In this chapter, you'll discover:
What lucid dreams are, and what having a lucid
dream is like
How dream cues can help you recognize that you're
How you may already have more control over dreams
than you realize
The real-world benefits of lucid dreaming
Are You Asleep?
Right now, at this very moment, are you awake . . . or
"What a silly question," you say. "I'm reading this book!
Of course I'm awake!"
Okay, you're awake. For a moment, though, let's pretend
you're asleep. Do whatever you have to do to embrace this
idea. Tell yourself firmly: "I'm asleep. This is a dream. I am
not reading Lucid Dreaming for Beginners. I am dreaming
of reading Lucid Dreaming for Beginners."
Testing Your Reality
Now that we've established that you're dreaming, take a
good look around.
If you're at home, look at the furniture, the knickknacks,
the books, the clock on the wall. Is everything where you left
it? Do any items seem out of place? Is there a long-lost toy
from your childhood in the corner? Has the room changed
color, size, or shape? As you strive to see this familiar place
with new eyes, pretend you're being tested. One item in your
room is wrong: out of context, out of time, out of place. Can
you spot it?
If you're away from home, explore the setting you find
yourself in. What sounds do you hear? Are all of them appropriate?
Look at the people around you. Are they all
strangers? Do any of them seem oddly familiar? Are they
dressed as you would expect?
And what about the world around you? Do any features
strike you as unusual? Do clocks and watches possess the
faces, hands, or numerals you would expect? Check lettered
signs: on restroom doors, above restaurants, at street
corners. Read them twice. Do they say the same thing both
And what about the text of this book? Does the paragraph
above say what it said a second ago? Look and see,
just to make sure. For that matter, does the text of this paragraph
make sense, saying what you expect it to say, or does it
garrulous concept ratchet clone, a meal in gusset hammer?
Grading Your Dream Test
Think fast: when you came across the nonsense words in
that last sentence-how did you feel? Was there a split second
of confusion? Did you do a double take? Did you reread
the nonsense, trying to make sense of it?
Did you wonder, even for a moment, whether or not you
might, indeed, be dreaming? If so, congratulations: you've
just taken your first step toward having your own lucid
What Is a Lucid Dream?
Lucidity: A Simple Definition
Put simply, lucid dreams are dreams in which the dreamer
becomes aware that he or she is dreaming, and
achieves a degree of control over the content and
direction of the dream.
Once an experienced lucid dreamer recognizes that she's
experiencing a dream, she is able to tailor the setting, the
characters, and the action to suit her personal tastes.
Lucid Dream Cues
In a typical lucid dream, a dreamer notices some small detail-
generally referred to as a dream cue-that alerts her
to the fact that she's dreaming. Dream cues vary from person
to person and from dream to dream, but typical dream
Unusual clock faces
Clocks without hands
Clock faces with unusual numbers
Clocks with blank faces
Clocks with faces that spin or rotate
Books with unusually difficult or illegible text
Headlines or signs with shifting or changing words
Newspaper pages filled with nonsense text
Objects used or made in unusual ways
A snake used as a shoestring
An appliance that needs no power cord
A square umbrella
An elevator keypad without buttons or labels
Impossible actions and occurrences
One person or place suddenly being exchanged for
Deceased relatives restored to life
Old friends who haven't aged
More Real Than Reality?
In my own experience-and in the experience of other lucid
dreamers-lucid dreams are unusually vivid and intense.
They are easier to recall than other dreams. For several minutes
after waking from a lucid dream, the real world, for several
minutes, may feel less "real" than the dreamworld! This
confusion fades quickly, though, and is replaced by a mild
euphoria that follows the dreamer throughout the day.
If you've never had a lucid dream of your own, though,
the very idea of a "controlled dream" can sound bizarre . . .
or even frightening. With an eye toward helping you better
understand the experience, here's a record of one of my
own lucid dreams, experienced while researching and writing
this book. It possesses many of the qualities common to
lucid dreams-qualities you'll eventually come to recognize
in lucid dreams of your own.
A Typical Lucid Dream
I am sitting in an unfamiliar restaurant, surrounded by a
crowd of happy strangers. At a nearby table, a woman feeds
her baby spoonfuls of bright-green peas. A couple near the
sunlit windows holds hands and giggles softly. Waiters in
white shirts, starched aprons, and dapper slacks wander the
room, carrying huge trays topped with stainless steel domes.
