Lucid dreaming is a learnable skill, but it doesn’t follow the arc of most practices. In fact, just when you feel like you’ve got it under control, the dream has its own revolution.
It takes a while for dreamers to reach this stage of lucid dreaming, and in fact it’s not discussed often. After all, it’s more exciting to talk about the early days. Many beginner lucid dreamers find delight in manifesting objects out of thin air as well as warping the dream matrix a la the Matrix. Honestly, this is totally healthy, and akin to a child’s exploration of a nursery room. It’s fun, and with this attitude, the dream will often respond playfully too.
These first lucid dreams are truly peak experiences. We are simply excited to see what is around the next bend. We are also bold and courageous, ready to test our mettle and the ability to transform the dream environment.
We may have spontaneous experiences of clarity and peace, or may fly up into the heavens and burst into a ball of light, filling our entire being with love. We tell dream figures “this is a dream,” and watch the dawning realization on their faces transform into the feeling that “I” am all of these people simultaneously.
The First Taste
It’s difficult to describe the intensity of the first dreams. Oliver Fox did a pretty good job though, back in 1939. “Never had sea and sky and trees shone with such glamorous beauty; even the commonplace houses seemed alive and mystically beautiful. Never had I felt so absolutely well, so clear-brained, so inexpressibly free!”
The realization that “this is a dream” is met with joy and an immediate sharpening of clarity, often with a sudden explosion of visual vibrancy. Known as the lucidity effect, this sequence has been documented by countless dreamers throughout the centuries. The whole world glows with the hope and promise of an expanded horizon. Often, these first lucid dreams stay with us for weeks afterwards, filling our hearts with hope and our minds with clarity as we walk through everyday life.
The first taste experience gives you a glimpse of the goal: your expanded mind.
Unfortunately, although these early days are fantastic, their days are numbered by design. This “first taste” of lucid reaming does not automatically repeat the more you become lucid. Researcher Jayne Gackenbach writes, “I’m convinced that developmentally you can’t stay with it. It withdraws and with rare exceptions, you can’t maintain the exhilaration… the consciousness remains, but it’s no longer unique and novel and fun. Sometimes it’s not nice.”1
My first lucid dream started as a nightmare when I was fourteen years old. The monster spilled out of a television set, all tentacles and teeth. This is a dream, I thought. I was empowered, and stood my ground, sending the monster into retreat. In the dream I felt strong, and I woke joyous and emboldened. My next lucid dreams were a pleasurable series of sexual encounters that ended in orgasm. Not bad. Together, these first dreams composed “a first taste” that revealed the journey ahead for me, which has also been marked by powerful trials and vibrant encounters.
The uncomfortable truth
What happens next is usually not often talked about in lucid dreaming communities. It’s not very sexy. But, sadly for many, attempting to control the dream can actually quicken the death of the lucidity effect.2
For many, dream control itself loses its ease. What is at first easy suddenly becomes entangled by obstacles. You may find that the ability to fly becomes difficult, and attempts at lucid dream sex become frustrating games of hide and seek. When you catch your dream lover, they may transform into dead weight, or a plastic doll.
Attempts to control the dream, which at first were effortless, are now met with resistance from the dream imagery, and dream figures may become angry, argumentative and even violent in protest. (Inception got this part right).
It’s different for everyone; the lifted veil may simply be a lack of lucid dreams or unsatisfying or even boring lucid dreams that last only a few seconds, no matter how many lucid dreaming tactics you try.
Unfortunately, many people give up on lucid dreaming when they do not have repeat performances on demand.
Going deeper into a lucid life practice
The good news is that after dealing with some of the larger truths about the nature of dreams (hint: it’s not virtual reality), the light and playful moments come back, and they can take you deeper than you thought was possible.
This is what one of the things that can happen when lucid dreaming grows up, when it ceases being a hobby and becomes a life practice.
So if you are having new roadblocks to lucid dreaming — congratulations! The dream is asking: Are you ready to go deeper?
1. Gackenbach, J. (1987). Jungian, Paul Kugler, on assumptions of reality. [Interview by Jayne Gackenbach and Harry Hunt], ASD Newsletter 4 (6), 8-12,16.
2. “Hunt, H. (1989). The multiplicity of dreams: Memory, imagination and consciousness. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 120
First Image: Eu Sou by Jeronimo Sanz, CC 2014.