Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge & Howard Rheingold: Summary & Notes

Front cover of Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge & Howard Rheingold.

In short

Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming is one of (if not the) most popular books on lucid dreaming. The method and framework the authors present on how to lucid dream is mostly scientific, or at least based on the experiences of many people and avoids the pop science feel that usually surrounds the subject. And, looking through the reviews of this book, many people have used these techniques successfully to start lucid dreaming.

For more details and reviews go to Amazon.

Book Summary & Notes

All text between quotation marks is taken directly from the book.


How to lucid dream?

“Empowered by the knowledge that the world they are experiencing is a creation of their own imagination, lucid dreamers can consciously influence the outcome of their dreams. They can create and transform objects, people, situations, worlds, even themselves. By the standards of the familiar world of physical and social reality, they can do the impossible.”

The first step for lucid dreaming is to remember your dreams. The authors advice to set an alarm clock at night at a time you might be dreaming (which occurs during REM sleep in intervals of roughly 90 minutes). But the key thing is motivation: if you tell yourself you want to remember dreams, you’re more likely to do so. Next, you need to record any and all scraps of dreams as soon as you wake up. The more you record the more you likely you will remember future dreams.

Progress will likely be slow, but before attempting to try lucid dreaming make sure you record at least 1 dream per night.

A dream journal is a tool; so even if you remember only a little bit, or are able to write just a few brief notes on your dream it will be helpful. The goal is not just to describe the dream, but also your experience and feelings (smell, sounds, emotions, thoughts, et cetera).

The next step is to focus on dreamsigns. These are things that are highly unusual that would only happen in a dream – and can thus be used as a sign that you are dreaming. Examples include inner awareness (strong emotions, thoughts that affect the dream, perceptions that could not happen in the real world), actions (doing something that would be impossible in real life), form (oddly formed objects, transformations), context (places or situations that are strange).

Then when you know what sort of dreamsigns are most common for you (by recording those dreams in your journal), start to think about them in daily life. If you make it a habit to check dreamsigns during the day, then you will be more likely to do so during the dream and you might notice that you are dreaming – the next step to lucid dreaming.

There is a relationship between habits in waking and dreaming life – so if you get into the habit of asking yourself ‘am I dreaming right now?’ while you’re awake (and actually seriously consider it), you will do so during the dream as well.

Another thing to try is the intention technique. Here, before going to bed or after waking up at night, state your intention to yourself that you will recognize your dream. Visualize what this recognition would look like while dreaming and visualize some action you could carry out (like checking the dreamsigns).

Wake-induced lucid dreams (WILD)

Besides trying to take things from the real world into the dream world (like intention, dreamsigns, and the techniques described above), there is also a different approach where you try to fall asleep consciously – “retaining consciousness while wakefulness is lost”. Examples include focusing on imagery, visualizations, breath or heartbeat, or other sensations. If done successfully you will enter a lucid dream right away

Hypnagogic imagery technique: while laying down, and preferably after just waking up, release all tension and breath slowly. Relax and don’t focus on any thoughts or worries. Observe visuals that will slowly appear, but don’t try to hold onto them, or change them. The visual will slowly transform into more of a scenario and then into a dream.

Another technique is to do the same relaxation steps, but then start doing other mental tasks, such as counting ‘1, I’m dreaming’, ‘2, I’m dreaming’, et cetera.

The building of dreams

What we dream about is influenced by expectation and motivation. The former in the sense that our dreams resemble the real world, with gravity, space, and time. The latter is activated by strong emotions, interests, and means that you will dream about the things you desire. Of course this is a simplification; nightmares are an obvious counterpoint.

Although the authors don’t believe that dreams are subconscious messages, they can still provide a lot of meaning when interpreting them. Since dreams are self-created they contain information on interests, concerns, experiences and our personality.

Practices for lucid dreaming

Premature waking from a lucid dream is a big obstacle for many people. But by paying attention to the details of the dream (sounds, voices, touching things, et cetera) it is often possible to continue. As long as you keep engaged with the dream you are less likely to wake up.

It’s possible to incubate a certain idea of scenario to a lucid dream. It again starts with clearly stating your intended goal, and keep focuses on this while you fall asleep. Then when you become lucid carry out this intention (and be sure to record it afterwards in order to remember it).

Rehearsal for living

“Dreams are the most vivid type of mental imagery most people are likely to experience. The more the mental rehearsal of a skill feels like the real thing, the greater the effect it is likely to have on waking performance. Because of this, lucid dreaming, in which we can make conscious use of dream imagery, is likely to be even more useful than waking mental imagery as a tool for learning and practicing skills.”

The authors argue that symbolic learning – learning by using imagery to rehearse a skill or a movement – can be done while lucid dreaming because the imagery is very vivid.

Paul Tholey, a sport psychologist, states that sensory-motor skills which we already know, can be optimized in lucid dreams.

Creative problem solving

The authors cite many examples of creative breakthroughs that were discovered in a dream – from scientists, painters, musicians the sportsman. So while solutions to problems can be found in dreams, it might be better to seek them out through lucid dreaming.

“The essence of creativity is the combination of old ideas or concepts into a new shape. Each sentence we speak, if it is not a direct quotation, is creative. How creative a thing or act is depends on the uniqueness of the use of the elements involved. What makes high creativity so elusive is that, in general, we do not know how to evoke the state of mind in which we can easily make new, unique, and useful associations between ideas. […] Dreams can be a fabulous source of creativity.”

Carl Rogers in On Becoming a Person stated that there are three traits linked to creativity: openness to experience, having an internal source of evaluation (instead of relying on praise or criticism of others), and the ability to play with concepts, ideas, words, relationships, et cetera.

The authors suggest to build a lucid dream workshop: an inspiring environment for you, with gifted helpers (such as experts, teachers, consultants, et cetera) and powerful tools (idea machine, magical paintbrush). Ask Hemmingway how to write a novel, or consult with Bach on your composition, and so on. The more you use this workshop the more it will inspire creativity and problem solving.

Nightmares

Lucidity can help as well to face nightmares or anxiety-provoking dreams – usually situations where we experience fear, or uncertainty how to handle something. By becoming lucid we can face the problem with a creative solution (and in fact, anxiety or fear can even become a dreamsign).

In a nightmare, if you’re being pursued stop running, and face what’s hunting you; if you’re being attacked, defend yourself or argue with the attacker; if you’re falling, relax and simply land (and, even if you fall, nothing will happen in the dream); if you’re paralyzed, remind yourself you’re in a dream, and try to cultivate a sense of curiosity and interest and let the dream continue; if you’re unprepared for a speech or exam, remember that you can walk away, or creatively solve the situation; if you’re naked in public, remember that modesty is a public convention and you’re alone in the dream.

Conclusion

In the end it’s good to maintain a healthy distance from your lucid explorations. They will always remain dreams and while they could prove to be true, they could be delusional as well. Psychologist Charles Tart says the following in the interpretation of experiences:

“Knowledge or experience of the psychic, meditation, lucid and ordinary dreams, altered states, mystical experiences, psychedelics: All of these can open our minds to new understandings, take us beyond our ordinary limits. They can also temporarily create the most convincing, “obviously” true, excitingly true, ecstatically true delusions. That is when we must practice developing our discrimination. Otherwise the too-open mind can be worse off than a closed but reasonably sane mind.”


Interested in Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming? Get the book on Amazon.

Or, browse all book notes here.

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