What's your lucid New Year's resolution?
Is it going to help you have better lucid dreams (or even your hatsuyume)?
What do I even mean by "better" lucid dreams? Are they going to be longer, more frequent, more intense, more meaningful, or even improve your waking life? Or are you thinking: all of the above?
In the ongoing pursuit of lucidity, I've asked some of the world's leading lucid dream experts:
"What's your personal New Year's resolution for lucid dreaming?"
Robert Waggoner, an advanced lucid dreamer and author of Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self, says it's important to monitor your lucid dream life.
"Put on your Dr Lucid lab coat, and chart your number of lucid dreams each month," suggests Waggoner. "By paying attention to how many lucid dreams you have, you can tell when new techniques or life changes lead to increasing numbers of lucid dreams."
What's the best way to do this? "In the front of your dream journal, just make a simple bar chart," he says. "Plot the number of lucid dreams each month." At the same time, note any occurrences which may impact on your lucid dream life - such as sleep deprivation, emotional upheaval, reading a book on lucid dreaming, taking a supplement, fever and sickness, and so on.
Then look out for any patterns that emerge. This kind of monitoring and measurement can offer real clues as to your personal lucid dream triggers.
Ryan Hurd, author of the book Sleep Paralysis: A Guide to Hypnagogic Visions and Visitors of the Night, says the basics are still important - no matter how long you've been lucid dreaming.
"Spend more time focusing on the basics - like improving dream recall," says Hurd.
"Even after 20 years of lucid dreaming, I still need to set weekly intentions to remember my dreams and, especially, to write them down in the morning while my recall is still intact."
The downside, if you don't, is a knock-on effect of apathy. "I've found that if I don't set the intention on a Monday, I don't have any dreams in my journal by the time Friday rolls around," mulls Hurd.
It's easy to forget to dream journal - and I'm just as guilty of this too, especially when life becomes hectic. Yet I also know from years of experience that the more I write in my dream journal, the more lucid dreams I have. Simple as that.
Keeping a dream journal is a basic lucidity aid, so this resolution is about remembering to remember your dreams!
It's quite possible to get stuck in a rut with your lucid dreams and seek out the same thrills time after time. Erotic dreams are probably the most common example, because we're motivated by that primal urge. That's not to say such lucid dreams are boring or uninspired, but there is a whole universe available for exploration - so why chase down the very same fantasy night upon night?
The way to get thinking out-of-the-box with your lucid dreaming is write down as many applications as you can think of. Grab a pencil and paper, title your page In My Next Lucid Dream I Will... and then write down whatever comes to mind. The ideas can be as literal or abstract as you wish.
I discovered this brainstorming technique accidentally while writing an article called 101 Ideas for Lucid Dreams. While my suggestions were pruned and tamed for a mass audience, you can run wild with your own ideas because they're completely private. And remember you don't have to do them all in a lucid dream - we're just gathering ideas. Break as many mental boundaries as you can, and then keep pushing further till you find something even weirder.
Why not re-experience life in the womb? Or ask the dream to show you what happens after you die? Reverse the history of the universe and see where the Big Bang came from? Experience parallel worlds at the same time? Shapeshift into a planet? Become a quark for the day? Playback the entire history of mankind?
That's my New Year's resolution - and come January 1st I'll be brainstorming all my lucid dream intentions for the year ahead until they start sounding completely nutty and surreal. Then I'll write some more.
"Create thirty minutes of personal space before sleep each night, and read other people's lucid dreams," says Robert Waggoner.
"Allowing yourself time to decompress before sleep leads to a calmer mind. Then absorbing the interesting lucid dreams of others can activate your inner curiosity, and make lucid dreaming more alive in your unconscious mind."
This technique often goes by the name of lucid dream incubation, and is really simple in that all you need to do is think about lucid dreaming. Remember, the thoughts and emotions that run through your head during the day are the fodder for your dreams each night. So the more you think about having lucid dreams, the more lucid dreams you'll have.
Need a source for other people's lucid dreams? Just have a look around our Lucid Dreaming Forums.
