How to Lucid Dream: The Dangers and Rewards
Infinity captured in an hourglass, turn it over and it begins again. That’s what dreams are to me. I always romanticized dreams as a window into innumerable secret worlds and forbidden fantasies. It wasn’t until I began lucid dreaming that I realized every time I look out through the window, something else is looking back at me.
The concept of lucid dreaming fascinated me since I first learned about it in my psychology class. I couldn’t even believe it was a real phenomenon at first; it seems more like a super power to me.
To create any world or situation with such vivid detail that I become God of my own personal universe. That must be too good to be true, but there it was. Printed clearly in my psychology textbook: a guide how to induce lucid dreams. I even made a photocopy in the library to hang above my bed as a constant reminder to follow these steps until I mastered the elusive and subtle art.
Step One: Reality Checks
The textbook recommended I try to push a finger through my opposite hand at least ten times a day. This will habituate the motion and make it more likely for it to occur in my dreams. When I try the check in a dream, the finger is supposed to pass straight through my hand and prove it isn’t real. The self-awareness that I’m dreaming is what triggers lucidity.
Step Two: Set an Early Alarm
I set it for 2 hours earlier than I usually wake up. When the alarm sounded, my goal is to turn it off without opening my eyes to make the next transition smoother. This technique is called “wake induced lucid dreaming”.
Step Three: Mindfulness
After that I have to try and stay mentally awake while I let the rest of my body go back to sleep. This is known as sleep paralysis because my mind will be awake in a frozen body. It occurs because I’ve interrupted REM sleep where the dreams occur, prompting the body to return there as fast as possible.
It took a few days of practice before things started to click. At first I kept accidentally falling back asleep after my alarm rang. Soon I was able to maintain concentration, but then I started to see some basic colors and shapes, and I got so excited that I fully woke up. The longer I persisted though, the more real the images became.
Shapes morphed into forms and the dappled specks of light grew and twisted into rich tapestries of color. Sometimes it felt like an ordinary dream, but as I continued to practice I learned to prolong my focus until the imagery fully matured.
Less than a week had passed before I was reliably alert enough to perform my reality checks, and after that came absolute freedom. I began with enacting idle sexual fantasies, but the sheer possibility of exploration made it difficult for me to maintain attention on any one creation for long. My favorite dream to spin was where I stood in a dark room with a paint brush that transformed everything it touched. Mountains ripped through the ground and soared at my command, and a single stroke on my eternal canvas brought flocks of birds into flight. Crystalline caverns, riding dragons, alien encounters, and the entire cosmos stitched onto the back of my hand; I raced through my dreams with insatiable wonder and boundless delight.
And I kept getting better too. I invented a dozen more reality checks involving clocks, mirrors, counting fingers – anything to ensure I would always find a way to become aware. My worlds became more intricate, and I was able to cast distinct characters and plots to entertain me. It’s not like this was the only thing going on in my life, but it was the best, and every night I couldn’t wait to uncover the latest treasure in my mind.
That is, until I discovered I was being watched anyway. As my awareness became more defined I grew cognizant to certain elements in my dream which remained stubbornly beyond my control. It started off as a vague uneasiness which settled upon dreams like a gathering dusk of the spirit. I couldn’t make out anything specifically wrong, but I can only describe the feeling as though I was a character in someone else’s dream. All I had to do was tear down my canvas and begin again in a new dream though, and the feeling would be gone…
For a little while anyway. Each successive escape solidified the presence in my mind, and like an intrusive guilty thought it penetrated my next dream. I built castles only to find eyes I never conceived of watching me from cracks in the stone. A flight through the air went sour as the sun turned to watch my aerial maneuvers. On to an undersea adventure, but my paranoia amplified as an eel followed me relentlessly through the water. Reality checks confirmed my dream, but I couldn’t banish these watchers. I could only hope to lose them by starting again, although each time they found me swifter than before.
I became so unnerved that I forced myself to wake up. I found myself in a cold sweat, panting in the cool morning air. The first step of my morning ritual was now a full range of reality checks. I allowed myself to relax as I passed each one. Just a bad dream, I told myself. I swatted the fly away which snuck in during the night and prepared myself for just another ordinary day. But once they’ve found you, the watchers will never let go.
I felt anxious all day; a source-less, gnawing feeling that made me keep checking over my shoulder. I second-guessed the motives of everyone who turned to look at me, and when my psychology professor asked me a question in class I straight-up froze. I had to try and push my finger through my palm, right in front of everyone, just to make sure. The warm pressure of skin against skin snapped me back to reality and I was able to mumble a cohesive enough answer for him to turn away. But if I wasn’t dreaming, then why did his eyes swim through his skin so that they continued watching me after he had turned? Even with his back to me, I could still see them peeking out through his shaggy grey hair.
Growing awareness works the same way in this world as it does in dreams. As soon as I became aware of one discrepancy, I began to notice them all. The same fly which had been following me all day continued dancing orbits above my head. Passing gazes lingered on me longer than they used to, and always, always the eyes would return in the most unlikely places.
A dropped notebook on the floor opened to perfect sketch of an eye looking at me. A sip of coffee left the fleeting imprint of something staring at me from the foam. From knots in the trees to chips in the sidewalk, everything was an eye and all of them were directed at me.
I don’t know whether it was a relief or a fresh terror that waited for me at home. Stepping into the bathroom, my reflection had completely disappeared. That was the first reality check to fail all day. At least if I was still dreaming then it meant I wasn’t going crazy…
I couldn’t will myself to wake up anymore though, no more than I could will myself not to see through open eyes. I tried throwing myself into bed, tossing fitfully until I at last slipped into an uneasy slumber. I was hoping that falling asleep in a dream would be enough to make me wake up for real, but it only threw me into a fresh absurdity of dreams that even my awareness could not tame.
Ghastly specters of thought whirled through a mind so saturated with fear that I lost track of right from left; of reality and fabrication. Lips began to accompany the eyes in more varied and tortured forms than my waking imagination could conjure. Faces pressed in around me as though struggling to break free from the suffocating cloth that my dream enveloped them in. More than being watched, I was terrified that they would start to speak to me. I don’t know why, but just as I had bottled the divine spark of creation, I knew they now dreamed of me and that I would be slave to their slightest utterance.
Faster I spun, willing myself to wake but holding back for the horror of what I might find there. Through the dreams I raced, new ones forming before the searing lights of the last had even faded from my vision. Worlds collided together into maddening abstraction as men with fish-heads rode on horses across the clouds with lances of lightning. Through the clouds the faces pressed, withered lips peeling back to laugh and grunting in mockery of human speech. Endless possibilities are a double-edged sword. An eternity in Heaven is not the same length as an eternity in Hell.
At least now I know why they’re watching. They’re looking for a way out, just like you’re looking for a way in. They’ve been doing this for much longer than you have, and whatever trick you think you know, you can count on them knowing it too. I know because for as long as I practiced and prepared myself while awake, I’ve spent many times over learning from the watchers in my sleep.
I’m awake now. For real this time (I think), although I run through my list of reality checks so compulsively that my palm is bloody and raw where the finger keeps pressing in. This isn’t a warning against lucid dreaming though, however it may sound. I’ve seen how shrewdly the watchers hide, and know they were watching me long before I became aware of their existence. They might not reveal themselves to you before you become lucid, but that only means you can’t protect yourself from them until it’s too late.
Dreams are a two-way window, and if you aren’t brave enough to stare down the face on the other side, then they can become a door as well.