Lucid dreams and controlled dreams



Definition of lucid dream

In 1913 an interesting and still valid article by Frederik van Eeden was published, in which for the first time the expression lucid dream was used, to indicate a dream with a high degree of mental clarity, and therefore with a level of consciousness similar to that of the waking state. However, studies and research on dreams, conducted in recent decades especially by the American specialist Stephen LaBerge (born 1947) and his collaborators, have led to define as lucid dream a dream in which the dreamer realizes that he/she is dreaming, and becomes fully aware of what is happening. LaBerge himself recognizes that, in this way, the category of lucid dreams becomes quite large, and within its range the level of consciousness can vary considerably. Most of LaBerge's research has been carried out at Stanford University in California, then he has established his own research center, the Lucidity Institute, to deepen and spread information and techniques related to lucid dreaming. On LaBerge's website you can find the answers to all the questions and curiosities about lucid dreams, as well as offers of equipment and training courses that, according to what is stated there, can help the achievement of the lucid dream experience.

In my opinion the term lucidity, in the sense of LaBerge, is defined with precision, but at the same time does not sufficiently explain what the different features of non-ordinary dreams are. The variables that should be taken into account, in order to evaluate the level of lucidity of a dream, are three: the intensity of the state of consciousness (which should be at least equal to that of the waking state), the detail and clarity of the perception and the degree of will by which the dream can be controlled and directed. Certainly, the fact of being aware of being dreaming can be considered as the first step towards further developments of these three variables. The following is an example of the early development of a lucid dream of mine: «I wake up, get out of bed and look at the surrounding environment, without paying much attention to it. I know it's morning, and go to the room where I keep the computer and my books, to open the shutters. I walk and move in a very natural way, every act and gesture is intentional and consequential to the previous one. There is nothing extraordinary in what I am doing: it seems to me a normal awakening. After pulling up the shutters, I turn and go to a beautiful antique wooden table, a 16th century piece of furniture, which is about halfway across the room, near one of the walls. I caress its surface with the palm of my hand, then I carefully observe the details of the wood grain, pleasing myself with the beauty of that piece of furniture that I own. Meanwhile, however, I feel the need to concentrate, because I have to remember something, and suddenly a disconcerting fact comes to my mind: I remember that in my house there has never been that antique table. I deduce, and it seems really weird to me, not to be in the world of ordinary reality, but within a conscious dream. Yet everything, including the table, is perfectly real. So I go out of my house to see what's outside...».

This can be called a lucid dream, according to the definition of LaBerge, inasmuch as the dreamer becomes aware of being in a dream, even if at the beginning he is not in a state of dreamlike awareness – within which he becomes aware of his dreaming – but in a condition of ordinary waking consciousness, through which he logically deduces, by a fact of memory, that he is not in the ordinary physical reality. Not even this consideration, however, is enough to change the state of consciousness: the dreamer, instead of waking up, decides to continue to explore that dimension that appears to him so real. In lucid dreams the behavior and the development of events are almost always coordinated and coherent, in analogy with what happens in the waking state, but often dreamers can also exert an intentional control on the evolution of situations, in a way consistent with their desires. Lucid dreams of this kind, which we can call controlled, are really fascinating and rewarding. Some oneironauts, skilled in practicing the art of lucid dreaming, can reach a level in which they can dream whatever they want, thus entering a dimension in which dreams and desires become reality, at least until their mental energies manage to sustain the lucid dream state. In daytime consciousness, this perspective is really attractive: you can experience all kinds of adventures as if they were real.

Control over the plot of the dreams

The Lucidity Institute places among the objectives of its courses and training seminars the possibility of being able to control the plot of the dreams, so that it corresponds to our intentions. But is it always possible? In my opinion, based on my experiences, we should distinguish between two kinds of desires: those we feel while we are within the lucid dream and those that we have while we are awake, in our ordinary state of consciousness. Within the lucid lucid dream we can have desires, and quite often (but not always) what we desire is obtained by simply resorting to the intention to act. For example, when I wanted to fly I could almost always do it, while I was not always able to control the course of events according to my will. But I know about oneironauts who can control their lucid dreams far better than I could. I experienced my conscious dreams as adventures whose evolution was engaging and fascinating, and the emotions I felt were pleasant surprises that often went beyond what I could consciously imagine.

