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Lucid dreams and you

An introduction to the potential of lucid dreaming and how you can too.
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If you’re here with us, something tells me that you may be interested in altered states of awareness. I, possibly like you, find that bending my reality and challenging my perspective through cannabis or other substances is quite rewarding. The ability to see beyond the physical world means that there is more to this human experience than meets the eye. And the dream landscape is a whole ‘nother dimension. I look forward to my nightly mind movies, and I’ve learned that the benefits of dreaming are quite extensive and beneficial (check out this article on cannabis and sleep for more). Dreams are portals into our psyche, and if we pay enough attention, we can learn quite a lot about ourselves - our desires and fears, and even problem-solve! But is it possible for us to take it further? Yes! It is through lucid dreaming that we can awaken within the dream, become conscious, and influence the trajectory of our dreams.

The practice of lucid dreaming is quite exciting. We are all capable of doing it and with some practice, an interactive stage can present itself to become face to face with your deepest fears, reprogram a narrative you may have around a subject, and possibly break barriers of your consciousness. We don’t always have to take a passenger seat in our dreams. Stephen LaBerge, an American psychophysiologist specializing in lucid dreaming, describes the experience as “being in the dream, but not of it.” Consider this: in a dream, everything is created by you. It’s all happening in YOUR mind, after all. The characters and situations, though based on real people and events, are all perceptions of your experience. Even you - you are an actor in this dream. When you wake up in a dream, or become lucid, you are not just that actor, you also are the observer, who becomes aware of the dream, beyond the limitations of what is occurring in the dream. 

Let me explain: In our muggle dreams, aka non-lucid dreams, the back part of our brain is quite active and the front region of our brain, such as the  pre-frontal cortex and precuneus is much more muted. The prefrontal cortex is believed to govern the sense of “I am” and is associated with higher cognitive abilities. When it is offline in a dream, we can often have dreams where we are not what we know ourselves to be - perhaps in the dream you are Barack Obama, or maybe you are the opposite gender. When you lucid dream, the only difference now is that the frontal lobes are switched on and your personal consciousness has come into play. 

Now, let's say you’ve accessed this ability. Then what? Now you can go and do whatever you wish to! A common piece of advice among lucid dreamers is to embrace whatever your experience is. By simply acknowledging and cultivating a sense of curiosity and compassion, rather than fight or flight, we, the dreamers, can commune with deep seated emotions and past traumas as well as reexamine ways of thinking and being. Rather than seeing a monster and running away from it, we can start questioning what and who this monster represents. Invite it in for a cup of tea and get to know this creature and see what light it can shed. Knowing that you are dreaming and you are physically safe in your bed elicits a sense of invincibility.

But you don’t always want to be conscious of the fact that you’re dreaming and not fully be present in the dream as well. LeBerge tells a story of where he was going up a mountain and he was extremely tired. He is essentially convinced that he is going to die. He thinks, “What am I going to do with my last moment?” He accepts his fate with true surrender and as he lets out his last breath, he recalls that a rainbow came out of his heart. You can certainly make the most of your dreams with the flexibility of knowing you are in a dream and also immersing yourself in it. 

Establishing your own dream interpretations and working with lucid dreaming can be a fun and insightful practice to confront parts of ourselves and even invite a sort of divine intervention. Certainly, designing an intention, with carefully chosen language, will make a huge difference in how you interpret your dreams.

At first glance, the idea of traveling to the sleep dimension to have an adventure is enticing and, dare I say, romantic in our modern world where we often want to disassociate from life’s challenges and curveballs. The idea that in our sleep, we can manifest a different reality and, since we are multifaceted beings, we can be satisfied in acknowledging and exploring these parts of ourselves rather than doing the same things day in and day out, has an undeniable appeal. We are free from the expectation that we need to be a certain way. However, like everything, lucid dreaming can certainly have its own drawbacks. It can affect the ability to decipher between waking reality and the dream reality. You might ask yourself during the day, “wait, is this a dream?” Tasks that you dreamt you did are not actually done, fights with your partner in your dream may have lingering effects, and your sense of time may become skewed. 

More recently, scientists have discovered that a common drug used to treat Alzheimers, known as galantamine, could promote lucid dreaming. Galantamine prevents the breaking down of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down acetlyncholine. With the buildup of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that promotes learning and memory, one is able to strengthen recall and heightens awareness in dreams. In a 2018 study, participants experienced a 42% increase in their ability to lucid dream. Though more research is needed to understand the safety and efficacy of using galantamine or other Alzheimer's medications for inducing lucid dreaming, the possibility of clinical dream therapy could become a reality in the future. However, a pharmaceutical option may be unnecessary, since plenty of people over thousands of years have been able to lucid dream without it. There are many techniques, as well as plant medicines, that can prime yourself to be able to access this skill.

Here are a list of things you can do to make lucid dreaming more part of your practice:

  • Keeping a dream journal and calendar. Keep it by your bed and write down your dream as soon as you wake up. It’s better if you’re still in that half-awake state.
    • Things to pay attention to: let's say you dream about your friend. What does this friend mean to you? What do they represent? Or an animal - what qualities does that animal possess that you admire? 
    • What feelings did you have in this dream? 
  • Listen to certain dream music / sound patterns.
  • Set a dream symbol.
  • Setting the intention. 
    • Ex: “I want to explore seeing a new way of seeing _____”
  • Wake up around 3-4am, read, have some decaffeinated tea, and then re-enter your dream.
  • Pause on any alcohol / drugs for at least 3-5 days. 
  • Don't ignore your circadian rhythm. Melatonin (activated by darkness, inhibited by light) increases REM sleep. REM sleep is when we dream. Serotonin (activated by light, inhibited by darkness) supports emotional processes. 
  • Herbs
    • Calea
    • Xhosa
    • Blue Lotus
    • Devils club
    • Passionflower
    • Bobinsana
    • Kava kava
    • Shizandra Berries
    • Mucuna
    • Mugwort
    • Guayusa

⁠To learn more about lucid dreaming or find a program to help you achieve Lucid dreaming, check out The Lucidity Institute or this blog post on Anima Mundi.