So we’ve all heard of lucid dreaming, yes? You know, that amazing thing that happens while you sleep, when you awaken within a dream and gain some level of control in the dreamscape. I’ve been a little obsessed with lucid dreaming for what feels like a long time now. Okay, a LOT obsessed. It started over 6 years ago when I first heard of Tibetan dream yoga. It was on a podcast I had discovered by synchronistic happenstance. I knew right there and then that I wanted to be on the path of an awakened dreamer. Dream yogis just sound so…well…dreamy! Like superheroes. They say it’s one of the fastest paths to enlightenment. And it all starts with learning to remember your dreams, and then to remember that you’re dreaming in the moment. They say the more you do this, the more your entire consciousness awakens, in the spiritual meaning of the word. Amazing!
But I have a somewhat embarrassing confession to make: I’m a total failure at lucid dreaming. It’s true, after all these years, I still can’t do it. Ok, maybe “total failure” is a bit of an exaggeration. I do have extraordinarily beautiful, vivid, and magical dreams quite frequently. And I recall them in detail most nights. My dream journal practice has helped with that. Most mornings, I fill pages and pages of my journal with the dreams I recall in rich detail. Sometimes I can fly in my dreams. Better yet, sometimes my deepest wishes are granted. You know those special dream gifts that you have once in a long while – the ones from which you never want to awaken? The ones that leave you in such a good mood that you’re just dripping in gratitude all morning long? For example, I’ve dreamed more than once of buying my beautiful ‘dream’ house by the sea. It looks different each time, but is always better than I could have imagined and has surprise rooms I never even knew were there – even a telescope! In other lovely dreams I’ve explored some of the faraway places that I long to visit. One of my favorite recent dreams was of sailing on a luxury cruise ship that took us through a gorgeous sunset of the most glorious colors I’ve ever seen to a place that was like an amusement park for people in the healing arts. Seriously, fun stuff. And then there’s the helpful dreams I have that inspire me to start a new project or give me the hint I need to be more effective at what I am already doing. I have those often too. Once I dreamed of a perfect tarot deck – I could see many of the cards in clear detail. All the images were fantastic. Each card was like a portal into the deeper reality. I’ve never seen any deck so detailed and magical and downright gorgeous. Maybe someday I’ll get to bring that baby into the light of day. But for now it remains a dream, and I still can’t say I’ve really reached full lucidity or fully awakened to the fact that I’m dreaming within the dream.
I hear many people do this spontaneously, without trying. Maybe you are one of them? One of those types that simply realizes one night, while you’re sleeping, that you are actually dreaming, and then *poof* you’re suddenly at the helm of your own personal virtual reality ship in which you can be, do or have anything you want. Whoever you are out there, I’m jealous of your natural abilities. I hope you use your lucid gifts to their fullest or send them my way so I can borrow some of your natural talent. The rest of us are stuck working with exercises and practice to induce lucidity.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful for the profound dream experiences I do have. I admit, I am quite a dreamer. If nothing else, all the reality checks and meditation and visualizations I do to train myself to reach lucidity have supercharged my dream life. But the act of full lucidity is a skill that still eludes me. So naturally, I want it all the more. Because I can’t stand not getting what I want. On the plus side, I feel like I’m getting close. Who knows, maybe even just a few nights away! But here’s another thing I have to confess: I haven’t been able to maintain a dedicated commitment to the practice of dream incubation or dream yoga for longer than a few weeks. My commitment to the lucid dreaming goal has waxed and waned over the years. Sometimes I want it more than anything. Other times, I think it’s just not all it’s cracked up to be, or that perhaps I’m already doing it and I just don’t perceive it that way. Other times I think it’s a waste of time or an unhealthy obsession my conscious mind uses as an excuse to beat myself up – an old habit I slip into from time to time.
