘hold’ these wiggling blobs!
I know, this sounds totally crazy! But trust me, I’m speaking from first-hand experience. (This is what Charlie Morley, expert in his field, recommends you do when faced by a ‘shadow dream’.) By embracing these ‘creatures’, well, you’re healing something that needs addressing. Goodness knows what this represented, but for me, it was probably something that occurred when I lived in the Caribbean a few years ago). By doing so, there was some serious healing going on, or at least, some sort of internal resolution taking place.
This is just one small example of how lucid dreaming can help. Firstly, it can help you overcome stressful dreams or nightmares. Secondly, whatever your dream content, you can gently navigate to other places that you’d like to explore. Because I’ve had some practice, my dream decided to show me something other than a beach (!) and I’m glad it did. I knew what to do and how to approach it so that was all cool. You won’t need to venture here on your first few lucid dreaming experiences, unless you want to. You can keep it simple, fun and practical if you like!
If you’re new to lucid dreaming this might all seem far out or a bit much, so let me take you back a few steps.
My Lucid Dreaming Story
I’ve been lucid dreaming since I was a child but only realised that it was ‘a thing’ ten years ago. Circa 2010, when my Dad attended a workshop in London with Charlie Morley and he came home with his notes from the day – I soaked them up. The following week I started having lucid dreams again like I did as a child and teenager, and was able to tap into them using the techniques he’d learned on this workshop.
I was living in London at the time and started attending drop-ins at the then ‘Dream Academy’ in Euston held by Charlie. Since then I’ve taken part in a couple of workshops and retreats, including the most incredible experience on Holy Isle. I’ve also received a lot of insight from Charlie Morley’s books.
My life has changed since I started practicing lucid dreaming. I’ve used it to explore my inner world, to help solve dilemmas, asked for guidance, it’s inspired the pamphlet of poems I’m currently writing and it helped me during post-natal depression. It’s also very recently helped my little girl with the nightmares she’s been having about dragons.
What is lucid dreaming?
So what actually is lucid dreaming? Lucid dreaming isn’t when you have really vivid and memorable dreams, although this does help when starting a lucid dreaming practice. Lucid dreaming is when you are aware that you are dreaming. When this happens, you’re able to participate in your dream and have some sort of conscious involvement or gentle influence. Some people choose to fly above the rooftops, others use it for their wellbeing, for things like healing (such as reiki), and many even use it to practice a skill such as breakdancing or yoga.
Lucid dreaming is basically a window into your subconscious mind and an opportunity to connect with a deeper resource within you. It’s effectively a tool to improve your wellbeing. Charlie uses a great analogy: Think of an iceberg, the top 10% floating above water is our conscious mind and the bottom part the 90%, hiding under the water is the unconscious mind. There’s so much more we can tap into, whether your motivation is to use your inner well to induce your creativity, learn how to surf or to overcome a fear such as public speaking.
First it’s important to understand a bit more about my favourite subject, sleep…
Wellbeing: Four Stages of Sleep
I’ve been obsessed with sleep, or lack of, since having my little girl. It’s the key to maintaining your wellbeing for sure. There are four stages of sleep and it’s important to get all four!
- Hypnogogic state: This is just as you are dropping off to sleep. You are dozy and your body will sometimes jerk. Dreams comes after the jerks! This is alpha sleep.
- Light restless sleep: If you become lucid in this sleep state, there is a grey-blackness as this space contains no dreams. If lucid in this space, it’s best to simply meditate (if you can manage this, this is quite a profound state to rest in) But I’m getting way ahead of myself!
- Delta wave sleep is deep sleep: The body and mind restores itself, muscles grow in delta wave. It can be difficult to wake someone in this state.
- Dreaming Sleep: 90 minutes in each wave. Replicates throughout the night. Last two hours of sleep is most common for lucid dreams.
How to Have a Lucid Dream
Here are a few techniques that I’ve learnt from Charlie and things that have worked well for me in the past:
Keep a dream diary. Write down any snippets you remember as soon as you wake up. Your recall will be best at this point. The more you do this, the more you will train your mind to remember your dreams. The more you remember your dreams, the easier it will be to notice when you’re actually dreaming.
