Imagine you are walking along minding your own business when, without warning, a tiger with rippling muscles and velvety stripes bounds into your path. You stare in shock into its glowing eyes, and your body kicks into a reaction of fear: adrenaline pumps, your heart jumps, you break into a terrified sweat. The tiger snarls, and you know he's about to spring you.
Then, thank goodness, you understand the truth of the situation—you are dreaming!
Yes; this is a dream tiger, and no matter what happens next, you know that afterwards you will wake up safely in your bed with no torn flesh, no mauled limbs. Relief flows through you, along with the super-lucid clarity of knowing that you are "awake inside a dream." Your vision sharpens, your heart slows… and your fear dissolves. You look in wonder at this incredibly realistic tiger, and to your amazement it lowers its massive head and takes a docile step towards you. Awed, you reach out and stroke its warm fur. Your hand buzzes with orange dream tiger energy and it feels fantastic.
This is lucid dreaming. In a lucid dream, you activate your waking awareness in a dream, without waking up.
What Can We Do in Our Lucid Dreams?
When you become lucid in your dream, the dream action continues and you are able to enjoy it in gorgeous, multi-sensory, 3-dimensional Technicolor. You can go with the flow of the dream as it continues to unfold, or you can guide it into new scenarios.
You see, once you become lucid in a dream, you can do whatever you decide to do. Fancy improving your tennis serve? Grab a dream racquet and practice in your fit, powerful dream body, slowing time down for extra precision. Or confront the nasty dream figure who always chases you down a dead-end alley in your nightmares, and ask him what he wants from you—the answer is often illuminating!
If you're a philosophical type, you might decide to fly into the star-studded dream sky and ask the dream to show you the nature of the universe. If your mother died recently and you miss her, you can find her in your lucid dream and share a healing hug.
Lucid dreaming is a learnable skill, one that we can practice every night so that our lucid dreams soon become longer and more stable. Why sleep our lives away when we can become conscious in our dreams and have beautiful, life-changing experiences?
Dream lucidity is so exciting and offers so many opportunities for psychological healing, creativity, and mindfulness. Let's look at just five ways that lucid dreaming can expand our horizons and improve our lives.
1. Overcome Nightmares
Nightmares may be terrible, but it's vital to remember that all dreams come to help and heal us—even our worst nightmares! We just have to know how to work with them to discover what it is they want to show us or teach us.
Lucid dreaming has been shown to help with recurring nightmares1, and lucid dream therapy for trauma-induced nightmares is on the rise. But, how can lucid dreaming help nightmares?
Lucid in a dream, we know that our body is safely asleep in bed, and we are free to act in a variety of ways, for example: Face the dream monster with courage in your heart and ask it what it wants from you, or why it is chasing you. The answers can be illuminating!
- Face the dream monster with courage in your heart and ask it what it wants from you, or why it is chasing you. The answers can be illuminating!
- Actively change the nightmare story so that something harmonious or amusing takes place.
- Bring help into the dream in the form of a strong friend, a magic tool, or a healing mantra.
- Offer the frightening figure a dream gift (just look in your pocket and fully expect to find the perfect gift there—this kind of trick works a treat in lucid dreams!)
- Hug the monster: fill your heart with love, kindness, and forgiveness, and approach the monster with open arms. Just as love works wonders in life, so it can in lucid dreams.
Try any of these lucid dream actions and watch your dream transform, often into something meaningful and healing. These exact same beneficial actions can be visualized while awake, when you replay any nightmare in your imagination (a process I call "Lucid Dreamplay."2)
When we face nightmare images in these ways, the result is deeper insight into our own psychology and into what we need to change within ourselves or in our relationships in order to improve our lives. Once this kind of lucidity work has been done, recurrent nightmares tend to stay away—for good—and we have taken an important first step towards living a happier life.
2.Improve Physical Skills
How can we improve a physical skill by practicing it in our dreams? Can dream actions really register on our sleeping body? Yes, they can; scientific studies show that dreamed actions do have a physical effect on the body, as they activate the same areas of the brain as waking actions, and result in measurable muscle twitches.3
Sports psychologists working with Olympic and professional athletes have used mental rehearsal techniques for years. In a lucid dream, the imagery surpasses any daytime mental imagery as it is highly vivid, multi-sensory and all-encompassing, so it is ideal for practicing physical skills.
One doctoral study4 showed that people were able to improve their swimming, kick-boxing, yoga, scuba-diving, and sparring by practicing these skills in their lucid dreams. Lucid dreaming can be such a creative space for practicing sports skills: in this study, one person stood on the surface of a pool in her lucid dream and sparred with a flexible column of water. Another slowed time down to improve a martial arts kick. Another swam through honey to test the muscle resistance.
Why not become the best athlete you can be by practicing in your dreams?
In lucid dreams, we all have access to the deeply rooted creativity of our unconscious mind. We "wake up" mentally in the rampant creativity of the dream world and can experience the way our thoughts, emotions, and intentions transform our surroundings.
We can ask the dream a question and stand in amazement as an answer forms in the air before us, is boomed from the sky like a "voice of God," or is given to us in the form of a physical experience such as being whisked into a column of rainbow light.
Whenever you are working on a creative project and need ideas or creative solutions, try some of these techniques I used when I was writing my lucid-dream-inspired novels and creating lucid dream collages:
- Draw on the vibrant idea-images you see in your lucid dreams to create powerful fictional scenes or artworks.
