The Practice of Illusory Form

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Illusory form is not commonly presented in most teachings on lucid dreaming, but I have found it to be of enormous benefit in inducing lucid dreams. It’s more connected to dream yoga, but the principles surely apply to lucid dreaming.

Daytime Illusory Form Practice Strongly Effects Lucidity at Night

In some classic texts on dream yoga, the practice of Illusory Form is actually the main practice. Dream yoga is a subset of Illusory Form. On one level, Illusory Form is the perfect preliminary practice. It prepares the mind for nighttime lucidity. On another level, they are reciprocating practices, which means they support each other: the more you practice Illusory Form during the day, the more you tend to have lucid dreams at night, and the more you practice lucid dreaming at night the easier it is to click into illusory form during the day.

Dream yoga and Illusory Form also work with what scientists call “bi-directionality,” (see the first post in Daily Practices for more on bi-directionality) meaning you open a two-way process that benefits both waking and dreaming consciousness. We’re already working with bi-directionality between the daytime mind and the nighttime mind, whether we know it or not. With dream yoga and Illusory Form we’re simply taking a process and harnessing it for increasing lucidity, or awareness.

What is Illusory Form Practice?

The practice of Illusory Form could not be easier. Throughout the day, as often as you can, remind yourself that everything you’re experiencing now is just a dream, or illusory. You can help yourself out by posting sticky notes on your computer, in drawers, or in your glove compartment that say things like “You’re dreaming,” or “This is a dream.”

By reciting this as often as you can, you’re planting seeds that will sprout while you’re dreaming. Then you will flash onto the fact that “Hey, this really is a dream!” and instantly become lucid.

It’s the pop-up theme again. You want to create a bunch of pop-ups during the day that will ping into your dream and alert you to the fact that you’re dreaming.

Why Else Is Illusory Form So Helpful?

lllusory Form practice eventually lightens the load of daily life. We suffer so much in life is because we take things too solidly, and therefore seriously. The word for this is “reification,” which means making things real, and results in taking things to be solid, heavy, and burdensome. One implication of the word “enlightenment” is that it makes things lighter and therefore more carefree (not careless).

The word for this is “de-reification,” or softening our excessively materialistic and solidified view of things. In other words, seeing things as more dreamlike.

Thing Still Appear

When you say something like, “This is a dream,” you see things as less solid. What appears is still appearing, it’s still there, but it’s not so heavy anymore. What you don’t want to do with this practice is slip into the extreme of nihilism or dissociation, which denies and dismisses the existence of things. In the practice of Illusory Form, we honor what appears, but see the appearances as dreamlike.

  • Try reciting the phrase, “This is a dream,” slowly for a few minutes, like a mantra, and see what happens.
  • Does your perception of things change?
  • Do things get softer, more open, even lighter?
  • Don’t say it with a dismissive or belittling attitude, say it with a more playful attitude.

This practice can offer a greater sense of space, a healthy sense of separation and perspective. It can help you take things less personally, which causes so much unnecessary anxiety and suffering. Illusory Form can soften your relationship to “hard” experiences during the day.

How Does Illusory Form Help With Lucid Dreaming?

You’re creating a habit with Illusory Form practice during the day that will carry over into the night. One of the biggest reasons we don’t wake up to the fact that we’re dreaming when we’re dreaming is that we take what happens in the dream to be so real. It’s a fundamental mis-take. By reciting throughout the day, “This is a dream,” you will find yourself doing the same thing when you are dreaming, and that will flip your dream into a lucid one.

Other Twists on Illusory Form

Try looking at the experience of today from the perspective of tomorrow. What you’re experiencing now seems so real to you, but so did your experience from yesterday. When you look at what happened yesterday, or anytime in the past, it can seem like a distant dream. So if we look at our present experience from a future stance, we can de-reify the present.

Look at things as if you were looking at them from the back of your eye. Imagine stepping back from your visual experience, which is similar in spirit to stepping back from a non-lucid dream and seeing it as lucid. By pulling away from your experience a little you can de-reify it.

