Are you dreaming right now? No? Are you sure? You might want to do a reality check. An “RC” is a simple test to check whether you’re dreaming or not. It is a very effective method to induce lucidity. Yet, I feel like its value is overestimated and here is why…
The Critical Question
“Am I dreaming or not?” That is the so-called “critical question” that most people will probably never even consider in their lives. Not seriously. If you never ask yourself this question during the day, there’s no reason why you’d be bothered with it at night. Hence, most people will only experience ordinary, non-lucid dreams.
According to Stephen LaBerge’s “Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming”, part of the mind is dedicated to critical reflective thinking. This part is called the “critical faculty” and is regarded as asleep in non-lucid dreams. So the idea is to keep this critical faculty activated before going to bed. This is done by asking the critical question as frequently as possible.
Test Your Reality
Just thinking about the critical question is rarely enough to trigger lucidity. That’s why many books, tutorials and Internet articles on lucid dreaming recommend doing a “reality check” (RC). Here’s a short list of things you can do:
- Try breathing while keeping your mouth and your nose pinched closed.
- Turn a light switch off and on. Does it work?
- Check a mirror.
- Do you float when you jump?
- Read text or check your watch, look away and look back to check if it stayed consistent.
- How did you get here? Can you recall what you’ve done in the past few hours?
Beginning lucid dreamers are often advised to perform their favorite RC as frequently as possible, especially during situations that are slightly out of the ordinary. You could pick out specific situations in advance to learn remembering to do an RC. For example, every time you see a yellow car, every time you do the dishes, etc… This technique works, but when I read discussions about RCs, it seems like it’s not always clear WHY it works…
What Exactly Are You Checking?
How many times did you trigger a lucid dream by doing an RC? And in those dreams, didn’t you remember or realize something first and then did an RC to validate this feeling?
Doing an RC mindlessly, as a habit you don’t even think about anymore, is a waste of time and effort. Checking WHAT is “wrong” with your reality is not what triggers lucidity. It is the prior realization that there is something wrong – the splinter in the mind – that triggers it. This is the onset of the lucidity itself. An RC is only used to verify and “consolidate” this realization.
This might seem obvious or not, but it’s important to know the RC itself isn’t responsible for triggering lucidity and in fact, it’s not necessary at all. So why even bother doing reality checks…?
If you’ve ever experienced a lucid dream before, you know it’s a fantastic experience. Being lucid in a dream means you know you’re dreaming and you know you have a body lying in a bed somewhere. You know it’s all a temporary creation of the mind, yet everything looks, sounds, smells, tastes and feels very real. As you develop your skills as a dreamer, you might start to realize that it’s all about the experience of lucidity. Eventually, you become so familiar with the feeling, that you don’t need any technique to induce it. Instead, you can just… become aware.
Performing reality checks is a good method to train this awareness and to set the intention to have lucid dreams. You can choose to rely on this technique for as long as you want, but if you really want to master lucidity, RCs will no longer serve you after a while. The “problem” with the idea of an RC is that it carries the assumption of a dualistic awareness: a separation between the dream world and the waking world. After a certain point in your evolution, you might notice this belief will only hold back further progress.
Essentially, there is no difference between dreaming and waking life perception, except that the latter is constrained by sensory input. Traditionally, we are never taught this idea in Western society. Whenever a child has a bad dream, the mother comforts it by saying “don’t worry, it’s only a dream”. We are raised with the belief that waking life is what’s real and important. Dreams are forgotten. “The dreamer has been banished to obscurity.” So when someone starts learning how to lucid dream, generally there is a strong belief that what’s being dreamed is fake and unreal, while our waking life must be real. A dualistic perspective.
This model works and does not keep you from becoming a very successful lucid dreamer. However, it is what it is: a limited perspective rooted in beliefs, fears and attachment. In order to master lucidity, a non-dual awareness needs to be cultivated. This is exactly what is taught in Tibetan dream yoga…
“If you concentrate a great deal during the day, imagining that you are living a dream, then during the night the dream itself will also seem less real. The subject, that which experiences the dream, is the mind. By holding the thought that all is a dream, you begin to dissolve this “subject”. That is, the mind begins to dissolve itself, automatically.”
From “Dream Yoga and the Practice of Natural Light” by Namkhai Norbu
Tibetan dream yoga offers us valuable insights about the nature of reality and the dream world. Combined with our Western minds and science, I think this knowledge can bring us even further than our wildest dreams, but that’s for another blog article. :-)
Be Lucid At All Times
In conclusion, performing frequent “reality checks” is an excellent technique to increase your awareness and to set your intent. However, it’s just another means to an end; a tool just like journaling, WBTB “rituals”, experimentation with supplements, etc… The primary way to become lucid in your dreams is to BE LUCID all the time. Always be aware of what you’re thinking, feeling, doing, seeing, hearing … and don’t cling to what’s going on. It’s only a dream. ;-)