Lucid Dreams [Rubric States of Consciousness
Discover the art of lucid dreaming, which is the ability to be aware and intentionally interact within the dream while it is unfolding
The first time is never forgotten.
This principle is valid for many areas, not just when making love for the first time.
In my case, it certainly applies to my first lucid dream as welldozen years have already passed, yet the memory is indelible and has inspired me over time to explore the fascinating world of lucid dreams.
How I had my first lucid dream
I had my first lucid dream using a technological device.
I later learned how to do without it, but the first few times, I used an electronic device, called Redreamed.
But at the time I used this device, so I’m describing it to you for completeness of the information (and not as advice). There are various brands; I mention it simply because that’s what I had.
This device is a mask to wear at night, equipped with sensors that detect your eye movements.
In addition to this, on the device, there are luminous LEDs, corresponding to the eyes.
The sensor detects through your eye movements when you are dreaming, and emits light signals through LEDs.
If you can set the brightness and frequency of these signals so that you can see them while you are dreaming without waking up, you can recognize that you are in a dream, and therefore you have access to lucid dreaming.
The difficulty lies in finding the right settings.
The first few times, it was complicated: either the light was too bright, and I woke up, or it was too low, and nothing happened.
Until one day, I hit the perfect blend of ingredients, and I had my first lucid dream.
My first lucid dream
Going up from the floor to floor, I came to a large empty room, with all the windows that let you see a beautiful view of a city.
I stopped spellbound to observe this panorama when, to my amazement, I saw a red flash.
The whole scene went red for a moment.
Amazement and wonder in looking around and recognizing that it is all a dream, yet to realize that we are completely awake and alert as during wakefulness.
I was stunned and turned to my dream partner, who with a look confirmed my intuition.
Then, looking around, in that immense and empty floor of the skyscraper, I saw everything with new eyes.
With extreme joy, I turned to the window, spellbound to observe what I saw.
“This is a dream. It’s incredible”. I told myself.
And then, without even thinking about it, I made a gesture with my hand on the window. Like when you try to clean the condensation on a fogged glass to see through.
The gesture of the hand completely changed the landscape.
I no longer saw the profile of a city, but now I was in front of the Grand Canal of Venice at sunset, with a nuance of evanescence that made it all wonderful.
The incredible thing is that I had created it, intentionally, with that gesture.
I hadn’t thought rationally “now I create the panorama of the Grand Canal”, but everything happened instantly, immediately.
The intention has become, in real-time, something, that is, precisely what I wanted.
“This is incredible,” I told myself.
The window was also gone. I then started circling the canal suspended in mid-air, exploring this dream world.
My first lucid dream ended shortly after, I woke up with enthusiasm and excitement.
A delicate condition
I discovered over time that this is the most significant difficulty: being able to maintain a state of activation that is below the threshold of awakening.
Too little, and nothing happens, the dream passes, and you barely remember it.
Too much, and you wake up in an instant.
Because of their temporary condition, my relationship with lucid dreams was, for the first time, a love-hate approach.
On the one hand, I craved them, on the other, they ruined my sleep with constant awakenings in my various nocturnal experiments.
Learning to have lucid dreams takes a lot of patience and a lot of frustration tolerance.
But it is certainly worth it: lucid dreaming is a gateway to intense states of consciousness.
After various experiments, I abandoned electronic devices and devoted myself to the classic techniques for lucid dreaming (we will see them later), and the relationship has changed.
The thing that allowed us to make friends with this state of consciousness was certainly having included lucid dreaming within a broader context.
That is, having recognized their position within a path of development of consciousness.
But let’s go step by step. Let’s start by asking ourselves the question: what is a lucid dream?
Not when you wake up and remember the vision you had, but when you are “awake” within the invention.
Technically you are still dreaming, but awareness is awake, it is awakened within the dream.
The dream generally unfolds its plot in a confused, opaque way.
In lucid dreaming, on the other hand, self-consciousness is present in a similar way to the waking state, only the world it comes into contact with is the oneiric one, not the physical one.
The ability to reason, remember, intentionality and self-awareness are active, just as they are waking.
The world of dreams is made of the stuff of dreams, and is not limited by the laws of physics, but is open to the pure and infinite potential of fantasy.
