Being aware inside of a dream is not unlike the awareness you’re currently feeling as you read these words—except the worlds in your dreams lack certain consistencies. For example, if you were to click back on your browser at this very moment, then click forward, you’d end up on this webpage again. In a dream state, you might click back then forward and end up on a different webpage, or on a sailboat. Dreams are not consistent, and spotting those inconsistencies is one of the easiest ways to realize you’re dreaming, which is the first step to becoming lucid.
But to truly understand what it feels like to be lucid in your dream, you need to possess a better understanding of what it feels like to be lucid in the real world. This exercise, from the book Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge, Ph.D., and Howard Rheingold, will be your first assignment. Do all of these steps once a day:
- Look: Become aware of what you see: notice the richly varied and vivid impressions—shapes, colors, movement, dimensionality, the entire visible world.
- Listen: Become aware of what you hear: register the various sounds taken in by your ears—a diverse range of intensities, pitches, and tonal qualities, perhaps including the commonplace miracle of speech or the wonder of music.
- Feel: Become aware of what you touch: texture (smooth, rough, dry, sticky, or wet), weight (heavy, light, solid, or empty), temperature, and the rest. Also note how your body feels right now and compare that to the many other ways it feels at other times, tired or energetic, stiff or limber, painful or pleasant, and so on.
- Taste: Become aware of what it is like to taste: taste a number of different foods and substances, or remember and vividly imagine their tastes.
- Smell: Become aware of what you smell: the odor of warm bodies, earth, incense, smoke, perfume, coffee, onions, alcohol, and the sea. Remember and imagine as many of them as you can.
- Breathing: Attend to your breathing. A moment ago you probably were not consciously aware of your breathing even though you have inhaled and exhaled fifty times while doing this exercise. Hold your breath for a few seconds. Let it out. Now take a deep breath. Notice that being conscious of your breathing allows you to alter it deliberately.
- Emotions: Become aware of your feelings. Remember the difference between anger and joy, serenity and excitement, and as many other emotions as you care to feel. How real do emotions feel?
- Thoughts: Become aware of your thoughts. What have you been thinking while doing this exercise? What are you thinking right now? How real do thoughts seem?
Pause and reflect on these things, or even write them down. You use these senses and experience these other things at all times throughout the day, but how often do you really pay attention to them? The more in-tune you can become with your senses and feelings, the more easily you’ll be able to use them as tools in the dream state. After all, you can’t conjure a pleasant sunset beach in your mind if you don’t know how to define and recall the smell of the ocean breeze, the texture of sand between your toes, the color of light on the horizon, or how relaxing it feels to be somewhere so peaceful.
Once you’ve done that, move on to these last two steps:
- “I”: Become aware of the fact that your world always includes you. As William James noted, it is I see, I hear, I feel, I think that is the basic fact of experience. You are not what you see, hear, think, or feel; you have these experiences. Perhaps most essentially, you are who is aware. You are always at the center of your multidimensional universe of experience, but you are not always consciously aware of yourself. Briefly repeat the exercise with the following difference: At the same time you attend to each of the various aspects of your experience, be aware that it is you who is noticing these things (“I see the light…”).
- Awareness of awareness: Finally, become aware of your awareness. Normally, awareness focuses on objects outside ourselves, but it can itself be an object of awareness… Here, experience cannot be adequately expressed by language.
Congratulations: you have taken your first step to becoming an oneironaut, or “explorer of dreams.” Next week, we’ll go over the many benefits of lucid dreaming—and some of the minor dangers—and discuss the importance of building dream memory. You’ll also get a brand-new assignment.
Until then, feel free to ask questions or discuss your own experiences in the comments below. How did you feel doing the assignment? Have you had a lucid dream before? Some people get beginner’s luck and have a lucid dream simply after hearing about the phenomenon for the first time. This is your classroom, so discuss dreaming with your classmates.
You spend a third of your life asleep. Why not do something with it? Okay, Oneironauts: sleep tight and dream on.