Even humdrum dreams offer many lucidity triggers: prompts to wake up to the fact that we are dreaming. We are naked in public or engage in other anomalous behavior. The scene shifts inexplicably from one location to another, as if we have teleported. There is odd repetition; the same scene plays out several times, like the black cat walking across the room in the movie The Matrix. People we know are notably older or younger than in regular life.
When a lucidity trigger awakens us to the fact that we are dreaming, we are sometimes so startled that we are jolted out of the whole experience, back into the dormant body on the bed. When we can stay in the dream, conscious that we are not in ordinary reality, we may be on our way to grand adventures, to romance or healing, to solving a mystery or vanquishing a fear.
To recognize that you are dreaming is not the same as telling yourself This isn't real. Dreams are real experiences. The realities in which they unfold may be as real, less real, or more real than the physical world. In a certain kind of dream experience, the reason you may not pause to say to yourself I'm dreaming is that you are conscious, in an even deeper sense, that you are in another reality, for example a world where the dead are alive, where you will join them on a full-time basis when you leave your own body behind at physical death.
You can fail to notice you are dreaming during sleep and then wake up to the dreamlike character of everyday life. I missed several lucidity triggers in a dream overnight, and then found elements from my dream spilling into the street, quite literally, as I took my dog on the first walk of the day.
In my dream:
I'm at a retreat center in California, wearing a wild tropical shirt I think looks great on me. Next I am giving directions to a group of my students on how to take a train from a London station - I specify Victoria or Euston - on certain assignments. There's an air of adventure, as if I am asking them to play detectives.
As soon as I name the stations, I am transported to a train station. I go back and forth between a pleasant waiting room and a platform. I notice a shower head near the door, outside the waiting room, and decide to take a quick shower. The flow isn't strong, and I catch water in my cupped hands and sprinkle it over myself. I find this quite enjoyable.
I'm still naked when I hear a station announcement that the train is coming. I look along the platform and see a bus. Can this be right? Behind it, a train or tram is coming.
A attractive lady in a dark blue uniform - a station official - smiles at me. I tell her I probably shouldn't get on the train naked. Will she hold it for me until I get dressed?
There's a small problem. I can't find my clothes. Eventually I discover a crisp white short-sleeved shirt on a hook and a pair of boxers. This wasn't the shirt I was wearing earlier (one with a wild tropical design) but it will serve.
I'm barefoot and pantless and missing not only my carry-on bag but my wallet and ID. Who can I call? I think of a dear friend but I am not sure he can help.
I felt some concern towards the end of the dream, but relaxed - and fairly soon amused - on waking.
I did a radio interview yesterday on lucid dreaming in which I talked about lucidity triggers. My little dream report contains several classic examples of lucidity triggers that I missed.
* Instant change of scene. I am whisked from California to London, quick as thought.
* Naked in public. One of the most common dream themes, and a lucidity prompt for that reason alone.
* Anomalous behavior. I take a shower in an unlikely place, fully exposed to public view. The lady station official acts in a very non-official way.
* Repetition and recurring dream situations. Trains and train stations often feature in my dreams and I was talking about their symbology in a recent class. Naked in public, losing ID or valuables, and quick change scenes are also recurring situations here, as in many people's dreams.
* The dead are alive. I don't call my friend but it does not occur to me that, in ordinary reality, he died several years ago.
Maybe you'll want to make a list of your own lucidity triggers, including any of the ones I missed that are relevant to you.
The entertainment value of this little episode was enhanced by what happened when I walked the dream, along with the dog, before coffee in the morning. A couple of blocks from my house, a woman was packing her car. She called to her boyfriend, at the door of an apartment, "Hey, is my wallet in there?" He responded, "I don't know."
There was the theme of misplaced or lost ID, spilling from the dream into the street.
It got better (or worse) when we returned to my house. On the sidewalk, I noticed a discarded pair of men's briefs. Not the kind of underwear I had in the dream (or would choose in regular life) but there was the theme of naked in public, dropped right where I live.
Art: Giorgio de Chirico