Lucid Dreaming for Slackers

Have any of you ever played around in the amazing fantasy world that is Lucid Dreaming?

With a bit of practice it's something many people can learn. Even I did. Then of course I got lazy and got out of the habit. Now I'm just starting to get back into it (again), and I have to say: totally worth the trouble! I always forget how much fun it is.

What the Heck is Lucid Dreaming?

It's just a fancy name for realizing in the middle of a dream that you're... well, dreaming. It dawns on you that your current "reality" is not actually "real," and this awareness can then lead to the ability to control your dreams. And boy howdy, that's where the fun starts.

The cool thing: it's a learnable skill. There's a set of steps to follow, and if you do them, there's a good chance you'll eventually start having dreams where you're aware you're in a dream and you even get to control what happens.

If you recall your dreams easily, or if you already have occasional spontaneous lucid dreams, you'll have an easier time of it. But all kinds of folks who hardly ever remembered their dreams before they started practicing have learned how to do this.

The not-so-cool thing: it takes some time and attention--something you may not exactly have in abundance. But the more you put into it, the better results you'll have and the faster you'll start having them.

Fortunately, however, it's not a huge amount of time, so it's the perfect Personal Growth Project for Slackers. And this being Cranky Fitness, we will of course discuss Shortcuts.

Why Bother Having Lucid Dreams?

Serious lucid dreaming advocates always give these sort of pragmatic reasons for learning to have lucid dreams:

1. Reducing nightmares.

2. Creative problem-solving.

3. Practicing life-skills you find difficult.

4. Working through personal issues by interacting with significant people in your life in a non-threatening, no-consequences environment.

Blah blah blah.

Let's look at a slightly different list, shall we? Here are some things you can do when you get good at it:

1. You can eat any damn thing you want, totally enjoy it as though it were the real thing, knowing there are no calories or carcinogens or transfats.

2. You can fly.

3. You can explore intricate, intense, fantasy worlds with the smug realization that somehow your humble little brain created and imagined them all by itself.

4. You can have sex with your favorite celebrity, or your best friend's spouse, or that hot yoga instructor at the gym, or hell, all three at once--with no horrible guilt or divorce papers or awkward morning-after conversations.

It's your world, and it feels totally real, and there are absolutely no rules or repercussions. Sound like fun?

Here's what you gotta do to get there.

1. Start Remembering More of Your Dreams

Easier said than done, right? Is there anything slipperier than a half-remembered dream? But increasing dream recall is a necessary step in the process. You get better and better the more you try to do it.


  • Get in the habit of reminding yourself as you fall asleep that you want to remember your dreams.

  • Also get in the habit of checking, whenever you wake up for any reason, to see if you can catch any dream fragments floating by. Stay with them, gently and without getting frustrated if possible, and see if you can pull out any more images or feelings or voices or sensations from the dream.

  • Keep a dream journal by your bed and jot down notes whenever you remember anything.

  • Linger in bed for a few moments in the morning and try to ease gently into remembering your dreams. Don't immediately leap into thoughts about the upcoming day. Analytical thinking, planning, and worrying seem to be real dream-memory killers.

Bonus: you spend all this time every night dreaming, it's nice to reclaim some it! Unremembered dreams seem like a waste, while remembered dreams can add up to a fuller, if weirder, life.

Slacker Short Cut: While you really SHOULD keep a dream journal, I'm too lazy myself. I discovered I can increase dream recall by reminding myself, obsessively, to try to remember my dreams whenever I wake up.

2. Recognize Dream Signs

As you've probably already noticed, there are themes and situations that seem to come up in dreams a lot. Some recurring themes are personal; others seem to be more common. (How many of us have found ourselves semi-naked at work, or faced with a final exam in a class we've never been to because we forgot we'd signed up?)

Anyway, it helps to know what you frequently dream about, because your personal dream signs will help you recognize that you're not in waking reality. Phones or light switches that don't work are very common; as is the inability to scream or run; the ability to float or fly; teeth falling out or other bizarre body problems; dead people showing up to chat, etc.

However, you probably have your own personal recurring situations or themes. If I'm in an elevator and the whole thing starts to tip sideways, for example, or if I'm a passenger in a plane that seems to be driving along the freeway instead of flying, those are both pretty good signs I'm dreaming.

3. Test Waking Reality

This is probably the strangest step.

Are you dreaming now? Of course you're not! It's rare that we get confused about this when we're actually awake. So it will probably feel totally stupid to get in the habit of asking yourself, many times a day: am I dreaming right now?