For the most part I had given up on true lucid dreaming in the last year or so, until this last April, when I had a dream that convinced me I need to give it another go. It was a dream that felt like a particularly LOUD wake up call, for lack of a better term. In this dream (I’ve since labelled it “WAKE UP CALL”), I’m giving tips and tricks on how to initiate lucidity in dreams to a friend of mine. I’m telling him all these great exercises to try – all the ones I’ve read about but stopped practicing. And even though I KNOW this in my dream, I STILL don’t quite realize I’m dreaming. But wait! It gets even more obvious! Because then I look down at my phone, and I can’t figure out how to find the app I need (one of the tips I just gave my friend in the dream was that when electronics don’t work the way they are supposed to, that’s a cue that it’s a dream and can initiate lucidity). I realize the phone doesn’t work because I am probably dreaming and then I see the literal words spelled out “this is a dream” my phone screen and STILL didn’t manage to get the message because I still don’t reach lucidity. Geez, my subconscious is stubborn. It’s frustrating!!
The great teachers have said to follow the trail of synchronicities and you’ll be on the path to your soul’s work. Wouldn’t you know, as I am writing this, a moment ago my daughter walked in the room and asked if I wanted to hear a song she liked called “Lucid Dream” on her phone. No kidding! And earlier today I was shopping online for a futon mattress and wouldn’t you know, the first recommended brand that popped up on the site was called Lucid. See how the universe responds to our thoughts? It echoes and nudges us to keep going. If you doubt this, test the theory and see for yourself. Take notice of the first surprising and meaningful “coincidence” that occurs to you after reading this article. Maybe someone you know will mention a lucid dream they experienced. Or maybe you’ll hear something on the radio about the importance of dreaming. Or maybe you’ll have a powerful or happy dream tonight and remember the whole thing. You never know! It’s so cool when you start noticing these ‘meaningful coincidences’ that Carl Jung named “synchronicities.” Following the trail of synchronicities has led me to breakthroughs, insights, healing, and many other important events and people in my life. So why should this time be any different? If I were to interpret the meaning of these signs, I would guess I have deeper to go with my dream work.
One way I always experience the magic of synchronicities is in my hypnosis practice. Inevitably, right when I’m beginning to focus on a particular issue or idea in my life the people that are working on the same thing usually show up. It’s so convenient when the universe brings the messages right to your doorstep! Maybe you can guess, then, what theme I’ve been hearing a lot lately? Yes, it’s true: I’ve had more clients bring up their dreams lately than usual.
The most common sentiment I hear about dreams is, “I don’t dream” or “I don’t remember my dreams at all.” This doesn’t surprise me – that’s how I used to be too. Unfortunately, we aren’t really encouraged to value our dreams as young children, and so we quickly forget how to remember them. Science tells us dreams are just regurgitations of images from waking life. Nonsense, I say! Where’s the imagination in that?!
I do so love hearing all the powerful dreams my clients share. I love imagining it were my dream, looking for meaning, and decoding symbols in the people, places, objects and words of the dream. My degree in literature sure helps me enormously with analyzing dream symbolism. There’s just something so satisfying when you have that ‘Aha!’ moment when the dream meaning clicks and you suddenly realize what significant message it is or how pertinent and helpful it is in your life. It’s like you’ve cracked the code! If you don’t have this experience often, keep a journal of the dreams you do have. I promise you, if you go back and look at the dreams from several months ago, you will mostly likely see very clearly how your dreams were warning you or helping you with decisions, feelings, events in your ordinary waking life.
Most surprising to me lately are the folks who tell me how much they dislike their dreams. I’ve heard from several friends and clients lately, “I wish I didn’t dream. I always have stressful dreams or nightmares”. It seems more and more people actually feel put out or even harassed by their dreams. For these people, dreams become just a useless burden to be born, or even worse- a cause for more anxiety or even a source of violent persecution. Sure, I can relate to these feelings. I am disappointed when I wake up from that same old stress dream about high school finals. I have that one more than I would care to admit. And I don’t always recall my dreams. I suffer from dream ‘droughts” too. But the idea never occurred to me to wish not to dream altogether. What a boring life that would be! That’s like saying, “I wish I had no imagination.” Sounds crazy, to me. I say: more dreams please! If anything, I just want to get better at dreaming.
