I was very honored to be invited by Kathleen (Kat) O’Keefe-Kanavos to be a guest writer for her on dreams. The article I put together is called, “The Art of Dreaming”. Kathleen is the author of “Dreams That Can Save Your Life: Early Warning Signs of Cancer and Other Diseases” and is quite the Onieronaut herself.
The Art of Dreaming
By Ian A. Wilson
Nature has evolved the perfect virtual reality simulator. It’s called dreaming, and all it takes is consciousness to play. We are all born with this natural ability to dream when we sleep at night. Sleep research shows we can have as many as 5-6 dreams per night. However, many people do not remember even one dream. This is largely due to not having an interest in or developing the necessary skills to participate in this already on-going process of dreaming.
For 31 years, I have practiced a dream technique known as Lucid Dreaming. Lucid Dreaming is when you become self-aware and conscious during a dream. Most often, people do not experience consciousness during sleep and become entranced into an altered state of consciousness where self-realization and awareness is greatly diminished and are in a state of immersion during a dream unaware they are dreaming at all until the point they wake up.
There is an art to dreaming where this nightly experience can become a source of new experiences and wonderful adventure. After all, they are your dreams and dreaming is simply a more advanced form of thinking between the waking and subconscious mind. When you close your eyes and begin to fall asleep, think of the blank space you see as the canvas and your thoughts as the paint of the dream world.
Another useful metaphor is that thoughts are the programming language of dreams, and the subconscious mind is the computer. As you learn how your dreams work, you can program the types of dreams you want to experience. If you don’t then you are left at the mercy of more random unconscious thoughts and experiences which may not be as fun or interesting as the ones you can create when you get out of the passenger’s seat of the unconscious mind and into the driver’s seat of your dream creation.
Many years ago I wrote an article that covered a different approach to dream programming introducing a technique called Genre Specific Lucid Dreaming, and in the world of dream acronyms that would be GSLD. What brought me into the art of dreaming stemmed from my childhood when I loved movies and cartoons. I had this fantasy as a child where I wanted to project myself into the TV set and be in some of those shows. Certainly, a silly premise but I started noticing that my dreams began to reflect that fantasy and I would suddenly be in a movie like Star Wars and this wish through dreaming was fulfilled.
Even though I wasn’t lucid in these dreams, it was the spark that fueled my passion for dreams in general. The breakthrough came in the form of an article published in an Omni magazine in 1987 written by legendary dream researcher Dr. Stephen LaBerge entitled, “Power Trips: Controlling Your Dreams.” In this article, Stephen described that some people could be awake and conscious in their dreams and could control the dream content.
After reading the article at the age of 15, I was overwhelmed by the excitement and curiosity that this inspired. The idea of being conscious in one of this fun fantasy dreams was too good to be true, except I never had a lucid dream and didn’t know what it was like or how it would feel. Just the raw desire to have the experience triggered my first lucid dream which can only be described as the most amazing experience I had at that time. Lucid dreaming was so real, and vivid; it was just like being in another reality. Being conscious made the dream more vibrant, easier to remember and best of all, I could control the dream and flew for the first time fully aware that I was in this magical world of dreams.
31 years later, I’ve never looked back and have lucid dreamed nearly every day since. Using intent to pre-program my desired dream experiences I have re-created movies I enjoy, video games, cartoons, books and many of my alternative worlds simply by engaging this ability to dream with the intention to dream how I want, what I want for fun night-time adventures. Learning to lucid dream has in every respect, given me a second life to enjoy while the body sleeps.
The secret was in realizing that dreams are highly-organized products of sensory-thinking. Through observing how dreams formed during the process of falling asleep, it was clear that a type of inversion of the senses was taking place where the mind starts to think in sensory forms. As dreams have visual, audible and tactile feedback, the emergence of this form of thought occurred during the onset of dreaming through a pre-dream state known as hypnagogia.
It became self-evident that visual, audible and tactile thinking was part of the dreaming package. During the hypnagogic stage, I would think in the context of the desired dream experience shaping the hypnagogic patterns into something desired. The result was anything limited by imagination alone. Nature’s perfected virtual reality system known as dreaming opened up the floodgates of adventure and new experiences which rivaled even modern day computer games and graphics.
