Once we can remember our dreams by day, the next step in working with dreams is being able to tell you’re in them while you’re asleep and dreaming. Most of us go through dreams thinking they’re real, or maybe not thinking anything at all, just experiencing. Often we have a sensation of disorientation when waking when we suddenly realize that what we were just doing, feeling, or thinking isn’t real, the situation is actually nothing like that, and the wonderful or terrible thing that was just happening fades into oblivion. Profound relief or disappointment can follow, or just a sense of puzzlement.
Remembering your dreams, and especially the part where you consciously experience the state between dreaming and waking, starts to blur the lines between the two states and allows for more exercise of consciousness while dreaming. You don’t have to do anything special to make this happen, it just does. On the other hand, if you’re in a hurry to get better at it, there may be some things you can do to improve this skill.
Start with a recurring dream, as these are ones you are most likely to be able to recognize while you’re in them. Whether good or bad, these can be used for practice. If used with a nightmare, it may help you eventually “cure” them, or learn to deal with them effectively. If used with a nicer dream, you may eventually be able to direct your experience in that dream and enjoy it more fully.
Pick out a detail or two to focus on that is always or almost always a part of the dream. It helps if it’s a nonsensical detail, something that couldn’t happen in daily life. Before you go to bed each night, preferably when you are relaxed and approaching dreamstate, tell yourself that if you see that detail in a dream, you will know you are in a dream and that what you are experiencing isn’t real. Make that detail a trigger and imagine your consciousness coming on line as soon as you see that part of your dream. Actually see yourself in the dream realizing that it is a dream and having full awareness of that fact.
While it may not work the very first time, keep reinforcing this idea each night before you go to bed. When you wake up and are working on remembering your dreams, note details of them that could have triggered a realization that this is a dream and not real (something that couldn’t be true or wouldn’t be happening in “real” life).
Eventually, you will have your first realization that you are in a dream. It may be a bit frustrating at first, because initially it can be hard to do anything with this except observe the dream with a different state of consciousness. Making the dream do anything different can be difficult at first, particularly if it is a dream with well-ingrained pathways in your mind. Trust that eventually it can be done, and at least enjoy the realization that you’ve succeeded in this step. Don’t forget to write down this aspect of your dream when you wake up!