Charlie Morley, a holistic lucid dream teacher and author of Dreams of Awakening: Lucid Dreaming and Mindfulness of Dream and Sleep, frequently muses on lucid dreaming in a Tibetan Buddhist context. However, his New Year's resolution attempts put his dreamwork - and his dreamplay - into some perspective.
"My New Year's resolution is to try to play more in the lucid dream rather than feel that I have to use EVERY lucid dream for some deep spiritual practice."
It's an interesting point. Morley has trained extensively in lucid dreaming within the framework of Tibetan Buddhism, which sets out a number of spiritual tasks which the dreamer must complete when lucid. These include visiting different lokas (worlds), meeting with other sentient beings, and receiving initiations and empowerments.
Meanwhile, a lot (but certainly not all) of Western lucid dreamers admittedly pursue lucid dreams for fun and escapism. There's no prescribed set of goals in the Western view. (Although people are coming round to using lucidity for real world applications and personal growth, like improving muscle memory for sports, inspiring music and art, resolving emotional trauma, and so on.) Still, Tibetan lucid dreaming is a whole different ball game when you compare the two practices, even if we are all playing in the same park.
So Morley's resolution is for dreamworkers who are following a dedicated spiritual path, but perhaps need to take a break and use lucidity for their own sense of fun and play from time to time. Although he does add wryly, "Or maybe play is a deep spiritual practice?"
Here's another way to probe your lucid dream world and seek out new and unexpected adventures.
"I'm going to spend more time incubating questions for my lucid dream self," says Robert Waggoner. This enables you to interact with the awareness behind the dream, a sort of unconscious self, which feels very much independent of your conscious self.
"It's simple," says Waggoner. "Just stop what you are doing in a lucid dream, ignore the dream figures and announce a question to the dream, like, show me something important for me to see! You will likely be amazed by the responsive, creative nature of your unconscious mind."
I first tried this technique a few years ago on reading Waggoner's bestselling book on lucid dreaming. In my lucid dream I shouted: show me something hilarious! The next thing I saw was a man-sized, multi-colored furry ape walking down the street towards me. He had a groovy walk and his fur ruffled in high-definition. This bizarre, out-of-the-blue image was hilarious and I fell into fits of giggles. I was also bemused by my dreaming self's sense of humor.
You can also ask specific questions of your lucid dream like: where will I be in five years' time? What's the best way to resolve my problem with so-and-so? The dream can respond in various ways; sometimes the answer comes from a dream figure, other times it is written in the air, or played out as a dream plot. It really opens up a whole new world of lucid possibilities.
T'ai Chi is a Chinese system of meditation in motion, designed for relaxation and balance. With over 10 million people practicing T'ai Chi daily in China, it is one of the most popular exercises in the world.
According to legend, the technique was created by a Taoist monk as a defense strategy. He was inspired as he watched a crane and a snake do battle. Impressed by the snake's ability to subtly and swiftly avoid the bird's thrusts, he devised a series of self-defense maneuvers that didn't involve meeting the opponent's force with force, but rather evading the blow, causing the opponent's own momentum to work against him.
Today, modern forms of T'ai Chi act as gentle exercise. Having learned the basics, I find it a really calming practice. The mind becomes focused on the pattern of movements which are smooth and steady, making it suitable for all ages and levels of fitness. In practicing T'ai Chi, your state of mind becomes clearer which is the essence of meditation - and that's something that all lucid dreamers should pursue.
Dr Rory Mac Sweeney, a lucid dreamer and creator of The Mutual Dream Experiment, has practiced T'ai Chi to a more advanced level. He recommends practicing this art form within the lucid dream state: "I have been working with T'ai Chi in the dream world for a couple of years now and am progressing towards being able to complete my long form in the dream state."
"Performing the process of T'ai Chi in the dream has presented quite a lot of unexpected insights into the nature of what we perceive to be our bodies, it has proven to be a really deep excursion for me."
To start practicing T'ai Chi in your lucid dreams, first learn some basic techniques in the waking world. Consider taking a local T'ai Chi class or follow DVD instruction at home like BodyWisdom Media: T'ai Chi for Beginners which offers eight routines for increased flexibility, strength and energy.