Was that a lucid dream?

7 min read

Image credit: minervastock

Okay, that was weird. But was it a lucid dream?

You walk into the room. Pause. Scratch your head.

What was I looking for?

You scan the tables and shelves, hoping that the phone, or the pen—or whatever it was you came in here for—will make itself known.

We’ve all been there. We had a goal, got distracted by our thoughts, entered autopilot and then couldn’t remember what we were meant to be doing. Slipping in and out of daydreams, our conscious attention drifts between past, present and future events. We lose the present moment and forget the goal.

In a dream, there is only the present moment. Whether you’re chasing after a runaway pet or calling the police on Grandma, you don’t always know how the situation arose, or where it might lead you. A dream is the present moment without the conscious attention. Nothing but autopilot.

Unless, of course, you’re lucid. In a lucid dream you are fully aware of what you are doing, conscious within your subconscious. Those mental faculties that make us human, allowing us to think critically and cast our mind back and forth along the mental timeline—these are active in a lucid dream. We can ask ourselves what we were doing and how we got there. We step out of autopilot.

Have you noticed that in a dream you are rarely still? Our nocturnal adventures are filled with motion, perhaps allowing the brain to test its motor circuits ahead of the new day. We’re always doing something. If you can, cast your mind back along your mental timeline to the last dream you remember. Were you finding someone, fighting something, or heading somewhere? Were you dashing to make it to class on time in an unfamiliar building, trying to find the bus stop for the beach, or leaping out of a crumbling temple? (All of which I dreamt last week.) And these goals evolve. You might go to the beach to meet a friend and next thing you know you’re in the water, swimming from a shark. That friend you were looking for? They’ll be lucky to get a second thought—it’s all about the shark now. And it will be all about that shark until the goal changes or you wake.

I’ve been lucid dreaming for half my life, and people often tell me that they might have had a lucid dream. But I’m not sure…

Let’s imagine you’re being chased by the shark in the dream, and you fly out of the water, soaring into the sky like Superman. Flying—that’s got to be a lucid dream, right? You can’t fly in real life! Unfortunately, while many lucid dreamers enjoy the thrill of blasting through the clouds, an event or ability not possible in real life does not qualify as a lucid dream.

Taking the same example, let’s say you escape the shark by conjuring a speedboat, or turning the shark into a goldfish. Control of your dreams—classic hallmark of a lucid dream! However, while it can be possible to control the dream environment, we have to ask ourselves why we’re doing it. You can play with the dreamscape all you like, but if you’re doing so to evade the shark, it’s not a lucid dream. If you knew you were dreaming, you needn’t bother with the shark, since you would know that the shark was a figment of your imagination.

Before achieving lucidity, dreamers may find themselves in an interim state, where they think they are dreaming, but continue following the same objective. They’re flying, firing lightning bolts from their fingertips—whatever gets their blood pumping—but they’re doing it to escape something, to get somewhere, or to impress the other people in the dream. Those lightning bolts may be cool, but those people aren’t real… you’re impressing nobody but yourself.

Like believing it’s a dream, control of the environment does not in itself define a lucid dream. Often in lucid dreams, I have been perfectly aware that I was dreaming, but unable to fly or alter the dreamscape. In such instances, you find yourself in a battle of will versus expectation, where you know you should be able to walk through that wall, or leap atop that building, but expectation is stopping you from doing so.

So if flying, controlling the environment and believing it’s a dream doesn’t count, how do I know if I’ve had a lucid dream?

In a fully lucid dream, you are aware that everything around you, from the environment to its people, is a construct of your mind. You know that you are asleep in bed and that everything you see is a combination of imagination and memory. Unlike stepping into that room and trying to remember why you entered it, you know exactly why you got here: you fell asleep. Rather than trying to remember that goal, you realise that there are no goals here. You are free to do absolutely nothing at all. Or absolutely anything you can imagine.

So, next time you wake up and wonder if you just experienced a lucid dream, ask yourself, ‘Did I know that everything around me was the product of my mind?’ If the answer is yes, perhaps all those dream journal entries and reality checks paid off. If the answer is no, keep it up… you’ll get there.

We all slip from the present moment into the past and future, engaging autopilot during daydreams. Through practising lucid dreaming, you can train your mind to stay focused. To stay aware. To stay present and stop daydreaming through life.

If you’d like to share a lucid dreaming success story, join the discussion on Facebook. For those interested in learning more about lucid dreaming, download my FREE GUIDE. This 20-minute read includes step-by-step instructions on how to achieve a lucid dream and make better use of that month of every year that you spend dreaming.