This makes the world of lucid dreams a territory of great charm for those who decide to explore it consciously.
The premise of everything you will read in this article is that lucid dreams are not altered conditions of consciousness. They are part of the natural repertoire of man’s states of consciousness.
Lucid dreams can happen naturally: 20-80% of lucid dreams reported by people happen spontaneously, although their manifestation in a continuous spontaneous way is relatively rare.
Furthermore, the history of lucid dreams is very ancient, a sign that this state of consciousness has accompanied the human being since the dawn of his development.
The first to talk about it (in the West) is none other than Aristotle, who quotes as follows:
“Often, when you sleep, something happens to your conscience, and this shows how what you have in front of your eyes is nothing more than a dream.”[Aristotle]
The word “lucid” associated with that of a dream, on the other hand, is relatively recent. The first to coin the term lucid dream was psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden in 1913.
He is also credited with having coined the term oneironautics, that is, the study and practices useful for waking up within the dream.
Just as aeronautics is the science that studies flight …
What a lucid dream is not
To better define what a lucid dream is, it is useful to say what it is not.
It is not a clear memory of a dream
When you wake up and correctly remember the drive you just ended, you are awake.
You have a clear memory of what you dreamed of, but you are waking.
The dream has passed. Although straightforward, it is a memory.
It is not a vivid dream
You can have a very vivid imagination, even an intense one from this point of view, and still, be asleep while you are doing it.
Vivid doesn’t mean lucid, although most lucid dreams are also very striking.
To learn more »The four qualities of experience.
It is not half awake and half asleep
In the intermediate states of consciousness between sleep and wakefulness (and vice versa) you are in a particular condition, hybrid from a certain point of view.
These two states are called hypnagogic (between wakefulness and sleep) and hypnopompic (between sleep and wakefulness). These are boundary conditions, very different from lucid dreaming, which happens entirely inside the dream state.
What are lucid dreams
In the ordinary state of consciousness when a person falls asleep, he loses the continuity of awareness. During the night various things happen (see Introduction of the section on States of Consciousness), and the person awakens in the morning and regains self-awareness.
This generally happens upon awakening: self-consciousness returns.
Sometimes there is a memory of what happened during the night of sleep, sometimes the memory vanishes and a blackout remains, an interruption in the person’s life
Just as in the morning you wake up and make contact with your body, with your bedroom and the surrounding environment, in a lucid dream you “wake up” and make contact with the dream world, with all its whims.
You are aware of yourself within the dream, and you know that what you are experiencing is a dream.
In the ordinary dream, the dreamer perceives himself contained in the dream. In lucid dreaming, the dreamer is aware that he is a container, and that he includes the contents of the dream.
We can call lucid dreams “conscious dreams”. I prefer this term, but I adapt to the common trend that associates awareness with clarity.
Lucidity is the opposite of opacity.
Being a skill of the human being, keeping yourself aware within the dream does not have the all-nothing characteristic.
It is a continuum of the degree of awareness that one can have in lucid dreaming.
So let’s see the spectrum of lucidity.
The spectre of lucidity
Just as the ability to be aware has gradations of intensity, so too the ability to have lucid dreams can be mastered in varying degrees of mastery.
We can define four stages of lucidity.
You are in a state of lucidity when, within the dream, you begin to notice the anomalies of the dream world, questioning what you are experiencing.
As we will see, this inquiring ability is a prerequisite for awakening within the dream.
At this stage, while you are dreaming, you have moments where you become aware of yourself and the dream, but they are intermittent.
Awareness wakes up for a while but then is again distracted and kidnapped by the dream.
3- Full lucidity
It is the state of full awareness in the dream: you can think clearly and intentionally interact with the dream scenario and its characters.
You are aware that you are dreaming and you can orient the dream to your liking, changing scenes or objects.
4- Super gloss
The term was coined by Robert Wagoner and Ed Kellogg (two oneironaut researchers) and described the condition in which the individual interacts consciously and intentionally with the dream, as in the previous stage. Still, in addition to this, he is at the same time aware that the reality of the invention is a purely mental construction.
In the stage of full lucidity, one interacts with the dream reality as if it were the physical reality of the waking state.
