A show of hands
How many can remember their dreams?
How many have had a nightmare recently?
Have you ever realized that you're dreaming?
Have you ever been able to control your dreams?
I learned to lucid dream when I was six. I'd had my first nightmare, and I did not like it one bit. Some of you have small children; try to think back to your first nightmare, or your child's. I remember not so much being scared but being so surprised that something in my dream would try to hurt me. Thankfully, I was lucid enough to wake myself from the nightmare. My parents gave me my Voltron: Defender of the Universe action figure and told me that he would protect me. I was a pretty big Voltron fan, so I believed it. Later that night, my dreams contained myself and Voltron fighting evil and generally defending the universe. Without realizing it, my parents had given me the key to my dreams.
First, you must remember. The best way to remember is to write down your dreams. Even if it's only a fragment. With practice, if your first thought when you wake up is "What was I just dreaming?" then you will be more likely to remember. Try to be aware of what happens during sleep onset, in the hypnagogic state. Sometimes it's as simple as telling yourself before you fall asleep "I will remember my dreams." You may need more help than that. If you have a job with changing hours like I do, then you may need to set a sleep schedule. If you find that you sleep too deeply to remember your dreams. You may want to set an alarm for 4 or 5 AM, or simply drink a few glasses of water before bed (not so much you wet the bed!). When you wake up, don't move; first remember the dream. Once you have something to work with, try to write it down on a pad kept next to your bed or use a tape recorder nearby. Try to use as little light as possible (tape recorder is best for this).
Once you are recording, you can start to recognize dream themes. Normal cognition doesn't always work well in dreams, so recording them is the best way to become familiar with signs that tell you: "Hey, I'm dreaming!" You can look for things like an unstable point of view; one moment you're a character in the dream, then you're another, then you're outside them observing. Electronics don't work well in dreams: try adjusting a light switch or reading a clock or watch. You also tend to have trouble reading or what you're reading changes. There are tons of other clues: a surprise test, being naked, teeth falling out, being slowed down or immobile, not being able to talk or scream. These are your gateways to a Reality Check.
Reality checks come in many varieties. Look at your hands. Look at your watch, or a book. Ask yourself: Am I dreaming right now? Your answer now is probably something like: "No! Duh!" It sounds silly, doesn't it? But if you ask yourself throughout the day, it will become habit. And then you will ask yourself in a dream, and the question will be just as ridiculous because your immediate answer will be "Yes! Duh!" And that answer might surprise you, because you will then be lucid, or aware you're dreaming. That's when the fun begins.
You can do many things when lucid. Rod Serling said he kept a tape recorder next to his bed because that's where most of his ideas for The Twilight Zone came from. When your somatic nervous system is surpressed, your mind has more processing power (and different processes) available to it. Not only can you control your dream, but you can then activate deeper parts of your imagination. Myself, I learned how to lucid dream to avoid nightmares. Aside from one episode of sleep apnea, I've not had a nightmare since I was six years old. That alone was worth it to me when I was younger.
The first thing to learn after how to realize you're dreaming is how to stay lucid. This is harder than it sounds. Often when you realize you're dreaming, you will get so excited that you will lose it or wake up. Or something in the dream might try to distract you. Take a few deep dream breaths, and try not to think directly about being lucid; it's like the sun, you don't stare directly at it. You can spin in place, look at your hands & rub them together, or simply tell yourself that you will stay lucid. Performing reality checks continuously helps, but it can prevent you from actually doing anything. I find the best way to do it is to have a mental list read of the things you want to do when you become lucid.
Once you're better at this, you can confront fears and nightmares, or at least wake yourself. Nightmares are the easiest time to become lucid (as are what I call "frustration dreams", like being locked out of your home) because there is an immediacy or need. Confronting your fears often leads you to understand what's been plaguing you, and is a great tool for self-knowledge. This is a great skill to teach your kids. You can also run scenarios/experiments in your head, or talk to friends about "what they really think of you". It's not going to be 100% accurate; remember, it's in your head; but it may lend you some knowledge about yourself. You can also analyse the dream while dreaming. I have not tried this, but I hear it is fun. You can also put together presentations. Some of what I've talked about today I put together in a lucid dream, then woke up and wrote down.
