When I first began lucid dreaming, I achieved the lucid dream state by virtue of the commonest techniques: reality checks, dream journaling, setting intention prior to sleep. Though the techniques worked, there was something lacking: despite becoming lucid, the degree of awareness was still lacking. Though I was aware that I was dreaming, my ability to focus without getting distracted, my ability to notice the details of the dream, and my ability to remember what I was planning on doing in the dream, were all lacking. Although I was aware of my dream state, this awareness was likened to drunken awareness in the waking state: it was distracted, unfocused, and fragmented.
So I stopped performing reality checks, dream journaling, setting intentions, and visualizations. I wanted one method that could provide me with exceptional dream recall, exceptional levels of awareness of the contents of the dream state, and an exceptional ability to discern the dream state from the waking state.
Following the principle that habitual behaviors in the waking state also occur in the dream state, it made sense that if I wanted heightened awareness in the dream state, I needed to increase my awareness in the waking state. I use the term awareness because that seems to be the term used among lucid dreaming communities when referring to the the degree to which one notices the detail of the state, the degree to which they recognize whether the state is a dream, and the degree to which they have intact their memories which make up their self-narrative. Awareness seems to be some sort of all-encompassing term to refer to these aspects of the dream state. The term ‘awareness’, then, is so vague that it’s hardly useful to talk about it. In the other articles I write, the term ‘awareness’ has a very different definition than the term ‘noticing’, ‘recognizing, and ‘self-consciousness’. In fact each of those aspects which I just listed are distinct from each other, and so from here on, I will not use the term awareness, and will discuss each constituent of the vague term ‘awareness’ as used by lucid dreamers, separately.
Phenomenologically, behaviors that are interesting require much less will power and therefore are psychologically easier, and one feels less tired after performing an interesting activity than performing an uninteresting one (to perform an uninteresting one requires constant attentional-regulation).
Moreover, the more on practices willfully sustaining attention, the easier sustained attention becomes.
The type of attention that lucid dreaming requires is both sustained and reflective. Thus, effective lucid dreaming requires one to be able to a) hold sustained attention in the face of distractions, b) notice (noticing is a non-linguistic form of acknowledgement. It is more than simply having one’s attention on an object – it is also identifying the qualities of that object.) the unique properties of the state of consciousness that are usually taken for granted and c) determine that these qualities indicate a dream-state (access memory and make comparisons).
Although these three skills could be developed separately, they can also be developed simultaneously…
I felt my feet firmly on the ground, yet also sensed a degree of softness that the grass lent to the soles of my shoes. I felt the handle of the red leash in my right hand. I felt the temperature, the texture, and the variations of these on different parts of my hands and fingers caused by variations in pressure from wrapping my hand around the leash. My fingers held the leash, pushing the leash up towards my palm, while my palm simultaneously applied downward pressure on the leash. My eyes were pointed downward, and I could see each blade of grass. I smelled the air, which smelled like food from the store neighboring my house. The blades of grass, although green, varied in shade from blade to blade. They varied in their apparent textures, shapes, lengths. I noticed all of this. As I looked up, I noticed all the details of the objects my vision passed by as my eyes made their way up to the sky. From the time it took to point my eyes from the grass to the sky, I noticed numerous details about the red, dilapidated barn that was in front of me. I noticed the various peelings of paint, the shape, the variations of color, the tiny shadows cast by the paint peels sticking out from the barn. I noticed the shingles of the roof and the roof’s conic shape. All the while, any sound was registered, as was any variation in the feeling of the clothes against my skin, the various pressures the clothes exerted on my skin. I felt my belly gently brush my shirt as I breathed, and I felt the weight of the shirt on my shoulders. I felt all the little tensions in the muscles, keeping my body standing up-right. I felt my eyes subtly squint from the light. I heard my dog’s footsteps as it walked in the grass. All of this, I noticed.