In super lucidity in this interaction, you are also aware that everything you are experiencing is a dream created by the mind.
I’ll give you an example to clarify the difference between full lucidity and super-lucidity.
In the dream, you find yourself in front of a door. In the state of super lucidity, you know that you are in a plan, that the door is a mental representation, and you open it to see what is on the other side. You open it as if it were a real door, although you are aware that you are inside the dream.
In the super lucidity in front of that door, you are aware of how the mind creates the door you are seeing. You are aware of the processes that bring the door to be there in front of you, and therefore you can interact with them and change the scenario.
You can, if you wish, go through the door without opening it, for example. Or you can make it disappear.
In short, you can interact with the dream world in a plastic way, modelling it with the intention, because you master the processes that support it.
Linear progression or not?
These four stages manifest themselves as a progression of the person’s ability to be aware during the dream.
This does not mean that, unpredictably, a person can temporarily jump from the condition of lucidity to that of super lucidity, perhaps for just one dream.
These “jumps” are occasional and unpredictable, as it was for me in my first lucid dream that I described in the Introduction.
One is consolidated on the other; stages are not skipped.
The ability to question what you are experiencing during the dream is a skill you develop while awake.
The more you do it while awake, the more automatic it becomes while you dream.
So let’s see what reality tests consist of.
In the waking state, you are in contact with physical reality, which is subject (at least on a macroscopic level) to the laws of cause and effect and has a temporal continuity.
For example, if you look at a table, then you remove your gaze, and again you bring your watch back to where it was initially, the table is still there, it has not disappeared, and it has not changed.
In the dream, this is not taken for granted.
In the dream, there are anomalies concerning these linear and continuous behaviours. Being a purely mental construction, the dream world has no physical laws that bind it, and it can also be discontinuous.
Here then is that getting used to, when awake, to bring attention to specific elements, “installs” the mental attitude and the habit of making these checks even in the dream, recognizing the anomalies.
Noticing an anomaly while you are dreaming is a potential trigger for awakening within the dream and having a lucid dream. These “checks” are called “reality tests”.
Why do reality checks work?
The reality check triggers three significant changes to your lifestyle.
It gets you used to question the reality of what you are experiencing, installing an inquiring and attentive attitude.
Attention is precisely the element that makes the difference in having a lucid dream.
Doing reality tests means keeping vigilant attention and focused on the investigation.
The third way reality tests work positively is that they increase the capacity of prospective memory.
Like when you say to yourself “when I pass the ATM, I must remember to withdraw” and keep this intention in mind. You create a mental association between two events and keep it in that area of memory which, when the specific event occurs, is activated.
When you pass the ATM, if your prospective memory is trained, you remember to withdraw.
Likewise, if every time you pass a door you get used to taking a reality check, this will also be done when you pass through an entry in the dream, increasing the likelihood of recognition of the invention.
Why it is essential to learn to dream clearly
The idea of exploring the world of lucid dreams may seem to someone just a playful extravaganza. A fun little game and little more.
It is undoubtedly a pleasant and fun activity, but it is not only for recreational purposes.
To have more awareness
The habit of doing reality tests is linked to the verification of the internal state moment by moment. This ability is closely related to self-awareness.
So, an answer to “why should I commit myself to dream clearly?” is:
To dissolve mental patterns
Another reason to commit to lucid dreaming is that ordinary dreams tend to consolidate one’s prejudices. Standard dream processing tends to validate one’s vision of the world, of oneself and the other human being.
By learning to direct the events in the dream intentionally, you have a way to modify these patterns, and thus learn to recognize and change them even while awake.
Because it is an evolutionary step
Finally, conscious dreaming is a significant evolutionary stage in the progression between the sets of states.
Being able to maintain awareness in this state is a significant achievement; it means that the centre of gravity of conscious vigilance has moved out of the waking state into the dream state.
The progression of the stages of thigh states
It’s not an endpoint, it’s still an intermediate step in the passage, and we’ll see it later.
The stuff of dreams
Learning to dream opens a window to the possibility of understanding more deeply the reality you live.
It becomes evident that what the dream world is made of has elements in common with what “constructs” your experience of the world while awake.
