Journey to Lucidity: Liam McClain at TEDxYouth@ISH (Transcript)

Liam McClain


When I learned that we’re asleep for one third of our lives, I was terrified. It honestly scared me and still does to think that if I were to live for, say, 75 years, 25 of those years will be spent in a state of unconscious suspension.

I mean, it feels like I lose those 25 years, and the thought, literally, kept me up at night. So, in the process of trying to reclaim those 25 years, I stumbled on one of the coolest practices I’ve ever known in my 18 years of life. That’s taking control of your dreams. Now, that is the essence of lucid dreaming; some of you might already be familiar with it. It’s when the dreamer in a dream becomes aware of the fact that they are dreaming, because, of course, dreams feel real while we’re in them.

It’s the reason we wake up gasping, “Oh, my god, did I really just run over my dog?” or “Did I really just fall off that cliff?” I actually admittedly fall off cliffs quite often in my dreams, funnily enough. Anyway, when the dreamer realizes that they’re dreaming, they’re said to achieve lucidity and become lucid in their dream. From that point onwards, they gain complete control over the dream landscape or dreamscape, and literally anything they imagine becomes possible.

So, much like astronauts explore space, an oneironaut explores dreams I’ve been an oneironaut now for approximately four years, and in that time I’ve had a grand total of 14 to 15 – No, actually, last night I had a lucid dream, and that makes around 17.

So, 17 lucid dreams. And granted I wasn’t trying a hundred percent at the time, but that’s not that many in that much span of time. But that’s not always the case. Some people are naturally hardwired to have them. Actually, I bet there are a few people watching right now that have naturally occurring lucid dreams.

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Now, if you’re one of those people, please count yourself as lucky because it is not as easy for the rest of us. So, for those of you who have never experienced a lucid dream before – which is probably the majority – what is it like? I know that before I started lucid dreaming, my dreams were very vague and out of control, and I quickly forgot them by the time I woke up. But a lucid dream is completely different. To an adept, the dream feels completely lifelike. I remember, not too long ago, actually, I was in a lucid dream and I stopped for a moment, knelt down and picked up a stone.

I looked at it, I tossed it up in the air, and I felt its weight. I knew that what I was seeing wasn’t real, but it felt real. When I fly, I feel the wind buffeting my face. When I use the force to break a window, I can hear the glass shatter with such clarity that I can understand why it can be so hard to realize we’re dreaming in the first place.

So, I mentioned using the force, and some of you are probably wondering, “What else can I do in a lucid dream?” So, here are a few other cool things that I really enjoy doing when I’m lucid: I love changing the rate of time around me; I love making some things go in slow motion while I just walk in normal time; I love letting my mind generate large landscapes or constructs and then exploring them on a magic carpet or just flying naturally.

You wouldn’t actually expect this, but eating in a lucid dream is actually quite special. When you eat in a lucid dream – or at least when I do – the experience is much more tense because, of course, my taste buds aren’t actually being stimulated; the entire experience is being fabricated in my brain. So, in that sense, every bite tastes like my first. So, scientists agree that lucid dreaming is real and that anyone can have one, simply because everyone is capable of dreaming. Actually, every one of you experiences somewhere between three to seven dreams a night.

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You just forget most of them by the time you wake up. So, the first step on my path to a lucid dream was when I started to try and improve my dream recall. To do this, I started keeping what’s called a dream journal – this thing – and writing down all the dreams I could remember when I woke up. I really recommend anyone who is interested in their dreams to start keeping one.

The second thing I needed to do was to realize I was dreaming in a dream. Now, to do this, there are plenty of different techniques, and I could go into a lot of detail here, but I’m just going to bring it down to the main basics.

You have two main approaches. You have MILD, which stands for Mnemonically Induced Lucid Dream. Now, these techniques revolve around the habit of questioning your reality and how that is such a powerful tool. And it’s incredibly strong because any habits you create in your waking life transfers into your dreaming life.

So, I started habitually conducting what’s called a reality check, which is the simple test to see if you’re dreaming. Let’s see if I can do this. My simple reality check is I take my right hand, and I try and push it through my left. And when I’m dreaming, they go right through each other. And it’s a very bizarre feeling, I promise.

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