We spend a third or so of our lives in a mysterious torpid state, an understudied thing called ‘sleep’ which appears essential to good health and wellbeing. And we spend a sizeable portion of that time in a vivid delerium we call ‘dreaming’. Yet, for most of us, this time is forgotten and unplumbed except as remembered nightmares or indistinct impressions throughout the following day.
I always wished that I could do better and remember my dreams more clearly, and it's a short hop from there to learning about the phenomenon of Lucid Dreaming.
I wasn't surprised by the existence of lucid dreaming, as it seems so many people are. Many even dispute the existence of lucid dreams, which seems a very strange position to take. For my part, I had experienced a few sponteneously lucid dreams as a child and young teenager and already understood that it was a possibility.. just not that it could be deliberately cultivated and habituated.
Doing so requires the sort of consistent effort and habit-forming that I'm generally not very good at mustering, at least without the skills and tools I've accreted in the years since then. But I did go through a few stints of practice: dream diaries, learning about my dream-signs, useful reality tests, etcetera. I was even lucky enough to own a NovaDreamer, which worked very well for me and really helped me get the hang of things, when I could bear to wear a chunky eyemask going to sleep.
Even when practiced in this way, it can be a difficult thing to develop. My own lack of a naturally robust sleep cycle, and my habit of staying up too late and having to wake at the same time anyway, probably was my biggest challenge. After all, the longest and most stable dreams tend to occur in the latter sleep cycles of the night, and if you don't get enough sleep then you'll probably only experience fragmentary dreams. But also, I think that one can expect too much of oneironautics, and think that with a little practice one can reliably lucid dream nightly without much further effort.
Turns out, that's a very difficult thing to do reliably, and I still do not generally experience fully lucid dreams even after years of intermittant practice. I was getting much better at attaining lucidity though.. until I had kids and entirely lost control over my own sleep cycles!
Something that is rewarding to me though, is that I do experience a very low-level lucidity in nearly all dreams now, which is clearly a result of this practice. While I am usually not ‘consciously aware’ that I am dreaming, there is a subtle awareness of the dream-nature of my surroundings. This isn't, I think, like the dissociation that people experience with some mental illnesses, it is an authentic knowledge that I am dreaming, but at such a low level that it doesn't occur to my dream-consciousness that I shouldn't simply play along with the narrative.
This does mean that in dreams where I might otherwise experience mortal terror (car crashes are a not-infrequent ‘dream sign’ for me), I instead feel something like mild surprise, stress, and a feeling of ‘not again!', which is an improvement to say the least. Frequently these moments of attenuated anxiety are, themselves, a dream-sign that can prompt me into a proper reality test (my preferred method is to hold my nose and attempt to breathe in through it: if I can, then my real nose must be unblocked!), and a state of true lucidity.
In the last several years, this has advanced further, and I started to accrue more attributes in my nonlucid state that I previously only experienced while Lucid. For example, the ability to affect things at a distance (‘telekinesis’), and the ability to fly, are now fairly regular staples of my dreams, and are connected to that aforementioned dim awareness of my dreamstate. Interestingly, the flight started out as an anatomical trait: I had actual bird-like wings in some dreams that were usable for slow and laboured flight, with effort. At some point, it switched over to faster, more agile flight-at-will with a usually normal human body, though a strong sense of focus is still required to do it. The telekinesis has also grown stronger and more reflexive, requiring less and less effort over time. But effort is still required, as if my brain is still stuck on the idea that results require exertion, even when it's all imaginary.
And, on the rare nights that I do get a full night's sleep plus a little extra, I am far more likely now to have a ‘properly’ lucid dream in the latter sleep cycles of the night, in which I am fully aware that I am asleep, and have the faculty to choose what to do.
I am sharing all of this because it's interesting, but I'd like to temper it briefly: even when I have a fully lucid dream, it rarely lasts long and often I'm awake before I can fully realise the experience. I've rarely been able to explore the techniques and opportunities that lucid dream researchers have written books about: dream therapy, persistent dreamscapes, etcetera. I have a few persistent dreamscapes that do recur in nonlucid dreams which I would like to visit in a lucid dream, but I am not very good at changing my dreamscape or ‘teleporting’. Also, even when lucid, I'm still not very smart - a lot of me is still asleep, and the parts that are awake are only as awake as if I'd just gotten out of bed, prior to my morning tea or coffee. Inspiration can be slow to come, and some problem-solving ability is still absent.
But still.. for anyone else out there who's taken an interest in lucid dreaming, as I did many years ago, I hope the above might serve as an encouragement. I never did have the discipline and reliable sleeping cycle needed to become an excellent dreamer, but years of low-effort attempts have still had an effect which has added a bit of colour and fun to my life. So it's worth it, even if you never reach the standard you'd best like to achieve.
I do plan to pursue a new sleeping aide in the near future, however: after lamenting my NovaDreamer for years, I've been planning to make a DIY dream-aide soon, one which would be worn like a watch permanently, and which would vibrate occasionally to cue a dream-test. If I could get a watch with a heart-rate sensor, I could even look into using HRV to detect REM cycles and optimise the cues, as the NovaDreamer used to do. So who knows? Maybe good dreams are coming my way. I'll document it here if I make progress.