The sci-fi adventure hit, Inception, has sparked massive new interest in the concept of lucid dreaming.
Lucidity means becoming conscious and self-aware in your dreams, turning the dreamscape into a vivid virtual reality. This enables you to control and manipulate the dream world and its characters in any way you like.
This scientifically-proven phenomenon of conscious dreaming is accessible to anyone who wants it, with simple techniques and mental training.
Lucidity also gives you direct access to your unconscious mind. This is a deeply insightful place to explore, one-on-one, inside your own personal dream world. Interacting with your unconscious in a lucid dream can change the way you view yourself and the world around you, just as Cobb (DiCaprio) did in his dreams.
In Christopher Nolan's Inception, there is a major emphasis on spotting the difference between dreams and reality. You can practice this yourself: because if you have more self-awareness in everyday life, you will be able to recognize the dream state more easily. And when that happens... you become lucid.
Check out this scene from Inception, in which Cobb explains about self awareness in dreams. When Ariadne (Ellen Page) realizes she is dreaming, she is shocked and afraid, and her unconscious causes the shared dream to collapse around them...
As Cobb pointed out, dreams rarely have a beginning; you are simply thrown right into the middle of the action. Asking how you got to be here is what we call a "reality check" - a way of testing if you're awake or dreaming.
The dream explorers in Inception use special totems for their reality checks. They know their totem object so well, that if it is slighter heavier, or smaller, or doesn't obey the usual laws of physics... then they must be asleep and dreaming.
In your dreamworld, you face a similar task. Your unconscious will go to extraordinary lengths to convince you that your dream is actually reality.
You might see a two-headed monkey, for example, and your unconscious will conjure up a false memory of a news story about the birth of a two-headed monkey. That makes sense, right? And so the dream remains unconscious... Lucid dreamers train themselves to question such logic. In doing so, they are able to access their conscious brain more easily and remember that no such monkey was ever born!
By adopting this questioning mentality during the day, you can retain it at night as you sleep. Very soon, you will notice more inconsistencies in your dreams, and you will find it easier to become lucidly aware...
And when you are lucid in a dream - anything can happen! You can fly over great cities, breathe under water, teleport to the edge of the universe, travel through time, and interact with dream figures. The realism of a lucid dream is astonishing, becoming more vivid as you become more aware.
So what is the single best way to have a lucid dream tonight?
Ask yourself if you are dreaming, right now. Look at the palms of your hands, and try to push your fingers through a solid object. Is everything normal? By performing this simple reality check several times a day, you are training your brain to become more self aware. This mentality filters through to the dreamworld, so that you may even have your first lucid dream tonight.
You can use your own totem if you like. I prefer to look at my hands. An ideal totem is a digital watch; not only does it chime on the hour (to remind you to check your reality) which you can hear in your sleep, it is also electronic. For some reason, electronics don't work in dreams. Light switches, in particular, often fail to function. And because a digital watch display requires the language centers of the brain to be active, telling the time can be very difficult indeed... This is a dead giveaway that you are dreaming.
To fast track the process, start to meditate. There is a proven link between meditation and lucid dreaming. People who meditate regularly (ie, who enter altered states of awareness on demand) improve their ability to relax deeply, visualize intricate dream scenes, communicate with their inner self, and question their self awareness. It's ideal practice for lucid dreaming.
I have improved my lucid dreaming skills through meditation, by listening to brainwave entrainment. I highly recommend it. Through precisely calculated soundwaves, it relaxes your brain into a deeper state of awareness using the "frequency following response". It's scientifically proven to help you meditate and provides a backdoor to lucid dreams and out of body phenomena.
In the movie, Cobb penetrates other people's minds using a fictional piece of technology that enables shared dreams, called PASIV. Inception's creators had to make up an elaborate set of rules to create drama using PASIV. These were rules that don't exist in real life - such as, in order to wake up you have to kill yourself in the dream! Or if you die in a level 2 dream (a dream-within-a-dream) you will be sent to your own personal dream limbo for eternity... Suffice to say that none of this is true in the real world of lucid dreaming.
But what of dream telepathy and shared dreams? Is it possible to communicate with each other in lucid dreams? Robert Waggoner, advanced lucid dreamer and author of Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self, believes it might be. He discusses this idea at length in his book, and provides real life studies to support his case.
"So often, our inner world seems the least explored one," Waggoner says. "In lucid dreaming, we have a revolutionary psychological tool to investigate inner reality. Hopefully, science will take this bit of fiction seriously, and see what experienced lucid dreamers have been discovering about the actual nature of lucid dreaming..."
Here's a good question. If a lucid dream is any dream in which you know you're dreaming, then why aren't we always lucid in dreams? Why doesn't it just become the default state of dreaming? Why do we accept our dreams of flying pigs and dinosaurs as an extension of waking life? What is the mechanism for defaulting to non-lucid dreams? Intriguingly, scientists have approached this question from three different angles./p>
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.
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?