The average person will spend 26 years of their life asleep.
While it makes sleeping sound like a waste of time, the truth is you can use the time you spend dreaming to make real-life inferences about your behaviour. There is a lot you can learn about yourself by analyzing your dreams. You can even learn to control your own dreams. This practice is called lucid dreaming — the ability to be conscious and self-aware in your own dreams. It allows you to travel within your own dream and develop the ability to control the outcome.
I know, it sounds crazy. But lucid dreaming and dream analysis have been practised for thousands of years. The Egyptians, for instance, believed that dreams were messages from the gods. Trained dreamers were respected as guides to help make political and military decisions. They would record dreams into books and try to interpret their meanings.Thousands of years later, ancient Greek philosophers like Aristotle would argue that we achieve our highest sense of wisdom during sleep because we’re liberated from the judgment of waking life.
Sigmund Freud made similar arguments. He believed that dreams represent our repressed fears and desires. Most people today have never heard of or approached the practice of exercising the mental capability to lucid dream. Scientists still can’t explain exactly how or why we dream. Regardless of which theory you believe, there’s value in understanding and interpreting dreams and there are many people who practise lucid dreaming today.
I’ve always been attracted to the unexplainable. From a young age, I can remember asking existential questions in an attempt to better understand myself. When I first heard about the concept of lucid dreaming, I was immediately intrigued. It’s amazing that dreaming is a complex filing system of the brain manifesting our waking consciousness through sleep. This is where the fascination with lucid dreaming and dream analysis came into my life. I hoped to learn more about myself through dream analysis and gain control of my dreams through the practice of lucid dreaming.
I spent hours reading how-to guides and developing a regime that would help me achieve my first lucid dream. After an exhausting effort of practice and discipline, I learned to vividly remember my dreams on a regular basis. With more practice, failure and a year of trying new techniques, I trained my mind to lucid dream on occasion. I had come to realize that the brain is similar to other muscles in your body — you need to push it and work it out if you want it to develop and become stronger. The more I pushed my brain to remember dreams and perform the techniques it required to have a lucid dream, the easier it became.
I can have wildly intense dreams with some regularity. In my dreams, I’ve learned to fly. I’ve competed in professional sports. I’ve learned to neutralize nightmares by confronting them head-on. I’ve learned to analyze the things I dream about as potential cues for self-understanding. Controlling and analyzing my dreams is a tool that helps me explain some of the deepest parts of my ego and consciousness.
For up to eight hours a night, we completely unplug ourselves from what it means to be a self-aware human. While you sleep, your brain takes on dream consciousness — a very different state than what you experience during the day. As you wake, your brain pushes the dreams you’ve had out of your memory as the realities of waking life take over. Although most people have difficulty remembering their dreams, we all dream on a regular basis.
I find it incredibly bizarre that most of us dismiss the images and experiences that pop into our minds every night as complete coincidences. Our hopes, fears and desires are pulled to the forefront of our consciousness while we dream – all we have to do is make an effort to acknowledge that they are there.
How to experience your own lucid dreams:
1) Start a dream journal. Every morning, write your dreams down on your phone or in a book. This will help you recall your dreams on a consistent basis. Looking back at your dreams will help you recognize trends. When you wake from a dream, try to remain motionless and recall your dream as much as possible.
2) Using “reality checks” in your waking life can help your consciousness realize that it is dreaming. Reality checks include: looking at a clock – during a dream it could be blurry. Count your fingers – during a dream your hands can be distorted. Pinch your nose while trying to breathe through it – this is possible while you are dreaming. Aiming to do more than 10 reality checks in a day will keep you on the right track to performing a reality check while you are asleep. This can help spur on your first lucid dream.
3) Before you go to sleep, focus on your intention to remember your dreams. Repeat it to yourself like a mantra:
“I will vividly remember my dream” or “I will lucid dream.”
4) When you initially wake up, try to remember your dream and fall asleep again. This can increase your chances of having a lucid dream. Many lucid dreams occur in the morning when you’re about to wake up.
5) Taking vitamin B6 can also help your ability to recall dreams. Drugs and alcohol will limit your ability to lucid dream.
6) Be persistent and don’t give up. Your first lucid dream could be just one night away.
This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Dec. 2, 2015.