Erotic adventures

Different is he case if we try to satisfy in the lucid dream a desire felt in the waking state, as when one wants to have, for example, love or erotic adventures. There are dreamers (female and male) who are experts in lucidly dreaming of erotic adventures at will: the oneironauts must remember, within the dream (we are obviously talking about conscious dreams) of their own desires, and must be able to control the course of the dreams so that these desires are fulfilled. Many years ago, when I began to have lucid dreams (I was 32 then), I was rather frequently able to control the development of conscious dreams of an erotic nature, and I found them (as one can imagine) quite exciting and rewarding. But although I wanted to be able to live that kind of adventures practically every night, those controlled dreams had a random frequency: sometimes I happened to have two or more dreams in a week, sometimes it took two or three months before I could make any. A lucid female dreamer, no longer so young, who was part of LaBerge's research group, was able to frequently make lucid and controlled erotic dreams (experimentally verified). Of course, during youth, ordinary erotic dreams are much more frequent, and it is plausible that an experienced young oneironaut can have controlled erotic dreams almost at will. Regarding the fulfillment of desires, probably the more these gifted people are interested in obtaining something, the greater are the chances of obtaining it, as long as the motivation and energy they have are sufficiently intense to allow them to stand the training necessary to develop the required skills, and the functioning of their brain is such as to activate the psyche's attunements that allow the coherent and intentional development of the plot and the required sense of reality.

Sexual abstinence in ordinary reality is considered by some experts a particularly effective technique for inducing lucid dreaming. Indeed sexual energy has some particular features and can be a good fuel available to those who can master it, as it can allow – through mental activity – the access to non-ordinary psyche's attunements. After a few years of lucid dreams with a predominantly erotic character, I began to have some very intense and compelling experiences, quite unlike anything I had ever experienced in my dream state, following which my interest in erotic dreams became less intense. Once I read the story of a Brazilian anthropologist who had entered into a friendly relationship with two Indians, an old sorcerer and his apprentice, who lived in the Amazon forest. One day the anthropologist succeeded in persuading the two to visit a modern town with him, and among other things he took them to a movie theater. At the end of the film, he asked them what they thought of it. The two replied that the experience had been to their liking, but the films they could see and experience were far more real, intense and enthralling. I do not know if this story is true, but it still seems interesting to me, and even beyond the cultural differences for which a Western movie can be a heavy meal for an Indian, it is certain that shamans and sorcerers can become true experts of conscious dreams and similar non-ordinary experiences.

Risks of maladaptation towards ordinary reality

Generally speaking, controlled lucid dreaming is an activity free from risks and dangers, except for a sense of irritation and frustration that can pervade the oneironaut when, returning from a particularly intense and pleasant oneiric excursion, he/she is again immersed in the needs and duties of everyday reality. In general, however, there remains a positive trace in the memory and mood of the waking state, which helps to better support even everyday's routine, especially in the expectation of being able to access another similar experience the next night. From this point of view controlled lucid dreams can be compared to those psychedelic substances which, opening the door to emotionally involving states of consciousness, then provoke a two-sided reaction towards ordinary reality, viewed positively as a support for the life of our psychophysical instrument, through which we can access similar experiences, or as negative if we compare the greyness, difficulty and strain of life in the real world with the vital chromatic richness and the euphoria of the experiences induced by these particular alternative tunings of our psyche. 

Laboratory experiments

The experiences we have dealt with so far are not ordinary dreams because, as we have said, the state of consciousness in which they occur is analogous to that of the waking state. In any case, whether they are defined as lucid dreams or controlled dreams, they can be classified in the context of the dream experiences, in my opinion rightly, since also in a lucid dream dreamers are usually in a state of oneiric consciousness (and thus, within an ordinary dream) before they become aware of being dreaming. When the transition from the normal dream state of consciousness to that of lucidity and control occurs, dreamers, especially if they are expert oneironauts, can continue to live the plot of the dream with complete lucidity, and also exert, as we have seen, a remarkable degree of control over the following developments of the dream adventure. In lucid dreams experimented in laboratory the dreamers have also succeeded in giving the researchers a signal, through a sequence of previously agreed eye movements, at the time when they became aware of being dreaming. Thus it has been possible to verify that most lucid dreams begin within a REM dream phase, even if there is a lower percentage of experiments in which the oneironaut can enter the lucid dream condition directly from the waking state.

