I sometimes receive email from readers who are not exactly sure what a lucid dream is. Even though they understand the definition of a lucid dream (knowing you are dreaming while you are dreaming), some aren't quite sure what that really "feels" like. I get questions like "I flew in my dream last night. Does that mean it was a lucid dream?" or "I talked to someone I know who is dead. I knew this wasn't right somehow - was that a lucid dream?"
My initial impulse was to write back and say "When you have a lucid dream you'll know it." However, that really doesn't help a dreamer who wants to have a lucid, but is not entirely sure what to expect. In response to questions like those above, I put together a very brief and simple essay for the dreamer who is just beginning to learn about lucid dreaming and about his or her own dream landscapes:
So, Was That a Lucid Dream?
Advice for the Novice Lucid Dreamer
(c) 2003 Lucy Gillis
As your interest in lucid dreaming grows and you begin practicing some lucid dream induction techniques, you may notice that your "ordinary" or non-lucid dreams begin to change. If you have never had a lucid dream before, but experience some dreams very different from your usual kind of dreams, then in some cases you may not be sure if you were lucid or not.
As an example, perhaps you never fly in your non-lucid dreams. One night, you dream that you need to get somewhere fast. Suddenly, you decide to fly instead of rushing about on foot. In this case you weren't lucid, but your ordinary dreaming has changed.
On the other hand, you might be sure that you were not lucid, but like the above example, you behaved as though you were. For instance, after experiencing my first few lucid dreams, I once dreamed that some milk had spilled on a shelf. I wanted to wipe it up, but there were no paper towels or dishcloths handy. Instead of going to get something to clean up the mess, I just stood there and thought to myself "I'll just make cleaning motions with my hand until a cloth materializes." I then moved my hand in circular motions over the spill, pretending that I was wiping it up.
When I woke, I knew immediately that what I had done in the dream was not my usual dream behaviour. I didn't act as I normally would by going to get a dishtowel, (meaning that I didn't mimic waking life responses, which at the time was typical of my dreams) instead I behaved as though I knew I was dreaming. Yet, I was not lucid during that dream; at no point did I think anything like "I know I'm dreaming, that's why I can make a dishcloth appear."
My first impression of the dream was one of disappointment. I was so close, yet I hadn't taken that next step and realized I was dreaming. I admonished myself for failing to become lucid. I was being hard on myself, which was not helping future expectations at all. However, a friend and accomplished lucid dreamer, matter-of-factly pointed out that I was not 'failing to become lucid', I was instead incorporating lucid skills in my non lucid dreams. She was right. As time went on, even my non lucid dreams were evolving and becoming richer now that I was open to new ways of dreaming, new ways of thinking and doing things.
So as you practice your lucid dreaming techniques and read more about lucid dreaming, remember to keep an eye on your non-lucid dreams for clues that your dreaming self is expanding its horizons and opening to lucidity. If you notice a dream where you were close to being lucid, but not quite there, don't let it be a disappointment. Think of these dreams as "progress reports" indicating that you are incorporating lucid dreaming skills into your non-lucid dreams. You are expanding your dreaming repertoire!
Learning to lucid dream is not a progression where each dream is "more lucid than the last". Even long term accomplished lucid dreamers experience varying degrees of lucidity throughout their dreams lives.
Just as your waking consciousness isn't always operating at a high degree of clarity (we all daydream from time to time, get tired, get distracted), your dreaming consciousness is also not operating at one continuous level of awareness. Illness, preoccupation with problems or other matters, lack of sleep, etc., are just a few things that can affect both waking and dreaming consciousness. Therefore, in not all lucid dreams will you experience the same level or degree of lucidity. In some dreams you may recall your waking life with great clarity, be fully cognizant of your dream environment, and be relatively uninfluenced by the dream content.
For example, you may dream that you are carrying luggage and running to catch a train, when you see a tiger in a tutu waving at you. The absurdity of the situation makes you realize that you're dreaming. You recall that you are really asleep and now, not only do you not need to run to catch train, but you also don't need to carry any luggage with you. Ignoring the tutu-ed tiger, you decide to create a totally different scene and do something else.
Sometimes however, your lucidity may not be so 'clear' or 'strong.' Using the above dream as an example again, you realize that you are dreaming and that the tiger in a tutu is no threat, but you may still experience the urgency to race to catch your train. Instead of running, however, you decide to fly to your train. You are aware that you're dreaming, but you are still caught up somewhat in the dream plot.
In both cases, you were lucid. But in the first example your lucidity was at a "higher degree" or "level" than the other. Does that make it better than the second example? Only you can decide which dreams are more rewarding to you: being detached from your dream scenes and stories, or participating in them with the knowledge that it's not a waking life situation.
You may also experience varying degrees of lucidity within the same dream. Again using the train, the tiger, and the tutu example: at the beginning of the dream you may be very lucid, choosing to ignore the whole scene as you attempt to create another. But as the dream progresses your lucidity may fade or falter and you find yourself once again running to catch the train, or getting involved in something else entirely, forgetting that you are dreaming. You may regain lucidity later in the dream, or you may continue to dream non-lucidly until you wake.
Many people, myself included, have tried to categorize levels or stages of lucid dreaming, using terms like semi-lucid, pre-lucid, partially lucid, low-level lucid, etc. Personally, I found that when I tried to categorize each of my lucid dreams into a nice neat package, the attempt seemed to curb my lucid dreaming - I had fewer and fewer lucid dreams. Ideas of limitation and differing levels seemed to dull my dreams - my non-lucid dreams too - as though draining the richness from them. When I decided to become looser with my labels (after all, I wasn't recording only certain lucid dreams for laboratory study) and just have fun with dreaming, my dream life once again became more rich and creative, much more fun!
My advice to the novice lucid dreamer would be, to not get caught up in categorizing or labeling your dreams too striclty or trying to define them in only one way. Don't put limitations on your dreaming self. Keep practicing, using whatever technique works best or is most comfortable for you. And don't fret if some of your dreams are "not quite lucid," instead, congratulate yourself on a great job of expanding your dreaming horizons!
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