Many beginners question their levels of lucidity in conscious dreams. They may assume that because they couldn't control other dream characters, they were not lucid at all. Or they fret over their ability to morph the scenery at will. Is there a definitive point where someone can say they had a lucid dream?
Yes, there is. If you have ever had the conscious awareness (or knowing) that you were acting inside the dream world, then you had a lucid dream. Equally, if you have ever been able to willfully control parts of the dream world, you were lucid. A lucid dream can last one second - or one hour!
In Tibetan Buddhism, Dream Yoga is known as "apprehending the dream". This simply means becoming aware of the unreal nature of the dream state, and is reflected by either the awareness or control of the dream world.
Of course, there is a big difference between a passing awareness of the dream world, and full conscious lucidity. Even though there is no scientific classification of these states (yet), I will describe the different levels of lucidity here.
This is the default dream state, where you are totally unaware that you are dreaming. It may be hazy and illogical - or vivid and highly evocative. Either way, you have no conscious awareness or control, and you automatically accept the reality of the dream world as being completely real.
Non-lucid dreams are created entirely by the unconscious mind. They are usually based on memories and experience, coupled with the unconscious brain's conceptual understanding of reality. Since they are not literal, you can interpret your dreams based on recurring dream themes and symbology.
The lowest levels of lucidity occur with a semi-lucid dream, which may involve the realization that you are dreaming. Perhaps something very illogical happens and you question where you are. Or maybe you practice meditation or Dream Yoga which teaches you to be more self aware.
Once you realize you are dreaming, your conscious brain will wake up. The first few times you will feel quite alien in this new reality, and have trouble doing anything that conflicts with the normal laws of physics. If you can't immediately fly in your lucid dream, or teleport to an exotic beach location - don't be deterred. You can't do this in real life and your conscious brain doesn't expect it to happen here either.
The good news is, as you explore your lucid dream world, you will start to notice little inconsistencies. And the part of your conscious brain that is responsible for influencing the dream will start writing a new rule book. Encountering higher levels of lucidity is like learning to walk all over again. Soon you will be able to soar above the clouds, run through solid objects and create entire new dream scenes. See how to control your dreams for more specific advice on this.
To experience a fully lucid dream, you will probably need a good amount of direct experience of lucidity. That's my assumption anyway. Don't get me wrong - my early lucid dreams were highly exhilarating - but in no way did I have control of my entire surroundings. First I had to get to grips with staying lucid for more than ten seconds; then it was a challenge to control my immediate environment. However, once I mastered each of these skills, they stayed with me.
A fully lucid dream means having complete awareness that you are in a dream world. You understand that it is the creation of your own mind, and that you can manipulate any element at will. You can teleport across the universe at the speed of thought, morph yourself into an atom, or independently direct the actions of any other dream character.
But lucid dreaming is not just about dream control. Anyone who has ever experienced a lucid dream knows that. It is about having conscious awareness of the dream state, which is often even more intense than waking reality.
For instance, you can float in the air above a city and observe hundreds of people in the streets below, going about their business. You can take a back seat and allow the dream to be guided by your unconscious mind, while having absolute conscious awareness of your part in it.
This is the real beauty of lucid dreaming; it is your gateway to an alternate reality, where you can observe your own existence in a far richer context.
What is the absolute highest level of lucidity possible? Can it be defined, or is it like asking what's beyond the edge of the universe?
Tibetan Buddhism has incorporated the art of Dream Yoga for at least a thousand years. Compared to modern lucid dream research (which has only been around for the last 30 years) the Buddhist monks have a major head start.
Buddhists believe the ultimate goal in Dream Yoga is to attain full conscious awareness, then dissolve the dream state. That doesn't mean waking up. Instead, they aim to remain fully lucid and consciously aware while asleep. Deprived of any physical stimulus from the sleeping body, or any conceptual stimulus from the dreaming mind, they are able to observe the purest form of conscious awareness. That sounds like an excellent goal for any lucid dreamer.
For step-by-step tutorials on lucid dream induction and exploration, check out The Lucid Dreaming Fast Track, my online study program for beginners and beyond.