But what do lucid dreams feel like?
Years ago, before I had my first lucid dream, I had a very specific idea about what a lucid dream would feel like. I thought it would be intense and magical and a little bit spooky.
This turned out to be a pretty accurate representation.
Becoming aware in the dreamstate is like entering another world. One where physical laws can be manipulated (there is no spoon, Neo) and your fantasies can come true in an instant.
There's definitely something magical about that - and it's as if the lucid dream world is a living, breathing organism that can react to your very thoughts.
Since my first lucid dream, I've discovered a lot more about the sensation and perception of lucid dreams.
For instance, no two lucid dreams are ever the same, even if they share an identical setup. And the intensity of the experience is reliant on you maintaining peak levels of awareness.
While it's no substitute for experiencing a lucid dream first-hand, today I'd like to share my own experience of what lucid dreams feel like.
Your physical experience is made up of sensory interpretations, like the feel of the ground underneath your feet or the smell of the ocean.
In waking life, this information is received via your five main physical senses: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. The stimulus is real and your brain interprets the data accordingly.
In dreams, this information is synthesized by the mind. It comes from your memory and imagination. In lucid dreams, when consciousness arises, the sensations become intensified and lifelike.
Sometimes these sensations are very intense and pleasurable - which is why many oneironauts seek to fulfill primal urges like lucid dream sex.
But there are plenty other exquisite sensations to seek while lucid.
When you eat in a lucid dream, it's all about the flavor and the texture of the food.
Chewing and swallowing takes less time than in reality.
Your imaginary taste buds don't become accustomed to the flavor so each bite is like your first.
And of course there's no need to feel guilty about consuming excessive amounts of sugar or fat.
Chocolate cake is right up there among my favorites. My next best lucid-food-dream takes the form of going to a fancy restaurant and ordering the chef's special.
You can even try foods you've never tasted before in real life. Although there's no guarantee the taste will be authentic - it'll taste however you expect it to taste.
In fact, this rule of expectation can play out heavily in lucid dreams. If you expect a gourmet burger to be delicious, it will. If you expect to bite into a rotten apple, you will.
But what if you have no expectation at all? That's when your unconscious dreaming self takes the lead.
But in my lucid dreams, I love flying high.
I'll swoop over a mountain range, day or night. I'll soar among skyscrapers and watch people live out their dream-lives in the city below.
Lucid flying dreams possess a powerful combination of exhilarating freedom and unraveling adventure.
In my flying dreams, the sense of weightlessness, whooshing and wavering in the air certainly feels vivid and real to me.
Who knows, perhaps one day I'll experience real life skydiving and realize it's nothing like my lucid dreams. (If I had to guess, I'd imagine the lucid version feels a lot more comfortable - and safer.)
Of course, maintaining lucidity is critical to the experience. If I forget I'm dreaming and lose my awareness in-the-moment, I'll typically fall and get that stomach-dropping feeling.
That's why it's important to practice self awareness when you're a lucid dreamer.
My lucid dreaming mind also creates many wonderful and unexpected details when I'm flying.
I've felt the wind fingering through my hair. I've felt rain falling on my skin. I've even felt the warmth of the sun on my face as I flew toward it through space.
The sci-fi movie Sunshine (2009) inspired a lucid dream of flying into the sun
Here's an interesting one. I don't feel all that qualified in talking about pain in lucid dreams because it's something I actively avoid.
But I can tell you this.
Lucid dreams are co-created by two players:
In normal dreams, the unconscious has basically all control.
In lucid dreams, the conscious self steps in and starts to tweak things as it desires.
Both are able to create pain in lucid dreams, although it's most likely to be the unconscious mind that produces this experience.
Pain is a result of pre-conceptions and established neural pathways: if you hit your thumb with a hammer, what do you expect? The brain simulates dream pain because this is its reality.
Likewise, if you fall onto a bed of spikes in your lucid dream, you might just find out what it feels like to be impaled.
But don't panic. Being lucid, you can command the pain to stop instantly or even wake yourself up. (I'm sure it isn't a patch on the real life experience of being impaled anyway.)
When I experience pain in a lucid dream, it's very different from real pain.
Lucid pain is inconsistent with the cause, and it stops abruptly when my thoughts move on in the dream.
What's more, there's no psychological component (like worrying how much and how permanently you just ruined your body) which, for me, makes real life pain so much worse.
Perhaps my worst experience of lucid pain was this: I was submerged underwater, choked and drowned during a lucid nightmare in which I was a passive observer.
Without lucidly controlling anything, I automatically moved out-of-body where it was no longer painful. Good to know that my unconscious dreaming self had my back.
Now let's move to the cognitive experience of lucid dreams: how it feels to be aware, process information, recall memories and mentally control the dream.
In lucid dreams, your focus is expanded considerably compared to normal dreams, but some aspects are still very different from what you experience in waking life. Location awareness is one of them.
For example, sitting at my desk right now, I am aware of the room around me, the house beyond that, the garden, the village, the New Zealand landscape, and even a sense that I am on planet Earth. I know my location in the grand scheme of things and I know this is a solid, reliable construct.
But the lucid dream world is much more fluid.
When lucid, I am most often in unfamiliar places which have no GeoTag. I accept this automatically, knowing that I can teleport to a new location any time.
It's as if my brain has no intention of placing my location so instead focuses my awareness only in the immediate vicinity.