Of course you're not--you're reading Cranky Fitness!

But these inane periodic check-ins makes a huge difference. Eventually, as they become a habit, you'll start doing them at night in your dreams too.

And sometimes the answer to: am I dreaming right now?

Will be: um, you know what? I think I am!

If you have a recurring dream sign that relates to something that you do frequently in real life (i.e., weird things happen when you dial a phone or start your car or use a public restroom), then try to use these ordinary experiences as cues to ask if you're dreaming. But even just checking at random times is good too.

Dedicated approach: set a timer on your watch or computer or add a bunch of entries to your daily schedule to remind you to ask yourself if you're dreaming. Even though the answer seems like it's obviously "No," perform a test: read some text and then go back to read it again to see if it changes. Notice if anything impossible is going on. See if you can float. Turn on a light switch and see if the light goes on.

Slacker Shortcut: If you are damn sure you're awake, you don't actually have to perform the tests. But do remind yourself that you would totally check things out if you were on a spaceship to mars, or if your computer just turned into a pink refrigerator stocked with olive jars and paper clips and headless Barbie Dolls.

Additional Slacker Tip: Is there some other annoying thing you're already been trying to remember to do several times a day? Improve your posture, get up to stretch, take deep breaths, drink more water, etc? Then every time you nag yourself to do one of other things, throw in the additional question: am I dreaming?

4. Get Lucid
There are lots of fancy wake/sleep manipulations and gadgets and rituals you can try to hasten the process (see resources below), but basically, if you keep up with the first three steps with a fair amount of dedication, you will most likely (eventually) catch yourself dreaming.

It may start with a vague suspicion, or you may notice a dream sign, or you might suddenly recall that you are long past elementary school so what are you doing back in Mrs. Benjamin's classroom again? And it will finally occur to you to ask yourself whether you are dreaming when you are actually dreaming.

If you answer "yes, I AM dreaming," congratulations! You've had a lucid dream.

And if you are like most people you'll get all excited and wake up almost immediately. Crap.

5. Stay Lucid

This is one of the huge challenges of lucid dreaming. It's really a tricky balance to stay aware enough to enjoy the lucid experience, but not so aware and conscious that you wake yourself up.

Helpful hints to staying lucid:

a. Stay calm.

b. Notice the physical details of your surroundings. Look at your hands; rub them together; try to increase the sensual aspects of the experience.

c. If you feel yourself waking up, try spinning around and around. (No idea why this often works, but it seems to help many folks stay in a dream state).

d. But, try to stay mindful you are dreaming. It's also easy to float back into accepting everything and forgetting that this is not real life.

Once you start having more lucid dreams, you may discover that some end quickly but others will linger. Or that you'll start to wake up but will find yourself in another lucid dream later the same night. Keep it playful; try not to get too frustrated. Unless you've discovered a way to make sleep optional, you'll have every night for the rest of your life to play with this.

6. Start Messing With Your Dreams

Controlling your dreams is a blast when it works, but alas, it's unreliable. Sometimes it happens easily and you can order up your favorite fantasy and experience it in intense detail. Other times, it seems impossible to have any input and all you can do is watch things unfold, and appreciate that you get to experience a dream from a conscious, aware perspective.

See that landscape in front of you? Well, maybe you can't fly through it tonight, but you created it! Every leaf on that tree, you put there. It's pretty cool.

Cultivate a relaxed but hopeful approach. Don't try to force it, but imagine that what you'd like to happen is gradually coming to pass. You're about to walk into the next room, and inside will be... what? Some nights, it may be George Clooney in the all-together; other nights, it could be your next door neighbor's pet iguana Iggy; and who the hell wants to party with Iggy?

But perhaps Iggy will offer you the key to another room, and you can open the door and discover that inside... there's a huge all-you-can-eat cupcake buffet in progress!

7. Read More About It

This is obviously just a quick and quirky summary; there are books and websites and discussion forums and workshops and all kinds of further information if you'd like to become a well-traveled oneironaut. Here's a link to one fairly well thought out lucid dreaming website. And you may want to check out the venerable Lucidity Institute founded by Dr. Stephen LaBerge, a dude from Stanford University who's been studying this stuff for decades. These sites contain further links, or hell, you can just start googling!

Anyone else have lucid dreams? Or do your dreams contain any weird recurring themes you're willing to share?

[And yes, this is another Old Post from the Past--but before too long I'll be back from vacation with new stuff!]

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