The atmosphere is pleasant enough, but I am concerned
with the menu. Instead of being printed on a sheet of paper
or bound into a folder, the menu is posted to a massive electronic
board (like those Arrival/Departure boards in American
airports or European train stations) that runs the entire
length of the restaurant. Whenever new dishes become
available or the kitchen runs out of a daily special, the board
updates itself. As the entries change, a deafening clatter fills
the entire space, disrupting conversation and causing us all
to put our hands over our ears.
Every time I try to read the board, an update occurs. Appetizers
come and go, main dishes appear and disappear,
and the list of desserts moves from one end of the board to
the other. Casey, a friend I haven't seen since college (still
in his twenties, despite the passage of two decades), walks
up and hands me a printed menu. "Try this," he says, waggling
his bushy eyebrows. "You'll like it better."
Looking down, I discover the entire menu is printed
in a bizarre cursive font. Letters loop and curl; worse, the
text has been formatted into a series of spirals, requiring
the reader to spin the menu in order to read it. I struggle
to make a choice, but the items themselves keep shifting:
shrimp scampi becomes filet mignon becomes chicken
becomes Soup of the Day.
I sigh. By the time I manage to place an order, I'll be late
for work. I check my watch, and I'm surprised to see it has
no hands. Instead, the entire face of the watch pivots, compass-
style, each time I flex my wrist.
And then it dawns on me. Shifting text. Friends who
haven't aged. Odd timepieces.
The realization is almost enough to wake me. The room
fills with gray fog. Features become indistinct, and sounds
become hollow. People vanish.
I struggle to stay in the dream, but the harder I fight to
stay in the restaurant, the faster the scene crumbles. Just in
time, I remember an important technique: instead of struggling,
I stand up, stretch my arms out to either side, and
start to spin around in circles.
Spinning doesn't restore the restaurant-the space
around me shifts unpredictably, becoming a bedroom, a
mall, and an office in rapid succession-but it does plant
me firmly in the dream state. Once reasonably sure I won't
wake up, I stop spinning and pause to get my bearings.
The room I've landed in is a remarkable replica of the
living room in my childhood home. The dining room table,
the green recliner, and the bulky couch are arranged exactly
as they were in the 1970s. The low coffee table is decorated
with knickknacks I haven't seen in years: a wax rose in a
glass sphere, a yellow candy dish, a floral vase. Even the carpet
is worn in all the right places.
Tonight, though, I'm not interested in visiting my home.
I take a moment to focus on my goal, then cross the room
to the coat closet. To my delight, I find the door opens on a
sunny meadow carpeted with soft grass-the perfect spot
for a flying lesson. Even before I spread my arms, I start
bobbing skyward. With each step, I rise several feet above
the ground before falling gently back to earth.
A sudden flash of insight reminds me that, before flying,
I have to hunch my shoulders and straighten my spine
in a very specific way. Seconds later, I'm sailing effortlessly
through the air, looking down at the treetops, completely
The Lucid Dreaming FAQ
Can I really learn to control my dreams?
While dream control may strike us, at first, as far-fetched,
most of us will admit, with some reflection, that we can and
do possess some (often unintentional) ability to influence
certain aspects of our dreams:
Bringing waking stress to the dreaming world. At
work, Riccardo's team is under tremendous pressure
to meet an aggressive deadline. Riccardo and other
team members come in early, work all day, and stay
late. At home, Riccardo collapses on the couch-
and, almost every night, endures restless dreams:
distorted images of his workday. He struggles to
organize files and assemble his part of the report;
despite his best efforts, though, the files and reports
transform into meaningless chains of illegible words.
The next morning, he's exhausted and angry-even
when sleeping, he can't escape his stress!
Extending an intense experience. After skipping television
to invest four hours in focused study, Bashir
relaxes and rewards himself by playing his favorite
video game. Two hours later, he climbs into bed. The
minute he closes his eyes, it seems, he sees the video
game again. "I kept seeing the screen, the characters,
the falling rocks. I'd wake up with my hands twitching,
just like I was using the controller. And I would
get so angry, telling myself, 'You're not playing the
game any more. Just go to sleep!' But the minute I
drifted off, I would see the game again. This went on
Processing fears through symbolic nightmares.
Patricia, having lost a good job, is having trouble
finding a new one. "I'd been interviewing for weeks,
with no end in sight. People would promise callbacks
that never came. When I'd check back with an interviewer
who said I sounded just like what his company
was looking for, he wouldn't return my calls. Meanwhile,
my savings account was dwindling every day."
