Rebecca Turner is a lucid dreamer and the founder of this website: World of Lucid Dreaming. In this interview, she answers common reader questions, shares her personal experience of developing dream control, and provides essential information for beginners looking to develop this amazing mental skill.
Rebecca: As creatures of self-awareness, our dreams are very special.
Freud once described dreams as "the royal road to the unconscious", revealing fascinating insights from a deeper dual awareness that resides within us all. It is a place we can go every night to learn about ourselves and reflect upon the human experience from a new perspective. As conscious, self-reflective beings this is an amazing tool.
I have always felt that dreams are magical, mysterious, insightful, inspiring and evocative. Even as children, we can appreciate the profound nature of dreams. The earliest dream I can remember is when I was 4 or 5 years old. I fell asleep in front of the TV one afternoon watching a Tom & Jerry cartoon... and had an exceptionally long, vivid dream about a cat chasing a mouse. Even more bizarrely, the entire dream was in cartoon. I woke up confused, unsure of what had been a dream and what was real.
On reflection, this early experience gave me a taste of what it means to have dual awareness; to acknowledge the existence of two separate planes of conscious existence (the waking world and the dream world). I'm not talking about anything paranormal or mystical - but the simple truth that every night, we can shift our perception inwards and experience an entirely different world. A world within. And to experience that to the fullest means making the effort to become lucid (consciously aware).
Rebecca: I discovered lucid dreaming in a magazine article when I was 14 years old. I couldn't quite believe it was actually possible to become conscious inside the dream world. Like anyone with a pulse, I was very excited by the idea and had to try it for myself.
I practiced a number of basic techniques including self hypnosis, reality checks and keeping a dream journal. I didn't really know what I was doing, but I was persistent. I focused on remembering my dreams nightly and developing rich waking fantasies of how my lucid dream world would be.
Within a few weeks, I had my first spontaneous lucid dream. Experts call this a Dream Induced Lucid Dream (DILD) which simply means that it started like any normal dream, and the sudden realization that I was dreaming made me become lucid. Here's an edited excerpt from my dream journal:
"I'm standing in an empty white room, which is completely bare like a new house. The complete lack of detail makes me curious... What is this place? Suddenly, I realize: this is a dream!
The room surges into focus. I become self aware: conscious of my body and its place in the dream world. I do my reality check and feel my fingers push right through the palm of my hand. I'm lucid!
I am so excited, I run out the door, looking for someone to tell. I find a woman who I don't recognize and shout in her face. "I'm dreaming! I'm dreaming!" I'm so excited, I accidentally wake myself up."
It was like a light switch had turned on in my head. Suddenly I existed in a new, alternate reality, in which anything I could conceive of came true.
Yet the experience was over in seconds. My heart pumping, I became all too excited by the possibilities and woke up into the real world. This is a common mistake that beginners make, so the best thing to do is remain calm and grounded as you explore your lucid dreamscape.
Rebecca: When I'm determined, I have lucid dreams every night. It's thrilling when you have the ability to tap into lucidity so often - but it's not realistic for most people to maintain this consistency.
Lucid dreaming every night usually takes a lot of waking focus and pre-programming of your dreams. Sometimes, for those who are fluent in the language of lucidity, this is as easy as thinking "oh I'll lucid dream about this tonight!" Other times, and for just about all beginners, it will require more preparation - such as 30 minutes of deep meditation and numerous reality checks throughout the day.
As I write a website on lucid dreaming, the seed is planted in my unconscious mind many times each day, and this gives me a couple of lucid dreams per week on autopilot. It's a kind of effortless dream incubation. When I want more lucid dreams, I do night-time meditation to induce Wake Induced Lucid Dreams (WILDs). This is where you walk your mind from a waking (meditative) state directly into the dream state. It produces the most vivid kind of lucid dream possible, and you can have strings of lucid dreams this way too.
Rebecca: Lucid dreams have one vital ingredient: self-awareness. This means knowing that you're dreaming, while you're dreaming.
I might be having a normal dream in which I see someone who has passed away in real life, or find myself living in the wrong country, or even be back at school. Regular dreamers gloss over these illogical references and the conscious mind remains asleep. But for lucid dreamers they stand out and trigger the conscious revelation: "I'm dreaming!"