Another exercise is to do a form of mirror practice. Look at yourself in the mirror, or hold some object in front of the mirror. Look at the reflection and notice how real it seems. Then flash onto the fact that it’s merely a reflection, a mere appearance with no substance whatsoever. Then look away from the mirror at any real object, and flash onto the fact that in essence it’s just as real or substantive as a reflection.

Make Your Waking State More Dreamlike

Take the characteristics of your dreams and transpose them into waking reality. Most dreams are highly visual. So to mimic this in daily life, periodically walk around wearing earplugs, which heightens the visual aspects of experience. Experience often becomes dreamlike very quickly.

Or hold the blinking of your eyes for longer than usual. Instead of the usual hundredths of a second, hold the blink for a second or more. This breaks up your visual field, and makes it more dreamlike.

These may seem like trivial or patronizing practices, but if you put your heart into them they will help you see the illusory nature of things. These practices can have deep and lasting effects. They can soften the impact of daily experience, while simultaneously triggering lucidity in your dreams.

Lucid Dreaming is Not a One-Size-Fits-All Affair

The point isn’t to master all the practices or techniques that induce lucidity, but to find the ones that resonates with you, and stick with that. In the world of lucid dreaming you become your own instructor. No one knows your mind, and your style of dreaming, better than you. If the practice of Illusory Form speaks to you, use it. If it doesn’t, pitch it.


As I go around the house and posting “You/I am dreaming”, and “This is a dream”, and “You are a dream”, I started crying like a child. I allow this to take place, patiently and with acceptance. I realize it is “my” fear of waking up and disappointment of all the “investment” suddenly go bankcrupt.

I thought “I” was brave.


I’d like to walk through this before sleep. Thought this Gif would be good here.


Curious about this – my impression is that in some texts, ‘illusory form’ refers to something like the astral body / energy body / diety body. Any truth to this?


Thanks for the question. I will answer it on the webinar today, which will also be recorded.




As someone with a deeper background in Hinduism than Buddhism, when I approach to the Illusory Form practice of reflecting, “This is a dream,” the concept of Lila (the Universe as Divine Play) comes to mind for me. In particular, I think of Linda Johnsen’s interpretation of Lila, in which we are all characters in the dream of the Goddess (Lalita, presumably). So, in Hinduism, within a certain understanding, if This is a dream, then the dreamer is the Divine, and the Universe is the dream.

In Tibetan Buddhism, who is doing the dreaming? Where does the dream take place? (In a mind? Is the dream the Universe itself? Etc.)


Just ran across this article. From a quantum perspective 99.99999% of all matter, including our bodies, is really empty space. I like it when quantum physics enters the realm of illusory form.


This is precisely what I riff on in detail in my forthcoming book, so yes, QM does support illusory form.


Hello Andrew and fellow dreamers.
I have been truly enjoying your lucid dreaming course, the webinars and the interviews. Especially the one with Courtney and Laurie, as I am way into VR, gaming, tech and in the film business. I do have a question about Ilusory Form. In many ways it feels counter-intuitive. For many months since I started the practice back in March (beginning of Quarantine) I had been doing regular reality checks, thinking questioning “is this a dream” made sense. Hey my finger won’t go through the palm of my hand so I am obviously not dreaming. Then when I had my first ( and maybe only, so far) lucid dream after only 3 weeks of reality checks (and after re-watching “The Matrix”) and my finger DID go through my palm, I thought “OMG! It works , I am in a dream, I am LUCID”. I then, of course , got so excited, I woke right up.
Now, if I understand it correctly, I am constantly saying “I am dreaming, this is a dream” all day.
Today, while riding my mountain bike, my consciousness kept being hijacked with emotions over a nasty fight I got in with my brother about politics and Covid. I would “catch myself “ and say outloud “hey, this is my dream, this a beautiful mountain biking dream, get away bad thoughts” And it worked for a while and I did it again.
(SORRY this is so long). But then if I am thinking I am dreaming all day (conceptually), how do I recognize that I am dreaming in my REM sleep and “go lucid” since I am not Ever questioning whether or not I am dreaming?


