We're told that the critical mind goes offline during sleep, which is why we don't immediately recognise dreams for what they are. I've never been very satisfied with this explanation, however, not least because it raises more questions than it answers. Has it always been this way, for example (part of our design), or were our distant ancestors natural lucid dreamers? Is this mechanism solely responsible for our lack of lucidity, or are other factors involved? Might we even be complicit in this seeming conspiracy, for various psychological and/or occult reasons?
I'm not implying that an outside force is in any way involved. It has always struck me as rather perverse, however, that in waking life we have clarity of thought, but no real power, whereas during sleep we have potentially unlimited power, but no clarity of thought. Instead of soaring through the sky on the back of a dragon, or commanding a starship into battle, as we could be, we are perhaps wandering barefoot around a supermarket wondering where our shoes have gone, or replaying some meaningless domestic drama from our past.
Sure, there are various ways and means of becoming lucid, for those who really want to. But if you've ever felt overwhelmed by the sheer number and variety of techniques that are currently available, or been frustrated by your lack of success at using even one of them consistently, then you're definitely not alone. On the face of it, recognising the often nonsensical nature of dreams shouldn't be that difficult. Yet, for most people, lucidity is an elusive state, and for many others it remains a seemingly impossible goal. Why is that?
I have been trying to answer this question for almost thirty years, since having my first spontaneous lucid dream as a teenager. What I discovered and realised during that time could probably fill several volumes. For the purposes of this article, however, I'll briefly touch upon some areas that others may find useful to contemplate. I'll also include a unique reality check at the end, which I have personally used with great success.
The Time is Always Now
Whenever we think, write or talk about our dreams to others, we are invariably using the past tense, because -- from the perspective of our waking minds -- dreams are always something that happened. The only time when we consciously experience dreams in the present moment is when we're lucid. Even from the dream state itself most people will have shared an interesting dream experience that just occurred, without considering the possibility that they might still be dreaming. This is because we are so habituated to thinking about dreams as historical events.
In a similar way, we have been conditioned to believe that dreaming only occurs during sleep. Yet we never feel ourselves to be 'asleep' when we're in the dream state. As dreamers we actually feel very much awake and embodied, and so we don't tend to associate that experience with dreaming.
It gets worse, however, because our waking desire to become lucid in a dream is always thought of as a potential future event, once again bypassing the present moment (which is the only moment when lucidity is actually possible). I, for example, have had many discussions on how to lucid dream from within the dream state itself, completely oblivious to the fact that I was dreaming.
Reality checks do help, of course, because they cause us to question the present moment. In trying to find a more powerful solution, however, I discovered Tibetan Dream Yoga, where the answer to the question, "Am I dreaming?" is always "Yes." It seems that some people use this merely as a technique, but the implications are rather more profound.
A Convincing Illusion is Better Than the Truth
When we're watching a good movie, nobody wants to see the cameraman in shot. And we certainly wouldn't appreciate actors breaking character in order to address the audience. Why not? Because it would spoil the illusion; illusions that we collectively spend billions of dollars on each and every year. Essentially, we employ people to deceive us, and the more effectively they can do that, the better. It's not hard to imagine a future in which people literally forget their everyday lives in order to inhabit some kind of virtual reality. Indeed, this possibility has been explored in science-fiction.
In the meantime, we are merely required to suspend disbelief, and something very interesting happens when we do: We become emotionally engaged and involved in what's going on. One might say that our level of belief in a film's narrative, along with the degree of our identification with the characters, is directly proportional to the meaning that we derive from it (and therefore the emotion that we experience whilst watching it). Taken to the extreme, total belief in a narrative would lead to chaos and violence in the movie theatre, just as it leads to chaos and violence in the world, when certain stories and ideologies are believed in.
When it comes to dreaming, our belief in the apparent reality of the narrative is precisely what prevents us from becoming lucid. What's required, by contrast, is a complete rejection of whatever we're experiencing. This about-turn would be almost impossible to perform during our waking lives, and so it's hardly surprising that we don't naturally perform it within our dreams.
