Truths about Lucid Dreaming

Some Truths about Lucid Dreaming

According to a review in The Observer, many viewers of the film Inception are confused by it, or what it means. That is, unless they have themselves thoroughly explored the world of lucid dreaming, and understand that you must not measure the lucid experience by what you know, or think you know, about so called ‘real’ life.

In the ‘real’ world if you jump off a high building it would kill you – well, not really, but it would certainly mess up that body. But in the world of dreams, and especially lucid dreams, you can of course experience death- and you can do it again and again, because that it all it is, an experience.

What is so difficult for most people to grasp is that every dream is a real life virtual reality. But unlike those of computer games and computer generated versions you are firmly in the action and feeling it as if it were real. Therefore if you ‘dream’ of  falling you will usually feel extraordinary fear. And of course, if you dream of having a wonderful sexual encounter it IS wonderful, with depths of experience not usually available in waking life.

To really understand dreaming and lucid dreaming you have to understand that you are in an experience without boundaries. I know that is hard for most people to grasp, locked as they are in their view of the world as being subject to time, space and what is usually called ‘reality’. So come with me into another world in which thoughts create your environment, and imagination is a tool with which you can create it. So most people who enter it usually create a world much like the physical world they are so familiar with – people with bodies, gender, up and down, houses and no connection between people except through words and body signals. Pretty boring when you know your way around the many dimensions you exist in. But their dream world is frightening or intriguing because it is so totally unlike ‘real’ life.

Travel with me into the world of directly knowing another person without the use of words or even a body; to an experience of the Earth and its wonderful tides and energies beyond the knowing we have through our eyes and physical senses; come with me into the vast sea of knowledge where all that has lived is known and recorded. Or into the depths of your own past and ancestors, the evolution of you.

Inception is an adventure in this first level – people with bodies, a fixed gender, up and down, houses and no connection between people except though words or signals. In the dream world we create our environment and it is plastic, able to shift with our thoughts and intentions. Having been able to explore lucid dreaming, I know from experience that is only the first level – the ordinary world of seeing objects in a new setting. So if you think this is weird, there are worlds beyond that are so much more  wonderful, but this film doesn’t show them. It doesn’t suggest that our only limitation is our own ability, our own conceptions of who and what we are. Our growth is to move beyond what we have known and what we believe.

Having seen the video of Inception, and myself moved beyond the image level, I know there is more to lucid dreaming.


Lucid Means Awareness

Being lucid in a dream is the extraordinary experience of knowing you have carried something of waking awareness into sleep. In the lucid state you can make decisions and do thing that in ordinary dreaming are not possible. Our dreams take us into realms of extraordinary experience in which we are still largely unaware.  In lucid dreaming we wake up in what is usually a dark, unconscious world.  Or in the midst of a dream we realise the situation and relate to the dream in a new and dynamic way. Because you are conscious you have entered the world of the unconscious with all its wonders and strangeness.

To make comparisons, in waking life you have to work at something to create it – in the lucid state you can immediately create in the virtual reality of dreams. In waking you have limited memory – in lucidity you have full recall. In waking life you have a sexual orientation through your body – in lucidity you can be any gender. In waking life you only have the three dimensional experience via the senses – and the senses are notoriously limited, and so in lucidity you can be in worlds with little or no form. In other words in waking life you live in enormous limitations – in lucidity you enter a world of freedom, only limited by your imagination or concepts. You can fly effortlessly or even transfer immediately to any part of the earth or beyond.

But lucidity is different to sleep and dreams. Sleep is a strange country.  In it we largely lose our sense of self.  Or dreams take us into a new worlds of experience in which we are still largely unaware.  But throughout history there have been individuals who have described a different meeting with sleep. They wake up in what is usually a dark, unconscious world.  Or in the midst of a dream they realise the situation and relate to the dream in a new and dynamic way. Then they can explore this new territory.

