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Lucid dreaming is one of those things few people think in depth about, even if they’ve had one or two. Still it’s a skill which some people become absolutely fascinated with honing, and having had a fair few of them myself I’m beginning to see why.
Lucidity, as some argue, can be an endless opportunity which is only limited to your imaginative capacity. You can explore any area of your own mind, from base hedonistic fantasy to sublime self-discovery. Discourse with dream characters plucked from your own psyche, learn to play a Beethoven sonata accompanied by the Philharmonic, or simply step into your favourite novel.
Of course while enthralling, the practice itself isn’t quite so easy. Often when lucidity dawns a first-timer will be so excited by the experience they promptly wake up! Once this first obstacle is overcome, there’s still a long road between knowing one is asleep, and being able to choose the direction of the dream.
The technique that’s worked best for me in recent months has been a very simple variety of what is known as a WILD – a Wilfully Induced Lucid Dream. These are attempted when awakening from a fairly long period of sleep and then returning to sleep. The particular method I’ve found success with is simply to await the moment you feel yourself about to fall asleep again, and then alternately press the tips of two fingers against the duvet or pillow for a minute or two while repeating an intention in my mind to become lucid.
There are a host of other methods available, and the academic who really established the field of oneirology, Stephen LaBerge, also pioneered the creation of a device which, while no longer available, purported to aid in lucid dream induction, the NovaDreamer. Several similar bits of kit have followed in its wake, and there are rumours of a NovaDreamer II in development from the original team.
The best of these devices, such as the REM Dreamer, play flashing lights and sounds from a sleep mask worn at night which detects rapid eye movement. A new project in the crowdfunding works is Aurora from iWinks, which promises a technologically up-to-the-minute version of the same and is said to be coming out this summer.
These devices’ use is debated within this somewhat specialist yet very passionate field, not in terms of whether they genuinely assist in inducing lucidity (the better designed devices at least appear to do so), but in terms of whether their use will have a built in time-limit for success.
Our minds have a great ability to become used to external stimuli and to “build them into” a dream, such that we don’t notice their intrusion. This is why becoming lucid at the onset of dreaming, or via a trained habit of thought are considered by many oneironauts to be superior techniques. They are internalised methods, and therefore sustainable over the long-term.
One radical step (some may say too far!) is the recent research published in Nature by Ursula Voss and colleagues into weak electrical field bombardment of the brain to induce lucidity. These researchers found that frequencies of 40 Hz created gamma wave brain states which aided the likelihood of lucidity occurring in sleepers. I for one won’t be trying this anytime soon. I think there are pretty strong arguments against risking sending electric signals directly to the frontal lobes to improve my odds at achieving something I can simply accomplish using my own mental faculties.
Voss, U., Holzmann, R., Hobson, A., Paulus, W., Koppehele-Gossel, J., Klimke, A., & Nitsche, M. (2014). Induction of self awareness in dreams through frontal low current stimulation of gamma activity Nature Neuroscience, 17 (6), 810-812 DOI: 10.1038/nn.3719
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