lu·cid – Adjective – characterized by clear perception or understanding; rational or sane: a lucid moment in his madness.
A lucid dream is defined simply as “a dream in which you know you are dreaming.” In my experience, however, it goes much deeper than that.
For me, a lucid dream is like falling through an open window into another world. Just for a moment, like being inside of an oil painting or swimming underwater.
One moment, you’re laying in your bed, the next you’re walking down a familiar sidewalk at night, and you can smell the warm air and hear your footsteps and look around and know that what you’re seeing is just as real as anything else.
But it’s always difficult to move in that dream world. As I said, it feels like being underwater. And then, after a short time, either the lucid dream bleeds into a real one and I lose consciousness, or I wake up.
I’ve only done this a handful of times, and it’s ridiculously difficult to hold onto consciousness while in this state. Perhaps that’s why things feel “slow.”
Anyway, this is referred to as a Wake Induced Lucid Dream: when you “fall” directly into a lucid dream as you fall asleep, entering a hypnagogic state, minus the sleep paralysis (I’ve never suffered sleep paralysis).
The Science Behind Lucid Dreaming
Which, I’ll admit, makes me wonder if what I’ve done is actually lucid dreaming or something else entirely.
That’s the thing about my dreams in general: I never do anything I can’t in real life, never see anything fantastic. I never fly. My dreams are grounded in a disappointing way.
At any rate, Wikipedia contains a decent summary of the (potential) Neurobiological underpinnings of a lucid dream experience. “The first step to lucid dreaming is recognizing one is dreaming,” it states, “This recognition might occur in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is one of the few areas deactivated during REM sleep and where working memory occurs.”
After that, it’s a tightrope walk of allowing the dream to continue, but remaining “conscious enough to remember that it is a dream.”
Normal dreams typically occur during REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement). This is when your eyes move in quick, rapid flicks, and your brain activity is high enough to mimic the awake state. These dreams often occur multiple times during sleep, making up about two hours of an eight-hour sleep cycle. Usually, the dreamer is not aware that he or she is dreaming.
A lucid dream, on the other hand, occurs when the dreamer becomes consciously aware that he or she is dreaming. This can happen for a variety of reasons, which we’ll look at in a moment. Just remember: the dream state is very nearly identical to the awake state, in regards to brain activity.
How To Induce A Lucid Dream
The usual induction of a lucid dream appears to involve a series of “checks,” almost like Cobb’s spinning top in the movie Inception.
Counting fingers, checking the time. The key is to perform these checks throughout the day in your waking life, so when you perform them in a dream state and things are “off,” you’ll know you’re dreaming. This is sometimes referred to as “reality testing” or “reality checks.”
The other key is to keep a journal of your nightly dreamscapes, so you’ll begin to distinguish your reality from your dreams. Grab a notebook, and as soon as you awake, you write down everything you dreamed about during the night.
Finally, there are Mnemonically Induced Lucid Dreams, in which the dreamer, as he or she falls asleep, thinks about a recent dream and consistently tells him/herself that what’s coming will just be a dream. It’s all about reinforcing the idea that it’s all illusory and you can control it.
I imagine that, through practice of the above methods, you should be able to experience a lucid dream if you haven’t already. Some people don’t appear to have any trouble with it at all.
In My Other World
I have a slight problem with the above methods, though. Like I said, nothing out of the ordinary ever seems to happen in my dreams, so I’m not sure reality checks would do any good. Wake Induced Lucid Dreaming it is, then, even though I can’t control them very well.
However, the simple fact that lucid dreaming is possible makes me wonder about the reality of things. If a dream can feel just as real as the “real world,” could it be possible that the “real world” is, itself, imaginary? Or could our dreams be just as real as our waking life?
Possibly, as the odds you’re dreaming at any given moment are 1 in 10. Well, maybe.
Naturally, our brains must showcase some consistency for our conscious minds to make sense of the world; there can only be one “true” world. From our personal, individual perspectives, anyway.
But when you can simply close your eyes and “awake” inside your own mind, in a place that feels just as tangible as this one…well, like I said, it makes you wonder.