You're running late for the biggest meeting of your career — one that you have endlessly prepared for; every moment in your life has led to this. But each time you try to enter the meeting, obstacle after obstacle keeps pushing you back, preventing you from reaching the conference room. But then, still asleep, you realize: "Oh, this is just a dream." Reassuring yourself, you can now allow the dream to continue without stress or fear overtaking your sleeping mind.
Stress dreams are kind of the worst, and speaking from experience, they tend to happen before a big life moment — a test, a performance, or a work presentation. But I've always been the dreamer who can connect with my conscious mind's sense of reality and confirm that this is in fact, only a dream. This awareness is called lucid dreaming.
Put more simply, lucid dreaming is when you're in the thick of a dream, good or bad, and your mind suddenly recognizes the difference between reality and your dreaming mind. Being able to achieve lucid dreaming starts with understanding your dreams, according to dream decoding expert and author of the best-selling book The Dream Dictionary from A to Z, Theresa Cheung.
"When dream, you go to a different state of awareness, a different country," says Cheung. "If you want to go to another country or culture and really integrate, you've got to learn the language. So the first step in working with your dreams is learning their language."
So how exactly can you learn the language of your dreams? Well for starters, it's important to discover what your dreaming mind — your subconscious — is trying to tell you. Cheung says that our dreaming mind never sleeps, even during the day. It's always observing you during your waking life and assessing what you need. Then at night, those needs are played out in our dreams — often through metaphors, of course.
People's dreaming minds work "like an internal therapist," Cheung explains. "It's almost like a commentary on themselves, like a counselor working away in the background giving them fresh perspectives and insights, helping them role play, deal with their dark side, and basically understand themselves better. And I think that's the journey of all of our lives is to understand who we are."
Cbeung says recording your dreams every morning will begin to make reoccurring themes and patterns apparent, linking dreams and exposing their underlying meanings. (Dreams are "an ongoing drama," says Cheung. "They're not an episode, they're a Netflix season.")
The best way to record your dreams is to keep a journal on your bedside table, and within the first 90 seconds of waking up, before even opening your eyes, jot down your dream. Cheung encourages stillness and then just letting the images of the dream flood into your mind. She notes if you wait to write them down, dreams don't have a fighting chance of competing with "conscious reality."
Understanding reoccurring themes may help you more quickly recognize when you're dreaming. If you find yourself in the office, for example, your subconscious may be aware that you often have dreams about work, and conclude "this isn't reality."
There are a few other ways to trigger lucid dreaming. When lucid dreaming, your mind recognizes the difference between rational and irrational, so Cheung says you have to practice that during your waking life, as well.
"During the day, whenever [you] check the time or send a text or an email, think, 'Am I dreaming? Or am I asleep?'" she explains. "In time, because your dreams reflect your waking life, that habit of checking your reality will come into your dream."
Another way to achieve a lucid dream? Talk to your dreaming mind through your pillow — no seriously, it actually helps. Cheung explains that our dreaming mind has been trying to "get in touch" with us for so long that it might need to be spoken to, especially if you've been neglecting it.
"Talk to the pillow and just say, 'I'm going to dream, and I'm going to know I'm dreaming,'" she says. "You've ignored every message whenever they do get in touch, so they're going to be lacking in confidence to approach you. You've got to reassure your mind during the day."
The takeaway: you'll never be able to fully "control" your dream, but recording your dreams and getting in touch with your dreaming mind will give you the ability to have a sense of reality even when you're asleep. Plus, you'll be able to start recognizing what your dreams are trying to tell you, paving one more road on the map to self-discovery.
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