In becoming lucid you not only enter into the world of sleep, with all its possibilities of extended memory, creativity and healing, but you also discover a world of experience that is beyond the limitations of waking life. Imagine what it is like to reach for creative ideas and find them; to create a world around you that brings peace; to be able to practice new skills or improve old ones with expert tuition; or to be able to follow your curiosity off in almost any direction, with full access to whatever you have read or learned in the past. Also, you are able to live these things, not just think them. You can explore love and relationship with a wonderful sensitivity, or even step beyond the usual barriers of time and space – or experiencing yourself in a variety of roles or different periods of time.

In lucidity, not only do you begin to touch the enormous potential latent within you, but you also release something of that potential into your waking life. So lucid dreaming is not a Disneyland of ephemeral entertainments, it can be the doorway to real personal growth and adventure.

To sum this up, the unconscious is:

The mass of your memories remain unconscious unless called upon, and even may remain hidden or what we call ‘forgotten’. In this case forgotten means unconscious. Here is an example of this from a lucid dream I had.

I was surprised that with the huge instrument like a euphonium I could play a tune rather than simply an accompaniment. All the while I was intrigued how another piece of music would suggest itself, and then I could remember it note for note. I realised that the playing wasn’t difficult because I was dreaming, so that didn’t amaze me. But the memory of the music, pieces that I do not often remember or sing, was startling. It demonstrated to me how easily the memory works when we are in this state.

The unconscious is the master of all our body functions, which remain ‘unconscious’. For instance one of my early lucid experiences was of waking up while deep in sleep, and realising I was in my body examining it. This was extraordinary as I could see the inner workings of my lungs. I had some sort of infection at the time and I could see the way my body was healing it. It was like watching plant circulation dealing with the illness. Then I was examining my neck and I could see I had a problem there that if it continued could lead to serious illness. The problem was of having an attitude of being very rigid in my opinions. This caused a poor energy flow between my trunk and head. Seeing this, a situation I was previously unconscious of, I was able to grow beyond it.

The outer world we take to be the ultimate reality is in fact an externalisation of the forces of the universe, or Life, that are largely unknown and unsensed, and so are – that word again – unconscious.

When you become lucid in sleep you carry the bright torch of personal awareness into the depths of your body and mind, into the unconscious. This is a frontier only a few people have crossed.  Like the frontiers of sea and sky that past generations overcame, the frontier of awareness holds enormous treasures and benefits.  However, unlike the frontiers presented by the exploration of the oceans and space, the crossing of this frontier is open to us all. To wake fully in sleep and dreams is one of the most amazing experiences and adventures you can have. Climbing a mountain or travelling to wild places is exciting and interesting, but discovering your roots and exploring the depths of your mind and heart are life changing. Even the techniques leading to lucidity bring life transforming change in your everyday life. 

The Way to the New Land

So, how do we enter into and move around in the great waters of our inner life?

The first steps are in learning how to allow things to happen spontaneously. The dream itself occurs because you have surrendered control as you slipped into sleep. The dream is a spontaneous expression of something other than your conscious will or thoughts. To enter the world of the dream you need to learn how to do that consciously. Learning how to let go of your goals, your conscious thoughts and desires, your will, is the first skill needed.

If you consider what happens when you go to sleep, you completely let go of the world, your activities, your thoughts and feelings. Then your thoughts and feelings start to flow in their own way, being moved from a deeper level than your conscious decisions. It is worth examining your experience of this and trying to reproduce it while you are alert and awake. Dreams do not communicate with words or intellectual discussion, and if you cannot allow the spontaneous your dreams will not be able to communicate with you.

I tend to call this the keyboard condition and have described it elsewhere in various ways. The first steps in learning the keyboard condition are to hold your body, your emotions, your sexuality, your mind, memories and imagination as if they were keys upon which the inner dream maker can play. As you fall asleep you let go of your control over what you think, what you do with your body, and what you fantasy. Your I, your decision making self has relaxed and left the stage free for the dream maker to create its dramas. So, in beginning to access the deeper possibilities of your dreams you need to take on a similar relaxed state without actually losing awareness. In this way you are holding your body free to move spontaneously; you are letting go of any control or resistances you might have in connection with your emotions; you are relinquishing your thoughts and goals, and you are leaving the stage free for your imagination all to be able to respond to something other than your conscious will and ready to be moved spontaneously.

Remember that when you dream you often experience very powerful emotions, you move, you run, you make love, and more than anything else you experience an enormous variety of situations or environments. To enter into these, to gather what they depict about yourself and your deeply unconscious life processes and mind, you cannot simply analyse or think about them. You need to experience them.

Learning to be capable of being moved like that for most people takes practice. Two simple techniques enable you to do this. The first I call ‘self watching’ and the second one is ‘carving in space’.

Self Watching

This is one of the most important skills we can learn, not only in regard to entering into our dreams; it is also a doorway into many other possibilities in your life.

It is most helpful if you can practice this skill with a partner who will listen without comment. Their quietness is important. It is so easy to simply sit and have a conversation or for the listening person simply to tell you what they think about what you are saying, and that is not the aim of this exercise. Having a partner who will listen without comment focuses your attention. It is an enormous aid, and you can take it in turns to be the person using the process.

You need to sit somewhere you can be reasonably relaxed and undisturbed for at least fifteen minutes. Then, as far as you are able take on the keyboard condition. In other words agree with yourself that you are not unconsciously telling your body it must be still. You are leaving your body open to move, to stretch, or do whatever comes to you spontaneously. It means being ready to experience your emotions, memories or imagination in any way they arrive spontaneously.

Then, with eyes closed, turn your attention onto yourself. Perhaps imagine that your body is like a television screen and you are simply watching what images and drama appear on it. So start by being aware of what sensations, feelings, tensions, or discomforts are apparent throughout your body. Describe them to your partner or to yourself if you have no partner. I mean by this actually speak aloud what you feel and observe, even if you are alone. This focuses your attention enormously. You are not aiming to reach any goal, so simply observe and gradually observe what is flitting through your thoughts, what feeling state you are in and watch the changes that occur as you continue your observation. As any shift occurs describe it.

Remember that you are not attempting to reach any particular goal of feelings or attitude. You are simply observing and describing what you can see. Here is an example of somebody using this technique. As you can see they move gradually from general observations of what they are experiencing to a particular theme, that of relationship. This is often what happens. Certain directions are taken spontaneously and feelings or memories arise that take you in a particular direction.

As I turn my attention to the screen of my body the first thing I notice is that my mouth is quite tense. I am almost biting my lip, so I relax that tension. And then I notice that the rest of my body has tensions that are unnecessary and I relax them. Now a feeling is occurring in the upper part of my body, almost as if a heavy cloud were shifting from my head and there is a sense of opening, or perhaps something like walking out of a small room into the open air and experiencing the bigness of the sky. It is a nice feeling. Now I get the urge to move my head by turning it side to side, almost as if I am exercising my neck. My whole body gets involved in this now and I shift my position for one that feels more open and comfortable. Now it seems as if I am simply listening. I am feeling as if I’m going to open. I am opening. These words come to me spontaneously and I speak them. But I don’t know what they mean yet. Now I yawn. I am looking at something that isn’t very clear and it is about the way I relate to women. That’s how it seems. I am feeling as if I’m trying to open. I’m not sure why. It’s all to do with being independent. I don’t want to get involved in somebody else’s needs and desires. I can see I feel that a close relationship means becoming beholden to someone. It’s nothing that I can’t deal with.


One of the important points of this technique is to help you develop awareness of the subtle feelings, shift of feelings, physical sensations, and urges that arise when you give yourself that sort of attention. If this is difficult for you at first it is helpful to think of someone you love or something that is beautiful. It can be a pet, an object, a person or a place. As you hold this in mind notice what change of feelings occur. Notice how your body feels as you hold in mind what you have chosen that is beautiful.

When you have observed this, change what you are thinking about to something else, something that is ugly or that you don’t like. Again notice the difference in what you are feeling and the sensations in your body, and even what memories or images arise.

What you can learn from this is that every thought you hold, everything you see in the external world, produces a corresponding shift within yourself and the way your body feels. This awareness can then be applied to exploring a dream and entering into its drama. Once you have learned to give yourself that awareness and notice what is going on within you, you can then hold in mind the drama or imagery of the dream and observe how your being responds, what it is telling you spontaneously about the dream. Ask the question, “What is my dream depicting to me?” Or take a particular character or part of your dream and ask what aspect of your life or insight it depicts.

Carving in Space

The second exercise is a wonderful way of extending this ability. It brings the body more fully into play, and begins the process of allowing a full keyboard condition to be used. It enables you to watch what can arise spontaneously, and how creative you are if you simply let go and allow things to happen.

For this exercise you need sufficient floor space to move easily, or even lie full length if necessary. It also helps to have loose clothing. Then you stand in the middle of your floor space giving yourself time to explore what you feel and experience.

Start by slowly circling your arms. Take the arms above the head, down the sides of the body with the arms fully extended. Then take your arms upward crossing the front of the trunk. In the full movement the hands are then forming wide circles that cross the front of your body.

Now, as you are circling your arms with eyes closed, bring your awareness to the shape your hands are making in space. As you become aware of the shapes the handsor finger tips are carving in space, watch what feelings you have as to how your hands and arms would like to move. Give yourself permission to doodle, to make any sort of shapes your feelings or body incline you to. Allow any sort of posture or movement, as active or quiet as you like. Allow sounds to accompany the movements if there is an urge to, and allow whatever feelings accompany them.

Hold the attitude that what you are doing doesn’t have to make sense. Nor does it have to comply with what other people might expect of you. Realise that you are allowing another part of yourself, perhaps a non verbal part, or a facet unknown to the rational mind, to express. With a non critical watching attitude, relax and let your body and feeling sense direct what happens. There is no need to fiercely concentrate in order to wipe the mind clear of other influences. But you may need to relax the part of the mind that always needs to know beforehand what you are going to do.

This is not like creative dance in which you might feel you must produce something pleasing for others to watch. With this exercise you need an open area in which your inner being can express in its own way. Movements and feelings have a chance to unfold outside of rational criticism and the demands of everyday life.

Give yourself at least twenty minutes in which to explore what spontaneous movements and feelings emerge. Below is a summary of what may happen in this practice.

  1. Although the movements may at first appear haphazard and irrational, if you allow them to continue without criticism, they usually express – perhaps only over a period of several sessions – a particular theme or point.
  2. Like a dream, the theme or drama often symbolises your life situation, or something within you, such as the remaining emotions or attitudes from past experience, or a creative realisation. Or the movements may be expressive of your body’s own need to release energy or mobilise itself and its urges.
  3. There are obvious stages or depths to the experience. Movement is often the first. Feelings and fantasy then often combine with the movement in expressing as a mime of some sort. Only with a few people do they occur without each other. If met in the right way the movements, fantasy and sounds can lead, through the mime, to insight into what is being expressed. In other words the symbolic movements, if that is what they are, can give way to rational understanding. This is not because one has thought out a plausible explanation for what happens. It is because your critical, conscious mind has watched the spontaneous working of what usually only occurs in sleep and unconsciousness. This gives automatic feedback to the unconscious mind and it can speed up its processing and problem solving. A communication thus takes place between the unconscious and conscious mind.
  4. When you reach a stage that you can easily allow spontaneous movement, along with sound and perhaps feelings, you can dispense with the arm circling to start you off. You will find that if you simply stand in the keyboard condition ready to let your body express what is within you it will begin.