Quoting the pioneer in lucid dreaming studies, Stephen La Berge, we can say that dreaming is a type of perception not limited by sensory data.
That is, what you perceive in the dream is made up of mental formations, patterns and associations.
While awake, the process of perception of reality that you experience subjectively has this component; sensory data-bound only that perception.
There is one more constraint; the process is never the same.
The two states are equivalent:
from a subjective point of view, everything you perceive – awake or in a dream – is a construction of your nervous system. In the two states, only the methods and data that are processed change.
During the waking state, what you experience subjectively is a mixture between the processing of incoming sensory data and your mental patterns associated with stimuli, and your expectations or memories.
By mental schemes, we mean well-grounded assumptions about an event, object or situation.
Let’s take an example: if you are awake observing an apple, you have visual data entering your optical channel, even olfactory if you smell it, tactile if you touch it, and so on.
To these data are added, unconsciously and automatically, your mental schemes, expectations, judgments towards apples. So you not only observe the apple, but you also have an elaboration of mental associations and memories.
The two elaborations co-occur.
Those who study these processes call the two ways of processing bottom-up (that of sensory data) and top-down (that of mental schemes, associations and memories).
What you experience subjectively is generally a mixture of both channels.
What happens is that in this subjective elaboration the channel of mental developments is usually not recognized, it is mistaken for something real, it is reified (a technical term which means “taken as true”).
Subjectively it is real because you are experiencing it, you are feeling it.
But it is a pattern or a memory or an association that can be changed because it is constructed subjectively by your mind.
Let me explain with another example, simplifying as much as possible the elements involved (in reality, things are more complicated than that, but I am interested that you understand the underlying principle).
Suppose a man with a red beard abused a woman. A mental pattern will easily remain in her that associates a man’s red beard and hair with a dangerous condition.
The next time she meets a man with a red beard, she will be led to stay away, not even knowing why. He may even have forgotten the memory of violence entirely. Still, this memorized pattern will act on his subjective perception by adding the red beard he is seeing in a man to his association and mental practice.
For further information »The six types of unconscious
The man in front of him is perhaps the meekest person in this world, but she perceives him as threatening, without even knowing why.
And this perception, for her, who experiences it, is real, as much as the red beard she is seeing.
I think it is clear how important it is to uncover this mechanism and become aware of it.
And lucid dreaming is an incredibly effective method of unmasking these patterns.
Because in lucid dreaming, what you experience is not bound by sensory data, and everything you perceive is guided precisely by these patterns.
It is the mental processing schemes that guide the dream, without the constraint of sensory processing.
Becoming aware of it within the dream allows you to:
– unveil them
– stop their automatism
– then be aware of them while they act during wakefulness.
With lucid dreaming, you put in place a real work of de-construction of the processes described above.
This allows you, while awake, to be aware of both ways processing, that of sensory data, and that of your mental processing (associations, patterns, memories…).
Distinguishing them consciously allows you to be in contact with the here and now in what you are experiencing, to break mental conditioning in real-time, just as they act and therefore to be free to choose based on the real situation.
Put: it allows you to free yourself from your conditioning consciously.
The continuity of awareness
The lucidity of the dream allows the illusion of reality to be revealed, that is, to separate the two channels of information processing that we have just seen.
By recognizing that you are present during the dream, you are more present to your conditioning during waking, and this allows you to be free to choose.
Instead of having a blackout of awareness every night, falling asleep and losing consciousness, it is possible to extend this capacity within 24 hours.
For further information »The stages of meditation
All this has the purpose of reaching the stabilization of the non-dual state, that is the condition of the unity of awareness.
The scientific evidence on lucid dreams
Until a few years ago, the scientific community was very sceptical of lucid dreaming. They seemed incompatible with the ordinary psychological model of states of consciousness, in which you are either awake or asleep (with the two options of falling asleep: either you are dreaming or you are in dreamless sleep).
What did not fit the model was viewed with scepticism. Then a researcher brilliantly and irrefutably succeeded in creating a bidirectional bridge between the two worlds (the oneiric one of the one who is dreaming lucidly and that of an external observer) thus demonstrating that conscious dreams are a reality, not a bad one—interpretation of some particular state.
