To lucid dream is to examine an intensely heightened state of self awareness, with all the senses activated; a uniquely human experience.
What's more, lucid dreaming offers profound benefits that touch all of us, no matter our culture, beliefs or life circumstances. Ultimately, I think all of these benefits put together could play a serious role in advancing the human race, if only it was something that we might all choose to master.
Escapism is probably the one and only reason most people initially pursue lucid dreams... to meet with their idol, to re-enact a day in the life of Jack Bauer, or to fly like an eagle over breathtaking scenery.
It's a perfectly valid motivation for having lucid dreams. We all have unfulfilled desires and lucidity is an amazing way to experience out-of-this-world situations in stunning realism.
As an experienced oneironaut, you can manifest anything you want in a guided dream. It's exciting, highly creative stuff. Many people never get over their desire for escapism in lucid dreams.
The important thing to remember - at least every now and then - is to reach beyond the novelty value and see the potential of conscious dreaming as it truly stands.
Let's look at some of those progressions now.
Have a look at your surroundings right now. I mean really look.
Is any of it real?
How is it that you can see everything in such detail?
What processes occur in your brain to make vision possible?
What if you trip your information processing and the things you can see become a little less tangible?
Is what's real for you the same as what's real for me?
When you become conscious in the dream state, you have an astonishing opportunity to experience a vivid and tangible dream world that is not at all real. It's mind-expanding.
Just think about that: in a sleep state, where your body is processing only the tiniest amounts of external stimuli, your internal world is as rich as ever. Your brain realistically reproduces a world with houses, trees, gravity, air, emotions, atoms (in fact anything you can conceive of) and it all feels very, very real.
While limited to the scope of your experience and unconscious imagination, the lucid dream world is still a sensational place with an uncanny capacity to mimic reality.
This special phenomenon, reserved only for those bold enough to delve into this extraordinary state of awareness, provides a safe and natural way to explore the depths of human consciousness.
It has the potential to alter the way in which we regard the world around us for the rest of our lives.
In questioning the nature of our perception, it naturally leads us to question the nature of reality - that is, the world as it exists around us.
Some philosophies suggest that consciousness creates reality. Can we test this idea in a lucid dream world, where the dream reality truly is altered by consciousness?
What is reality anyway?
Is the physical universe the only reality worth accepting as "true"?
Does our very existence spring from another universe? Are we a hypothetical outcome - Schrodinger's living cat?
These are important theoretical questions which can only really be pondered by stepping outside the box of everyday thinking. And lucid dreaming provides a useful platform from which we can reflect on our experience of reality. For instance, we can ask:
Of course, we can have no definitive answers. All we can do is theorize. But I think it is very exciting to use lucid dreams like a second life; as a comparative experience to reflect on this waking reality.
They are, indeed, probably the furthest we can travel outside of our waking experience while still retaining clarity of thought. What will you do with that amazing ability?
Eat your heart out Sigmund Freud. Lucid dreamers can literally talk to their own unconscious mind in the dreamscape.
I once had a nightmare, in which I was being flung by a dark pointy figure up and down a narrow hallway. I wasn't lucid at first, although I was conscious enough to feel pain and each smack really hurt. After two or three smashes I had the conscious insight to ask whether I was dreaming. Of course I was. I didn't waste any time; I marched up to the silhouette man and grab him by the shoulders.
"WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME!" I shouted. His aggression immediately turned to sadness and childish frustration. "I can't reconcile this," he said, and shoved a notepad in my hands. He has scrawled the words "be loved, love yourself", referring to a philosophical debate I had been having earlier that day: Is it more important to be loved by someone else, or to learn how to love yourself?
Clearly, my conclusion was at odds with my unconscious. There was absolutely no symbolism required. My inner child was acting out with a massive tantrum - and demanded my attention. Yet it is only when lucid that I have the opportunity to resolve such issues face-to-face.
Instead of fearing the pointy figure or wanting to banish him, I now felt empathy for him. He hadn't understood. So I explained my reasons as if he were a child. Draining away both physically and emotionally, the creature left and I woke up in awe of the childish element that arose from my unconscious self.
Being a virtual reality simulation, the lucid dream world is an ideal place to practice real life skills - from the perfect flying kick to playing classical piano.
Research has revealed that we can increase our procedural memory for fine muscle movements inside a lucid dream. So, after practicing flying kicks for half an hour in a lucid dream, your kicks would literally be better upon waking.
Likewise, in the book Exploring The World of Lucid Dreaming by Dr Stephen LaBerge and Howard Rheingold, a lucid dreaming surgeon explains how, before going to sleep at night, he would review his surgical cases for the next day. Then he would become lucid in his dreams and practice them in precise detail.
As a result, the surgeon was able to refine and polish his techniques and perform procedures much faster than the average surgeon, crediting his edge to lucid dreaming.
You may not be a surgeon, nor a Taekwondo fighter, but you can probably identify important physical skills to improve upon while dreaming.
From public speaking to parkour, practicing your abilities in a lucid dream can have a meaningful impact on your real-world success.
The moment you recognize you're dreaming, it creates a rush of adrenaline and excitement. It's when you realize that you are back in lucid land, where anything and everything is possible.
This wonderful natural high stays with you throughout the dream and on waking. A deliciously memorable lucid dream has colored many of my waking days.
Whether you are a complete beginner or an expert oneironaut, we all relish the state of conscious dreaming and take away blissful new experiences almost every time it happens. Such dreams can be euphoric in nature and create memories and insights that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Indeed, the feeling is probably one of the best natural highs we are capable of creating, in the same class as jumping out of a plane or falling in love. Just ask any lucid dreamer!
