Asking myself if this is a dream... and failing

First things first: I’m not a lucid dreamer. I’m just a guy who over 20 years ago tried some induction techniques and ne, rever had a nightmare since then (go figure). But today happened something I think is worth sharing. I’m in Poland so when 6pm ET curfew started I was watching it on TV at midnight, went to bed at 1am (my time), fell asleep soon after. Normally I would be waking up at around 5:30am and going to sleep earlier but I knew that I didn’t have to (had a semi-important, online meeting scheduled at 8am so set up additional alarm for 7-ish just in case)

I woke up at 5 (recalled a perfectly mundane karmic dream), spend some time awake and fell asleep again. Then my wife’s laptop screen was kind of too bright and she was doing something with her computer in bed. She said she’s logging in to a webinar at 11am. I asked what time it was and she said it’s 11 indeed and I missed my meeting. Am I dreaming? Nah… I just slept through that meeting, no big deal. But AM I DREAMING? I remember asking myself the question and waking up right after I ruled out (not sure why) that I’m asleep.

Now, this is pretty cool and revealing for me as it is (anxiety-wise), but I feel like maybe I’m not putting enough focus on answering the state-check question (I usually back-track with my memory, and have a mindful moment starting with breathing and then tuning in to each of 5 senses followed by how illusory it is). Also, do you happen to have different experience when your sleep hygiene goes out through the window?


Good question. Recently, I’ve been inverting some of the routine advice about sleep hygiene and it’s been leading to better dreams and dream recall. The conventional wisdom seems to be if you can’t sleep get up and read or meditate but don’t just lie there sleepless for a long, long time. So instead of getting up for 10 minutes, that often turns into 2 hours, Now, I’ll continue to try and sleep and more often than not I will eventually fall asleep. Not a big deal, but it is for me, at least for now.


Habit can be very strong. What helps me is to slow down and take several seconds to seriously question if I am dreaming or not and combine it with the hand check. Before I answer the question too quickly, I started to get into the habit to ask myself „am I really sure?“ and carefully visually check my surroundings for oddities (such as unknown locations).


This (asking myself the “am I dreaming” question inside the dream) is still the closest I remember getting to lucidity. Before and after that night I’ve had numerous dreams when something “out of this world” happens and my in-dream reaction is usually the same: I wonder how it is possible (like “why is the sky this strange colour”, or “why am I back in school, as an adult” etc.) and I just accept I have no answers to that and decide (it’s not a lucid decision) that something is happening on a cosmic level and the world has changed (sky-colour), or to go about my school day (the other example) knowing that as an adult I can stand up to unfair teachers/ make better choices (which is pretty cool in it’s own way).
I just accept the strangeness of the dream-reality and instead of realising I’m dreaming and taking control I make the best of what’s happening to me (also quite telling - sometimes I wonder if I’m not too happy with what I’m getting non-lucidly to actually force lucidity on myself)

As for day-time questions I’m using my smartband to vibrate every 20-something minutes (I don’t want it to be too regular) and in an ideal situation (out of about 30 daily notifications I only notice and react to about 10) stop whatever I’m doing notice my breaths for a moment, connect with the senses (note the smells, sounds, temperature in the room etc.) and backtrack what I’ve been doing for the last several minutes in detail, and since the last check in general. All that while asking myself how real vs illusory that feels (along the lines that all perception is the function of my body and mind rather than “objective reality”).


Hi, so reading your comments it seems to me that it is not the frequency of the checks. But rather the type of check or the way you seem to relate to the check question.
My suggestion would be to try a different check, like getting into the habit of frequently just intensely looking at your hands for several seconds (take your time, it is somerhing important you are doing!) and trying to find something odd in the way they look. Number of fingers, color, texture of skin, length of fingers, nails, looking normal, or not? Ask yourself „Is this a dream?“
Before you look, be prepared for the possibility that they do NOT look normal, don‘t have automatically the expectation that you will be looking at your normal hands!

Only if you are 200% sure all is as it should be, can you tell yourself „No dream right now“.

You can do it, this is no pep-talk, it is only a matter of time and it is very cool when you become lucid.

Wonders never cease. :wink:


One more thought, consider contemplating during the daytime about the following thoughts:

Lucid dreaming is real. Lucid dreaming will happen to me.
When it happens, things will look strange.
I will remember to recognize the strangeness and realize that it is a lucid dream!

… this is building your prospective memory.


… and one more:

When you notice your smart band going off, you should wholeheartedly do the check every time. If it is too much, lower the frequency of the reminder. It must remain an „important activity to check your state“ and not become a quick superficial thing you do automatically.

Anytime it goes off OR you think of checking by yourself, put your mind to it and take your time.

Remember to have fun and that you are doing something worthwhile.


Thanks for all the great advice. I’m experimenting with what checks to do (in the vein of Wallace’s Dream Yourself Awake - long list of different/random checks, each growing into long a mindful moment). The hand thing (close examination of body part, writing, clock etc ) seems not to work for me (or prospective memory in general). It’s kind of funny but the more I focus on one thing prospectively, the less it appears in my dreams. Recently I’m seeing more and more dreams where I’m not present as a person (no dream body) and it happens in quite ingenious ways, to name two: the whole dream is a memory of a narrative (I’m aware it’s a story about some people (on some level I wonder if I narrate or read it) rather than something that happens to them); most part of the dream is me playing an FPP computer game, the “body” is not mine but of an in-game character and ways of interacting with the environment and its own body are limited by programming (no flying, no looking at your own hands/feet etc.).

It’s not in the category of not giving up (and I’m aware of scientific proof that LD is real and possible) or getting frustrated (in mindfulness terms I’m “approaching it with curiosity and equanimity”) but I feel like I’m getting protected (rather than denied or prevented) from lucidity.

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“but I feel like I’m getting protected (rather than denied or prevented) from lucidity.”

I can relate to the feeling after going months without a lucid dream. As that happens I spend more daytime time cultivating lucidity. Do you do any Dharma practices while awake or engage in meditation?

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I don’t consider myself a Buddhist. On the general philosophy/psychology level I’m close as far as I can tell but I’ve never been drawn to join any of the local sanghas nor follow any of the traditions. Been meditating for several years (a day without sitting feels like I’m missing something) but mostly for therapy rather than spirituality - any particular practice you feel might be especially beneficial?

The part about “protecting” probably comes from some exposure I’ve had to IFS therapy, and a general feeling that most of what ails me are in fact (semi)maladaptive defense mechanisms. As in - I developed clinical symptoms of avoidant personality disorder and a lot of emotional over-control (but far from OCD) to protect myself from low impulse control (borderline pd - I’m actually diagnosed with both). My working theory is that my inability to LD is a form of avoidance - and I need to pivot around it by recognizing dreams as a safe space to experience the full range of my emotions.

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Nightmares can make us feel very unsafe but working with “shadows” can be really beneficial. Not sure dreaming is a such a “safe space.” Have you read any of Charlie Morley’s books or listened to his interview with Andrew. He works a lot with people with PTSD and other blockages and has several prescriptive activities for daytime cultivation of nightime lucidity. Dreaming Through the Darkness is one I highly recommend.

I can’t recall a lucid dream I’ve had in this century without taking Galantamine first, but that’s something I’ve accepted as a necessary step. Other folks on the site have had/are having excellent success with a variety of other techniques from breathing to guided meditations.


I’ve only started reading specifically on LD several months ago. I was doing experimenting with Yoga Nidra and came across Andy H’s Workbook and then other books. Then did some pick-and-choose comparative reading from:

A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming - Dylan Tuccillo
Dreaming Yourself Awake - B. Alan Wallace
Lucid Dreaming Made Easy - James P. Lowry
LLewelyn Complete Guide to Lucid Dreaming - Clare R. Johnson
Lucid Dreaming Plain and Simple - Robert Waggoner
Tibetan Dream Yoga - Lama Surya Das
The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep - Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

(that’s mostly a random collection based on what’s available as audiobooks and ebooks+ I’ll be happy to get more or hear opinions on these).