The best way I can describe it is becoming absorbed in a video game or a movie and forgetting the "real world" exists beyond it.
Of course, with conscious effort, you can recall that your real body is lying in bed. Sometimes, however, such thinking only serves to wake you prematurely.
But generally (for me, anyway) the default setting is to focus on the pretty colors in in front of my face right now. This is why it's a good reason to set up a lucid dream intention while awake, because it's hard for the conscious dreaming mind to imagine new places from scratch.
If you have no pre-set intention, just allow the dream to take over and show you an unlimited amount of cool new stuff. This is usually where the best creativity arises anyway.
Your memory works differently in the dream world. That's because large parts of your brain are inactive during sleep and it can be difficult to rouse them, even when you are consciously dreaming.
In normal dreams, you have little memory of your real life, and sometimes you even have false memories to make the dream scenario fit.
Even the memory of the dream itself fails to lock into short term memory very accurately. In other words, your dreaming memory rather sucks.
At times, lucid dreams feel like they're only a notch or two above this. Waking memories can be hard to grasp while lucid, and the lucid dream must be recorded immediately upon waking or you risk losing the details forever.
The moment I become lucid, I try to recall my lucid dream intention (my goal for the dream).
This could be to interact with a particular character, to experience some wacky adventure, or even ask a specific question of the dream itself. It usually depends on my waking mindset, my personal goals and desires, and what books and movies I'm into at the time.
I'll set up my lucid dream goal the day before - either when I'm falling asleep, or earlier in the day during meditation.
Once lucid, the stronger the desire to achieve a particular goal, the easier it is to recall. Sometimes I can't remember any particular intention, which is frustrating if I thought I had a great one lined up. A backup plan comes in handy at this point: simply explore the local dreamscape, ask probing questions of fellow dream figures, or let the dreaming mind take over with its own storyline.
It's important to remember that even when you're not controlling your lucid dream, you are still very much lucid. This "letting go" creates intense, unpredictable dreams which can be just as exciting as any manipulated dream. It's just that you don't know where it's all going.
Long term memory in lucid dreams is also generally off the radar.
Like location awareness, unless you are specifically trying to access a piece of information, the awareness of past memories are simply absent - or out of focus. This is equally true of thinking about the future.
My lucid dream self lives in the present moment and cares little for childhood memories or abstract intentions, unless I make deliberate attempts to focus on them.
Dream control is a cognitive aspect of lucid dreaming because it's all done through willpower and mental focus.
Contrary to popular belief, when you become lucid you don't automatically have total control over your dream environment. Like I say, lucid dreaming only means to have conscious self awareness within the dream state. Sometimes this means controlling many aspects of it, sometimes just a few key expectations, and sometimes you may choose to relinquish all control altogether.
~ Robert Waggoner
You may navigate your ship (consciousness) through the ocean (the dream) but you do not have to consciously populate every dream scene with every leaf and blade of grass and wisp of cloud.
The dream populates itself while we consciously frolic within it. Usually that means a bird flies of its own accord, or a dream figure behaves autonomously.
Beginners often run into the trap of trying to control major features of the dream with only a partial sense of lucidity - but this can be frustrating and disheartening.
To overcome this obstacle, here are some tricks for increasing your lucidity. Only then can you master fuller control of your dream.
When you do exert greater control over the dream, the world is your oyster. You can paint the sky with a sweep of your hand. You can burrow down into the ground and journey to the center of the Earth. You can fight zombies, become Iron Man, or even create an entirely new civilization.
Absolutely anything is possible - unless you have a preconceived limiting belief about it.
For instance, if I told you it was impossible to fly into the sun in a lucid dream (and you really believed me) and then attempted it, you'd probably hit some kind of psychological roadblock. Perhaps you'd melt and emerge in a new scene.
Or perhaps you'd hit a wall like Truman Burbank when he reached the edge of his "world".
When it comes to dream control, your expectations are paramount. And if you have no conscious expectations of a certain event, your unconscious will fill them in for you, evolving the dream on your behalf.
The intensity of feelings in lucid dreams can be the same, or more intense, as feelings in real life.
The main difference you'll notice is that because you're having such a jolly wonderful time, the emotions are more along the lines of awe, ecstasy, excitement, lust, gratitude, love and all that other fluffy stuff.
The big problem with lucid emotions is being overcome with excitement - especially the first few times you achieve lucidity.
It's tempting to jump for joy, shout and tell everyone in your dream that you are in fact dreaming. This is undesirable because it vastly increases your changes of waking up.
Besides, in my experience it's universally true that other dream characters really don't care that you've become lucid anyway.
So in your early lucid dreams I recommend taking extra care to remain calm. You can do it. All it takes is the simple acknowledgment right now that you won't run off on like a raving lunatic.
Eventually you won't need to ground yourself like this and you can let your emotions run a bit more free. But until you've mastered that minimum level of focus required to keep the dream running, just tone down the jubilation.
Eventually you may start to look for a deeper meaning in your lucid dreams.
Don't get me wrong; you'll still have plenty of ego-gratifying activities you want to do. But none of it will be too original or paradigm-shifting. That's when it's time to turn inwards.
One of the more profound applications of lucid dreaming is to communicate with the dream itself by asking questions. Simply stop what you're doing and address the dreamscape with a question:
Then let the dream reveal itself.
When you probe your dream self you will very likely start to experience more intense emotions and take-home lessons in your lucid dreams, learning about the true nature of your basest self.
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?