Lucid dreaming is the experience of realizing that you are dreaming while in the dream. It is an experience that has been going on since ancient times and probably into prehistory. Some Buddhists practice lucid dreaming as a discipline. The goal is not just to dream lucidly but to be conscious and aware 24 hours a day. In this practice, the individual attempts to remain conscious as they fall asleep. I had that experience one time while taking a nap at night at a half-way house for mentally ill adults. Since I was napping on the job, I slept very lightly. I woke up at about 3 a.m. and then went back to sleep. I was actually able to feel myself falling asleep without losing consciousness. Once I was asleep, still conscious, I did not go into a lucid dream but experienced going out of body. In my experience, the two are very similar.
A dream colleague of mine had an experience of ongoing consciousness when he was 11. He said that he was conscious the whole night. He was aware between his dreams. Periodically, he would just slip into the dream, still conscious, and slip out after it was done. The experiences of the Buddhists and my friend demonstrate the amazing states of consciousness that are possible for us.
Prior to the 1970s, scientists, for the most part, did not believe that lucid dreams occurred during regular Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the time when dreams occur. They assumed that lucid dreams were no more than night-time fantasies while the individual was fully awake. In 1975 (April 12, 1975), a psychology student in Great Britain decided to test the idea that lucid dreams did not occur during the regular sleep cycle. Keith Hearne got a subject who was a regular lucid dreamer and hooked him up to the usual devices to detect REM sleep, heart rate, respiration, brain wave, rapid eye movements, and possibly galvanic skin response (a measure of perspiration and the heart of a lie detector). Since eye movements seemed to follow the action of the dream, Keith decided that the dreamer might be able to signal that he was having a lucid dream by moving his eyes in a pre-agreed-upon pattern. The experiment was a success and it was demonstrated that lucid dreams occur during normal REM sleep.
Hearne sent his findings around the world, including Stanford University, and Stephen LaBerge repeated the experiment in 1980 at Stanford, adding more sophisticated forms of communication from the dream state. After his discovery, Hearne created a dream machine for helping people become lucid. LaBerge also created such a machine called the DreamLight and later improved it into a wireless version called the NovaDreamer. (Of note, the LaBerge camp claims to have made this scientific discovery first and I don’t know if that little battle has yet been decided.)
LaBerge is certainly the one who has made lucid dreaming popular in the U.S. and around the world. Coming out of this research have been many studies on lucid dreaming and many suggestions for how to become lucid. One of the most important aspects of lucid dreaming is the ability to control what happens in the dream. This is not automatic, however, and some lucid dreams cannot be controlled at all. If one can control a lucid dream, all sorts of possibilities open up. The most popular use of lucid dreaming is having sex. This is not surprising. However, it is also possible to heal oneself physically or emotionally, face fears and overcome them, overcome habits or addictions, and simply grow spiritually.
Lucid dreaming has great potential for helping us to understand consciousness and learning what is possible for our own consciousness. It may very well be the doorway to our subconscious and who knows what we might find in there?