You may not have heard of the 19th century French Marquis d’Hervey de Saint-Denys but he was a pioneering explorer of a world that many people know of but few are able to enter – the world of lucid dreaming.
As a 13 year old de Saint-Denys developed a passion for sketching and drawing scenes from his dreams, a passion which saw him recording his dreams for 200 nights without a break. It was after this that he found himself dreaming about recording his dreams, a situation that he found frustrating. What other details, he wondered, would he have been able to gather if he had been aware that he was dreaming?
His chance to find out came a week later when he dreamed once more of recording his dreams. This time however the memory of the previous dream event stirred something in his mind and he became aware that he was dreaming. Within a little more than a year de Saint-Denys was able to enter lucid dreaming every night.
Lucid dreaming, being aware that you are in a dream state and thereby able to direct your dream, is a state that can tell us much about the normal process of dreaming. For instance de Saint-Denys explored how much of his dreams were memories and how much entirely new experiences. What he found was that every element of his dream had some connection with experience and memory.
The fact that dreams were based on memories, not entirely invented, led to restrictions in his lucid dreaming. He found that he could not open books at the same place twice and read the same previously unknown text both times. Nor could he enter a dark room and turn the light on to find anything but a room that was already known to him.
De Saint-Denys did though manage to invoke specific elements in his dreams using different techniques. During a visit to the Vivarais mountains he purposefully kept smelling one particular perfume. Months later when the same perfume was sprinkled on his pillow his dreams took place in that landscape. He repeated the same experiments and the same success using particular music and particular tastes to anchor real world experiences and individuals, and then invoke them in his lucid dreaming.
If you want to experience lucid dreaming there are different ways to go about it. A number of high-tech gadgets are available, the most common of which are glasses that pulse coloured lights when they detect the Rapid Eye Movement of dream sleep. The idea is that you train yourself to recognise the coloured lights in your dream as a sign that you are dreaming.
However you don’t have to spend money on gadgets, or try to get to sleep wearing glasses, in order to experience lucid dreaming. Instead there are a number of steps that you can take that will promote your ability to recognise when you are in a dream state.
The first step is to remember your dreams, and to keep a dream journal. If you don’t remember your dreams (or think that you don’t have any) then as you drift to sleep at night think of how you will recall your dreams the next morning. This normally sees people recalling their dreams within a few days of consistent practice.
The second step is to pick out regular or recurring elements in your dreams that will allow you to recognise them as dreams.
Hand in hand with this goes the third step of questioning whether you are dreaming in real life. This embeds the ideas and techniques that you will use in dreams to see if you are dreaming. So to test if you are awake open a book at a random page, and then open it at the same page again to see if the text is the same.
The final stage is to prompt lucid dreaming. For some people reading about lucid dreaming can be enough to start it happening, and for others affirming as they fall asleep that they will have lucid dreams, in the same way they taught themselves to remember their dreams. Another option is to use a scent or smell that when experienced in the dream will prompt your awareness.
Of course this presupposes that you enjoy a good night’s sleep. If you don’t then follow the link to read about self-help if you have problems sleeping.
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