Learning to think in this higher-order language of dreams wasn’t at all difficult rather it was a natural part of this shift to altered-states of consciousness. The challenge was in only realizing that dreams were entirely composed of this sensory language and then developing the attention and focus needed to shape those thoughts into the desired experience.
The other challenge was learning to allow me to remain conscious during this process, setting aside all worries, anxieties, and concerns that would otherwise influence the thoughts shaping the dream experience. There is never a need to drag in fear, beliefs and other psychological, emotional traits and project those into the emerging dream content. My process was to recognize those influences, let them go and focus on what I wanted to experience keeping that focus while the dream emerged.
Dream programming is easy; when my daughter was very young, I started to teach her how to dream what she wanted using this simple process. In the morning she would tell me wonderful fun dreams that were influenced by cartoons she enjoyed at that time. One that made me laugh was a Barbie dance party dream she had. Recently, she had a dream at a concert which had a seafood buffet and told me the food in the dream tasted so amazing. I enjoy fine dining in dreams and always boast to her how amazing dream food can taste. In many cases, it’s better than waking life. Which is a bit disappointing when you wake up with a craving for something you will never find here, but that’s part of the magic.
I described dreaming to her as a form of entertainment no different than watching a movie or playing a video game except in dreams you can take control and create the kind of movie or game you want to experience. She’s still learning, but I’m sure more fine dining and fun adventures along the way will encourage healthy fun dreams.
The other benefit to learning to dream is overcoming nightmares and fears. Once you realize dreams can never hurt you, only invoke fears; it’s easy to face them. You can change the dream, and resolve those fears once and for all. For me, dreams have genres, so a nightmare dream is no different than watching a horror movie. I don’t get attached to the fears rather always in a state of awe at the artistic detail of the dream narrative. This playground of the mind is living breathing art, and that is how I treat dreaming.
So what’s the secret? How do you get started? It’s not hard to do. You already have 5-6 dreams per night so if you do not remember them the first step is taking an interest and have a willingness to participate in your ongoing dream adventures. Many dream techniques that exist which are very beneficial; others may be a bit too complicated. The best approach is a progressive one where you stick with what works and let go of anything that doesn’t.
I’ll share my process for lucid dreaming, and it covers all the basics that should get anyone started. Just know like going to the gym you don’t walk in on the first day and come out looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Like any skill, it takes consistency and practice to get good at it. Just like playing the piano start with the basic foundation and build upon it over time.
The most important key to successful dreaming is participation. Without the intent or interest to participate in your already ongoing dream adventures how can you expect any results? All that is required is in this first step is taking the art of dreaming seriously enough to want to have fun in your own dream world.
Three key cognitive areas need to develop for you to have successful, vivid and realistic dreams. Those three areas are Memory, Awareness, and Perception. Without developing memory, you enter a state of sleep induced amnesia where dreams take place but are not being remembered.
Awareness relates to how conscious and lucid you are in the dream. Entering any altered state of consciousness affects awareness and developing highly acute and focused awareness geared for dreaming is where all the fun begins. Limited awareness can keep you unable to break free of the immersion dreams cause tricking you for the time that you might be in reality and not a dream at all.
Perception is very important as it covers all of your senses from vision, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. The more dominant senses in dreams are sight, hearing and touch however you can develop the ability to taste and smell, even feel changes in temperature. Everything we experience in our waking life can be similarly experienced in the dream.
The goal is to create equal to or greater levels of memory, awareness, and perception during dreams in the same way you experience these cognitive attributes in waking life. Deficiencies in any of these three areas impact the quality of the dream experience which becomes self-evident along the way. You can already gauge where you level of memory, awareness, and perception in your current dreams are at and improve from there.
It’s my personal opinion that for most people, these attributes are in a state of atrophy and are under-developed but in teaching people, even people over 60 how to lucid dream I’ve discovered that any attention and participation we give to our natural process of dreaming can yield results. The more consistent you practice developing these atrophic areas of cognition, the more they will increase towards your optimal goal of equal to or greater than how they work in your waking life.
The time required to prepare for dreaming is no more than about 5 minutes before falling asleep and 5 minutes when you wake up. It is far easier than going to the gym and since you are going to be sleeping anyways why not prepare yourself for dreaming at the point of going to bed, and review the results upon awakening as part of a daily routine. It’s 10 minutes that can change your entire life. Not a demanding investment at all.
