These ideas and techniques are based upon my personal practice, which has been heavily influenced by Craig Webb, the Executive Director of the DREAM Foundation. I have also found tremendous benefit in Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche’s book, “The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep.”
Here, My Dear, please peruse this descriptive offering of easy, intentional activities that if practiced consistently will dramatically increase your dream recall, enhance lucidity both day & night, and assist with better rest every time you sleep.
1.) Set an Intention
This is a useful way to begin any (re)new(ed) pursuit. Create the sincere but pressure-free expectation that you will have the experience you need and are seeking. Be specific, while at the same time allowing space for unexpected spectacularity. I also recommend a brief, preferably sung appeal to Lord Ganesh.
Here is an example from my personal practice. Please keep in mind that this is simply a suggestion. You are invited and encouraged to script your own hopes, expectations and prayers.
Each night, after my eyes have been closed, I cultivate what is by now a familiar state of focus, and offer three repetitions of the following phrases:
May I Dream
May I know my Self through Dream
May I remember
May I be lucid in Dream.
Often enough, when I am so inclined, I include:
May I be shown what I most need to know at this time.
Again, I insist that you are free to determine to whom you are addressing these pleas. For me, I speak to the Divine Self, the Innate, All-Pervasive Creator, of whom there is a perhaps microscopically-portioned but nonetheless supremely significant spark within each of us — that I AM presence animating all manifest creation.
Some choose to name this the sub-conscious. I prefer to say super-conscious. Do as you please, but be earnest. There is no point in pursuing this practice without proper intention. Thankfully, that is really just about all you need.
2.) Have a Routine
Creating a routine around bed-time is an effective way of regulating sleep patterns and overcoming all types of insomnia. This can include reading a book, a brief meditation, the aforementioned intention-setting exercise, and of course your chosen hygienic procedures.
The content is less important than the structure. What matters is that you give your mind and body consistent, calming cues, so it knows when it is time to wind down from the day and prepare for sleep.
Upon waking, we generally go through a great amount of rigmarole to prepare ourselves mentally and physically to go out and seize the day. Should we not be equally prepared for sleep and dream?
Consider how much faith it takes to go to sleep: You close your eyes, lose consciousness, and in the next moment of awareness, you find yourself in a perpetually morphing space where oversized spiders are perhaps trapped in your bathtub while all your neighbors are knocking down the door but your sister is naked so they must, simply must stay out of your house. Such a transition is seriously akin to the death experience. Ready yourself!
As Rinpoche writes, “If we cannot carry our practice into sleep, if we lose ourselves every night, what chance do we have to be aware when death comes? Look to your experience in dreams to know how you will fare in death. Look to your experience of sleep to discover whether or not you are truly awake.”
It is recommended that as part of your routine, you review all the major events of the day. In your mind, briefly go over the major encounters and activities that arose, check in with yourself about how you feel you dealt with these events, appreciate the effort you put forth, and/or resolve to do better tomorrow, then let it all go. Observe, but do not dwell. Bless and release, with gratitude and forgiveness for all involved.
Clearing these mundane concerns from your immediate consciousness creates space for deeper issues to arise in dream. I understand this might sound scary, but it is precisely what we are hoping will happen.
Dream-yoga provides the opportunity work/play through a great deal of karmic debt — if you’re not too afraid to confront it. Realize that Fear is the nuclear reactor powering your nightmares. Yes, there is the apparent potential for a meltdown, but any perceived threat can be instantly disarmed with skill and courage built upon a foundation of right intention.
Anecdote: Maybe the best advice Craig ever gave me was about how to handle the archetypal “pursuit” dream, in which one is being chased by some unimaginable monster, dentist, creditor or whatever. His suggestion was to turn and greet the terrible pursuant with loving, open-arms.
The logic is that this awful thing chasing you is simply an aspect of yourself that has been ignored or suppressed for being a source of shame or anger and fear. Therefore, the only solution is to love ’em up, to fully bless them with recognition and acceptance, at which point they are integrated and cease to be a threat.
Having experienced this, I’ll tell you that one potential outcome of this tactic is for your whole dream-space to explode with healing, light-filled celebration. Hooray!
Okay, having already acknowledged the day’s events, next cultivate the memory of last night’s dream, or of a recent dream that you are still curious about. Mentally reviewing a dream activates the dream-consciousness, inviting it to begin it’s nightly operations. Combined with statements of intent, this is a sure way to increase the frequency of your dreams.
3.) Keep Paper & Pen/cil Bedside
This is important. This might be the hardest part.
Convincing your brain to wake up enough in the middle of the night to write down a few key, cue words that will trigger the memory of a dream can be incredibly difficult.
(I know a lot of us don’t get enough sleep as it is, and don’t want to exacerbate that issue, so it is best if you have already forgiven yourself for any and all lapses in diligence).
Sometimes you can promise yourself that you will remember in the morning, but that rarely works, especially if you go back to sleep and continue dreaming. So, you want to be ready at a moment’s notice to scribble down everything you can remember about what was just happening behind your eyes, without shifting positions too much.
Posture affects consciousness. Energy is moving in and through your body in a very specific way at any given moment; changing the posture alters the flow. The delicate state of consciousness to which we hope to maintain access is necessarily dependent on how the body is positioned.
