This story was originally published in 2016
I had 30 days — 30 days to learn how to gain control of and manipulate my personal dreamscape as I saw fit, to experience my wildest fantasies in vivid detail. Or my money back.
I have never had much of a dream life — I wake with only fleeting images or a few vague impressions — and I’d never heard of lucid dreaming. But when I started reading about the practice of lucid dreaming, how I could manipulate my dream world and create whatever fantasy I chose, I realized I was missing out.
So I dug around and found the “Lucid Dreaming Fast Track,” a course created by Rebecca Turner. It cost $47 and promised to provide me with the skills to start lucid dreaming within a month.
The lessons of Lucid Dreaming Fast Track are available elsewhere on the web, but the online course compiles all of the information in a thoughtful, easily digestible way. It gave all the lucid dreaming theory and practices as well as several downloadable multimedia tools to assist me in my practice. My credit card came out.
The course (optimized for mobile and desktop) is fairly straightforward: 30 lessons, each meant to be read in less than 10 minutes, ideally before bed, with a few quiz-type questions at the end of each to foster retention and stimulate thought.
Typical lessons include “What is Lucid Dreaming?” “Recording Your Dreams,” “Exploring Nightmares,” and “Seeking Wisdom.” A typical question at the end of one lesson is “What might cause a lucid dream to end prematurely?” (Answer: Having too much excitement.) Rebecca is an accomplished lucid dreamer and writer and her lessons are easy to understand; as the Virgil to my Dante, she’s ideal.
Never being one to read in bed, I devoured the first section (or phase), “Priming,” during one of my work commutes. The course taught me not only the importance of dream recall, but also how to improve it with tips to wake myself up while in REM sleep and to write down all my dreams.
I didn’t think anything would happen so soon. But after a few nights of writing down my dreams upon waking I started to recall nighttime episodes of frantic, “Kill Bill”-style swordfights. So far so good.
I was also asked to perform reality checks throughout the day — actions such as poking my palm with a finger to ensure I was awake. (These minor actions help me distinguish the real world from the dreaming one, as in the dreaming world, were I to poke my hand with my finger, my finger would sink pass through my palm.) These were far more difficult.
To remind myself throughout the day, I set reminders on my phone. (Buzz, poke hand; buzz poke hand) Weird.
“Priming” also introduced me to a new form of meditation (the 61-point relaxation technique) similar to a full-body scan— luckily, I am an experienced, albeit infrequent, meditator, so this practice was easy enough to pick up. My dreams stayed vivid.
Phase 2, “Induction,” is where most of the work happens. Here the primary strategies for inducing lucid dreams are laid out. These are the Mnemonic Method (MILD), the Waking Method (WILD), Dream Exit (DEILD), Cycle Adjustment (CAT), and Wake Back to Bed (WBTB). (Lucid dreamers love acronyms as much as they love exploring consciousness.)
MILD involves repeating an affirmation like, “The next scene will be a dream” before falling asleep, then recalling and re-experiencing a recent dream. This fantasizing is actually a rehearsal for what’s to happen during sleep — a lucid dream.
WILD requires full relaxation, so it calls for waking up from sleep by setting an alarm 4-5 hours after going to bed.
DEILD, also known as dream chaining, is similar to WILD but is applied immediately after waking from a dream. By remaining still and visualizing following a dream, the dream can be re-entered with lucidity.
CAT is a simple alarm-call method of producing spontaneous lucid dreams and involves arranging wake-up times to interrupt REM sleep early in the morning—first by waking up 90 minutes prior to normal wake-up time, then by alternating waking up at the usual time and waking up 90 minutes early. The “lie-in” days are most likely to produce lucid dreams.
WBTB is similar, but doesn’t require the commitment of CAT. By setting the alarm to go off six hours from going to bed, then fully waking—getting out of bed, engaging the brain in any kind of stimulating activity, and staying alert for 20-60 minutes. When back in bed and by employing WILD or MILD, lucid dreams should come.
Per instruction, I tried them all over the next several weeks, sometimes in isolation, other times in combination with each other and with the additional tools offered in the course: a hypnosis, a guided meditation and subliminal videos. For the first week or so after beginning the “Induction” phase, nothing happened — my dreams were more vivid, but I wasn’t aware I was dreaming.
Seemingly by magic, though, I soon had my first lucid dream. — or at least the first one I remembered. It was induced via the WILD technique and felt like a pleasant hallucination in which I interacted with deceased relatives. These manifestations of my psyche seemed more real than ghosts but were clearly living within my dream; I was aware I was dreaming a and what’s more, I had control over what I said to them.
In the following weeks, I had lucid dreams more frequently, though never consistently or on demand. I flew, I swam, I met my idols (don’t laugh: Kelly Clarkson and Aziz Ansari). Sex and food are particularly engrossing in a lucid dream: in one dream, I tasted cake and, as if I were high, could tell each individual ingredient apart from the whole.
Phase 3, “Exploration,” is filled with lessons like, “How to Stay Lucid,” “Setting Dream Goals,” and “Lucid Dream Therapy.” I read the lessons but I won’t attempt the practices. My dreaming world is just starting to manifest and I need more practice within it. I'll look at the advanced lessons down the road. It’s good to have challenges to look forward to.