For some reason I was confusing Morley with Raymond Moody and gave him a hard pass with no apparent reason - I keep doing the same with Eckhart Tolle)

Do you mean “shadows” in the old Jungian way? Part of what I do as therapy is RO-DBT’s urge surfing and schema therapy - and that’s working for sure.

As for dreams being “safe” I do mean physically safe. People with my diagnosis are more likely to be suicidal, self-harm, and engage in high-risk activities, my avoidance keeps it mostly in check when I’m awake. What I’m saying is it doesn’t have to protect me when I dream.

I used to have frequent and bad nightmares up to my early teens and first experiments with LD (all based on a single article I read - as far as I remember - mostly Castaneda and hand technique). My parents tell me I was often screaming and sometimes talking in the night, I remember pretty usual horror-movie-like ends-in-violent-death stuff, with a recurring theme of feeling helpless. My attempts to follow the instructions from the article were half-hearted at best and never resulted in lucidity, but the nightmares stopped around that time. Fast forward 20 years and my wife tells me I sometimes mutter something and quietly moan in my sleep but the closest to a nightmare i remember are dreams of worrying about other people (but it’s a kind of wish-them-well rather than panic); and all the stuff that would give me nightmares now makes me feel depersonalised and often resolves itself - one example would be a dream where I’m helpless to do anything about a leaking submarine I’m trapped in. Instead of feeling anything bad I just detach (to an extent never happening when I’m awake), and then as soon as there’s no way to breathe air I start breathing water (and accept it as an interesting supernatural phenomenon that should be explored rather than questioned). So there’s that :slight_smile:

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Tenzin Wangyal might say that in dreams such as this one you are allowing karmic traces to self liberate.

Yes, specifically working to embrace and reintegrate the shadow. I’ve had a little experience doing that and it has helped. Claire Johnson has a new book The Art of Transforming Nightmares: Harness the Creative and Healing Power of Bad Dreams, Sleep Paralysis, and Recurring Nightmares that might be of interest.

care to explain? esp what exactly constitutes a liberation of a karmic trace in this case (I’m roughly aware of the concept - just don’t see how it applies here)

Tenzin speaks of dreams of clarity coming from those karmic seeds. When you are able to observe those dreams from a perspective of non-dual awareness…neither grasping at them nor averting from them…they will self liberate. In this way we can lighten our karmic load as we expand our dreaming skills.

Your description of how you were in that dream feels like a very non-dual reaction to a challenging situation that quite likely originated, perhaps indirectly, from a past experience that left a karmic seed behind.

In my experience, a dream such as the one you described will often leave you with a feeling of peace and ease upon waking if you have, indeed, been able to facilitate the release of some of that embedded karmic baggage. It can be a subtle thing but you’ll know it when it happens. These dreams, at least for me, often remain with you much stronger in the morning as well.

Also, again in my experience, the more time you spend in these kinds of dreams, that is, dreams where you observe without reacting from a place of stillness and conscious awareness, the stronger your lucidity gets in general.


Thanks, I guess I was seeing this more like a dream version of derealization which is one clinical symptom I’m lucky not to exhibit as much as mental health statistics would suggest, I’m still having a hard time pinpointing the seed for it (I’m relatively trauma-free) but I’m more of an adapt-to-environment kind of guy rather than force-changes, so maybe that’s what it is about. I just wish I were lucid while observing

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You may have been more lucid than you realized at the time judging from how you handled the situation. I would suggest that there are degrees of lucidity as it blossoms in the dream.

Perhaps that is not something to worry over. Consider just accepting it as such if that’s how it feels.

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I’m nowhere near beating myself up about it. More like gently but meticulously curious.

On the other hand I get that there’s going to be a fair deal of variety in clarity/intensity with lucidity and that it’s not exactly binary. I’d imagine that as an ocean with a lot of depth under the surface (non-lucid) and even more space above the surface (lucid) with waves sometimes letting you catch a breath or two and then going over year head again.

Still, am I right in expecting that the surface is actually there and quite unmistakable once crossed (even for a moment)?

My experience has been that lucidity is more like watching the sun rise over the ocean. It gets brighter and brighter and as the feeling grows you see more and more…but there is a moment when that first ray of actual light hits you that is unmistakable.

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