This researcher is called Stephen LaBerge.
LaBerge, in an experimental condition, recorded unequivocal signs of conscious activity within the dream.
How did he do? Using the organ that in the dream is not bound by sleep paralysis, namely the eyes.
Dreaming occurs mainly during REM sleep, which indicates the condition of rapid eye movements (Rapid Eye Movement)
During REM sleep, the eyes are free to move, and they do so following rapid and seemingly chaotic movements.
In reality, the eyes follow what the person sees during the dream. If you are dreaming of watching a tennis match, your eyes will move from right to left and vice versa alternately, following the ball you are observing in your mind.
Knowing this principle well, LaBerge asked subjects to enter a lucid dream and send, through agreed eye movements, a signal to the sleep researcher who was monitoring the issue with an electroencephalogram and an oscillogram (a device that records the eye movements).
The subjects succeeded in their intent.
As soon as they entered the condition of lucid dreaming, they sent the signal: two eye movements from right to left. And then they enjoyed their dream until they woke up.
Here, lucid dreaming had been demonstrated, so unequivocally that the scientific community has since accepted it as real and has promoted a series of studies to understand it better.
It was the year 1981, and since then, many things have been learned about this fascinating state of consciousness.
Let’s see what they found.
The physiological characteristics of lucid dreams
While some types of dreaming also occur outside the REM phase, lucid dreaming appears to occur exclusively in this phase.
During lucid dreams, people tend to have more intense eye movements than in ordinary dreams, and breathing also becomes deeper. Even a small change in heartbeat often occurs.
We will see how this information will be useful as an element of study to understand how to facilitate learning the ability to dream clearly.
Lucid dreams have a variable duration, from 2 to 50 minutes.
The curious thing, concerning temporal perception, is that there is a coincidence between the perception that the person has of time inside the dream and the actual spending of time outside the dream.
Brain activity is a mixture of theta, alpha and beta waves. A component of gamma waves, generally associated with high levels of meditation, was also found in some studies.
To learn more »States of consciousness.
During lucid dreams, a healthy release of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine was detected, which is usually absent in REM sleep. This neurotransmitter is generally associated with focused attention.
There is also a strong activation of the amygdala, a brain gland that is involved in emotional integration and emotional memory.
The exciting thing about the study of lucid dreaming from a neuroscientific point of view is that since lucidity is an activation of the self-consciousness function
In lucid dreaming, awareness, reasoning ability, memory are comparable to the waking condition.
Here, by studying and comparing ordinary dreams with lucid dreaming, it has been shown that in the latter, there is greater activation of the prefrontal cortex (right dorsolateral to be precise).
This anatomical area has already been associated with higher cognitive functions thanks to other studies, and research on lucid dreaming has validated these findings.
These are the physiological characteristics of the conscious dream that we can define with certainty. The field of study is still very active so that we can expect more additions in the future.
The thing that appears clear, besides all this, is that having a lucid dream for the brain is like acting in ordinary life, in the waking condition. The only difference is that the processed signals are blocked at the spinal level.
Everything you live, you live in your mind. Yet it is as real as what you experience while awake, except clearly that the laws of physics do not bound you.
We have seen the lucid dream from the outside. Now let’s take a look inside, or what happens when you are inside a lucid dream.
How lucid dreams work
The world of lucid dreams has some peculiar characteristics.
First of all, there are no constraints. Fantasy can create infinite plots and infinite scenarios.
Yet, within this infinity of possibilities, there are common traits, elements that unite one dream to another and which we can define as “laws of lucid dreaming”.
Here are a few.
The law of mechanical malfunction
We have already seen this in the real test. Mechanical devices do not work correctly within the dream.
The law of textual confusion
This is also part of the reality check. When writings appear inside a dream, they are usually confused and illegible, or they change in real-time while you are reading them.
The law of narrative inertia
The dream is a continuous, uninterrupted flow.
If you stop during lucid dreaming, this quickly leads to awakening. For this reason, one way to stabilize awareness within the lucid dream is to continue moving within the plan.
The law of delay in cause-effect relationships
When something happens within a dream, there is a slight delay between the cause and the effect generated. It is a slight delay, so not everyone notices it, yet it exists.
