A lucid dream is a dream in which you realize you are dreaming. Once you realize this then the dream loses its 'reality' and its hold over you and you become the boss, very much like in the film the Matrix. If you become proficient at lucid dreaming you can basically do whatever you like. Like some amazing divine being on steroids ! What you do of course is up to you, but lucid dreams definitely reveal where your attachments lie.
I first became aware that it was possible to control your dreams when I did just that when I was around 18 years old. It was a time in my life when I used to sleep a lot and as you sleep on, your sleep becomes shallower so that you are in a sort of limbo between sleeping and being awake. It is then that you can realize that 'hey this is a dream!' 'cool I can fly off to Acapulco and check out the girls !'
I didn't know that this phenomenon had been studied before but it appears it was first studied by psychiatrist, Frederik van Eeden in 1913 in his article "A Study of Dreams." It has since been sudied by Celia Green and Stephen Laberge amongst others.
Studies have shown that lucid dreams can start in one of two ways - DILDs and WILDs.
In a DILD (dream-initiated lucid dream) your dream starts as a normal dream but at some point you realize that you are dreaming - this is what happens to me. This is sometimes triggered by impossible events, like your dead mother or your dead dog talking to you "Hey" I said once to my dog, "what are you doing here ? You're dead !" "Well I don't feel dead" said the dog wagging its tail and smiling sheepishly. My dead mother was a bit less good natured in her sarcastic remarks.
In a WILD (wake-initiated lucid dream), you go from normal waking straight into a dream state with no lapse in consciousness. This has never led to any lucid dreams for me.
Scientists say that during REM sleep, the logical part of the brain can start to reassert itself and return to waking levels. This is what allows you to become lucid and control the dream. This is my experience too.
One problem can be that if you try telling people in the dream that it is a dream they just laugh ! Or sometimes they can even become aggressive. This means of course that you are not lucid enough and are hovering between lucidity and normal dreaming. You need to reassert your authority ! Another problem is that as you become more lucid you just wake up. It is a fine balance that needs to be maintained.
Sometimes you may think that you are dreaming but are not totally sure. In this case I recommend trying out something that you know is impossible in your normal waking state, such as flying or moving objects without touching them. This can be dangerous of course because if you are actually awake and not dreaming launching yourself off a tall building to fly away can have rather unpleasant consequences !
I took this as a real danger and so determined to only ever start flying from ground level, i.e. just try and fly way or float away from a standing start on the ground. If it doesn't work then you are actually awake, but only you know that you have been trying to make a fool of yourself.
The same applies to socially unacceptable or illegal behavior ! Don't just grab hold of people, you might find yourself getting arrested ! Just direct people to where you want them to go, without actually talking to them ! If nothing happens then you are awake !
There is another strange aspect of lucid dreaming. Where does the background scenery come from ? You can often control what you can do and even what 'others' can do, but the scenery tends to just be 'there' without your apparent intervention. Recently however I have found that you can 'stop' the dream, just get everything to stop it looks like trick photography or like that Japanese guy in Heroes.
At some point however in your experiments with lucid dreams and controlling people in them or flying about here and there willy-nilly, you realize that all the so-called 'people' are actually you, so why would you want to interact with them at all, as you would merely be talking to yourself. At this stage, experienced lucid dreamers tend to just let things 'do their own thing' and just watch what is happening without trying to control it, in a sort of fascinated witnessing of how their subconscious mind is working. The problem here too is that you tend to wake up.
According to scientists there are many benefits from lucid dreaming, including
a greater awareness of reality, decreased fear of death, improved self respect, self-responsibility, and inner dependence, a profound sense of knowing based upon direct experience, increased intelligence and memory recall, enhanced imagination. I have to admit however that I have not witnessed any of these effects in myself as a direct result of lucid dreaming. Maybe I'm just particularly stupid, maybe I didn't need any of these 'improvements' as I was already perfect, maybe peope just talk a lot of hogwash because they like the sound of their own concepts ? Who knows ?
My own personal belief is that life is all a dream anyway and it is important to wake up from it, so lucid dreaming does in some way mirror the dream of life itself. (If you really do want to wake up from the dream of life then I recommend you check out The Heart Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, or anything about Ramana Maharshi).
Techniques have been devised to help people become lucid during their dreams, if you fancy having a go yourself then take note.
How to become aware that you are dreaming
First set the intention to remember that you are dreaming, or look for dream signs.
Go to sleep tired then wake up five hours later. Then, focus all your thoughts on lucid dreaming, remain awake for an hour and go back to sleep while forming the intention of remembering you are dreaming. This gets a 60% success rate apparently.
Wake-initiation of lucid dreams (WILD) - recognize the hypnologic stage, the border between being awake and being asleep. If you are conscious when this stage arises, you will enter the dream state whilst at the same time being fully aware it is a dream.
Keeping a dream journal is also said to help, although I have never bothered, but then I'm probably not a very good example to follow.
Taking a nap a few hours after waking is the best time to have a lucid dream.
Form a habit of "reality checks" and recognizing dream signs.
When remembering a dream after you wake up, try not to move. Activating muscle neurons may make it more difficult to get access to the areas in your brain used to recall dreams.
Don't drink anything for at least one hour before you go to sleep. The chances are you will have to get up to pee, which is very annoying.
Try meditation and visualization while you are awake to pre-determine what you want to achieve in a lucid dream.
Another interesting point, nobody I have ever met in a lucid dream has agreed with me when I said I was dreaming ! The usual answer is 'yeah right, you're nuts', or 'if this is a dream how come I can punch you in the face?'. So really you are disagreeing with yourself and punching yourself in the face, which might lead you to believe that you are indeed nuts ! But remember, if you can fly away (starting from ground level of course) then it really is a dream ! Try it !