Once in bed, Patricia began having startling dreams:
intruders bursting into her bedroom. "They were
coming to take the furniture," she says. "I laugh about
it now, but when these dreams were going on, night
after night, it was terrifying. I dreaded going to sleep,
because I knew, an hour later, those men would burst
into my room." Two weeks later, Patricia got a job; the
dreams ended abruptly and never returned.
Disrupting dream cycles with late-night eating.
Angelique had been on a strict diet for several weeks,
but "fell off the wagon" for a friend's birthday. "We
went out late and I had the first pizza I'd eaten in six
weeks. Let's just say I had a lot of pizza, okay? When
I got home, I had terrible heartburn. When I tried to
go to sleep, I kept having terrible, confusing dreams:
having babies, being buried-and this really weird
one about going running with a tight, tight girdle on.
I could barely breathe. Needless to say, no more latenight
pizza for me."
Influencing dream content with meditation or attentive
focus. Shandra set herself a goal of reading the
entire Bible in the course of one year. She kept the
book beside her bed and read each day's designated
quota of words like clockwork. Soon, she found the
practice relaxed her and put her in a good frame of
mind for sleeping. "And then, almost before I knew
it, I started dreaming these Bible dreams. I would
be in these desert places, with camels and tents and
women carrying water pots. I would see characters
and say to myself, 'Oh, that's just Jacob' or 'Oh, there
goes Abraham.' The detail-the roughness of fabrics
or the smell of cooking meat-amazed me. When I'd
have these dreams, I'd feel very much at home. I'd
wake up and be surprised I was back in the twenty-
Moving from accidental influence to conscious control
may, at first, seem like a monumental task. The fact is,
though, that achieving lucidity-assuming conscious control
of our dreams-is a skill that can be learned and, with
practice, honed and perfected. With little or no effort on our
part, mundane daily events can exert unintentional control
over the content of our dreams. Moving to the next level-
dream control-is simply a matter of pairing deliberate fo-
cus and practiced awareness with the dreamworld's natural
tendency to reflect what most occupies our thoughts.
Is learning to lucid dream difficult?
I have found my own lucid dreams to be exciting, exhilarating,
and surprisingly easy to achieve. This book, Lucid
Dreaming for Beginners, is a lucid dreaming primer. In addition
to information about lucid dreams, their history, and
the research investigating them, it provides a simple, stepby-
step system for engineering your own lucid dreams.
The book reflects my sincere belief (a belief supported by
a growing body of scientific evidence!) that lucid dreaming
is a skill. And while some people will have more of a knack
for lucid dreaming than others, almost anyone should be
able to use the information in this book to start having lucid
dreams within ninety days or less.
How common is lucid dreaming?
In the course of writing this book, I asked many people
about their experience with lucid dreams. Almost everyone
I spoke with had, while dreaming, realized they were in a
dream. Of those people, quite a few could recall at least one
or two lucid dreams; many others reported having experienced
them on and off for years.
A query to one online community produced dozens of
letters from people who claimed to have lucid dreams on a
regular basis. Some of these people apparently have a natural
affinity for lucid dreaming; others have worked to increase
the frequency and quality of their lucid dreams over
But for the vast majority of people, the dream state is
entirely passive-they go where their dreams take them.
To these people, controlling a dream-changing the setting,
editing the content, creating or eliminating characters
at will-sounds like something out of a bad 1980s horror
movie (Dreamscape, anyone?).
What are the benefits of lucid dreaming?
Live your fantasies. Let's cover the most obvious benefit
first. For lucid dreamers, dreamtime is playtime. The act
of lucid dreaming transforms any dream into your own
personal theatre of indulgence.
Visit third-century Rome. Go skydiving-without a
parachute. Give yourself magic powers. Buy everything your
heart desires. Meet your favorite celebrity. (Heck, seduce
your favorite celebrity!) Interview a goddess. Change your
age, your weight, your hair, your clothes . . . your gender!
In a lucid dream, the only limits are those imposed by your
own imagination. Who wouldn't be interested in a nightly
visit to a universe where real-world consequences don't exist
and the laws give way to your personal preferences?
If wish-fulfillment were the only benefit, lucid dreaming
would have a lot to offer. The good news, though, is
that there's a lot more to lucid dreaming than the opportunity
to remake the world in your own image!