Did you know that learning how to visualize with maximum definition can give you more lucid dreams? That's because visualization is key to a range of popular lucid dreaming techniques.
Daydreaming visually can even program your regular dream content.
For some people, visualization comes naturally, so the exercises here may seem obvious. But for others, engaging the visual imagination is tough. So I'd like to share some of my own visualization styles which might help.
Some people work better using their "mind's eye" while others prefer their "mind's ear". As you'll see, there are at least 10 forms of sensory imagination which can make you a better lucid dreamer. We'll start visually and then move on to the other forms.
Close your eyes and visually recall what the front door of your house looks like.
All done? An image of your front door should have popped into your head. You didn't literally see it but you got a strong visual sense of the shape and color and memorable details. It might have been picture-perfect. Perhaps you didn't even need to close your eyes. Either way, you've just accessed your mind's eye.
The longer you spend working on a visualization, the clearer it becomes. It's the detail that makes visualization so powerful to lucid dreamers because the stronger the imagery, the more self aware you become within your internally generated environments.
The most common question I hear is this: can you really see your front door in your mind's eye? Is it like looking at a photograph or TV screen? Is it real and solid? Does it move? Does it have color? Does it disappear when you stop thinking about it?
The answer is probably going to create more confusion than the question, because it is very hard to explain what I see in my mind's eye, just as its hard to accurately convey the intensity of a dream.
Because it's such a subjective and internally generated experience, our language doesn't really have the descriptive power to effectively label these different levels of perceived reality.
But I'll give it a shot...
The answer to this question - can you really see it - is, yes, sometimes. It really depends on the type of visualization and your level of waking consciousness. Let me explain.
To my mind, there are three depths or levels of visualization:
The first step of visualization is thinking of an image in your mind's eye. It's merely a thought. I don't literally see anything; the image I'm trying to conjure (let's say, the face of a tiger) exists only in conceptual form. I'm aware of what the tiger's face looks like, sometimes in exquisite detail, while technically seeing darkness.
It's like spelling. Ask me to spell "deciduous" and I'll either look up or close my eyes to visualize the letters in order. I'm not seeing the word written down - but it's the next best thing. Perhaps my eyeballs are moving as if I'm seeing the word. But it's all pretend.
Other examples include the flash visualization of your front door or the face of a loved one. This type of visualization is simply the recollection of an imaginary stimulus while you're wide awake. The more familiar you are with a target, the easier it is to recall.
By the way, this works with all the senses: sound (getting a song stuck in your head), aroma (what gravy smells like), taste (tomato soup) or feeling (touching Velcro).
What's fascinating to me is that around 1 in 50 people suffer from a complete absence of a mind's eye since birth. This is called aphantasia. People who have aphantasia have normal dreams - and are able to lucid dream - but not through the use of visualization techniques described here.
When you relax your body and close your eyes, your brain takes the opportunity to lull you to sleep - especially if you are already very tired or REM deprived. This triggers the hypnagogic state; typically swirling lights and geometric patterns. Other imagined sensations can also arise, including sounds and subtle movement.
In this state I can make my visualization much more real. With focus, the tiger face becomes a vague fluorescent shape behind my closed eyelids. As I attend to more details (eg, the symmetrical patterns emanating from his nose) they too become something I literally see, with definitive shapes and outlines made from fluorescence.
As I play with the image, or allow the image to evolve on its own, it can turn and move, or morph into something else completely. There is something very fluid and continuous about images visualized using my natural hypnagogia. (It may be due to the continuous blood flow of my closed eyelids. Or maybe I'm seeing my brain's natural urge to continue developing imagery that is no longer present in the darkness.) Eventually, if I stay conscious for long enough while my body falls asleep, the images fall into order and create a dream scene - see stage three below.
If you have trouble finding your hypnagogia, I recommend listening to brainwave entrainment. This is a safe sound technology used in meditation which will silence your inner monologue and get you to a dreamy, hypnagogic state faster. Interestingly, though they can't visualize, aphantasiacs can see hypnagogia when close to the dreamstate.