I will admit that not all dreams are pleasant. Some dreams are like mirrors that show you exactly the state of your consciousness, and, well, sometimes what we see in there is not a pretty sight. Not at all what we would want it to be. But wouldn’t you rather see it than pretend it’s not there? It’s like the spinach that gets stuck between your teeth. We all want our good friend to point it out before we go around embarrassing ourselves. Well, your dream mind is the closest friend you have. Don’t ignore the messages that get held up in the mirror of your soul! You can save yourself a lot of suffering if you take heed of these dream messengers, especially when they show up in frightening or stressful forms.
I’ll give you a straightforward example from my own dream life. This is especially good for you to read if you don’t believe you can see the future in your dreams. I few months ago, I had a particularly vivid dream in which my teenage daughter and I were on a pier, looking out over the water. I saw a big storm on the horizon. It was gloomy and heavy. I knew a possible tornado was coming, or at least a hurricane. I tried to tell her to get into the house (all the sudden our house appeared) but she wanted to go out on a boat in the water. Where are you going? I yelled, more and more distressed. I didn’t want her to go out into it! But as the winds blew, she never left the dock. A calm came over the air and over me after that, and I knew it would be ok to just watch the storm pass. It wasn’t going to hit us. I woke up and wrote it down, but didn’t bother to think much about it. Just another dream. Wouldn’t you know, the next day, my daughter and I got into a big fight. It involved her desire to move away. It was so upsetting to me to think she would want to leave her home, her security, and me. I let it get to me in a way that mimicked my distress in the dream. But I forgot that in the dream, the storm blew over and no harm was done. In real life, I held onto my hurt and fear over our fight and we continued to have conflict for a few weeks. But then sure enough, the storm of her emotions passed and with it, so did her desire to move away. The whole thing has been mostly forgotten since then. If I had heeded the dream, I would have known I could relax and not get upset, because she wasn’t actually going leave the dock just then. I could have remained relaxed knowing the storm would blow over instead of losing my sh*t over it. I get it now. Thanks, dream teacher. Next time, I’ll be a better student.
So yes, dreams can be prophetic, and offer us suggestions as to what's coming down the road and how to deal with it. But what about those terrifying figures that haunt us in our dreams? I was taught that a nightmare is just an unfinished dream, and that whatever stalks us or terrifies us in our dreams is just a powerful ally or guardian waiting for you to face it. Bizarrely, I’ve heard that nightmares are actually desirable for one following the path of dream yoga. The highest levels of dream yogis actually initiate lucidity in dreams in order to conjure the things that terrify them the most. No, really, they actually TRY and will themselves to confront their deepest fears every time they go to sleep. All in the name of spiritual progress.
Where am I going with all this? Besides trying to convince you to take more interest in your dreamlife, I also want to offer a suggestion. Here it is: try conscious daydreaming. What’s that? Did I make that up? For me the idea arose out of my own experience in seeking for something in lucid dreaming and finding it what I already do so well – in the very art of daydreaming. I think of conscious daydreaming as lucid dreaming for the daytime. There’s no trick to it. There are no complicated exercises to mastering it. You just lay down or sit somewhere quiet, close your eyes, and let your imagination go. It’s profoundly simple, and yet it can be very hard to clear the time and space in your schedule and in your mind to let your imagination wander. Children do this all the time, if we don’t fill up their every minute with media.
You might notice all the images of the Moon card in this blog. Moonlight is an old-fashioned vehicle for a lucid dreaming. Just follow the moonbeam. Moonlight is also a great metaphor for bringing a gentle light of our consciousness to our unconscious or subconscious realities. Just like you do in hypnosis. We don't want to shine a floodlight into your subconscious. That would be jarring and ruin the whole experience. No, we need a softer light, just like the moonlight, that can illuminate our subconscious images, scenes, and landscapes as if they are lit from within. It has to be just the right brightness – too bright and you will wake up – too dim and you can’t see a thing in your dreams. To carry the metaphor further, I think of daydreaming as noticing the moon on a sunny day. A daytime moon. Everyone associates the moon with nighttime, but you know, the moon is really only up during the nighttime hours when it is full. A half-moon rises at noon or at midnight, depending on whether it’s waxing or waning. During its waxing stage, you can see it the half moon high in the sky throughout the afternoon. No one seems to take much notice of the moon then. Like daydreaming, it’s often ignored or unnoticed or thought of as unimportant during the bright busy day.