Big PS to my post…the first night after I had practiced Illusory form all day, I recalled many more dreams than I ever had…I just never questioned them and went lucid. Thanks for taking the time and for all your teachings and guidance . Bless you.

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Wrote those posts late last night and just re-read and saw confusing wording on my part… when I wrote “ never questioned them and went lucid”…I meant that I never became lucid as I was not questioning if I was in a dream. Hope that clears it up. Thanks again.

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Hello, Flyingkeys! I think there’s a subtlety to illusory form, in that the point is not simply to repeat a phrase, but to really feel the truth of the dream-like substance of waking experience.

In “The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep,” author Tenzin Rinpoche writes:

In doing these practices, it is not enough to simply repeat again and again
that you are in a dream. The truth of the statement must be felt and experienced
beyond the words. Use the imagination, senses, and awareness in fully
integrating the practice with felt experience. When you do the practice properly,
each time you think that you are in a dream, presence becomes stronger and
experience more vivid. If there is not this kind of immediate qualitative change,
make certain that the practice has not become only the mechanical repetition of
a phrase, which is of little benefit. There is no magic in just thinking a formula;
the words should be used to remind yourself to bring greater awareness and
calm to the moment. When practicing the recognition, “wake” yourself – by
increasing clarity and presence – again and again. until just remembering the
thought, “This is a dream,” brings a simultaneous strengthening and brightening
of awareness

In my own practice of illusory form I’ve dealt with the cognitive dissonance that I know that I’m not in the dream state when I perform it during waking hours. Here’s how I resolve this: The phrase “this is all a dream” is not meant to delude yourself as to your current state – the dream state and the waking state are two distinct states of consciousness. But instead, it is intended for the practitioner to realize the dream-like nature of all experience.

There is more instruction in the above text about how to approach illusory form, check in the Practice section. It’s under the heading “ONE: Changing the Karmic Traces” in the sub-section “3. The Four Foundational Practices.” If it helps you, I recommend changing up the phrasing a bit to be “this is all like a dream!” “Dreams are exactly like this!” and so on.

Hope this helps!


It is constantly amazing to me the range of levels of magnitude that exist in our physical universe. There is the universe itself, galaxies, solar systems, planets, land masses, people, and so on down to subatomic particles, and who knows where it all ends, if in fact it ever does, on either side of the spectrum.

Here’s how I think about it: the fact that most of the universe is empty space does not contradict the notion that there is such a collective thing as a “universe.” Just like this, the fact that most of our bodies is made up of empty space does not contradict the fact that there is such a thing as a whole physical body that has certain properties and behaviors. Despite the majority of the emptiness, there is still function and cohesion in the whole.

And despite the dream-like qualities of waking experience, in the dimension in which we reside, there are rules. Tenzin Rinpoche recognizes this in “The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep”:

There is one warning regarding this practice: it is important to take care of
responsibilities and to respect the logic and limitations of conventional life.
When you tell yourself that your waking life is a dream, this is true, but if you
leap from a building you will still fall, not fly.
If you do not go to work, bills will go unpaid. Plunge your hand in a fire and
you will be burned. It is important to remain grounded in the realities of the
relative world, because as long as there is a “you” and “me,” there is a relative
world in which we live, other sentient beings who are suffering, and
consequences from the decisions we make.


Dream Hacker,
Thank you so much for your reply. Sorry, I hadn’t checked into the site for a few days.
I heard Andrew’s response in the Webinar and I think I was getting lucid dreaming and dream yoga mixed up. Your explanation really helps, as I think since I’ve been now doing reality checks everyday for almost 7 months, with very little success, I am most likely doing it too much by wrote, without committing to it enough. My dream recall is still pretty good, but whereas at the beginning of my practice, I was often having bizarre dreams that led me to question “wait, is this a dream?” But I only went lucid one time.
Now I seem to remember many dreams but just accept them as reality and never have the opportunity to do a reality check since they are not even that “bizarre” and are accepted as real.
Discouragement is creeping in, but I’m not giving up.
Thanks again,