Lucid Dreaming, Waking, and Distraction

“LEGO Distracted Boyfriend Meme” by Ochre Jelly is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

As a teen, I was a natural at lucid dreaming. I could— no exaggeration— realize I was dreaming four or five times a night. It was lots of fun. Mostly flying, but you can imagine what else a teenager might want to dream about.

Before I graduated high school I stopped lucid dreaming almost completely overnight, but that’s not what this post is about.

Now, in my 50s, I decided to get back into lucid dreaming; the difference is this time I have an agenda and a plan.

Sidebar: I’m a distractable person. End sidebar.

The plan goes something like this: see how long I can remain lucid, and give myself a task, like testing the upper limits of my ability to control the dream, a.k.a. dream yoga.

I only learned about dream yoga a month ago, so keep that in mind. I’ve tried this a number of times and learned a little more each time. One thing I learned is elements of the dream regularly challenge me to forget I’m dreaming. Another is knowing your dreaming is of little help if you have lost your sense of reason.

So I’ve developed my own mantra. I recite it at bedtime, and also the moment I gain lucidity:

Gain lucidity,
Maintain lucidity,
Gain reason,
Maintain reason,
Notice distractions and call them out,
Test the upper limits of my dream control.

Dan Pouliot

The last item of the mantra varies from night to night, depending on the task I give myself. For instance, I could task myself with initiating an out-of-body experience (I don’t do that much anymore, as I’ve lost interest in them).

I’ve emphasized Notice distractions and call them out. That is a critical step. My subconscious, or whatever you want to call it, bombards me with interesting, or scary, or frustrating, or joyous dream elements that tempt me to forget I’m dreaming. Interestingly, this problem has been studied and named:

One obstacle to investigating present-centred awareness is the well-established tendency for the mind to wander and become distracted from the present moment in favour of temporally distant, stimulus-independent thought (SIT)…

“SIT-related neural activation has been shown to reflect an automatic tendency to engage in narrative processes in the absence of a strong requirement to respond to external stimuli.”1Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference

Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference

Remember when I said I’m distractable? This is where it gets interesting…

Notice any similarity between distractions causing a loss of lucidity and waking distractions taking us away from whatever we’re doing? They’re the same. Exactly the same.

Can I apply what I’ve learned about lucid dreaming to my waking life? Yup. Give myself a task. Notice distractions and call them out. The task can be simple, as in whatever it is I’m doing in the moment, but I don’t find that terribly interesting.

What if the task were much, much bigger? Like, be the best possible version of myself in every moment.

What if the task were much, much bigger? Like, be the best possible version of myself in every moment.

Task set, now go to the grocery store. The person in front of me is too slow, and a sloppy dresser. Sheesh.

Ah-ha! Distraction! Just like in the dream, my waking life is calling me back asleep as it were, forgetting the task I set myself.

Dealing with Distraction

At this point I crowed success! I call out my distractions and they vanish! Until… until they stop responding to me calling them out.

Here I am, sitting atop a dream dumpster, surrounded by four-legged animals approaching me. I call them out… distraction! Unfazed, they are within biting distance. I kick at them. My wife mutters… I’ve kicked her in bed and she wakes me.

There’s no such thing as a failed experiment. What is this dream telling me? The next day, Twitter gave me the perfect illustration. Someone said something rude to me. Distraction. But me naming it is insufficient. I’m still distracted. Tucking myself into bed, I block the person. Eyes closed, I’m still distracted. I need to change the subject in my mind… think of happy things. That works.

So I update my mantra…

Call out distraction.

Tell them to be gone!
If they don’t listen, then I take off.

It’s exciting that setting a dream goal and revisiting it night after night, like an ongoing science experiment, produces results not only in the dreams, but the lessons are perfectly applicable to current waking life situations.

I could wrap this up in some pithy way, but you get the idea. Happy lucid dreaming/waking!