In the morning
When the sun
Is shining down
On every one
It’s very strange
To see the moon
Large and like
A pale balloon
Roof and tree
Without one star
- Dorothy Aldis 1896-1966
It seems strange, perhaps, to be writing about daydreaming and dream consciousness now, at summer solstice, when everything is active, growing, green and alive. At this time of year here in the northern hemisphere, life is fully awake. The nights are short, and dreaming often gets interrupted as the birds and chipmunks wake us before 5 AM where I live. It can feel overwhelming to be so busy, with so many hours to get things done. It almost makes one pine for the long, slow, cozy winter days when sleep and dreaming become the priority. At summer solstice time, it’s all the more important then to become a good daydreamer. If we were wise, we would learn to slip back into that precious dream state at will, between errands, or during a commute to other important tasks. Our minds and bodies need it. Our souls demand it. Did you know if you don’t spend enough sleep hours in REM (dreaming) you have a much higher rate for depression, suicide, and a whole host of other terrible things? Mood swings, hallucinations, loss of impulse control…yeah, everything goes wonky when you don’t dream enough. You literally go insane. That’s one of the meanings of tarot card XVIII - The Moon - in its reversed position. So the next time you are out and about in the day or you are staring out a window and you happen to notice the daytime moon, take it as an opportunity to let your gaze soften, to relax your body, to forget about the world, and let your imagination follow the nearest cloud to what some call nonordinary reality. If it feels like a waste of time, you can justify your daydreaming as a way to preserve your sanity.
The practice of letting your intuition communicate through your active imagination is an ancient art. Some people refer to this a shamanic journey – when done to the rhythmic beat of a drum, you can learn to walk ‘between the worlds’ with the intention to bring back some wisdom or healing from the other realms. Sounds fascinating? Well, it is. But you don’t have to travel to Ecuador or take some expensive training to learn to do it. You just practice creating time and space for it. Like, put it on your google calendar ("Friday 9 AM - 30 minutes of lying on the floor and daydreaming"). The hardest part is learning how to quiet the critical factor – the judge who is always testing, critiquing or analyzing everything. You know, that part that tells you there are a million more important tasks you need to attend to right now! That rational, strict teacher-like part of your brain is like a wet blanket on your imagination and will definitely inhibit your ability to journey far into your imaginal realms. Relearn the art of ignoring it. Like every student, learn to look like you are obeying the teacher as you watch the clouds and let your mind drift out the window. She’ll never know. And the more you relax your mind and slip unnoticed out of the task-oriented and critical mind, the more visual the imaginary experience can be. Some people get so good at this, they can initiate another holy grail of “astral” or trance work: the OBE or the out of body experience. But that’s a subject for another day.
If the idea of clearing your schedule to make time for a shamanic journey sounds too silly or unrealistic, you might consider booking a hypnosis session instead. Because really, it's how I spend most of my days at work: helping other people daydream. Conscious dreaming could also be another good term to describe the hypnosis experience. The hypnogogic state has been likened to the dream-like feeling you get just before you drift off to sleep. It’s easier to reach that state or even deeper states when you have a practitioner helping your bypass the critical factor. The hypnosis practitioner not only helps to set the healing intention, they also set the pace and the structured of the journey and act a guide or facilitator who is trained to help you mine the meaningful parts of the hypnogogic trance or dream-like state. All these things are useful, especially in this day and age, when our minds are cluttered with a million tasks and we generally have not been raised with the skills to navigate our own imaginal realms. Throughout history, all that was needed was the drum beat to keep you focused, awake, moving in the direction your conscious dream takes. Nowadays, we need a little more support.
Do I still want to perfect my ability to control my dreams in a full lucid-state while sleeping? Heck, yeah. Absolutely. I’m not going to lie. I love a challenge. But I am learning to take my own advice on this one. Because I tell my clients all the time - it doesn’t matter if you are very “deep” in hypnosis, or whether you are in a light state of relaxation just sitting with your eyes closed. For most people who seek therapeutic benefit from the hypnosis experience, the same or perhaps even greater benefits can be achieved even in a light state of trance. There are certain exceptions to this rule, of course. Successful regression therapy and some other sorts of techniques require a deep state of what’s called somnambulism, when a client responds with anesthesia, amnesia, negative and positive hallucinations, etc. but this is a topic for another day. The fact remains: profound healing can occur by simply closing your eyes, quieting your mind, relaxing your body, and letting positive suggestions and visualizations wash over your mind.