False awakenings

The experience becomes particularly significant when the dream world, in its details and its transformations, gets a consistency and coherence that are indistinguishable from those of the real world, otherwise the dream, however intense and engaging, can still be included among the normal dream phenomena. In the case of conscious dreams, more or less controlled, this condition is always verified: in fact, they are experiences that are completely indistinguishable, as far as the conscious Ego is concerned, from the events that occur in the waking state. Typical is the case of false awakenings, which are always experienced as real events in all respects, and only subsequently interpreted as different phenomena, in the light of the memories and the logical considerations of ordinary consciousness. These dreams too originate from a state during which the body is immersed in sleep, and the consciousness passes through a more or less long period of blackout compared to the ordinary waking state. During the night, or even during a daytime nap, we can therefore wake up and possibly live extraordinary experiences, traveling in other dimensions, aware or not of being in a non-ordinary state of consciousness, but fully convinced of the reality of what is happening to us.

Once I happened to wake up three times, to get out of bed and walk around my apartment, orienting myself in the dark, looking for any suspicious strange presences. Every time I reconsidered with surprise and wonder my previous awakening and the sense of reality associated with it: in the first of these false awakenings, I examined a previous dream in its sensory and perceptive implications, then I got suspicious of some noises that seemed to come from a room at the end of the corridor, so I got up and began to inspect the whole house, without being able to find anything unusual. At this point, I went back to bed, I woke up a second time, and recalled with great interest all the events of the previous awakening, which seemed to me very real, but, in the light of the current awakening, turned out to be nothing but a conscious dream. I decided to get up, to check if everything was in order, and indeed everything seemed to be in its place. But when I got to the kitchen, I realized that some objects had been moved from their usual position, and I deduced that someone had entered into the house. In fact I noticed the shape of a man crouched behind a door, so I jumped on him and held him with my arms, while he tried to disengage. In the tension of the struggle, I woke up for the third time. This awakening was completely identical to the two previous ones, which were clear in my mind in all their details. It seemed to me now that I really woke up, but I was not sure, and only after I got up and verified that everything was in order, I recognized the known elements of the reality of my home, and I realized that in both the previous awakenings the arrangement of some rooms did not coincide with the real one. All this oneiric puppet theater had originated from a dream, the one I examined in the first of the false awakenings, in which I surprised a female thief in my house, in the dark, and while I caught her and she tried to escape me, I realized she was young and pretty and that I, while restraining her, was touching her body with a certain pleasure. In the first false awakening I had the precise awareness of having dreamed, and examined my dream to recall its details: the fact of having dreamed of a thief was then associated with the suspicion that there really could be thieves in my apartment, so I heard the noises that led me to get up to check.

Objectivity of conscious dreams

As for the possible objectivity of these experiences, it must be excluded that we can speak of objectivity when there are not two or more conscious people who perceive the same phenomenon. It is however possible, even if very rare, that two or more people share the same dream, finding themselves in the same dimension and in the same environment, mutually confirming the reality of what they are experiencing. In this regard, I am only aware of the case reported by Oliver Fox (pseudonym of Hugh George Callaway, 1885-1949) in his book Astral Projection (page 47): «I had been spending the evening with two friends, Slade and Elkington, and our conversation had turned to the subject of dreams. Before parting, we agreed to meet, if possible, on Southampton Common in our dreams that night. I dreamed I met Elkington on the Common as arranged, but Slade was not present. We both knew we were dreaming and commented on Slade's absence. After which the dream ended, being of very short duration. The next day when I saw  Elkington I said nothing at first of my experience, but asked him if he had dreamed. "Yes," he replied, "I met you on the Common all right and knew I was dreaming, but old Slade didn't turn up. We had just time to greet each other and comment on his absence, then the dream ended." On interviewing Slade we learned that he had not dreamed at all, which perhaps accounted for his inability to keep the appointment». This episode is noteworthy, due to the fact that Fox and Elkington expectation would have had each of them meet, in the dream, both friends, while they agreed to notice the absence of the only one who had not dreamed at all. However, the author adds that he was later unable to repeat this experience.