There are some important notes to make here. The first is that I say I noticed these things, not that I was aware of them. That is because noticing is a form of acknowledgement. When I notice a quality, I am not simply aware of it, nor am I simply perceiving it. I am acting on this perception by acknowledging it. Typically, when we think of acknowledging, we think of words. However, noticing something is a non-linguistic form of acknowledgement. Essentially, you are saying “That is there” without actually thinking or saying those words. When you notice a quality, you make it meaningful in relation to you, and this also commits that particular quality to memory.
An important aspect of practice is to refrain from confusing actual noticing with thinking about noticing. If you’re thinking about noticing everything, your attention is on thinking about noticing everything, rather than actually noticing everything. Every time your vision settles on an object, even if briefly, notice the object immediately. Do not think “My vision has landed on a new object, time to notice it” – just notice it. When I first began, that’s the mistake I made. When I looked at an object, I’d be thinking about how I’m supposed to notice it, and I would end up not noticing it because I was too busy thinking about how I was supposed to notice it. At one point, that stopped, and I simply began to notice whatever was at the epicenter of my visual field.
So far, only the first two skills necessary to effectively lucid dream have been used – sustained attention and noticing the objects of attention. It’s time to discuss the third skill: recognizing whether or not the perceptions you are noticing signify a dream state or waking state.
Recall in the beginning when I said that something that seems interesting is easier to pay attention to than something that is uninteresting. Something interesting carries a degree of meaning in relation to ourselves (our worldview, our past experiences, our attachments, desires). Therefore, something interesting is interesting by virtue of being related to something we already find meaningful: our own selves. If one notices something they regard as interesting, it is not only easily remembered, it is also easily noticed.
Applied to lucid dreaming, that means that if we make the process of detecting our state of consciousness meaningful, we will, with much less effort, automatically notice what we perceive as well as automatically think about what we notice in terms of its relation to whether or not we are dreaming. Moreover, it will be easier to sustain our attention because it will require less will power.
You may be saying ” I already find lucid dreaming meaningful and interesting, that’s why I’m reading this!”. I would say to you that finding lucid dreaming interesting is not the same as finding it interesting to know which state you are in (dreaming or waking). The reason for this is that when you think about lucid dreaming, you think about when you fall asleep tonight. When you think about training for lucid dreaming, you think about training right now in order to achieve it in the future. This is because you automatically assume you are not dreaming right now. Since you take the belief that you are not dreaming right now for granted, the attempt to determine whether you are dreaming or not, when you do it, is mere mimicry – it lacks a level of sincerity necessary to take lucid dreaming to the next level. You are only practicing noticing now so that you can “do it for real, later”. This is why attempting to notice all the minute details of perception will require so much energy and will power from you: you are interested in the dream state, not the waking state, and you believe you are awake right now, so therefore the details of perception are not nearly as interesting. In order to take advantage of this principle, you need to make this state right now meaningful for its own sake – not because it’s the gateway to a future experience.
I personally do this by asking myself sincerely “How do I know what state of consciousness I am in?” The reason this question works for me is that everything – perceptions, memories, beliefs, thoughts – are all occurring in this state of consciousness. The state of consciousness is the one thing that can’t itself be reduced to an object of attention. In other words, you can’t view your own state of consciousness the way you view your hand, because anything you view occurs within the current state of consciousness. Therefore, it is a reasonable question; if you can’t analyze the state of consciousness itself, how do you know whether you’re awake or dreaming?
The point is that there is a difference between the mindset: “I’m training to lucid dream so that I can lucid dream tonight” and “How do I know what state I am in right now?”. The former makes the assumption that you’re awake, while the latter takes nothing for granted.
Successful lucid dreaming is a combination of noticing the details of perception and noticing them in relation to the question “what state of consciousness am I in?” rather than ” I need to notice these details so that I notice the details of the dream when I go to sleep tonight.” By reassigning the source of meaningfulness from the hope of a future achievement to the sincere question about the nature of your current state of consciousness, you are effectively transforming your practice from a forced, choppy, mimicry into a sincere introspective practice which comes with a handy side-effect of noticing the dream state.