I wish I could wrap this up with a triumphant announcement of my newfound success at lucid dreaming. Not to be a buzzkill, but I’m still working at it. There is a silver lining, however. Actually, since I’ve been working on this piece, it occurs to me there are at least two siliver linings to my “failure” to lucid dream. One is that I am reminded that my perfectionist tendencies have crept up yet again, uninvited, into what is supposed to be a healing practice. There’s no room for that kind of “success” and “failure” thinking in the dreamscape. I’ve done it again! Thankfully, I’ve caught myself in the act. Writing about my dreamwork has helped me realize an old, destructive perfectionist habit so I can cut it out. Okay. Check. Done. The second silver lining in my struggle to lucid dream has been in my increased use of my conscious daydreaming skills. Another way to put it is that the happy accident of attempting to lucid dream is the spillover of dreaming into my waking life. I’ve learned how to renter the dream fragments I recall upon waking up. This is a skill I learned from the great dream teacher Robert Moss, whose books on dreaming have been profoundly helpful. Using his technique, I’ve been able to go back into the dream and explore, let it play out, talk to the characters and get answers I need. I have a nagging sense that conscious daydreaming like this might be even better than lucid dreaming,
Conscious dreaming could also be another good way to describe the hypnosis experience. The hypnogogic state has been likened to the dream-like feeling you get just before you drift off to sleep. It’s easier to reach that state or even deeper states when you have a practitioner helping your bypass the critical factor. The hypnosis practitioner not only helps to set the healing intention, they also set the pace and the structured of the journey and act a guide or facilitator who is trained to help you mine the meaningful parts of the hypnogogic trance or dream-like state. All these things are useful, especially in this day and age, when our minds are cluttered with a million tasks and we generally have not been raised with the skills to navigate our own imaginal realms. Throughout history, all that was needed was the drum beat to keep you focused, awake, moving in the direction your conscious dream takes. Nowadays, we need a little more support. Did you know you can actually use self-hypnosis to practice lucid dreaming? Many people report great success with this technique. If you want to try, scroll to the bottom of the page and you'll see a step-by-step guide.
I wish I could wrap this up with a triumphant announcement of my newfound success at lucid dreaming. Not to be a buzzkill, but I’m still working at it. Do I still want to perfect my ability to control my dreams in a full lucid-state while sleeping? Heck, yeah. Absolutely. I’m not going to lie. But I am learning to take my own advice on this one. Because I tell my clients all the time - it doesn’t matter if you are very “deep” in hypnosis, or whether you are in a light state of relaxation just sitting with your eyes closed. For most people who seek therapeutic benefit from the hypnosis experience, the same or perhaps even greater benefits can be achieved even in a light state of trance. There are certain exceptions to this rule, of course. Successful regression therapy and some other sorts of techniques require a deep state of what’s called somnambulism, when a client responds with anesthesia, amnesia, negative and positive hallucinations, etc. but this is a topic for another day. The fact remains: profound healing can occur by simply closing your eyes, quieting your mind, relaxing your body, and letting positive suggestions and visualizations wash over your mind.
The silver lining, then, in my thus-far-failed attempts to lucid dream is in my newfound respect for the daydream, the hypnogogic state. While I wait for the lucid dream, I'm getting busy making the most of my imagination, my intuition, and my visualization abilities, which will in turn prepare the way for more vivid, exciting dreams. Want to know something else that's really cool about conscious daydreaming? By using my daydreaming skills, I’ve learned how to renter the dream fragments I recall upon waking up. This is a skill I learned from the great dream teacher Robert Moss, whose books on dreaming have been profoundly helpful. Using his technique, I’ve been able to go back into the dream and explore, let it play out, talk to the characters and get answers I need. I have a nagging sense that conscious daydreaming like this might be even better than lucid dreaming,
In Conscious Dreaming, Robert Moss writes that “the point is that dreams are wiser than our everyday minds and come from an infinitely deeper source. To try to ‘control’ this source, to interfere with the authentic flow of dreams and to justify this on the ground that they are ‘only dreams’ is the ultimate delusion of the control freak who lives in the ego.” He goes on to explain that attempts to lucid dream for the sake of controlling the dream are not only misguided and pointless, but also dangerous to our connection to soul. He writes, “One way or another, the dream source will remind us that we are not the masters of the universe. If it were truly possible to put the ego in charge of dreams, the effect would be to divorce us from soul and spirit.”
