There was a time that I could fly. I jutted my right fist into the air, and launched into the sky. My stomach dropped with the sensation of breaking gravity’s bond, and the summer air cooled as I reached higher. When the roads were so far below as to be an indistinct ashen blur, I halted and curled my legs under me as I was pelted by icy crystals of clouds, and surveyed all below. There was a moment of idle indecision, but in the end it mattered not at all. I picked a direction and dove.

The experience was one of my many brushes with Lucid Dreaming. It is a phenomenon that many discredit, naming it a hoax and naturalist mythology despite the fact that it has strong scientific evidence supporting it as a real occurrence. With a devoted training regimen, most anyone can learn to harness their own subconscious to experience surrealistic events and places. In a controlled dream, one can pursue anything from the cessation of nightmares, to investigating problems, to engaging in sexual fantasies, to my personal choice⁠⁠—jetting around the skies like Superman.

A lucid dream is one wherein the dreamer is aware they are dreaming without waking up, allowing them to deliberately participate in the dream’s events. Despite the stigma of being a new age fantasy, there is a historical record of lucid dreams dating back to the 5th century. In the year 415 AD Saint Augustine, a Christian priest and philosopher, wrote of the dream of a man who was preoccupied with concerns of the afterlife and what it was like. This man, Gennadius, dreamed that he was visited by a youth “of remarkable appearance and commanding presence”. Gennadius followed the person, and was taken to a site that rang of singing that was “so exquisitely sweet” that it surpassed any in his experience.

St Augustine of Hippo
St Augustine of Hippo

Gennadius woke, and figured the experience for merely a dream, possibly caused by indigestion.

The very next night, however, Gennadius dreamed again, and was again visited by the (apparently) androgynous young guide. The guide asked if he was remembered, to which Gennadius replied “Certainly!” The young guide then asked Gennadius if their meeting had occurred in sleep or in wakefulness, and Gennadius replied, “In sleep.” His guide told him, “You remember it well; it is true that you saw these things in sleep, but I would have you know that even now you are seeing in sleep.” The guide continued, “Where is your body now?” And Gennadius answered “in my bed.”

Gennadius was therefore lucid⁠⁠—aware that he was indeed dreaming, though there is no hint that he was controlling the dream. Even without asserting his will on the dream state, Gennadius found answers to the problems plaguing his mind, and was satisfied with what he learned.

The eighth century saw the rise of the monastic order that devised The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Some maintain that this group knew more about dreams and controlling them than we do today, but if that is the case, their book is woefully incomplete. The book describes that when one dies, he will face experiences that result from his “inner manifestations”⁠—things akin to dreams. When one is faced with these experiences, to know that they are dreamlike grants the deceased an advantage in reaching enlightenment, and thus, hopefully, avoids rebirth. To aid in this end, the monks developed a form of Yoga to help in understanding the death or dream phenomenon.

In 1867 a popular scientist named Marquis d’Hervey de Saint-Denys published his book Dreams and How to Guide Them, effectively demonstrating how anyone could learn the skills of lucid and controlled dreaming⁠⁠—though that moniker didn’t emerge until 1912.

One of our era’s most popular discourses on lucid dreaming comes from the books by Jane Roberts, who created a series of books collectively titled The Seth Material. Purportedly, it was created when Jane channeled a spirit named Seth, who spent his time returned to the corporeal world lecturing on dreams and death. There seems little wonder that lucid dreaming has been labeled hopelessly new-agey. Save for the work of Stephen LaBerge, the phenomenon of lucid dreams may have been condemned to remain in obscurity.

It was the year 1980 when LaBerge received his PhD in Psychophysiology from Stanford, but his interest in dreams and altered states of consciousness began in his childhood. LaBerge had some lucid dreams of his own, and found it to be an interesting experience. Armed with the knowledge that when a person dreams of a ping-pong game, his eyes will trace back and forth as if watching the ball, LaBerge went to sleep, and allocated the actual work to his trusty research assistant. Before LaBerge began his doze, however, he and the assistant agreed on a signal that LaBerge would convey with his eyes. The research assistant observed LaBerge’s sleep, and verified that he had indeed entered a dream state, and then awaited the agreed upon signal. After receiving the signal and having the polygraph record it a number of times, LaBerge took his results to the academic world. At first there was general resistance to his theories. One fellow scientist said “there is no evidence that would make me believe [in lucid dreams].” After noting the scientific irony in that statement, however, resistance slowly diminished, and experiments reproduced the same results around the country and the world.

Most everyone’s had that one dream they want to go back to. Those who are aware of their dreams can avoid nightmares, and those who control their dreams can do most anything. Participants in scientific studies report an enhanced sense of accomplishment and general betterment of mood. Some even call it life-changing.

There are several techniques that one can employ to achieve lucid or controlled dreaming, but broken down, there are really two basic schools. Both require one to be able to recall his dreams fairly well, and in both cases children take to it easier than their adult counterparts. The first is analogous to making a “controlled entry” into the dream, and is called the WILD (wake-initiated lucid dream) method. In this technique one approaches dreams from a meditative state, and tries to hold to lucidity while slipping into the realms of the unconscious. Most agree that this method is both more difficult and more frightening; it is not uncommon to have feelings of floating above one’s own body or sinking into the black depths of the mattress. There can be bursts of vertigo or dizziness, and can seem somewhat akin to descriptions of Near Death Experiences.

The more widely accepted method is to come at the dream from the other end⁠⁠—to engulf one’s self in the dream, then try to gain lucidity. This is done through the use of “reality checks”, and is called the MILD (mnemonic induction of lucid dreams) method. Dreams diverge from reality in many ways, and many of them are fairly predictable. One must get into habits in waking life that would highlight such differences.

If one gets into the habit of checking his watch twice in quick succession, in the waking world the time will be the same, whereas in dreams the time will generally be radically different. Some pinch their noses and try to breathe through it; the flesh nose will be unable to, but the dream nose can breathe unhindered. The trick I made use of in my experiments was to several times a day ask: “am I dreaming now?” On the rare occasion that I decided I was dreaming, I would immediately take to the sky.

Some worry that there are dangers inherent to lucid dreaming, though there are none evident. One can avoid unwanted dreams, practice that dreaded speech in a mental crowd, or play the guitar like a god, among other things. Despite the axiom that “one who dies in a dream dies in true life,” there’s nothing to fear⁠⁠—if everyone who died in their dreams never awoke, who would there be to deliver these warnings to us?