There are no simultaneous events in the dream, simply because they do not happen in the physical world, but in mental simulation of the physical world.
Note that this processing delay also exists during the waking state, and was measured in 1/5 of a second, equivalent to the time it takes us to process and become aware of a stimulus. (And if we measure the time we attribute meaning to the inspiration, we need to add half-second!)
The law of self-fulfilling expectations
Whatever your intention in the dream is, it manifests itself. What you expect to happen happens; it becomes your dream reality.
It is the mental schemes that are free to act without the constraints of physical stimuli.
The law of extreme experience
Everything you pay attention to is exaggerated, magnified.
If you are afraid and you bring your attention to it, it gets bigger. If you are going up a hill and you bring your attention to it, it becomes a very steep climb.
When you keep your attention on something, it becomes more active. During waking, you have the sensory constraints that limit this aspect. At the same time, during the dream, the attention enters a sort of circular process that activates more and more associations concerning the element under the focus of attention, enlarging it excessively.
What are lucid dreams for
If you have read the article up to this point, I have certainly stimulated your curiosity on this topic. Now let’s explore the topic of lucid dreams by investigating their usefulness.
What is the use of lucid dreaming? We can group the functions of lucid dreaming into four categories.
This is the first function that comes to mind, and also the first activity you will get involved in when you learn to dream clearly.
Lucid dreaming is extremely fun, especially at the beginning.
There are no constraints, so you can wander in the fullest potential and free your fantasies of childish grandeur. After a while, this enthusiasm subsides (after a long time, to tell the truth).
Sexual fantasies here become a fun field of study and application. Research on the content of 3,500 dreams found that as many as 8% have a sexual background, so the topic is hot, for both men and women.
A curious peculiarity on this issue: in the erotic dreams of women a considerable percentage of fantasies associated with celebrities have been observed, while for men it seems that the most recurring story is that of having sexual relations with multiple partners.
Here the lucid dream offers the safe context in which to consume these fantasies.
Attention must be paid to the aspect of addiction. These are indeed fantasies and dreams, so the aim is to free and integrate these fantasies, but it has also been seen that this can, in some cases, create psychological addiction.
Someone acts as if the dream world were the reality of life, superimposing the two facts. And being free of limitations, it is also easy to fall in love with this virtual world where everything is possible, and everything is at your fingertips with extreme ease.
For further information »Spiritual bypass
dreaming can be used practically as a virtual simulator in which to learn specific skills, especially motor skills.
Through the phenomenon of neuroplasticity, it is possible, even during the dream, to wire one’s neuronal connections to increase one’s abilities.
The unconstrained world of fantasy is a great reservoir of creative resources and problem-solving.
Intuitive capacity, free from the constraint of the rational mind, can easily access brilliant creations in lucid dreaming.
There are many stories of famous artists who took their cue from a dream for their main works. Consider, for example, the classic of the writer Stephenson who had the intuition of the plot of his most famous book, that of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, during a dream.
If you add to this principle the ability to have a dream and be completely aware of it, and also to intentionally interact with it in real-time, the via Regia becomes a royal highway that can bring you into contact with your unconscious parts.
In lucid dreaming, you can face and meet your shadow, directly, consciously, and integrate it. This is precisely what the research says: those who learn to dream have an apparent decrease in nightmares.
Knowing this effect, lucid dreaming is used as a therapy for those suffering from recurring nightmares.
There are indeed several sounds dreaming induction techniques. We will see them in separate articles and probably also in a specific course.
If you are interested in this topic, let me know in the comments of the article, it could become the topic of a new column.
As a premise to this paragraph, there is very positive news: it has been seen that even just knowing that it is possible to have a lucid dream dramatically increases the possibility of having one entirely spontaneously.
It is as if, in those who deepen the subject, a mental predisposition is activated that allows the start of lucidity.
Or, it is merely the effect of an intention that is activated by bringing attention to something. Whatever the cause of this effect, it is possible that just tonight, as a result of reading this long article, you will be able to spontaneously have a lucid dream without having to learn many techniques.
This knowledge reveals the very first technique you need to learn: the power of expectations (or beliefs, or intentions).