A dream city called New York

I think that examining the oneiric phenomena from the point of view of the fantastic attunements of the psyche in which the conscious Ego can be involved is more profitable than to relegate them to a merely imaginary dimension, considered as unreal and totally uninteresting. I try to explain myself with an example: it happened to me several times to go while dreaming (I'm talking about ordinary dreams, although very vivid and full of details) to a town that I was able to identify as New York. This city created in my oneiric dimension had nothing to do with the actual New York: it was a huge town, full of details, fantastic architectures, enigmatic signs of time, the strangest public transit vehicles, and of course people, persons with whom I could interact in dreams. Every time I went to this place I had some adventure, I visited one or the other district, I was impressed by so many details that later, when I was awake, I could remember with precision. Although these dreams were not connected to each other, often when I had a dream about New York many other details emerged, always linked to that same city, recorded somewhere in my memory, and I was amazed by the extraordinary scenographic ability of the dream phenomenon, which in a very short time can create and manage environments and situations of a remarkable complexity, even in the absence of external stimuli. If someone were to tell me that all this is imagination, a subjective phenomenon devoid of any real foundation, I would not find anything to object, except that in this way the experience is liquidated without highlighting its particular creative aspect: in fact, although not being in the state of awareness that characterizes lucid dreams, I witnessed and took part in a not indifferent creative show, of which I could accurately remember the plot and the scenic details. In my opinion, the existence or not of this New York of my dreams depends on a particular tuning activated from time to time by my oneiric consciousness.

Some examples of lucid dreams

I end this page with some examples of controlled lucid dreams taken from my dream diary. «Several years ago, I woke up feeling that I had left my body, which I felt through an intense, deep vibration in the temples area. It was not the first time that such a thing occurred to me, and I knew I could decide what to do: I began to move intentionally, in order to stabilize my vertical position, not stable because, weightless, I tended to float upward. Then I tried to go through solid surfaces, like walls or doors, to see if I could. In fact, the success or failure of certain attempts in the dream state depends on the power of intent, and it is not automatic, subject to fixed rules as in ordinary reality. This freedom to move and perform experiments was rewarding in itself, and completely independent of results. After a while, I was able to move as in the real world, that is walking, without floating and without going through the walls, and I found this thing very interesting and enjoyable. I decided then to explore the room which was next to the bedroom where I had woken up, and I began to examine, in a very natural way, every single object in its details. The most remarkable thing was that every object in the room kept its details with the utmost precision, so that I could focus them well, and this activity, in itself very simple, gave me an increasingly intense pleasure. At a certain point I felt that I could transform this contemplative experience from passive into active, and I began to create from scratch a plant of my conception: it was a kind of small tree, just over a meter tall, which formed itself in a pot, developing the trunk, then the branches, the leaves, the flowers, according to my intent: as I contemplated it, I fixed its details. In its appearance it ended up looking like a plant made of precious sparkling gems, but that was not the value of that experience: the fact is that while I created that plant by looking at it, I was pervaded by a thrilling and pleasant feeling so intense, to actually overcome any other emotion I've ever experienced in my real life». In the context of the desires to which we attribute value in ordinary reality, I might have wished, for example, to fly, or to make love with a beautiful woman (all of which I have done in other conscious dreams): instead, my intent on that occasion made me have an experience that, as I have managed to tell it, makes no particular impression nor stimulates any interest, whereas in the inventory of my life's experiences it is among the most intense, satisfying and complete in terms of happiness and emotional involvement.