Practise mindfulness or mediation: This isn’t essential but it helps! The more aware you are of your thoughts, the more present in the moment you can be and the calmer and more awareness you have, the easier it will be to be aware you’re dreaming. Basically, if you’re aware and mindful in your waking state then it will be easier to be like this within a dream.
Daytime affirmations: During the daylight hours, repeat to yourself at various points of the day positive affirmations to encourage lucid dreaming: “Tonight I will lucid dream”
Am I dreaming?: During the day make a habit of doing two things. Firstly, ask yourself out loud “Am I dreaming?”. You can do this at random points or during an unusual dream-like part of your day. Say for example you see a celebrity walking down the street or something unusual happens on your commute. Say to yourself – am I dreaming? The idea is that, the next time you see something unusual, say in an actual dream, you’ll remember to ask yourself – am I dreaming? This may then wake you up within your dream! So that you’re fully conscious of what’s happening in your dream. What a feeling!
Reality checks: Although dreams can seem very realistic sometimes, there are often some tale tail signs that you are dreaming. The key is to understand how you can actually test whether you are dreaming. So that, if you find a moment of awareness in your dreams, you can test out whether your are in waking life or in a dream. The hand test was very beneficial to me in the early years of lucid dreaming. Simply look at your outstretched hands, look away form them, then look back at your hand. In reality you see the same thing, right? (Hopefully you will.) But in a dream, when you look back the second time at your outstretched hand, your hand will look slightly different. This is because your mind can’t replicate an exact copy second time around! The other check is to knock with your hand on a door or a table. Do this in waking life – especially during a surreal moment or dream-like part of your day. In a dream, if you knock on a door or table with your fist, you’ll find that your table isn’t as solid or the sound isn’t realistic.
7 Reality Checks in a Lucid Dream
If you think you might be dreaming and having a lucid dream, here are some things you can do in your dream to test your theory! I learnt these on the Holy Isle Retreat a few years ago.
- Look at your palm, look away, look back again, twice, in quick succession
- Pull your finger in your waking state (in a lucid dream it will stretch)
- Stick finger through other palm / hand (have the expectation in the dream you have to believe in them)
- Try and read text
- Digital things such as iPhone display will look strange
- Every time something dream-like happens in reality do a reality check “Am I dreaming?”
- Colombo Method:
- Look for clues – where am I?
- Work backwards – how did I get here?
Things to do in a lucid dream
- Explore other lands. You can ask the dream to take you places – somewhere you like to visit in reality or ask it to show you the galaxy. You might be surprised by what you see!
- Ask for healing or to meet a spirit guide
- Practise a skill e.g. karate, break dancing, ballet, yoga. If you can do this in a lucid dream, you’ll be surprised when you wake – whatever you practise in a dream, will be amplified in reality! People have practised things like breakdancing before in a lucid dream and woken to find they’ve mastered the moves!
- Meditate! Practise mindfulness or meditation. You’ll probably wake feeling super charged and your practise will be amplified – you’ll reap 10 times the benefits, as anything you do within a lucid dream counts as triple if not more! (Can’t remember the stat)
- Ask the dream a question or make a gentle request. Avoid asking a dream character (a person in your dream) as you may receive a skewed answer, your projection of what you think that type of person would say to you. For example, if your Mum pops up in your dream and you say: “Should I marry that guy?” You might get the sort of response you’d expect from your Mum instead of perhaps what you really want for yourself. Instead, ask a wide open space or the sky.
- Show me something important; what should I do next; should I buy that house we saw yesterday; show me the meaning of life; what job would satisfy me most.
Tip of the Iceberg
I really have only touched on a few of the basics here. For more, I’d really recommend buying Charlie’s books. Starting with Lucid Dreaming: A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming Conscious in Your Dreams.
Have you had any experiences with lucid dreaming? Or do you have any tips or hints for encouraging lucid dreams?