Memory is by far the most important attribute to develop because without it no level of awareness or perception will matter because you will wake up to a blank state of amnesia. To develop memory, you need to tell yourself as you fall asleep that you want to remember your dreams as clearly and vividly as you remember your waking life. Always reference your waking life equivalent and use that as your goal post when applying that to your dream life and tell yourself you want it to be equal or greater to how you remember things right now.
As you are falling asleep, repeat that intent over and over a few times as it relates to memory. When you wake up, it’s important not just to get caught up in the dramatic grind of life. Wake up, and then ask yourself what you dreamt and started to recall any fragments, even the dimmest memory. This simple step can trigger a wave of memory. In the beginning, it helps to write anything down that you remember. Writing down the dream is very beneficial in developing dream memory. Also, it’s nice to go back and read some of those fun dreams later on in life. The dream journal is a proven part of the over-all dream experience, especially when developing your ability to remember them.
A person who came by one of my articles told me all they did was focus on memory because it was the one area they realized they had the most problems. The moment they started to state their intent to remember their dreams, for the first time in years, they started to have dream recall. They remarked at how simple and easy it was, and realized it was just in neglecting to participate that these already existing 5-6 dreams a night went unnoticed.
Just like memory, as you fall asleep, you can shape your intent to improve your awareness and perception using affirmations programming your subconscious mind. Here are the three affirmations that will help improve memory, awareness, and perception.
- I am allowing myself to remember my dreams equal to or greater than my waking life in vivid and clear detail.
- I am allowing myself to be as awake, aware and conscious equal or greater to how I am aware right now during. I want to experience being fully conscious in my dream while my body is asleep.
- I am allowing myself to perceive the dream equal to or greater than how I perceive my waking life with full visual, audible, tactile feedback.
In your pre-sleep process, you can use any custom affirmation to guide the dream content. The above three are geared to improve the most important cognitive attributes for a fully realized dream experience.
Start with these three for a week and see what kind of improvements arise. You do need to stay consistent meaning it’s not something you do once and then never again. Take advantage of any opportunity to sleep as an opportunity to dream and start programming what you want. Get in the driver’s seat of this nighttime adventure.
There are also focus techniques that you can do during the day that help improve the quality of your dreams at night. Using mindfulness or all-day-awareness is something that takes our waking life and treats it as a template for dreaming allowing us to draw on experiences here to then reproduce as a dream later.
For example, if you want to improve taste in dreams, you can take the time while eating something you enjoy and become very aware of all the sensations but as you are doing it, you impress the experience with the intent that you will dream equal or greater. I did this with chocolate as an example. I wanted to experience taste so would eat some chocolate while awake impress the experience with the intent to dream of eating chocolate. While eating, I would tell myself to remember the sensation of taste and impressed that intent towards dreaming of it.
Over time, I started to have dreams where chocolate not only tasted as real as waking life chocolate, but it did taste better. I didn’t stop at chocolate, and as this developed, it made dining out in dreams a wonderful and exceptional experience.
Here is a link just one dream where I take advantage of eating all sorts of foods for no other reason other than it’s fun to do.
Using waking life experience as a measurement or goal in the dream state does lend itself when it appears in the dream state. I’ve always been about better-than-life dreaming and encourage the same approach with anyone interested in becoming a master of their own dream world.
For a more comprehensive article on lucid dreaming techniques and all-day-awareness, I have a free guide entitled, “A progressive guide to lucid dreaming” which is freely accessible here:
I have a free e-book in PDF format entitled, “You Are Dreaming” and covers cognitive mapping which is how I use waking life experience to improve dream quality. Download here:
Feel free to visit my website and read through many of the lucid dreams that I have had over the years. My busy career doesn’t allow me to write down and blog every dream that I have however when something really fun arises I try to record them.
For videos on dreams visit my youtube channel:
If you liked this article, please share it with friends and family who may be interested in dreams.
Ian Wilson has been a lucid dream explorer since 1987 and has enjoyed lucid dreaming nearly every night for 31 years. He has written several free articles on dreams since 1998 from, “A Course on Consciousness”, an ebook entitled, “You Are Dreaming”, an abstract entitled, “The Theory of Precognitive Dreams” and many more. He believes in open-source dreaming making dream related material freely accessible to those interested in advancing themselves in the Art of Dreaming.
Here are the links to the article: