Lucid dreaming is not something I’ve ever managed, but I’ve always been fascinated by the concept. In case you’re a little vague on the notion, lucid dreaming refers to when the dreamer understands that what he or she is experiencing is, in fact, a dream. So the next time you find yourself surfing a giant tsunami or scurrying around Venice on a foggy night tracking down an international assassin, how do you reliably come to the conclusion that you’re actually having a dream? And from there, how do you fit in with the action?
The first step is to improve your dream recall. There are a few ways you can do that, and they basically involve training yourself to recall your dreams directly after you wake up. Even if all you can remember is flashes of being hunted down by Scientologists disguised as tea cups or soaring in an airplane over the Amazon with jaguar kittens copiloting for you, write it down or record it. You’re aiming for at least one dream per night before you’re ready for the next stage, which is reality testing.
During this step, the goal is to get yourself habituated to noticing at least one of several triggers which while reliable in reality, are often observably out of whack in dreams. These include things like the display on a digital watch, the functioning of a light switch or the reflection in a mirror. Supposing you chose the wristwatch route, several times a day — and any time the thought to check pops into your head — look down at your wrist and observe what’s displayed there. Then look away and look back twice. It sounds a little OCD, but if you find yourself looking down at your watch and it’s showing a radically different time, Roman numerals or perhaps hieroglyphs, then there’s a pretty good chance you’re in a dream.
It also helps to periodically examine your surroundings, and contemplate: Could THIS be a dream? Might sound silly, but without the ability to perform lucid dreaming, can you ever really know for sure? And even if you decide you’re not in a dream, visualize what it might be like if you were. Would your office plants exude the earthy smell of a rain-soaked forest, and a second later you’d find yourself plodding through the woods with a hostile tribe of natives poking spears at your back? Would you see the snow out the window and get up from your desk, head to the airport, and fly to Alaska to compete in the Iditarod? Program your mind to include checking for this possibility, and it will increase its natural skepticism nicely.
Next, when it’s time to go to sleep, reference your dream journal or the dream you just awoke from and envision that you will return to that dream or remember your next one. Let your mind repeatedly focus on this intention, alternatively with one desiring to notice dreamsigns (think of things like flying unassisted or other improbables in the real world). Center your thoughts on these two ideas until you fall asleep and, fingers crossed, it’ll be your lucky night!
It takes time and commitment to become accomplished at lucid dreaming, but once you do, you can either take control of your dreams, or let them naturally (if bizarrely) unfurl around you. The sky is — literally — the limit! But before you get started, don’t forget to follow How-to Stuff on Facebook and Twitter, and download the new HowStuffWorks iPhone app from iTunes!