There are few experiences as awesome as entering a lucid state of dreaming. It’s one of the few ways we can consciously interact with the universe beyond the typical human perspective. Once lucidity is realized the experiences can vary widely. Sometimes we’re stuck as third-party observers, incapable of taking any real control but able to observe and contemplate entire scenes (often featuring ourselves) as they unfold before us. At another extreme we may have a first-person view similar to waking consciousness and the ability to create and destroy entire worlds at will.
With endless possibilities comes the potential for endless creativity. Given their tendency to clash with our waking observations, dreams are a wellspring of original experiences. Where else can you watch yourself converse with planets or listen to music made of clouds? When you add conscious awareness to this equation we have the potential to perceive and/or interact with “impossible” worlds that may stretch beyond the definitions of typical human senses. We’ll discuss five ways that we can take advantage of this opportunity to help us enhance our creative skill sets. These qualities are not present in every lucid dreaming scenario, though they can sometimes be induced by experienced (or lucky) practitioners.
1. Synesthesia-Like Sensations
A small portion of the general population experiences the phenomenon known as synesthesia in waking life, though it’s symptoms are more commonly reported in dreams (Linton, 2015). Synesthesia refers to “mixed” sensations. It can be a simple mixing of signals by the same sense (ex: touching the leg produces feeling in the arm) or a complex crossover between multiple senses (ex: hearing a siren results in everything appearing a shade of red). A big difference between actual synesthesia and the sensations experienced in dreams is that the symptoms are persistent in the waking condition while they can be wildly variable in dreams.
So, what do synesthesia-like experiences have to do with creativity? Imagine you’re a painter who desperately wants to produce a piece of visual art based on the feelings created by listening to a certain piece of music. Any creative block in this process could be eradicated if hearing the music literally produced visual perceptions for the painter. In a lucid dream this may be possible to induce. The reverse could also be achieved, where auditory sensations are generated by apparently visual stimuli. This is just a small sample of the possibilities.
2. Perspective Shifting
In waking life we maintain a first-person perspective. Simply put, this means we experience the world through our own senses from an unchanging “location” inside our bodies. Dreams often have the same quality, though we may also find ourselves cast in the third-person perspective. In contrast to the restrictive nature of the first-person, third-person observations are detached from our perceived bodies (if one is present in the dream at all). The experiences can vary based on apparent control over and/or connection to a physical body within the dream. It could be comparable to watching a movie or playing a video game depending on the circumstances.
Lucid dreaming affords us the opportunity to intentionally inspect every aspect of our “environment” from whatever potentially unique vantage point is granted. We may be able to observe (or even cause) shifts between perspectives (first-person to third-person and vice versa), multiple perspectives at once (split-screens, overlays, etc.) or any number of unique viewpoints yet to described or perhaps even experienced. With each perspective comes the potential for countless new observations, providing a wealth of creative inspiration.
One of the most common and yet most baffling characteristics of dreaming is the altered experience of time. We can often feel like we spent more time dreaming than we were actually asleep. The difference can seem staggering at times. Dreams can seem to last for hours, days or even longer. A purely theoretical explanation for this phenomenon is that our experience of time may actually be “faster” during dreams, allowing us to cram in more observations than would be possible while awake. Lucidity gives us the opportunity to investigate the uniqueness of this experience and perhaps even control it for creative purposes.
It doesn’t get much more creative than literally making something from “thin air”. In the physical world we need matter to create things, but it’s not uncommon for entire worlds to blink into existence within a dream. On the flip side, dreams may also feature levels of destruction that are unfathomable (or at the very least impractical) in the “real” world. Now imagine that you can cause these things on a whim, like Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet. Lucid dreaming puts it within the realm of possibility.
5. In-Dream Art
Artists are creative beings that often find themselves bound to a specific medium of expression (painting, sculpting, composing music, etc.). This counterintuitive outcome is hard to avoid as most artists strive to achieve their own idea of perfection, requiring dedication to the point that they only have time to focus on a single artistic platform. Many artists will tell you that, while they love their craft, working in the same medium for too long can eventually become creatively frustrating.
When you put any situation in the context of a dream it tends to lose its predictability rather quickly. This is even true for lucid dreams. While we may have some level of control when lucid dreaming it’s practically impossible to maintain total oversight for a lasting period, simply due to the volatility of dream environments. For these and other reasons it can be creatively empowering to make art while lucid dreaming. Even familiar tools and tasks can yield wild results.
Dreams in general are a historically common source of creative inspiration. Unfortunately, a large portion of the population may be missing out on this opportunity because they don’t know how to make the most of it. Don’t get me wrong, taking inspiration from regular dreams is great, but it’s often limited to the faded memory of a passive experience. Learning a lucid dreaming technique can help us access a significantly larger cache of weirdly wonderful observations and interactions.
Linton, M. (2015). Altered states of consciousness and creative expression. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 34(1), 14.
Steven Pace is a professional psychology writer specializing in mental health and all things “the mind”.