It's like realizing I'm inside The Matrix and nothing is real ;)
On going lucid, my conscious mind awakens. The dream snaps into focus and I have full self-awareness. My senses come to life and I can feel the sun on my skin, interact with my environment, and make choices about what I do. It provides a lifelike level of awareness and willpower.
Of course, there is one big difference between lucid dreaming and the real world. The dream world is a mental construct which makes it flexible and fluid. I can manipulate the laws of physics and ignore gravity if I want. I can see what's behind me without looking. I can communicate without speaking. I can fly, teleport, shapeshift and perform all kinds of impossible acts.
This is one definition of lucidity: the ability to control your dreams. But sometimes lucidity can simply mean being aware that you are dreaming. Believe it or not, it can actually be more enthralling NOT to control your dreams while lucid, and to just allow the dream to continue its course. You can experience the surreal nature of the dream world - guided by your own unconscious mind - in full intensity, like watching a great movie.
While dream control provides gratification for the ego, this passive lucidity can be a deeply insightful experience, leading to profound personal growth. Both describe forms of lucid dreaming, distinct from normal dreams.
Rebecca: There are so many potential pitfalls when learning lucid dreaming. That's probably why it isn't more widespread - people simply don't know what to do. Education and training will help. (Most people will have at least one lucid dream in their life simply by accident, but very few people experience it on a long term basis for failure to perform the right training.)
For instance, some people fail to commit to the practice on a daily basis, some try too hard and give up out of frustration, some are too sleep deprived to become conscious during their REM sleep, and some simply don't make the effort to remember their dreams which is essential.
And those are just the waking-world mistakes. There are also mistakes you can make while in the act of lucid dreaming itself...
For instance, many beginners wake up after their first few seconds of lucidity because they failed to stabilize the dream. Some people lose focus in the dream and forget to stay lucid. Some try to run before they can walk (learning to fly in the dream world is not second nature for everyone, which is no surprise since we never learned to fly in real life either).
Some people seek only physical gratification and forget to pursue any other philosophical fruits offered by lucid dreaming. There is an "awareness behind the dream" that shouldn't be ignored; an idea most recently propagated by the lucid dream researcher Robert Waggoner. When lucid, we have the remarkable opportunity to communicate directly with the unconscious mind (or inner self) either through dream figures or the dream itself. I often ask other dream figures questions such as: "What part of me do you represent?"
The answers come from a second awareness - separate from my own conscious thought - and frequently blow me away. It's a crying shame that most beginner lucid dreamers overlook this aspect altogether.
Yes, this is actually quite common in beginners. It's a "slipping away" of mental focus in the dream and you have very little time to react (usually you don't even recognize it's happening).
Maintaining lucidity means staying focused while all sorts of wonderful, distracting things happen (like flying over the ocean, meeting your hero, or traveling to other dimensions). If you lose focus and become too absorbed in the experience, it is quite easy to forget that you're dreaming. Lucidity is lost. That may sound hard to believe, but remember that some of your cognitive faculties are reduced in the dream world. It is quite natural to return to the classic dreaming viewpoint; that is, passively accepting the dream as reality.
Within seconds, the details reduce to the level of a normal dream and your sense of awareness fades. The dream is happening to you, rather than you are happening to the dream. Either the dream can fade to black, you can wake up, or you can end up continuing the exact same dream plot, only now you are no longer lucid and it quickly takes a new direction.
To prevent this, lucidity experts have developed a number of techniques for staying lucid. For instance, repeat out loud to yourself "I'm dreaming" every 30 seconds or so. When the dream shows signs of becoming vague, rub your hands together to stimulate kinetic sensation (which raises consciousness of your dream self) and demand that the dream intensifies by saying aloud "Clarity now!"
The best way to stay lucid (sometimes for up to an hour is possible, in my experience) is to practice. The more familiar you become with the act of lucidity, the easier it is to hold onto it while dreaming. You'll develop a mindset of always questioning where you are and whether you are awake or dreaming right now. This helps trigger and re-trigger your lucidity throughout the entire experience.
Rebecca: It's hard to identify a favorite lucid dream because all of my fully lucid dreams are cherished memories. But I can tell you what I like most about lucid dreaming... it's the freedom and beauty and depth of the experience.
