More than six thousand years ago on the matriarchal island of Malta, a subterranean temple called The Hypogeum was built to house individual dreamers on vision quests. The Tibetan Buddhists call it Dream Yoga and practice it in preparation for dying consciously. They say that if you get really good at it, you can opt out of the cycle of samsara (karmic rebirth) at the time of your death. It is the ability to become awake within a dream, and know that you are dreaming.
Though lucid dreaming has been practiced for thousands of years, science maintained it wasn’t possible until the 1980s, when psychophysiologist, Dr. Stephen LaBerge, proved to the scientific community that one could be awake and dreaming simultaneously.
When you fall asleep, the brain generates inhibitors that render you physically paralyzed so you won’t ‘act out’ your dreams while sleeping. With the exception of some twitching in the fingers, the eyes are the only body part that still moves while you’re in REM sleep. Knowing this, LaBerge devised a simple but groundbreaking experiment. Wired with electrodes in a sleep lab, the dreamer could perform a set of prearranged eye movements to signal back to the lab technician at the onset of lucidity.
From there, they’ve been able to learn a great number of things. Time, for instance, was measured as elapsing at the same rate while dreaming as waking. Many dreamers have also reported a drop in their frequency of nightmares using creative dream control.
Since dreaming is not constrained by physical limitations or social taboo, anything becomes possible in the lucid state. It can be used for skills rehearsal, creative incubation, spiritual learning and the overcoming of obstacles. Though is also great for lucid sex and acrobatics, if treated too much like a video game, it can become similarly addictive and antisocial. Instead of coming back empty-handed, the creative dreamer learns to bring something of value back to his or her society.
In the shamanic tradition, dreaming is understood to be the link between matter and spirit. If someone is physically ill, it is because there is a conflict in their spiritual life. For medicine people, dreaming is not limited to sleeping hours, and can be accessed through the use of sacred plants, drumming and meditation. They enter the dream state consciously in order to retrieve lost or stolen pieces of the ill person’s soul.
Any kind of meditation or yoga practice that heightens your overall awareness will increase to your ability to get lucid. As you begin to wear away at the idea that dreaming is less ‘real’ than waking, your reverence for the practice will deepen. Not only might you get lucid, you may begin to astral travel, receive precognition, have out of body experiences, be taught, initiated, and possibly even given healing solutions for others. The next time something unusual happens, ask yourself, “Am I awake or dreaming?” You might be surprised to find the answer is both.