"What we call reality is in fact nothing more than a culturally sanctioned and linguistically reinforced hallucination." - Terence McKenna
As human beings we generally need a social context in which to exist (whether we are dreaming or awake) and human history is testament to the fact that almost any context will do. Through context we derive a [false] sense of identity and, for as long as we are willing to suspend disbelief, a feeling of belonging. In short, context gives structure and apparent meaning to our existence. It may not sound like a particularly good deal, to some, but it's what most people want.
Out of Context
The Truth, by contrast, is not only meaningless, in the sense of having no intellectual value or worldly application, but knowledge of it actually annihilates whatever meaning we have ascribed to something. Truth, by its very nature, will consume anything and everything in its path, including the perceiver of it, and leave nothing behind but an infinite void. On some level we all know this, which is why we invest so heavily in wholly improbable paradigms (and wholly improbable dreams). To put it bluntly, most people can't handle the Truth.
Even so, Truth is seen by many as the ultimate prize, one which requires the ultimate sacrifice. An infinite void may not seem like much of a prize, until you realise that it's actually the blank canvas of your awakened mind. Truth, however, is a jealous lover, and the penalty for straying (into belief) is the seeming reality of that belief. Needless to say, we have all strayed.
Ironically, many people consider lucid dreaming to be little more than an escape from the real world into some kind of fantasy land, when it's really the other way around. What could be more real, after all, than the absence of illusion (or, rather, the absence of belief in an illusion?)
"What one believes to be true IS true, or becomes true, within certain limits to be found experientially and experimentally. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended." - John C. Lilly
Here's a little thought experiment for you: Most lucid dreams only last for a few minutes, at most. Suppose it were possible to induce one (and only one) that could last for as long as you specified beforehand, whilst only a few minutes would pass in the "real world." How long would you set the timer for: an hour, a day, a week, a month...? Why not eternity? In other words, what is the attraction of returning to this world, when you can create any experience you desire within your own imagination? What is it that your lucid dream lacks that only this world can provide? Now, after answering that question, consider whether it's truly this world that's providing what you seem to lack, or rather your own belief in it. Ask yourself whether you could exist without this belief, and what the implications of that would be.
The Paper Sun or 'Stargate' Technique
Sadly, we are not taught the value of lucid dreaming as children, let alone offered any techniques to help us to achieve it. Needless to say, this is a significant reason why becoming lucid is a lot harder than it should be. Even if we do investigate lucid dreaming for ourselves, we may struggle with some of the suggested techniques. For whilst the instructions may seem perfectly clear and rational, our dreaming minds are anything but clear and rational, or else we wouldn't need a technique in the first place.
Speaking personally, for example, I have often examined my hands from within a dream and found them to be normal. I have attempted to levitate, and failed. I have struck a hard object and concluded that I was in so-called physical reality. I have read whole passages of text that remained clear and stable. And I have, on several occasions, switched a light on and off, even though that's not supposed to be possible within a dream.
Such techniques fail, more often than not, because we are essentially asking an intoxicated state of consciousness to correctly evaluate and interpret an experience. It's hardly surprising that we are fooled, time and time again.
The only possible solution to this problem (at least in terms of MILD options) would be to use a reality check that doesn't rely on the dreamer's own discernment. In other words, it would have to be something that our dreaming minds couldn't possibly replicate, and thereby fool us with.
Whilst it's true that one can feel pain/discomfort within a dream (which is why pinching oneself doesn't work), it isn't possible, as far as I'm aware, to feel pain or discomfort from staring at a dream sun or other bright light source. As such, this reality check is uniquely effective. Of course, you'll have to glance at the real sun (or other bright light source) throughout the day in order to create a habit that will hopefully carry over into your dreams.
On the first night of using it, I actually became lucid on four separate occasions, each time finding the sun to be nothing more than a yellow disc in the sky. Then the dream fought back, the next night, by enshrouding me in a dense layer of fog. It began as a road trip, although I was eager to reach our destination so that I could get out and check the sun. By the time I did, however, the fog had descended. I actually found this rather amusing, as I was already semi-lucid at that point. "I'm calling it, anyway," I declared, "this is a dream!" I then leapt into the air and, sure enough, found myself floating. Interestingly, the other dream characters followed suit, which is fairly unusual in my experience. After a brief awakening, I went back to sleep and this time had no difficulty finding the sun, which I immediately recognised as being fake.
I hope this technique serves you as well as it has me. Good luck!
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