There's one type of lucid dream I love, in which I fly over richly detailed landscapes - forests, mountains, lakes, deserts and oceans - while listening to the most stunning music (whose source I cannot identify). It is both physically and emotionally intense and I forget about any real world problems. I guess it's the same feeling you might get from jumping out of a plane - only that's something I don't have the courage to do in real life :)
Another type of awesome lucid dream is the surreal kind, in which I allow the dream to guide itself. There's no doubt these dreams are fueled by my own waking experiences but they are delivered via the perspective of the unconscious mind and, presumably, my ego is less of a key player. These dreams can go anywhere; they can slip through to other dimensions or take place in empty space. I think the best ones get away from familiar constructs and take me somewhere new, both in terms of imaginary stimulus (the dreamscape) and emotional stimulus (how it makes me feel and think).
If you're planning your first lucid dream and don't know what to do first, imagine you're test driving the world's first virtual reality machine. Everything you see, feel, hear, smell and taste will be as realistic as waking life, and there are zero limitations on what you can perceive. What would you do? This is the #1 question all lucid dreamers face...
Rebecca: There are various viewpoints on this subject so I'll just share mine, which is best aligned with the scientific view of the last three decades.
The out of body experience is a type of lucid dream. It's no coincidence that OBE induction techniques are virtually identical to Wake Induced Lucid Dreams. You start by lying in bed, ideally having recently woken from a sleep. The body quickly slips back into sleep paralysis (the protective mechanism which prevents us from acting out our dreams). Soon, the body falls asleep, while the conscious mind remains awake. You then have two ways to enter the dream world: imagine a lucid dream scene ("OBE location") or open your dream eyes and find yourself exactly where you'd expect to be - in your bedroom.
Having experienced hundreds of lucid dreams and false awakenings I can vouch for just how vividly your mind can replicate your own bedroom. It will look and feel extremely real, only now you have the miraculous ability to float and pass through walls (which I frequently enjoy in lucid dreams too).
With both lucid dreams and OBEs, expectation plays a key role. If you think you're having an OBE and expect to see spirits, angels or other mystical entities, then it's quite likely you will. This also explains the phenomenon of alien abduction, where dreamers become stuck in the state of sleep paralysis and folklore fills in the rest of the experience. Consciousness makes it real.
Astral projection (or astral travel) is an esoteric interpretation of the out-of-body experience. It relies on the belief of an afterlife and that your spirit is traveling through an astral plane, separate from our physical Earthly plane. I'm very much of the belief that this is an extension of the expectation principle rooted in the mentally-constructed lucid dream world.
Rebecca: After more than a decade of lucid dreaming and with thousands of interested website readers, I decided to write my own beginners course in lucid dreaming. I found many of the online resources out there to be fuzzy and even misleading. It was time to create a practical and accessible course that takes the complete novice by the hand into the incredible world of lucid dreaming.
My course is called The Lucid Dreaming Fast Track as it contains the essential knowledge and tutorials you'll need to have lucid dreams as fast as possible. Of course I can't guarantee lucid dreams overnight. But I can give you all the essential info, cut down as concisely as possible, and the most effective techniques to get started.
Uniquely, the course also places special emphasis on meditation for lucid dreaming - because developing a greater sense of self-awareness is really important. It also unlocks the gateway to visualization, hypnagogia and the WILD technique which will one day enable you to have lucid dreams whenever you want.
Rebecca: Lucid dreaming straddles many popular memes: virtual reality escapism, exploration of the mind, out-of-body phenomena, the quest for precognition (whether it is real or not), personal development, and many others. It is popularized by hit movies like Waking Life and Inception (the creators of which - Richard Linklater and Chris Nolan, respectively - are both lucid dreamers). It is fast becoming a part of the collective consciousness.
So the appeal of lucid dreaming will continue to grow. It has the potential to touch all our lives in some way or another; whether you're a musician looking for new song inspiration, a scientist seeking a solution to a complex problem, or a student wanting to practice a new language. As more people develop the skill of lucid dreaming (and we all have it in us) we will uncover more applications.
Recent research using MRI machines on the minds of lucid dreamers has even identified a mechanism by which we could one day record our dreams and play them back. Perhaps one day technology will even allow us to enter each other's lucid dreams and frolic in a realistic shared dreamscape. Who knows, maybe the technology will be inspired by a lucid dream itself ;)
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?