Here is an example of a conscious dream characterized by an intense erotic feeling: «After some training exercises I turn on the left side and enter into a state of vigilant half-sleep, in which I begin to have visions, without being really asleep. Finally I see a female image, corresponding to a real presence, that gives me the certainty that she is in control of the situation. I instantly enter into a state of intense real awareness, I am in a fast car next to her and I have to get out of the barrier of a hospital. I get out of the car, go out of the pedestrian entrance that is blocked by a gate that I can lift, and finally – after passing through a series of barriers – return to my car, start it and, conscious of being in a lucid dream in which I can do all I want, I give myself to the thrill of fast sports driving. The sensations I feel in the strong accelerations and in turning are very real and satisfying, but driving in city traffic does not allow  me to have fun at my best. I feel that the vibrations (that allow me to control the dream) are becoming stronger: I feel intensely my body and at the same time I feel the exciting body of the female presence that is next to me press against mine. Then I look at her face and immediately kiss her mouth greedily and for a long time, while her body keeps on clinging to mine, enveloping me. She is my counterpart and I am hers, but it is as if we both were a single thing. I am looking at the dream landscape again: now we are in a hilly place where it is raining heavily, and the water begins to flood, while I think that there is something very funny in the whole adventure. I make a very powerful open sports car appear, and launch myself at full speed in pursuit of other cars I see in the distance. The thrill of driving is very exciting. The woman is always seated on my right. At a certain point I have to stop because the desire to kiss her and touch her breasts has become irresistible. I close the car's hood (it's still raining) and continue in this way, sharing amorous effusions and racing at great speed, in a variable condition between lucid dreaming and an intensely conscious state of possession of an etheric body, always with an intense erotic involvement, until the vibrations begin to decrease in intensity and I have to return to my usual physical body».

A deadly experience

However, conscious lucid dreams are not always so pleasant. Here is an experience I had when I was 43: «I woke up in the middle of the night (and, when I say I woke up, I mean that I perceived all the following experience as perfectly real), I felt a force lift my body out of bed, move it to the left of the bed and throw myself on the floor, face down. This force, which was able to move my body very easily, when it lifted and moved me was like an intense wind, but I could see it out of the corner of my eye like a black spherical mass, homogeneous and indistinct, about one meter in diameter. Once I was on the floor I immediately felt the pressure of that mass on my back, and I realized that I would have to make an effort with my arms against the floor in order to lift the chest and continue to breathe. Since I was physically fit and well trained, I immediately set myself in the most suitable position in order to react, but I was not able to turn around in any way. I could only exert some force on my arms, barely enough to expand my chest a little bit. Then, relentlessly, the force began to increase its pressure and, although it did not speak, I felt that somehow it communicated with me through thought. It said only one thing: "You're dead!" I continued to resist with all my strength, because I did not want to die, or rather, I did not want to give up. Was I afraid? No! Like in other circumstances of my life, the tension was extreme, but there was no room (or energy) for fear. As the pressure increased, I could not resist with my arms, and I could hardly breathe. When my chest was completely blocked by the enormous pressure, I tried to resist still holding my breath, but at a certain point I felt I could not do it any longer and, like when raising a white flag, I made this mental statement: "If my time to die has come, then I surrender to death, and amen". As soon as I had manifested this thought, the pressure began to fade away. Slowly I was able to lift myself, I dragged myself on the bed and, exhausted by the effort and with mi sight blurred, I fell asleep».

Almost immediately after the end of this experience I woke up again (this time in ordinary reality) and I realized that I felt very well. The memory of what had happened a few minutes (or maybe a few moments) earlier was very vivid, and everything still seemed perfectly real, but I had none of those physical symptoms that accompany, for example, the awakening from a nightmare or a sleep-apnea syndrome: I was not sweaty, my heartbeat was regular, not in the least accelerated, my breathing was perfectly normal and quiet, the bed in order, and my position, slightly lying on one side, was the usual when I sleep. Moreover, I was well aware that I had not had a nightmare: it was not an ordinary dream. I think, however, that an eventual external observer (that night I was alone at home) would have seen nothing but my sleeping body, even while I lived that dramatic experience. So, rightfully, he could have labeled it a dream experience (difficult to classify it as an hallucination, since my body was sleeping), even if for me it had none of the characteristics of dreams: everything seemed to me extremely real.


Quality of dreams
Examples of dreams
Lucid dreams
A  study of dreams
Out of Body Exp.
Psychoactive drugs