(as featured on elephant journal)
The Path to Becoming a Conscious Dreamer
I’ve always been a lucid dreamer. Still haven’t figured out if it’s a blessing or a curse but it’s been a part of me ever since I could remember. I blame it on the fact that I am a super light sleeper.
A lucid dream is a dream in which the dreamer is aware that he or she is dreaming. The term was coined by Frederik van Eeden, a Dutch psychiatrist and writer, who related the word “lucid” to a sense of mental clarity and awareness. This awareness varies from a very faint recognition that you are dreaming to a full awareness and controlled interaction in your dream. In other words, it’s a great way to experience an array of exciting moments and opportunities you might not be able to in your everyday reality, while also providing you with a great dress rehearsal for life. The benefits of lucid dreaming include: freeing you from your fears and inhibitions; allowing you to experience things you normally would not be able to experience in your reality; letting you live out your wildest fantasies; helping you to develop a stronger sense of self-confidence and assuredness; improving your problem solving skills; awakening your imagination and inspiring creativity; and strengthening your memory and mental clarity.
During each monthly cycle, I have one week where my dreams are particularly vivid and incessant. I describe it to people like watching a series of movies or clips while asleep and knowing full well they aren’t really happening. Sometimes I play a role in the movie and write the script as I go, while other times, I just lie back and enjoy the show.
Whereas most people forget their dreams upon waking, I may awaken several times during the night, remembering a series of dreams by morning. It can be frustrating when I’m trying to get a good night’s rest but my dreams have shared some very interesting and wise messages with me, along with foresight and premonitions that still boggle my mind to this day.
A few years ago I went on a shamanic retreat in the desert of Mexico, just north of San Luis Potosí. While the retreat included visits to many ancient sacred sites, rituals, and ceremonies, it also incorporated conscious dreaming as one of the main themes. The retreat welcomed a gathering of people from around the world who either shared the special gift of lucid dreaming or were trying to learn how to master this. Our intention was to try to use our personal dream messages to change ourselves and the world, to make sense of the obscure, and to use the things that go bump in the night to shake up reality for the greater good.
One of the most important things we learned was that in order to become more conscious and aware in our dreaming life, we must be open, mindful and engaged in our waking life. Thus, we set off on individual walks out into the middle of nowhere, led only by our own inner guide and intuition. We sat under trees and by the river and listened to the messages in nature. We heard the ancient stories of the rocks and stones as we climbed the sacred mountain. We meditated to the sounds of drums and chanting and silence. And we opened ourselves to the insight of others during circle and ceremony. We made use of and stimulated every one of our senses by examining our environment and paying attention to every little detail. We did all this in the extremes of a desert environment in mid November—scorching heat and perpetual dryness in the day, with near freezing temperatures after sunset. It was a shock to the system every day and night and a very powerful wake-up call.
Before we retired each evening, we sat in stillness and meditated. We opened ourselves to the universal messages and set our intentions for a dream-filled night. It’s amazing how the universe answers when you send your questions out there, for it is in that dreamy and hazy state that we can see through the veil into another dimension and draw from it the light and wisdom we seek.
The greatest lesson I learned during that time is that I am the dreamer who dreams my own life into being. I awakened to the fact that we all have the power to shape our dreams and in so doing, we have the power to also shape our waking life.
So before you go to sleep tonight, be still. Sit quietly for a few moments. Breathe slowly and deeply. Meditate on a challenge or a question you may have and allow yourself to open to the music and stories of the night. Then, let the bumps you experience in the night help you get over the bumps you are living in the every day.
While there are several ways to become a lucid dreamer, here are some tips you can easily put into practice:
One of the most important tools for lucid dreaming is dream recall. To make this easier and more natural, keep a dream journal and record your dreams the moment you wake up. Because dreams are often forgotten just minutes, even seconds after waking, it’s important to make a conscious effort to keep the dream alive as soon as you recognize you are no longer dreaming.
Try to keep a routine sleep schedule by going to sleep at around the same time each night and waking up at the same time. Then, set your alarm to wake up 60 to 90 minutes earlier than usual when REM sleep patterns are most active.
Interrupt your sleep by setting your alarm clock three to five hours after going to bed. After this sudden wakefulness, you will fall back asleep and most likely enter a lighter sleep pattern, which will better allow for lucid dreaming. If you awake during a dream, focus on the dream and try to enter back into it when falling asleep again.
Visualize a very specific item or symbol to carry with you into your sleep. When this item or symbol appears to you in your dream, it will trigger your awareness that you are in a dream state.
Write what you want to dream about right before falling asleep. Make it very detailed, for example, if you want to, say, experience the thrill of riding a horse through the mountains, you will write down, “I am riding a palomino horse with a brown, leather, western saddle and a red and green blanket pad. I am wearing jeans and a plaid shirt with brown and pink cowboy boots. I will ride over lush, gently rolling hills and through a small stream before I begin to climb up the mountain through dense woodland. Horseback riding will come naturally to me and I will feel safe, invigorated, happy and free.”
One of the techniques taught to me by a Mayan shaman is one I like to call the “dream web” method. It involves weaving a thick red thread or string of yarn through your fingers and around your hand in a web like pattern while you repeat “I will see this web in my dreams” over and over until you begin to fall asleep. Once you are sleeping and dreaming, look down at your hand to see your dream web. This will help you to realize you are in a dream state.
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” ~ Goethe