The exercise is a way of entering into the usually unconscious processes of your being and working with them. Usually the only way we let go so fully and allow the spontaneous action of our inner nature is when we sleep and dream. But in this way you can open to your core while awake.

The Power Search

What was said above about the symbolic movements or mime giving way to rational understanding is incredibly important. Understanding it gives the key to real dream penetration. The idea also holds within it the kernel of what happens when we successfully enter into a dream. The symbols unfold their meaning enabling us to arrive at an understanding that we can verbalise. This becomes understandable in what follows.

First though, the above techniques need to be practised until you feel easy with them and can experience real spontaneous emergence of your own inner life, and have learned to accept and allow it easily. Once this has happened you can move on to the real business of entering a dream.

The exercises have started the process during which a flow of communication occurs between your unconscious and your observing conscious mind. At first you are simply observing, and maybe what occurs is highly symbolic. For instance the images that occur while you are in the process of self observation, any movements that you make or feelings that arise might not be understandable. The same is true of what happens in the arm circling exercise. Spontaneous movements, sounds or themes might emerge. They certainly will if you are successfully using the technique. But that is a halfway position. Your unconscious expresses itself in mime, imagery, symbolic drama, irrational sounds, and in any other way in which it can begin the process of bringing to consciousness things that have in themselves never been verbalised, and have never been consciously experienced before. The first stage for this is perhaps in spontaneous movements or irrational sounds. The next stage is that a theme, mime, or symbolic drama is expressed. This needs to be worked with. It needs to be recognised for what it is — symbolic. The communication now needs to be in two directions.


At the heart of the process is the way the memory functions. Every day we use the process of memory countless times. We might seek a telephone number, an address, a word to use in conversation, and the very act of seeking it brings it into awareness from dark unconsciousness. When the piece of information we seek comes into mind we usually have a very strong feeling of recognition. In fact if you are observing the process carefully you will see that a scanning goes on that sorts through many bits of information until it arrives at the right piece. Once you understand that clearly then you can use the process in a slightly different way.

So, the techniques that I have outlined above and suggested you to practice are leading up to this — you start with a fairly clear dream. To begin with it is best to use a dream in which the imagery is impressive and clear. You then take one of the images and explore it by asking what the meaning of it is, and opening as in the keyboard condition, allowing whatever spontaneous feelings, memories or body movements arise. At times very strong feelings will come in this way also.

If you have not practised the self observation and the carving in space, you may feel that this is a pointless exercise as nothing will arise. It is only through practice that you can stand on the edge of your unconscious, so to speak, drop in the question and be aware of the response from within.

The response is very similar to what happens when you seek parts of your memory in everyday life, except that the pathways to normal everyday memory have already been formed. What you are seeking in the dream has never been made conscious before and so you have to approach patiently. Maybe you will not even arrive at any clear insights the first time. But with persistence gradually more and more understanding will arise. When it does, it does not come from an intellectual analysis or thinking about the dream. It comes because something emerges that you can actually witnessed and see, like a mist clearing while you’re standing on a hill so that you can clearly see the landscape below. You don’t need to think about that you can directly observe to experience it.

When something arises that you do not understand you communicate with your unconscious by saying, “I don’t understand this. What does it mean? Please clarify this.”

This two-way communication gradually develops as you practice so that you learn to penetrate beyond the symbols of your dreams, or the spontaneous mimes, sounds or images that arise as you spontaneously open to your dream imagery.

Do not be satisfied with explanations that you give to the imagery by consciously analysing the dream or jumping to conclusions about what a mime or fantasy means. When insight arrives it will clearly explain and link with your everyday life, your history and how it connects with the imagery of the dream. You will discover something new about yourself that you didn’t understand before, something that you can explain to somebody else and they can also see it clearly.

That is the way to your central self. See: Dream Processing





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