Learning how to visualize is an important part of Wake Induced Lucid Dreams and guided meditation, and can even program your non-lucid dream content.
For some people, visualization comes naturally, so the exercises here may seem obvious. But for others, engaging the imagination seems like an impossible task. This is a step-by-step breakdown specifically for them.
Due to the subjective nature of visualization, I won't promise these methods work for everyone, but they certainly work well for me. I've also created exercises for people who aren't visually predominant in their imagination. That means creating imagined scenes while focusing on the senses of sound, touch, taste and smell.
Stop and think: what does the front door of your house look like?
In that moment, an image of your front door should have popped into your head. You didn't literally "see" it but you got a good sense of the shape and color and memorable details. It might have been picture-perfect and you didn't even have to close your eyes or look away. This is called your mind's eye.
If I tell you to simply imagine a tree, the image will likely be vague and non-specific, especially if you aren't used to visualizing. So now let's try a more detailed visualization to step it up a notch.
Close your eyes (or cup your palms over your eye sockets to block out all light) and imagine a big old oak tree with yellow leaves and a great thick trunk. It stands in the middle of a field of wild grasses on a bright sunny October day. The leaves gently sway against the blue sky and you can almost see how the air blows by, causing a Mexican wave of movement through the canopy.
The image in your mind's eye should now be a lot more detailed. It's this detail that makes visualization so powerful. Later, we'll look at ways of evoking other senses so that your awareness is virtually transported to the scene.
The most common question I hear from people who think they can't visualize is this: can you really see a tropical beach 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 describe the exact intensity of your last recalled dream. Because it's such a subjective and internally generated experience, our language doesn't really have the descriptive power to effectively label these difference levels of perceived "realness".
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 you are doing, as I'll now describe.
To my mind, there are three different types or stages of visualization:
The first step of visualization is simply recalling 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.
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 and is possible any time. It 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).
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.
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 perhaps it's too dark to perceive that. Maybe I'm just seeing my brain's natural urge to continue developing the images until they fall into some order that create a dream scene.)
So at this level of focus, I can see a tiger in the blackness, even if he's only made of fluorescence and his face is constantly floating. However, he's definitely there, he's well defined, and I can see him in the darkness. I'm sure everyone is familiar with this state (to varying degrees) and with practice you can intensify your hypnagogia to surprising depths. The exercises below will help with this.
*The image above uses a bit of artistic license and isn't exactly what I'd see, but it's in the right ballpark. The real colors are less pretty and more mixed up, for instance.
**Still can't access your hypnagogia? Try silencing your inner monologue and meditating. I highly recommend listening to brainwave entrainment.
The next stage requires one final leap... into the world of dreaming.
This is the point where, still conscious and awake, your body falls asleep and your dreaming mind takes over the visualization, evolving it into a high definition reality.
The best time to attempt this is:
First, I work my way through the WILD technique, visualizing what I want to dream about (usually a landscape scene if I'm using my mind's eye, or close-up images like familiar faces and shapes if using hypnagogia). Soon I become so detached that I lose awareness of my body. It's imperative to stay consciously aware at this point.
As I become fully immersed, I enter an altered state of consciousness. The tiger suddenly pops into full color and a dream scene emerges around him (and me - that is, my self-awareness moves from my bedroom and into the dream world).
At this point, I'm not longer consciously visualizing. I'm consciously dreaming.
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 (which is why the terms "mind's eye" and "visualization" have caught on). But for some people, hearing is their primary sense - and this is fine too because we can imagine sound very vividly. You might call it audialization.
For most people, sound is their second strongest sense. For example, if I tell you to close your eyes now and imagine a gushing river, what do you think of?
I get an impression of a large stream running downhill from right to left, making loud babbling and whooshing noises. 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 more senses. Imagine squatting by 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 sense you draw on when you visualize. So play around with all of them and keep track of the ones that feel most vivid.
If you find it difficult to visualize or just want to brush up on your skills, try the following visualization exercises. They are designed to help you identify your primary sense as well as build upon your less dominant senses. For lucid dreamers pursuing the WILD technique, this combination approach will help accelerate the transition from simply imagining a scene to actually dreaming it.
Quick tip: Read the rest of this article through then go lie down in a darkened room or slip on a sleep mask. Take a few deep breaths and relax... Give yourself at least 20 minutes without any distractions.
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, so 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 "see" this simple shape means you are now visualizing.
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. Ask for 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.
Your hypnagogia will actively shape itself once it gets going, but on this occasion we're going to lead the experience by consciously defining what we want to see.
At first you may have to really will the shapes to appear; other times they come very quickly and apparently of their own volition. Since you "asked" for a circle to appear, the fact that a circle starts materializing (however vaguely) shows how your visual system is presenting you with a manifestation of your thoughts. The same principle applies during lucid dreaming, except of course much more vividly.
Start by "warming up" and visualizing some shapes first. Then, when you see the hypnagogia is in full flow, redefine the image into 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 doughnuts at the beach...
As I recall what that doughnut tastes like, I stand there with my toes digging into the sand, looking at out the vast sparkling ocean. The doughnut I had on the beach all those years ago was full of chocolate filling. If you start to 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 imaginary scene.
Learning how to visualize takes focused effort but you should 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 get the urge.
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 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 practice for inducing altered states of consciousness, and will even help program your non-lucid dreams. This further presents the opportunity to recognize your dream state ("Oh wow, I visualized this place last night! I must be dreaming!")
And that is how to visualize your way to a lucid dream...