If you awake from a dream and immediately stand up and walk across the room — or even roll over — the odds that your mind will maintain its hold on the fleeting atmosphere of shape & sound-scapes that is the dream realm are profoundly diminished.
It helps to write down every little detail you can recall, no matter how insignificant it may seem. More than mere fodder for analysis, this practice trains you to remember more and more, soon allowing you to feel quite stable in recreating entire scenes and sequences.
If and when you wake up with a seemingly significant dream on the tip of your tongue, barely beyond reach, don’t be shy about asking Spirit/Synchronicity/You-name-it to provide a trigger for the memory during the course of your day. This works in crazy ways.
For example, you’ll be walking down the street, stopped at a crosswalk, and coincidentally glance down to see a squirrel — just sitting there being a squirrel, crouched nibbling and sniffing — when suddenly the whole dream you had about chasing your cat between skyscrapers in an eerie downtown, bouncing impossibly as if you both had super-springs for feet, will come flooding back.
Seriously though, try it. The key to this whole practice is the basic willingness to do the experiment.
4.) Admire the Dream-like Nature of Waking Life
Are you familiar with this sensation? For me it most often occurs around dawn or dusk, or in awe-inspiring nature, but it can happen anytime. It’s difficult to explain in language; it’s an atmospheric thing. Vision changes. A slight enlargement alters things. Intense events — novel, yet somehow already familiar — transpire; there is a sense of intimate detachment. You are at once witness, puppet and puppeteer. Not exactly déjà vu, but time/space is infused with that same type of out-zoomed strangeness. Anyway…
Notice these moments. Investigate them. Perform reality checks. Try to lift off from the earth and fly, if you are so inclined. You might be surprised when it works.
Observing these instances makes it more likely you will be able to consciously recognize the dream-state when you are immersed in it. We are now on the path to lucidity.
5.) Take a Morning Nap
If you have time, this is often the best time to experience lucid dreams. Going back to sleep after a brief period of wakefulness creates a scenario in which your body retains the relaxed state of a night’s rest, but the mind is awake, ideally serene and enlivened. Thus, with the body still, the mind is set free to explore the many nested spheres of non-ordinary consciousness.
Deep breathing helps me tremendously here. Sometimes I perform some simple pranayama before allowing myself to drift back into sleep-land. Alternate nostril breathing with no retention is as complex as I let this get.
Most often I take thorough inhalations that begin in my belly, letting breath arise through my sternum until my shoulders are a smidge lifted.
Exhalations are longer, and start with my shoulders dropping, relaxing back down until the last gasp has been pressed up from the depths of my stomach again.
After a time, the breath evens itself out, but when first attempting to cultivate deeper relaxation, longer exhalations are the way to live, as that will encourage the parasympathetic nervous system to employ its calming mechanisms.
If you are clever and blessed enough to awake into lucidity, there are some fun experiments you can perform. For example, try multiplying objects. If you see a potted plant, see if you can’t create a thousand potted plants. Or, expand and contract the scale of objects. Have you ever seen a shoe huger than the moon? Well, not yet…
Still, flying is my favorite.
Which is to say, perform this “Dream Research Experiment in Training for Self-Discovery”
7.) Have Fun!
Enjoy the process. There will be nights when you remember nothing, and those when you remember multiple long stretches of dreamtime. Maintain the trust that patient diligence will quickly bring stability to your sense of presence in the land of dreams. And definitely do not despair if you experience nightmares. Like Craig Webb says, “Nightmares? Lucky you!”
For example, when first practicing meditation in a consistent way, I felt miserable. I was suddenly experiencing intense bouts of anger and shame, selfishness and solitary sadness. These experiences did not arise because I’d begun meditating; they had always been there, but were hidden from view by my ever-so-clever ego.
Naturally, as you begin to dig, you will find some knotted, brittle roots buried just below the surface of awareness. The process of unearthing these entanglements provokes some temporary discomfort, but it is a necessary stage in what is ultimately a joyful process of planting mindful new patterns, bound to bear nourishing fruit.
So relax, breathe deeply, and dream freely!
“Things have been tough lately for dreamers.
They say dreaming’s dead, that no one does it anymore.
It’s not dead, it’s just that it’s been forgotten, removed from our language.
Nobody teaches it so no one knows it exists. The dreamer is banished to obscurity.
I’m trying to change all that, and I hope you are too. By dreaming, every day. Dreaming with our hands, dreaming with our minds.
Our planet is facing the greatest problems it’s ever faced. Ever.
So whatever you do, don’t be bored. This is absolutely the most exciting time we could have possibly hoped to be alive.
And things are just starting…”
I invite you to share your dream experiences, questions and interpretations in the comment section below. I will gladly respond with my well-practiced amateur analysis if you’re wondering about any mysterious symbols you’ve seen in dreams recently.
Blessings be upon you.
Born on planet Earth, David Telfer McConaghay has since wandered across its surface in search of something which, when found, kindly insists that he continue searching. His immediate family lives in Minneapolis, MN, though he also feels at home in Washington D.C.; Grass Valley, CA; Bogotá, Colombia; and now, almost Boulder, CO. He completed his B.A. in English & Creative Writing at The George Washington University in 2008. Experiences at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm are the primary source of any yogic inspiration David aka Sri Nivasa may express. He plays on Facebook HERE and can be followed on Twitter HERE