When we lose loved ones, we have the sense that there is some unfinished business. Whether the death comes suddenly without warning, or slowly and predictably, we would all take that opportunity to have another hour with the deceased.
Maybe we feel they may have messages for us (reflections on their lives) and we, too, may have messages for them (unresolved feelings of guilt or anger or simply how much we miss them).
So, how do you resolve such unfinished business?
I don't believe in the afterlife, but lucid dreams of the dead may offer a psychological therapy for the surviving individual. They provide a capacity for grieving and healing, even if you take the view that the deceased are not actually visiting you and it's just a part of your own psyche playing the role of them.
Grief dreams tend to occur naturally when you've lost someone important. Repetitive thoughts of the deceased can easily filter into our dreams, as do all kinds of emotional matters. But if your loved one doesn't appear to you at night, or you just miss them and want to give them a hug, then dreaming lucidly about them is a wonderful proposition.
Lucid dreams offer us the closure we need to overcome our grief and move on with our lives. That's not to say we want to forget. A lucid experience can enable us to consciously visit any period in our past and re-live those memories. Playtime with a childhood pet, conversations with a late parent, and closeness with a lost partner are all powerful ways to grieve and remember loved ones through lucid dreams.
We all know that dreams can be a bizarre place of inspiration. The benefit, when lucid dreaming, is to be able to actively seek out creative ideas and bring them back to the waking world.
Famous painters like Salvador Dali, William Blake and Paul Klee all created artwork inspired by their dreams.
If you're seeking artistic inspiration while lucid, try heading into a gallery and study the images you find there. Step into the paintings. Explore them in detail. The imagery arises from your memory, your unconscious creativity, or a combination of both.
Best of all, such dreams also contain elements of your unconscious conceptual understanding of the world, which can make for beautiful and baffling interpretations (see Dali's One Second Before Awakening from a Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate, above, 1944).
Equally, lucid dreams can give way to amazing musical inspiration. Composers like Mozart, Beethoven and Wagner all pointed to dreams as the source of their creativity. Dreams reveal our most creative side because of the free-flow of ideas arising from the unconscious mind, unhindered by the rational conscious.
My co-author Pete Casale composed the amazing piano song Lucid inside a conscious dream - yet listening to its complexity you would hardly believe it was possible.
Actually, he told me that the most difficult part of the creative process does not take place in the dreamscape, but in remembering your dreamy creations and reproducing them with the same depth and intensity in the waking world. It is a barrier but I am certain no creative lucid dreamer would give up this magical source of inspiration.
Last - and certainly not least - I believe that if all human beings began harnessing the power of lucid dreams then our culture, art, technology, science and beliefs would quickly develop in a new directions.
What if every inventor suddenly had a breakthrough lucid dream about a new innovation?
What if every artist suddenly began producing profound dream-inspired artwork?
What if every scientist could suddenly solve theoretical problems that had previously left them stumped?
In short, if we all had access to lucid dreams and used them in a productive capacity as part of our existing careers, hobbies, relationships and personal lives, we would tap into an unrivalled power within.
The human race would be enriched as a result, both individually and universally.
That certainly gives us something to strive for.
This article is an excerpt from the Lucid Dreaming Fast Track, a home study program by lucidity expert Rebecca Turner.
Students benefit from 30 step-by-step lessons in lucid dream induction and advanced control, as well as using lucidity to improve their waking lives. Access includes 4 audio tools and interactive quizzes. Learn more about this leading online course here.
If we're completely honest, lucid dreaming isn't really known for being the most social of interests. In fact, often it's a lone pursuit - just you, your dream journal and the landscape of your mind. But this technique called PAL (or Partner Assisted Lucidity) breaks down that wall and turns lucid dream exploration into a social event.
Members of our lucid dream forum have been asking how to create dream characters in lucid dreams. The most common problem is having characters who look nothing like they should. Or they seem disinterested in your company. Or they fail to show up on command altogether. So, how to combat this? It's a matter of finding creative solutions that bypass logical expectations.
To lucid dream, I recommend being able to remember at least one vivid dream per night. That will boost your self awareness in dreams (making lucidity more likely) and also means you can actually remember your lucid dreams. Which is nice. Here are four detailed tips on how to remember your dreams more frequently. And if you don't think you dream at all - trust me, you almost certainly do. It takes an extraordinarily rare sleep disorder to deprive someone of dream sleep.
It is estimated that these wise and wily Indians have been using mugwort in their healing and ritual practices for 13,000 years, where it is known as the ‘dream sage’. They use the herb to promote good dreams, which they consider an essential aspect of normal human functioning! But that’s not all...
Silene Capensis has been used for millennia by the Xhosa shaman of the river valleys in the eastern cape of South Africa, where it is known as Undela Ziimhlophe or 'white paths'. It's fragrant white flowers open only at night, when they emit a fragrant and almost hypnotising aroma. Also known as African Dream Herb or Ubulawu, Silene Capensis induces spectacularly vivid dreams - yet has never entered the mainstream and remains a fringe taste within western culture.
Experts agree that everyone is capable of having lucid dreams. Dreaming itself is a normal function of the mind. We all dream every night, even if we don't remember. And we all achieve conscious awareness while awake every single day. So what does it mean to combine these states? Why, the amazing ability to have conscious - or lucid - dreams. Sounds simple, doesn't it? So why do I keep hearing from people who say they can't achieve their first lucid dream?