Unlocking your unconscious through lucid dreaming
Have you ever suddenly realised you are dreaming? You’re sound asleep yet fully conscious in the dream, totally aware you’re inside a 3D projection of your own mind. That’s called a lucid dream: a dream in which you are actively aware you are dreaming while the dream is happening.
Once you realise you’re dreaming, you can, with practice, learn to direct the dream at will, reprogramming your mental habits and unlocking the wellspring of potential that resides in your unconscious mind, all while you’re sound asleep.
Once lucid, you have the ability to interact with the dream and co-create the narrative. We can all choreograph our dream experiences, calling out for what we would like to happen and intentionally healing parts of our minds from within.
It’s not that you control the dream; but simply orchestrate it: ‘No sailor controls the sea. Similarly, no lucid dreamer controls the dream.’ Just as it would be an arrogant sailor who believed they were commanding the awesome power of the sea, so it is with dreams. Let’s not be arrogant sailors.
You can’t control the power of the unconscious mind, but you can make friends with it and start to release its latest powers every night of your life.
And this isn’t some new fad. For more than 1,000 years, lucid dreaming has been used in Buddhist, Sufi and other esoteric cultures as a form of mind training in which you learn consciously to recognise your dreams, as a way to use the dream time for spiritual practice.
As with all forms of mind training within these traditions, the aim is to be more aware and more awake in all phases of waking and dreaming, to switch off the autopilot and to wake up to life.
People often sleepwalk through relationships, too tired to activate their potential. They make crucial life choices with sleep in their eyes. But to dream lucidly is to live lucidly, so with every lucid dream we become increasing more awoke.
The science bit
Lucid dreaming has been a scientifically verified phenomenon for more than 40 years. More recently, in a 2009 study, neurologists at Frankfurt University classified it as ‘a hybrid state of consciousness’ in which areas of the prefrontal cortex (where rational thought and self-awareness arise) become activated while we’re dreaming, which leads to self-awareness within the REM [rapid eye movement] dream state.
And researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Germany concluded that ‘lucid dreaming constitutes a hybrid state of consciousness with definable and measurable differences from the waking state and from the REM dream state’.
This means the apparent paradox of being both aware and asleep, which had previously caused a lot of resistance and scepticism from the scientific establishment, has now been laid to rest: lucid dreaming is for real.
There are so many benefits to lucid dreaming, but in a nutshell, once you become conscious within your unconscious mind, you can optimise the functioning of your body and mind while you sleep. A few psychological benefits of lucid dreaming are:
1. Skills rehearsal: Fully lucid dreams can feel as real as waking life. In fact, they’re so realistic our brain functions as if we’re awake and happily lays down neural pathways, which scientists have proved allow us to learn and get better at things we practise in a lucid dream. Yes, really.
Studies from Heidelberg University have shown that athletes who intentionally practised their athletic discipline in their lucid dreams got better at it in the waking state.
2. Overcoming phobias: The fact that the brain’s neural pathways can be affected during lucid dreaming means overcoming a fear, moving through a psychological block or integrating a shadow aspect in a lucid dream is not like dreaming it, it’s like doing it. Fears and phobias can be integrated through facing them in the virtual reality simulation of the lucid dream through which we can make lasting changes.
3. Nocturnal mindfulness: Engaging in spiritual practice while asleep is the main aim of lucid dreaming within Tibetan Buddhism but nowadays, mindfulness practitioners have been using it, too. Through lucid dreaming we get to truly know ourselves from within, and to become more mindfully aware in all states of day and night. This has also been shown to dramatically enhance waking state mindfulness.
4. Physical healing: Research has shown that a very powerful placebo effect can be engaged from within the lucid dream allowing people to maximise their healing response to some ailments. Everything from ear infections, to sports injuries have reportedly been treated through lucid dreaming.
As you can see, the scope of lucid dreaming is huge. It allows you to unlock the powerful potential of your unconscious mind, while you sleep – for if you sleep, you dream, and if you dream, you can lucid dream.
Whether you sleep in the park or the palace, lucid dreaming is available to you. It is your birthright. Unrestricted by censorship or state control, limited only by the relationship with your own inner state, lucid dreaming offers a taste of true freedom.
If properly cultivated, lucidity training may become one of the century’s greatest advancements in psychological self-development. Its growth is vast and yet at present we are barely scratching the surface.
But let us continue scratching and moving deeper into a spiritual practice that might just change the way you view life.
Charlie Morley’s book Dreaming Through Darkness (£12.99, Hay House) is out now.
FIVE TIPS TO START LUCID DREAMING
Remembering your dreams is the first step to lucid dreaming. Science tells us everybody has dreams every night, but we don’t all remember them. If you don’t, it’s probably because you’ve never really tried to.
1. DON’T WAIT
Many people try to recall their dreams after the dream has happened. This often doesn’t work very well. It’s better to set your intention to recall your dreams before you start dreaming.
2. I WILL REMEMBER
As you fall asleep, recite the suggestion ‘tonight, I will remember my dreams. Tonight I have excellent dream recall.’ This simple method can be profoundly effective for dream amnesia.
3. IT TAKES TIME
Some people remember their dreams naturally; for others, it may take days or even weeks of mental effort. Whatever the state of your current dream recall, work with what you have. Even if you can only recall a little, that’s a great start.
4. WRITE THEM DOWN
Once you have begun to remember your dreams, start keeping a dream diary and then search for patterns such as always dreaming about talking animals or a particular person.
5. TRAIN YOUR MIND
When you have noticed a recurring pattern you can create a lucidity trigger such as ‘the next time I see talking animals, I know I’m dreaming’ to recite over and over before bed. When you next have such a dream, you may well realise you are dreaming!
Read more: What are the benefits of dream interpretation?