- Become lucid and ask the dream for help with plot development, or for help solving a specific problem in the creative project.
- Meet up with your fictional characters/artwork subjects in lucid dreams to learn more about them (very revealing!).
- Ask for an admired mentor to appear as soon as you become lucid. Nobody is off bounds here: you can summon Albert Einstein, Frida Kahlo, or your favorite movie star to give you tips.
- Dissolve creative blocks by opening yourself to the boundless creativity of your dreams.
The creative lucid dreaming process is explored deeply in Llewellyn's Complete Book of Lucid Dreaming, where practical techniques help you to find your own "creativity elixir" by engaging with your dreams while awake in ways that mirror lucid dreaming.
Even if we don't think we are "creative types" in waking life, in lucid dreams we all have the capacity for endless creativity. We can bring the original images and ideas from our dreams into our waking lives, and draw, sculpt, write, and paint them, or turn them into soul-enhancing music or dance. When we engage lucidly with our dreams, we spark the free flow of creative thinking so that we are all set to make original art, and we will never run out of ideas!
4. Recover from Grief
At some point in our lives, we will all face the trauma of losing a loved one. While grief is a natural process that takes its own time, lucid dreaming offers a healing space that can support and nourish us while we process the painful emotions of bereavement. Lucid dreaming can raise our spirits with moments of deep peace, solace, hope, and beauty.
When we become lucid in a dream, we can actively seek out our deceased loved one and reconnect with them in meaningful and cathartic ways.
If we are harbouring conflicting emotions about the person who has died, such as anger or betrayal, we can act intuitively in a lucid dream with the intent to heal rifts and transform negative emotions. We can ask the dream figure that represents the deceased: "What message do you have for me?" "How can we make this situation better?" We can send the dream figure healing light or give them a hug.
Whether a lucid dream of a dead loved one is understood to be a psychological representation or an actual "visitation," the level of connection and healing experienced is what counts. Hugging someone you love and miss in the realistic, multi-sensory world of a lucid dream is unforgettable. The bereaved person often feels reassured that their loved one is safe and happy.
Many people report beautiful and profoundly healing reunions with their deceased loved ones in lucid dreams. Such dreams offer valuable support throughout the grief process and enable us to reimagine our lives after the loss of a loved one.
5. Increase Mindfulness and Become an Adept Meditator
Lucidity is all about awareness. Lucid dreaming is an intense, here-and-now experience: everything we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel in a lucid dream seems slightly miraculous to us because we know that this is a dream, and not waking life, even though it is super realistic!
When each unfolding moment is experienced as intense and miraculous, we know we are currently 100% mindful. The more time we spend lucid in dreams, the more of a habit mindfulness becomes in our waking lives, too. We start to really notice beauty, strangeness, stillness. We begin to live in the present moment with greater awareness. We become calmer and more joyful.
One incredible thing to try in a lucid dream is meditation: when you meditate in a dream, the whole dream scene tends to dissolve and you may find yourself floating blissfully in white light, or experiencing total, interconnected oneness. The wonderful thing about meditating in a lucid dream is that there is no physical body to distract with its aches and pains. You go deep so fast, and this can be a very healing experience. People often report transformative spiritual experiences.
When we meditate in our lucid dreams, our waking meditation practice grows easier: we are familiar with entering seamless, blissful oneness, and so it's easier to slip into that state again.
Waking up in dreams can help us to become more mindful in our lives!
Lucid Dream Your Way to a Happier, More Creative Life
When we engage with lucid dreaming in any of the ways described here, we are taking steps to wake up in our lives and create a happier, more lucid life for ourselves and others. I've listed just five benefits of lucid dreaming in this article, and that's only the tip of the iceberg!
Lucid dreaming can also help to improve your sex life, enhance physical health and facilitate healing, alleviate sleep disturbances, increase overall wellness, resolve psychological trauma, and overcome phobias. It could even help you to hone your telepathy skills and it provides a different gateway to out-of-body experiences.
Lucid dreaming can open up profound experiences, such as being bodiless in dream space, travelling at incredible speeds in white light, and dissolving into blissful oneness in the sparkling black void.
All of these topics are explored in depth, with practical tips and exercises for each, in my lucidity guide, Llewellyn's Complete Book of Lucid Dreaming: A Comprehensive Guide to Promote Creativity, Overcome Sleep Disturbances & Enhance Health and Wellness. To get you started, you can also view a quick guide on how to get lucid in your dreams with my video of top ten tips or learn more about lucid dreaming and the grief process in this video.
I wish you a great deal of enjoyment exploring dream lucidity!
Claire R. Johnson PhD
Copyright © 10-23-2017, Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.
1. Zadra, Antonio, and Robert Pihl. "Lucid Dreaming as a Treatment for Recurrent Nightmares." Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics 66, no. 1 (1997): 50–55.
2. Johnson, Clare R., "Dream Magicians: Empower Children through Lucid Dreaming." In Sleep Monsters and Superheroes: Empowering Children through Creative Dreamplay. Edited by Clare R. Johnson and Jean M. Campbell. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2016.
3. Dresler, Martin et al., "Dreamed Movement Elicits Activation in the Sensorimotor Cortex." Current Biology 21 (2011).
4. Schädlich, Melanie. "Darts in Lucid Dreams: A Sleep Laboratory Study." Paper presented at the 33rd Annual Conference for the International Association for the Study of Dreams, Kerkrade, Netherlands, June 24–28, 2016.