The first time I ever heard anything about lucid dreaming was when I was a teenager. My best friend, Jason, lent me a blue paperback called Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming. The premise of the book was simple- people can be lucid, i.e. aware, even while they are dreaming. In other words, rather than thinking your dreams are real, or having only a vague idea that you’re dreaming, you can be fully and totally aware you’re dreaming and take control of your dreams actively or explore them and use them as a vehicle for understanding your subconscious.
According to the book, people can achieve this lucidity either by learning to become aware during their dreams, or by doing various meditation exercises to retain consciousness throughout the entire process of falling asleep. At first glance, it seemed like a bunch of quasi-hippy New Age weirdness. The author, Stephen LaBerge, was a Stanford psycho-physiology researcher, though. I decided that maybe there was something to it and to give it a try. I’m extremely thankful that I did. It’s given me insights into my own way of thinking, and allowed me to accomplish some things that just wouldn’t have been possible any other way.
Fortunately, being as young as I was, it wasn’t that difficult for me to make progress. I started keeping a dream journal after the very first night I read the book. Each night as I fell asleep, I fixed the idea in my head that I would remember my dreams upon waking up. Each morning as I woke up, I grabbed my notebook off the headstand and wrote down as many memories of my dreams as I could before the morning light robbed me of them. Within a couple of weeks, I’d nailed down a few sorts of occurrences that were frequent in my dreams, but extremely rare or completely absent from my waking life. After training myself to do a “dream check” whenever seeing or thinking about those things, it only took a couple more nights before I did a check when I actually was dreaming.
The first time I had a lucid dream was a very memorable experience. It was late, maybe 2AM. It was a little bit chilly, but still warm enough to be wearing shorts as I walked along the sidewalk. I was on Littleton Blvd, headed towards Broadway, a busy road, but there weren’t many cars out. I felt a mild breeze against my face as I looked at an evergreen growing at the side of the road. I saw some sort of movement behind the tree and couldn’t quite tell what it was. I looked closer and saw it was a small child, maybe a six year-old, running away. At first I dismissed it, but at the time I was already in the habit of questioning anything “strange”. I thought to myself, “Why would a six year old boy be hiding behind a tree out here in the middle of the night? For that matter why am I out at 2AM, walking by myself along the side of the road?” It was time for a dream check. I immediately started running through the events of my whole day going backwards from that moment. I was outside because I had just eaten late at IHOP. I was walking home since none of my friends with cars, like Dan or Robb, had been there. At the restaurant, I’d eaten a tex-mex omelette and pancakes. Some of my other friends had been there, too. But where were they now? How had they gone home, and why hadn’t I caught a ride with them? Which friends were there? I racked my brain, but couldn’t remember any of the details for the life of me. That just wasn’t possible. I knew I must be dreaming. It was time for a second test. I looked at my watch. What time was it? It was about 2AM, just as I’d thought. I glanced away. No. What time was it? I forced myself to take a long, hard gaze at my watch. The closer I stared at it, the less stable the numbers on it became. I looked up at the writing on a sign at the side of the road and scrutinized it. Once again, I couldn’t clearly read any writing I wasn’t familiar with. Suddenly, all my senses amplified five-fold. Every hair on my body was standing on end, I felt the breeze ten times more intensely than before, and every star in the sky became sharper and more intense. I was dreaming! Everything I saw before me was a construction of my own mind, and I knew it!. It was overwhelming, and exhilarating at the same time. I looked around in awe, sucked in a really deep breath and woke up.
The first several times I managed to become lucid in the middle of a dream, I was just too excited to stay asleep. After a few months, though, I got the knack and was able to do a fair bit of personal exploration through dreaming. Though I never mastered the meditation techniques that allow people to remain conscious while falling asleep, I did develop my dream sign recognition and my mental control to the point where I could become lucid in four or more dreams per night and stay dreaming pretty much as long as I wanted. Sometimes, while I was in school, I even did things like solving and memorizing particularly a difficult math problem while I was asleep, and then writing it out in my journal after I woke up. Other times, I used my lucid dreaming as extra recreational time. Interestingly, I’ve always felt pretty much equally refreshed from my sleep either way.
For one reason or another, I allowed my habit of keeping a dream journal to slip away over the years. Maybe it was because it was a bit weird, and I was too self-conscious back then. Or, maybe it’s just due to how badly I’ve messed up my sleep schedule. In any case, I only have about one or two lucid dreams a year now, and I can’t hold on to them so well anymore. Aside from staying up too late, waking up to an alarm clock contributes to the problem, too. So do a lot of factors. I think it’s time to stop letting them, though. I’ve decided to start keeping a dream journal again.