In case you're curious, and also to show off, here are some of the things I've done in dreams:
scene change - I wish I was somewhere else, quick!
second chance - Groundhog day or 5 second instant replay
conjure objects - missing keys especially
summon people (As Liberace used to say: I wish my brother George was here)
be invisible or hard to see (like the Shadow; I've actually had this work in waking life!)
material manipulation: Changing buildings around (like the staircases in Harry Potter movies), erecting walls at a whim, and changing print or drawings consciously
time travel/alternate universes
I'll take questions in the time remaining.
References (and further exploration)
The Art of Dreaming by Carlos Castaneda
Since it's an educational psychology class, and it's supposed to be teaching, I imposed on myself that I would teach people the rudiments of how to lucid dream. Class normally gets out at 8:30 (though it's scheduled till 9), but many people voluntarily stayed past 9 to ask questions, which was uplifting. I realized earlier this week that perhaps the reason that I had been twice voted at two seperate schools as most likely to teach there was not purely because I have a brain. You can be smart and not have any capacity for relaying information to anyone without an equivalent level of training. Whether it was well-intentioned or not, they were unintentionally telling me that I have a didactic temperament every time they asked me a question. I TAed an Astronomy class in high school. I was the chairman of the National Honor Society's tutoring committee in my school. And if love to talk—if it's on a subject I'm knowledgeable about.
Interlude: Yesterday, I was at the eye doctor's. There was a mother with her child, waiting for daddy who was getting his eyes checked. The boy (about 4 years old, I'm guessing, otherwise he'd have been in school) started hiccupping. He said to his mother that it was happening again. So I looked up from my book and fixed him with my eyes (my eyes can be rather captivating when I want them to be). I sort of scrunched down to his level, not demeaningly but to resemble him more, as if to subconsciously tell him I was once his size and indeed also had the hiccups. Then I said, "Hold your breath," and grabbed my nose, blowing my cheeks out. He looked to his mother (social referencing: is the strange man okay, mommy?) and she said, "Try it." So we held our breath together, not breaking eye contact, turning it into a game or a contest. His mother said, "Now let your breath out." He didn't look away from me until I let my breath go, too, and then he looked at his mom and said, "All gone." She told him to thank me, I said, "You're welcome," and then it was time for them to go.
I do have a didactic temperament, but before you say, Great Jebus' Ghost! The man's found his vocation! I also realize that while I love to teach, I am not a teacher. There's so much more that goes into it; I have no capacity for classroom control, and I know this. I am awesome on a one-to-one level, and I think that's why I've always looked forward to having kids. I'd love a job that would leave me home with the kids, and I've been thinking a lot about careers lately. I've started seriously thinking about designing t-shirts on the side. I really do think that I want to move into writing, and cultivating my lucidity is one step in that direction; one tool in my arsenal. Again, aligning my obstacles with my objectives so that I must pass over them to achieve my goal. Lucidity is also one way to counter my depression, which I've been thinking a lot about lately. But I think the high point tonight, aside from holding forth on a subject I adore, was seeing adults much older than myself fixed on my every word, not due to my precociousness and young age, but due to my knowledge of a subject. When people came up to me at the end, long after the scheduled end of class, I felt like the professors I'd approached enthusiastically after class in a past life. It's enough to make your head spin (and grow a few sizes). Of course, this is all due to the fact that I'm studying education in a class, but I think it's helpful for understanding the material, and that's the reason I imposed upon myself the restriction that I would teach the subject instead of just talking about it. Lesson plan? What's that? I don't possess enough structure to be a teacher, but it was sure fun to pretend.