Every night around the world, hundreds of thousands of people try to induce a lucid dream. Some succeed. Many fail. But either way, the quest continues to experience that extraordinary Zen-like moment of suddenly realizing, “This is a dream!”
Why do lucid dreamers persist in this quest? What value do they find in lucid dreaming?
A 2012 survey of lucid dreamers by researcher Melanie Schaedlich suggests that present day lucid dreamers see several practical applications to lucid dreaming, but tend to use this special state to have fun. Her research abstract reports the following:
“Our survey included 301 lucid dreamers who filled out an online questionnaire. The most frequent application (81.4%) was having fun, followed by changing a bad dream or nightmare into a pleasant one (63.8%), solving problems (29.9%), getting creative ideas or insights (27.6%) and practicing skills [to improve them in one’s waking life](21.3%).”
For more experienced lucid dreamers, however, lucid dreaming seems an ‘open platform’ where apparently unlimited potential exists to explore dreaming, the nature of consciousness and much more. As scholars of lucid dreaming have noted, before the scientific evidence for lucid dreaming appears in the late 1970s work by Keith Hearne in the UK and separately Stephen LaBerge at Stanford University in the US, lucid dreaming has a multi-thousand-year history amongst spiritual traditions.
Naropa, the 11th century Buddhist yogi declared Buddhist dream yoga – which relies on the technique of lucid dreaming – as one of the six paths to enlightenment. The 12th century Sufi writings of Ibn al’ Arabi suggest how lucid dreaming can connect one to their divine source. Even in letter 159 of The Letters of St. Augustine, the 5th century Christian philosopher shares a lucid dream in which the lucid dreamer discovers how he will continue to experience ‘existence’ in the after-death state.
These ancient spiritual seekers could definitely see how to utilize lucid dreaming as a practice to gain spiritual insight, wisdom and more. Besides these traditions, many shamanic approaches and solitary practitioners worldwide have used lucid dreaming as a tool for inner exploration for millennia.
But what about experienced lucid dreamers today? What potential do they see for lucid dreaming?
In my first book, Lucid Dreaming – Gateway to the Inner Self, I illuminated the ‘open platform’ nature of lucid dreaming which allows for near-infinite investigations, as well as very practical uses. In a broad sense, you could categorize the lucid dream potentials along these main areas (included with illustrative examples):
Lucid Dreaming for Mind/Body Health and Healing
Friday, September 17, 2021
11:00 am – 12:15pm (Pacific)
Join acclaimed author, lucid dreamer, and teacher, Robert Waggoner as he shares how you can use the special state of lucid dreaming to interact consciously with a non-visible, responsive Inner Self, and aid in emotional and physical health.
(Please register even if you can’t attend live and you’ll receive an email with a link to the recording.)
In Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, Stephen LaBerge shares a note from a computer programmer who reported solving difficult software coding problems in his lucid dreams – and then writing them down upon waking, whereupon he discovered that they resolved the problem in 99% of the cases ( see page 178).
In my book, I share the example of an artist who lucidly calls out to see ‘art work’ in his lucid dream that he could re-create upon waking – and suddenly ‘art’ appears on nearby walls. He then examines it, paints it when awake, and has discovered that it sells very well.
German researchers have focused on using lucid dreaming to enhance physical and sports skills. A recent survey discovered that 9% of professional athletes in Germany have used lucid dreaming to perfect their sports skills. (Visit: (PDF) Frequency of Lucid Dreams and Lucid Dream Practice in German Athletes (researchgate.net) ) Other lucid dreamers have used it to perfect the playing of musical scores, public speaking and more. All of this may suggest that the natural function of neuroplasticity occurs even in lucid dreams.
Resolving Emotional Issues
In 1982, a psychotherapist, Gordon Halliday, reported teaching two PTSD clients how to become lucidly aware in their recurrent nightmares and then “change one thing” to lucidly alter its course. Both clients reported becoming lucid in their nightmare and changing some aspect of the environment. (See “Direct Alteration of a Traumatic Nightmare.“) Afterward, their nightmares basically ceased. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) now recommends lucid dreaming for the treatment of nightmare disorder. Later, another researcher, Barry Krakow, MD, who read about the success of lucid dreaming at ending PTSD recurrent nightmares, incorporated these ideas into one of the most successful waking processes to end recurrent PTSD nightmares, called the Imagery Rehearsal Technique.
Resolving Physical Ailments
Elsewhere, I have argued that Stephen LaBerge’s work on showing physical body changes that occur due to lucid dream commands (such as changing respiration, moving certain muscles in an alternating pattern, and so on in lucid dreams) have provided the ‘proof of concept’ for using lucid dreaming to change the physical body and even achieve healing. An OMNI magazine survey in April 1987 by LaBerge and Jayne Gackenbach reported that 77% of lucid dreamers who had tried healing themselves, reported some success. Since my first book’s publication, where I focus on the technical mechanics of the lucid dream healing process, I have received dozens of credible reports of lucid dream healings. Future research studies could investigate and possibly confirm this deeper level of the mind-body interface in lucid dreams.
Engaging an Inner Awareness and Exploring the Unconscious
In the mid-1980s, I spent three years with a monthly lucid dreaming explorer’s group, which sought to perform personal experiments in lucid dreaming. In early 1985, one month’s goal was to “Find out what the dream figures in your lucid dream represent.” As I tell in my book, I became lucid, followed a woman into an office, and asked a nicely attired older gentleman, “Excuse me, but what do you represent?” Suddenly a non-visible voice boomed out a partial response from high above him. Finding this unexpected, I looked up and asked for more information. After a moment, the non-visible voice boomed out a complete response to my question. In the morning, I wondered, “Is there an awareness behind the dream?”
For many years afterward, I have investigated the depth and breadth of the verbal and visual responses to lucid dream queries to this ‘awareness behind the dream’, and realized that it meets all of Carl Jung’s requirements for a second inner psychic system – which he deemed “of revolutionary importance in that it could radically alter our view of the world.”
When it comes to spiritual explorations, my book, Lucid Dreaming Plain and Simple, has an entire chapter on “meditating” in lucid dreams, which many lucid dreamers have noted leads to profound, transcendental states very quickly. If you try meditating in a lucid dream, then you will understand why many ancient spiritual traditions saw the value in lucid dreaming as an exploratory tool for greater awareness.
These examples of lucid dreaming’s potential offer a broad outline of why lucid dreamers continue to seek that next lucid dream. Yet, for many people, the difficulty lies in finding a reliable technique or process that would increase the likelihood of having a lucid dream.
As new technology evolves, which would make lucid dreaming more accessible to masses of people, investigating the ability of lucid dreaming to enhance waking life will become much more important, widespread, and valuable. At that point, many people will begin to see the ‘open platform’ nature of lucid dreaming, and then wonder with good reason: “How deep does lucid dreaming go?”
About the Author
Robert Waggoner wrote the acclaimed book, Lucid Dreaming – Gateway to the Inner Self, and wrote the award-winning book, Lucid Dreaming Plain and Simple (w/ co-author Caroline McCready). A lucid dreamer since 1975, he has logged more than 1,000 lucid dreams. Visit his website at www.LucidAdvice.com