The next stage takes a little practice.
This is the point where, still mentally conscious and aware, your body falls asleep. To an outside observer, say, your partner, or a scientist with an EEG, you now appear fast asleep.
But mentally, you are fully aware of an internal dreamworld evolving in high definition. You lose awareness of your sleeping environment and become fully submerged into a lucid dream.
When is the best time to attempt a Wake Induced Lucid Dream? Try:
First, I visualize what I want to dream about (let's say the tiger in my mind's eye). Soon I become so detached that I lose awareness of my sleeping body. It's imperative to stay consciously aware.
As I become fully immersed, the tiger suddenly pops into full color and a dream scene emerges around us. At this point, I'm not longer consciously visualizing. I'm consciously dreaming.
I've written a lengthy tutorial on having your first Wake Induced Lucid Dream. Check it out in full in my home study course.
In the example above, I only used my visual sense to conjure up the tiger in my mind. Arguably, most people are visually predominant when it comes to their imagination (hence the terms "mind's eye" and "visualization").
But for some people, hearing is their primary sense. And this works for most of us because we can imagine sound very vividly. You might call it audialization.
Visualize a river. Use the imaginary senses of sight and sound to make it come alive. Do it now.
A flowing river is a good example because it constantly makes sound, so when your brain retrieves memories of a gushing river to put in the visualization, it should automatically evoke an auditory sense.
You can then go further and introduce even more senses.
Imagine walking up to the bank (movement) and sticking your hand into the stream (touch). Does it feel cold (temperature)? Can you feel the water flowing past your fingers (pressure)?
There are no rules as to which senses you draw on when you visualize. So play around with all of them and keep track of the ones that feel most vivid.
The final exercises I'm going to show you encompass everything we've learned so far. They are designed to help you identify your primary sense as well as build on your less dominant senses.
For lucid dreamers pursuing the WILD technique, this combination approach will accelerate the transition from simply imagining a scene to actually dreaming it.
Quick tip: Read the rest of this article then go lie down in a darkened room or slip on a sleep mask. Take a few deep breaths and relax. Give yourself 20-60 minutes without any distractions. (It's worth it!)
You need to be relaxed in a darkened room for this to work.
Imagine a circle on the center of your field of vision. It needn't have any color, just shape. It can be hollow or filled, whatever comes naturally. At first, you may not see anything, so just give it a few moments.
I find that as I relax my eyes, the circle appears in mild fluorescence. If I just observe the circle (which in my mind's eye is now hollow, more like a hoop) it starts turning in space. I can observe it in 3D.
What's your circle doing? Even if it remains stationary, that's all good. The fact that you can literally see this simple shape in fluorescence means you are now visualizing using your hypnagogia.
It is now very easy to have the circle turn into a square. Then a triangle. How about a star? You'll find that whatever shape you call up in your mind, it quickly appears.
Mentally request a giant cross, horizontal lines, vertical lines... get the picture? As you invent more intricate shapes, like spider webs and snowflakes, you'll relax deeper into the hypnagogia and find it easier to visualize.
How cool was that? You can say a word in your mind ("circle") and it literally forms in your hypnagogia. This is a neat demonstration of how your visual system can present you with a manifestation of your thoughts. The same principle applies during lucid dreams.
Start by warming up and visualizing some shapes out of your hypnagogia. When you see the colors are in full flow, redefine the image into a complex landscape. My go-to choice is a beach scene.
Start with the horizon and the broad strokes, as if you were drawing a picture from scratch. Then fill in the details - clouds, the sun, palm trees, and so on. Mentally define the colors, even if they don't actually appear. Build it up in layers. Sometimes it can help if you actually move your eyes (as in REM sleep) and focus far away on the horizon as you visualize it, then look close-up at your hands to help place your body in the scene.
