It’s 2016 and any day it’ll be 2017. Donald Trump’s practically in the White House. The world just passed some terrifying climate change threshold. We can’t control any of this. But for some people there’s one thing they can control — their dreams.
Lucid dreaming is the experience of being aware that you’re dreaming. With the right tools and a healthy dose of gumption, experts say, you may someday become master of your own (unconscious) domain. Here are 5 things to keep in mind as you begin your journey to lucid dreaming.
Start by keeping a dream journal
Though it might seem innocuous enough, maintaining a dream journal is the most important first step for any lucid dreamer.
“Dream recall is the number one prerequisite,” explains Ryan Hurd, a lucid dreaming expert and teacher. “Without remembering your dreams, you’re not going to be able to lucid dream.”
To that end, he recommends documenting your dreams every morning — even if all you remember are fragments. Think of dream recall as a muscle; journaling is how you exercise it.
“The habit of asking yourself to remember dreams will bring them back more quickly,” says Hurd. “Keep your journal on your bedside table. Keep it sacred.”
Alternatively, you could download any voice recorder app and dictate your dreams when you wake up.
Before you go to sleep, focus on one thing
Key to any lucid dreaming experience is mindfulness: A focused awareness of who you are, where you are, and what you’re doing. This also means you should know why you want to lucid dream. Is it purely recreational, or are you trying to dive deep into your consciousness? Look at pretty colors, or confront longstanding fears?
“Try to get specific,” Hurd recommends. “Find that chrysalis of excitement or giddiness that motivates you. It can be playful or it could be something deep — it depends on the individual. But what I find is that people who have focused intentions, as they’re going to sleep, really do have more success.”
Practice certain observations while you’re awake
Never trust that you’re awake. Okay, that sounds a bit crazy, but we’re talking about controlling your dreams here. The issue is consistency: Lucidity in sleep requires lucidity in your waking life. If you want to be able to recognize that you’re dreaming, you have to practice recognizing that you’re awake. You can do this performing “reality checks,” or simple tests designed to ensure that the real world is, well, real.
“I’d say five to ten checks a day should work, depending on your motivation,” says Hurd. “A common one is to check the time on a digital clock, then look away and think about something else before looking back. In dreams, text and numbers are quite unstable for most people. If you’re dreaming it’s gonna shift. If you’re lucid, you should have enough waking memory to notice it just changed.”
It can also help to pair reality checks with physical tasks, like washing your hands or brushing your teeth. This brings mindfulness to the task and, practice repeatedly, develops a habit that becomes intuitive when you’re dreaming.
“It’s great to tie reality checks to certain situations,” says Hurd, who performs his whenever he walks through a certain doorway in his home. “It helps you develop prospective memory, which is an important skill in lucid dreaming. It also helps you see how unconscious we are in waking life.”
Turn your pillow into a cradle of aromas
You’ve probably heard by now that scents are a powerful stimulator of memory. They trigger the limbic system, which governs memory and emotion and happens to be involved in dreaming as well. A popular lucid dream-induction technique involves inhaling a pleasant scent — say, lavender or sandalwood — to stimulate that part of your brain as you fall asleep. Some people simply place a drop of essential oil beside them on the pillow. If you’re looking to potentially amp up your dream game, there’s no alternative to the full-on dream pillow, a cushion loaded with herbs and oils of your choosing. Try mugwort, peppermint, rose petals, cloves, and clary sage — with perhaps just a touch of helichrysum — some people swear by it.
Relax and have fun with it
When Hurd was writing his Master’s thesis — not coincidentally, about lucid dream techniques — he couldn’t induce a single one. “I wrote everything up and passed the committee,” he recalls, “but when it came time to do the inductions, I could not dream. I was totally blocked, and it was because I was putting too much pressure on myself. When I went home during the midterm holidays and let myself relax, I started having all these lucid dreams.”
Lucid dreaming gets pretty complicated, and it’s easy to stress out over whether you’re doing it right — if at all. But Hurd advises new dreamers not to take it so seriously. “Go about it with a light spirit,” he says, “as if you’re inviting your dreams to come play with you. If it doesn’t happen, let it go for a few days. Think of it like any other creative endeavor — have a playful spirit, let yourself rest, and then try again.”
If it works for you, hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to hear about it.