How To Maintain Dream Control (and Why You Sometimes Shouldn't)

When you're determined to actively control your lucid dream, it's really important that you stay focused and lucid at all times.

Without this mental focus, you will experience continual wavering of your level of consciousness. The dreaming self will keep trying to engulf your dream with its own imagery, and you'll end up in a frustrating battle of conscious ego vs dream.

Here is one such example from my dream diary:

How to Maintain Dream Control

I'm running along a beach somewhere in Asia when I notice the colors are all wrong. The sand is too yellow, the sky is too deep blue; it's like someone turned up the contrast on a picture. I realize I must be dreaming.

I see a cave at the end of the beach and run towards it, knowing that Pete is inside. As I enter, he's right there waiting for me, looking exactly how he does in real life. As I start to think what we should do next, I sense danger is lurking outside the cave...

There are three guard dogs closing in on the entrance - growling, drooling and baring their teeth. I didn't want this! I panic, semi-lucidly closing the doors to my cave as Pete comes to see what's happening. He forms a gun with his fingers and starts shooting the angry dogs through a gap in the door: PIAOW! PIAOW!

The absurdity hits me and I become fully lucid. I open the doors, feeling confident in my ability to deal with the dogs, and smudge them out with my fingers like I'm erasing pencil marks. The dogs disappear.

But then I start to lose my lucidity again... Now, three giant purple gorilla monsters start closing in on us. I remember Pete's trick and shoot them down with my fingers - PIAOW! - and they get actual bullet wounds in their chests. Instead of falling down, they look sheepish and walk away.

Finally, I feel in control and start my adventure. I say out loud "I know I'm here - now what shall I do!" I drop my glasses into the sand [NB: glasses used to be my reality check; you don't need them while dreaming] and dive into the sea. I open my eyes underwater - for a second it is murky, then I open my real eyes by accident!

I see the pillow next to my face as my awareness shoots back to the real world. I immediately close my eyes again and manage to stay in the dream - unfortunately my lucidity is all but lost. Now people are shouting "Shark! Shark!" at me so I swim back to the shore.

Instead of washing up on the beach, the sea is now a giant swimming pool and I climb out. Something scratches my leg and causes pain - the shark? - so I turn around and grab the tail fin. I pull him out with super strength. It's a great blue whale with one big sad eye looking at me. I let him go and, my lucidity lost, I soon wake up.

I lie very still in bed and start to visualize my next lucid dream. I'm thinking space would be a good setting, and that I should practice spinning to stay lucid. I drowsily think "Oh no that will feel like space-gravity is crushing me!" Before I can think of anything else, I'm semi-lucidly floating in space...

A little man is packing a 3D jigsaw sphere around me, slowly trapping me like a chick inside an egg. There is room to sit up, but my legs curve upwards impossibly around the inside. The last piece is put in place and I am fully enclosed. The sphere starts rolling in space, this way and that, until eventually the dream fades to black.

How to Maintain Dream Control

So what did I do wrong on that occasion? I can think of three things:

  1. I didn't cement my lucidity at the start. As discussed earlier in How to Stay Lucid, I failed to ground myself in the dream by rubbing my hands together, observing my palms or some other feature close-up, or saying out loud "I'm dreaming" (this acknowledgement came all too late).
  2. I didn't remind myself I was dreaming. As a knock-on effect of failing to ground myself at the start, I also forgot to remind myself I was dreaming at regular intervals as time went on. Lucidity can fade on its own as the dream evolves and I had no way of pulling it back - so I lost control.
  3. I didn't set a lucid dream intention. When I became lucid, I remembered to seek out Pete as planned, but I had no idea what to do next. If I'd set a lucid dream intention while awake (say, go swimming together) I wouldn't have been left wondering and open to the dream's will of the dog attack.

(Incidentally, opening my real eyes was just unlucky. I already knew that closing or opening my eyes while lucid would cause this. Sometimes I still can't help myself.)

These three simple actions, taking just a few seconds to implement in the dream world, would have changed the entire course of my lucid dream. Instead, it became a frustrating struggle to maintain control against my dreaming self.

However, this isn't all bad... While at first glance I failed to stay in control and do all sorts of ego-gratifying activities in my lucid dream, I did get to have a potential learning experience with my unconscious dreaming self. And this can be a good reason to relinquish control of your next lucid dream altogether...

Listening to The unconscious Dreaming Self

As we've learned, lucid dreaming doesn't have to equate directly to dream control. While being able to willfully manipulate your dream world is fun, many experienced lucid dreamers prefer to just consciously observe their dreams lucidly. This gives your dreaming self the opportunity to send you all kinds of messages and life-changing insights via the medium of a fully conscious dream. It can be far more profound than interpreting any non-lucid dream.

In the example above, I kept fighting this. My goal for this dream was to have full control. But perhaps my dream didn't want to be controlled on this occasion. Perhaps it had something more important to tell me...

My inability to control the nightmarish elements not only suggests a lack of consciousness; it also suggests my dreaming self was trying to tell me something important. In hindsight, it would have been a good idea to speak to the dogs and the gorilla monsters and ask what they wanted and whether we could work it out. Instead, I killed them - which is the lucid dream equivalent of simple denying a problem exists.

We can also interpret the possible meaning of the little man packing me into an egg. Despite re-entering the dream lucidly, I quickly lost control to my dreaming self. Perhaps the reason I was regressed to a fetal form trapped in an egg, was so I could waste no more time running around influencing my dream for gratuitous reasons.

Dream Control or Passive Observation - Which Is Better?

As a lucid dreamer, I encourage you to notch up experiences in both camps. At first, you'll probably be drawn to dream control and there's no denying it's a whole lot of fun. But when you decide you want to delve deeper into your own mind, try just being a passive observer in your lucid dream.

You'll see that the dream evolves on its own quite readily, and you can ask questions along the way if you choose, or just enjoy the experience. It will be miles more memorable than the observation of non-lucid dreams, as you have all the clarity of mind and vivid sensory experience provided by a lucid dream.

Just remember, whether you choose to maintain dream control or observe without interaction, you must always ground yourself in a lucid dream when it begins. Then keep reminding yourself that you're dreaming. This is essential for ongoing dream consciousness or you risk fading to the ranks of non-lucidity.

About The Author

About The Author

Rebecca Casale is a lucid dreamer and a science writer with a special interest in biology and the brain. She is the founder of World of Lucid Dreaming and Science Me.