Strong words of warning from Mr. Moss, but they ring true for me. Maybe it’s convenient for me to believe him, since after all, I am a failed lucid dreamer. Since I’ve tried and tried and come up short, it’s nice to hear that I am actually much better off – that I was attempting to engage in a useless and vain pastime all along. But if he’s right, than I stand to gain much more by honoring the dreams that do come to me in sleep, to take what meaning I can from them, and to use my conscious daydreaming as a vehicle to serve my purposes.
Even if you never attempt to renter your dreams or practice conscious daydreaming, you should know this: whatever you focus on the most during the day during the day colors the themes of your nights. Your persistent daytime thoughts absolutely do carry over into your dreams. Or to put it differently, the repetitive ideas, images, and thoughts that characterize your waking life become like a soundtrack for your sleep. Marcus Aurelius said that “Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; for the soul becomes dyed with the color of your thoughts.” If you equate dreams with the soul, as I’m learning to do, then this statement is all the more interesting. Maybe you’ve heard that your reality is shaped by your habitual thoughts. If you’re not sure what your habitual thoughts are, just look to your dreams. Those recurring stress dreams you complain about? Well…enough said.
I’ve decided to take Robert Moss’ advice and trust the dreams that come without obsessively attempting to control them through full lucidity. It would be nice if someday it happens automatically, without effort. You better believe that I'll be ecstatic when that happens.But for now, I'm leaning into the rich depths of my current dream reality. Since I made this pivot, I have to say I’m enjoying myself a lot more. As I’m learning to stop pushing my dream self around, I’m learning to honor what’s already there, and I’m getting a lot more out of it as a result. I’ve had a some profound results using dream incubation techniques in which you ask your deep mind or dream teacher (or whatever you want to call it) to give you some guidance or assistance on a specific issue that is important for you in your present life. I have been absolutely floored by the answers I receive this way. Sometimes my dream self has a great sense of humor too. The other night I asked for guidance about how to forgive an old foe for the hurts I still carry because of our past together. I woke up with the lyrics “you do it to yourself, it’s true, and that’s why it really hurts” in my head. It’s a song by Radiohead. I actually can’t stand that song. I haven’t heard it or thought about it in years. But I found myself humming it as soon as I woke. I had to laugh at the accuracy of the tune as a pertinent answer to my request.
So give it a try and see. Get yourself a journal and keep it by your bed. When you wake, don’t move. Just let the dreams come back to you in fragments. Write down what you can remember. If you can’t remember details, write what feelings linger. Ask yourself: What does this remind me of? What resonances do I have in my waking life? When you get ready for sleep, ask for a dream that will give you guidance or assistance for a certain issue. Fall asleep with that intention in mind. If you can’t think of an intention, try this: “I ask for a dream from the gates of horn, that will help harmonize all the parts of my being” I learned that phrase from a teacher who said it was an ancient Egyptian dream incubation phrase that was supposed to bring healing dreams. I can absolutely endorse its effectiveness in my own dreamwork. And lastly, as you begin to delve into your dream life, notice the synchronicities that appear in your waking life as well. Keep track of all the echoes of meaningful symbols, phrases, coincidences that you find in the world around you. These are little winks from the greater scheme of things.
Happy dreaming, beautiful readers! My blessing to you: May you become aware that you are dreaming, may your best dreams come true, and may you remember them when you awaken!
If you're curious about how you can use hypnosis to encourage lucid dreaming, here's a great step-by-step guide below that comes courtesy of The Hypnosis Training Academy. This is a great resource for those who want to try it.