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Night Vision: What is it like to lucid dream?

"I am dreaming that I am frazzled, distraught, and late for an important meeting at work. As I worry about losing my job, I glance at my watch and notice that the time does not make sense because most of the digits are letters. I assume my watch is broken, and I try to think of how to explain why I am late to my boss."

You might recognize this or a similar scenario from your own dreamlife. Maybe you are dreaming you are late for work or an exam, about to miss a flight, being chased, or naked in public. Well, you might identify these as your dreams right now, but while you are having these dreams, you actually think these stressful events are happening to you because we all mistake our dreams for reality. A striking exception to this, however, is lucid dreaming in which the dreamer recognizes, “This is a dream!” Once you figure out that you are in a dream, you can begin to deconstruct your waking belief systems, freeing yourself to actively shape the dream’s course. This can make lucid dreams wildly different from ordinary dreaming. The only way to truly comprehend the power of lucidity is to embark on your own lucid dream practice, but with that in mind, I will continue to share one of my own lucid dreams to give you a taste of what it’s like.

"Suddenly, I remember that a malfunctioning digital clock is a good indication that I am in a dream, so I think to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great if this is just a dream and I’m not actually about to get fired?”
Instantly, I am lucid and euphoric, marveling at how similar the dream scene is to my real-life workplace. I exclaim to my dream characters, “I am dreaming!” as if expecting them to congratulate me. A couple of them start to sneer and, if I’m not mistaken, tease me by jokingly singing a song about flying.
“I CAN fly!” I hoot with my hands on my hips, overcoming my usual tendency to worry that I am being boastful or offensive. To mock and demonstrate my ability to my snide dream characters, I begin to sing myself as I soar around the building with remarkable control, agility, and ease, especially compared to some of my other recent attempts to fly while lucid. What strikes me most at the moment though is the quality of my voice. It is illustrious! My voice echoes a beautiful feedback off of the hallway walls like some sort of majestic sonar. I am amazed by how my power, range, and vibrato far surpass my normal waking abilities. Moreover, the fluidity, pitch, and volume of my singing are undisturbed by my complicated maneuvers and fluctuating momentum as I soar through the air. Like my flying, my vocals are completely subject to my will."

When I became lucid, I simultaneously became aware of a wider range of options concerning what actions I decided to take in the dream. This allowed me to be proactive in creating a more favorable experience. For instance, if I was not lucid, I would not have understood that gravity does not exist in the dreamworld, therefore, I had the option to fly. Also, the understanding that the people in my dream were not actually my coworkers, but rather dream characters, gave me the opportunity to practice relating to others in a different way by returning their sarcasm because I had no fear of social consequences.

"I am elated and intrigued as I land laughing joyously in a new dream scene that resembles my current apartment. Familiar and unfamiliar dream characters are present. I recognize one dream character that has previously appeared in stressful nonlucid dreams, and I immediately feel the urge to flee. Since lucid dreaming has taught me to approach dream characters that cause me anxiety with kindness and curiosity, I take both his hands in mine, look him in the eyes, and ask my dream for healing and integration of whatever unresolved conflict he represents in my psyche. Immediately, he disappears into thin air, and I close my eyes surrendering to the unfolding of the dream. I begin to involuntarily float slowly upward in an acrobatic fashion while my entire body is pulsing with currents of intensely pleasurable energy. My rise upward comes to a halt when I sense my foot touching the ceiling. As I hang upside down, I continue to observe my experience in quiet awe, effervescing in ecstasy. Meanwhile, a dark image of a bat spreading its wings appears in my mind’s eye, which I dismiss as random and peculiar without realizing that I myself am perched upside down like a bat at rest."

People often mistakenly equate lucid dreaming with controlling your dreams. A better description may be that lucidity offers the dreamer more choices, making a greater number of experiences more accessible through the will and intent of the dreamer. Just like in nonlucid dreams, there were many elements in this lucid dream that were not under my conscious control. In fact, I even chose to discontinue attempts to control, or rather, influence the direction of the dream when I chose to just observe myself floating involuntarily to the ceiling. What I did feel I had much more control over while lucid was my own behavior, for example, choosing to approach a dream character that symbolizes emotional pain rather than automatically reacting to my urge to avoid. Granted, when I am lucid and have a wider range of options available to me, I do feel less like a byproduct of my reality, which may generally give me the impression of having more ‘control.’ On occasion, however, I admit that I’ve been blessed with extraordinary, conscious control over some aspect of the lucid dream, such as my flying or singing.

"Abruptly, I find myself in my bed, thinking that I just awoke from a lucid dream. I rush with excitement to record the dream on my laptop before the details escape my memory. However, I notice my computer is processing my commands unusually slow and is not working as well as it normally does. I then recall that false awakenings commonly follow lucidity, and as a result, I begin to question if I am still in a dream. Performing a reality test well known to lucid dreamers by glancing twice at the unstable time of my alarm clock confirms my suspicions. This is a false awakening, and I am still dreaming
I jump to my feet, wondering how to best take advantage of my lucidity for the remainder of the dream. I scan my memory for a goal that I had previously set to achieve the next time I became lucid, and I remember that I wanted to look at the future, finished product of an art piece I had been painting in waking life. For a moment, I expect that this piece will look the same as the real artwork, but I am mistaken.
I pull the piece out of the closet, and as I unfold it on my bed, I am pierced by a beautiful, blazing, fiery blue color that is alive and moving. A swarm of mermaids are swimming, swirling, and dancing around the artwork, which is checkered with wavering sections of intricately shifting, geometric patterns that are just as kaleidoscopic and shimmering as the mermaids’ fishtails. It’s incredible! I am so mesmerized that I begin to fear I will lose my lucidity since I know my awareness tends to diminish whenever I encounter astonishing beauty in lucid dreams. I glance away from the artwork to gather myself. I remind myself to stay lucid and observe without becoming completely absorbed by the beauty so that I can keep lucid dreaming. When I feel ready, I shift my gaze back to the masterpiece, and as if captivated by a magic spell, I quickly lose my lucidity and transition into a nonlucid dream about a neighbor stealing my parking space."

You may notice that a difference between the lucid and nonlucid portions of this dream has to do with the content. Nonlucid events like a computer not working or fretting over being late to a meeting or someone stealing my parking space are not the most preferable of experiences emotionally. I would describe the lucid content of the dream, however, as much more exciting, fulfilling, liberating, pleasurable, or even humbling. This difference generally but not always holds true for me in lucid dreams.

Similarly, lucidity tends to allow the dreamer easier access to waking cognitive abilities than nonlucid dreams. To highlight a few examples from my dream, I was able to remember a goal I previously planned in waking life and execute it; I could recall and apply previously learned information about lucid dreaming; I could even compare my lucid dream abilities, like flying or singing, to past lucid dreams or my waking abilities, respectively.

Perhaps the most exceptional feature though is the safe space lucid dreaming provides me to consciously explore and interact with my unconscious mind. Much more than my nonlucid dreams, my lucid dreams have helped to foster a more sophisticated ability to regulate my emotions, to liberate myself from rigid belief systems that don’t serve me well, to confront some inner demons, and to practice new ways of relating to myself and others, all of which have accelerated my personal growth. Not only has my lucid dream practice helped me dream more lucidly, but it has also extended itself to help me live my life more mindfully. These are only some of the gifts unique to lucid dreaming. I have largely neglected to share about the gifts I receive from interpreting my lucid dreams as well as how their symbolism interweaves with my waking life. Nevertheless, I hope that readers will take away more than just the message that the bat is not the only mammal that can fly.


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