Now listen to the sounds of the ocean, with gentle waves lapping at the shore. What else can you hear? Sea birds? Wind? Laughter? Music? Allow the soundtrack to take its own course - perhaps the waves break and crash with your breathing, and the birds cry intermittently. Pay close attention to everything you want to hear, and it will slowly emerge.
How does it feel to be standing on the beach? I start with my feet on the solid ground, recalling how it feels to have sand under my feet. It's warm and soft as I wiggle my toes. Then I think about the warmth of the sun and coolness of the breeze on my skin. I breathe in the fresh sea air, which leads me to...
...the salty smell of the ocean. As you breath in, enhance that awareness and focus on it. Think about the other smells that remind you of the beach. Washed-up seaweed, sunscreen, coconut oil... You may also invoke a specific memory, for instance eating donuts at the beach as a kid...
As I recall what that donut tastes like, I stand there with my toes digging into the sand, looking at out the vast sparkling ocean. The donut I had on the beach all those years ago was full of chocolate filling. If you salivate while doing a gustatory visualization, that means it's working!
Humans have at least five more senses beyond those of sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. These are sometimes subtle, sometimes profound, and you will be familiar with all of them:
Consider incorporating these additional senses into your visualization. They should come last, once you have already established an inner awareness of the primary senses, but are a great way to polish off your scene.
Learning how to visualize with maximum intensity can take effort. But you may find your progress surprisingly rapid. You could be making intricate visualizations in just one or two sessions. It's an enjoyable exercise in itself, so practice whenever you have the time to yourself.
A successful visualization can lead you straight into a Wake Induced Lucid Dream in as little as a few minutes (and in dream re-entry at night, it can take seconds). Or it can take as long as 20-30 minutes. If you start to get bored or uncomfortable, then stop, because you really can't force it. Frustration will only hold you back.
Even when your visualization doesn't result in a lucid dream, it's still great for increasing your self awareness (which produces spontaneous lucid dreams) and will help program your regular dreams (the more I daydream about beaches, the more I dream about them at night, too).
So relax. Close your eyes. And discover how to visualize your way to a lucid dream.
What do blind people dream about? Can they "see" in their dreams? Take a look at scientific studies into the dreams of the blind, colorblind, and black-and-white dreamers. In 1999, dream researchers at the University of Hartford analyzed 372 dreams of 15 blind people. They found that both the congenitally blind and those who went blind before five years old did not have any visual dreams at all. That's because our dreams are made up of real world experiences and our innermost thoughts, anxieties and desires. So for someone who has never perceived images or light (or can't remember any) their dreams simply can't manifest visually.
Not long ago, scientists at Frankfurt University discovered how to produce lucid dreams with electronic stimulation. It was a world first. And - astonishingly - it worked in non-lucid dreamers 77% of the time. Now you can buy the same technology for yourself. The foc.us V2 - which delivers the proven optimum 40 Hz transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) - was originally developed to increase working memory in video gamers and improve sleep.
As technology continues to move us towards more immersive dreamlike experiences, one can only wonder what digital wonders lay just beyond the horizon of tomorrow. We may also question just how the future of virtual reality will impact the study and practice of lucid dreaming. Are we, perhaps, the last generation to whom lucid dreaming will maintain an appeal?
Jeremiah Morelli is a whimsical fantasy artist and visual storyteller. He places conceptual fairytale creatures in vivid dreamscapes to capture the imagination. He's also a school teacher, and amazingly finds the time and motivation to create this huge gallery of artwork. Such light and dark fairytale paintings make beautiful places to visit in your lucid dreams.
Inspired and named for the notion of Flatland, artist and photographer Aydin Buyuktas has created a series of works where "a space of surprises creates a space that creates surprises." Based on photos of Istanbul, Buyuktas explains: "We live in places that most of the times don't draw our attention, places that transform our memories, places that the artist gives another dimension; where the perceptions that generally crosses our minds will be demolished and new ones will arise. These works aim to leave the viewer alone with a surprising visuality, ironic as well as a multidimensional romantic point of view."
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?