So you want to learn how to control your dreams?
I mean, who wouldn’t? A massive creative sandbox you can bend to your very whims and desires? Any fantasy, any wish, any experience, all yours to have.
Imagination is the limit.
And I mean that very, very literally. Many people equate controlling their dreams with lucidity. Let’s make this very clear from the start: dream control is not lucidity, and lucidity is not dream control. Becoming lucid gives you the opportunity to control your dreams, but that’s all it is--an opportunity. Dream control is a skill unto itself. Like all skills, it takes both knowledge and practice to master. Every lucid dreamer, regardless of experience, has at some point reported trouble controlling their dreams. Whether their control didn't work as intended, or they failed to control anything at all, there's a common thread uniting them. To put it bluntly: until this point, no lucid dreamer has ever been taught how dream control works at a fundamental level. Understanding how dream control works gives you the tools to precisely and easily overcome any obstacle in your path.
So how does dream control work?
At a really high level, dream control works by leveraging the parts of your brain responsible for dream formation. In other words, you’re tricking your brain into giving you what you want by using its own mechanisms against it.
Put more practically, if you learn how dreams form, you can learn to direct how they form.
How do dreams form?
Dreams form around schemas. Schemas are mental frameworks that categorize and organize your ideas about an object, or a person, or a place, or anything at all. Becoming familiar with your own personal schemas is how you learn to control your dreams. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk a bit more about schemas first.
What are schemas?
I like to describe schemas using trees as a metaphor. All trees--and all schemas--start with a seed. The seed is the initial concept from which everything else grows. For example, let’s say our seed--our initial concept--is a "violin". From here, this "violin" schema branches out into other associated concepts. These associations are derived from your life experience, knowledge, and understanding. Ultimately, your dream will form around these associations depending on where you direct your focus. This means that, given the same initial seed, each individual will have their dream form differently, according to their personal associations with that seed. For more visual learners, my personal “violin” tree looks something like this:
Your “violin” tree might share some similarities to mine, but it’s likely a bit different. Maybe there’s fewer branches, indicating a sparser and weaker schema. Or perhaps there’s more branches, more details, suggesting a much richer “violin” schema. These differences will influence how our individual dreams form if each of us were to have dreams about "violins". Please feel free to share some of your own “violin” branches in the comments below to help others understand the idea of personal schemas.
But how are schemas used to control dreams?
Using schemas for dream control is a two step process. Let’s walk you through how to fly in your next lucid dream.
Step 1 - Identify or Build a Schema
You can identify a schema--a seed--while awake or in the dream itself. If you’re a beginner, I recommend identifying your schema while awake, as preparation makes schema easier to use when you become lucid. When picking a schema, you always want to pick a schema which grows a branch that meets your goal. Never start with the goal itself. Remember, dream formation starts with the seed, but that seed grows branches. It’s these branches that make up the bulk of your dream. So then, we want a schema that has a “flying” branch, in the same way that the “violin” schema has a “melody” branch. For the sake of example, let’s examine the “bird” schema, since we all know birds fly.
When you think “bird”, what comes to mind?
Personally, I think of different types of birds. The idea of “flying” is fairly vague. So for me, “bird” isn’t a great schema for “flying”. It's too general. But we know that “flying” is somewhere in our schema tree. So let’s follow a branch and use that branch as our new starting point. “Seagull” feels like the right branch. It feels right, to me, because I have plenty of experience watching seagulls fly, hearing the flap of their wings, etc. And sure enough, when looking at the “seagull” tree, the “flying” branch feels very prominent. Put simply, the idea of "flying" is easy to reach from the idea of "seagull".
What's more, visualizing a seagull in flight feels effortless. So for me, “seagull” is a good initial schema. If you can easily imagine a seagull flying, you’re ready for Step 2. If you can’t do this, try picking a different bird that's easy for you to envision in flight, then move onto Step 2 and replace every instance of "seagull" with your bird of choice. If you’re still having trouble, then you’ve hit the limit of your imagination. Remember when I said “Imagination is the limit”. This is what I meant. Everyone has dead ends and gaps in their knowledge and understanding of the world. It’s these wilted seeds that limit your ability to control the dream. You can solve this problem by either identifying an entirely different schema, building a new schema from the ground up, or by watering the seeds you already have. By building and strengthening schemas, you grow and expand your imagination. This results in stronger, healthier schemas that will be more effective in Step 2.
How are schemas built?
There are many ways to build schema. The most common way lucid dreamers develop useful schema is by watching movies, reading books, and playing video games. Consuming media that engages your imagination and broadens your understanding of what the world could be is a very effective and simple way to grow schema. If you’re struggling with our flying example, watch the video below from the YouTube channel Just Make Animation. While you’re watching, imagine what the birds are feeling as they flap their wings, as they lift off the ground and take to the air. If you can, try to imagine what it all feels like.
To further strengthen this schema, seek out additional videos, pictures, books--anything you can find which further enforces the notion of “flying”. Once you’ve built a strong schema, you’re finally ready for Step 2.
Step 2 - Activating the Schema
Activating a schema is a lot like acting. You want to think of the role you're going to play, enter the role, and then let the role take over. But before you can do that, you need to become lucid. Achieving lucidity is outside the scope of this guide, but you can check out other guides on Enter the Mist to begin learning that skill.
Once you are lucid, start by recalling your goal. In this case, you want to fly. Recall that, when you were awake, you prepared a schema to help you fly. To activate the schema--and start flying--think about the schema you prepared. Think "seagull". This is the same thing we did in Step 1, when we brought to mind the idea of “birds”. At this point, all you’re doing is holding the thought “seagull” in your mind. Doing this plants a seed. By planting a seed, you prime your dream to show you the associated branches which grow from that seed. With the seed planted, your dream is ready to give you what you want. Every possibility and branch that grows from this seed is now open for you to explore. All that's left is to direct your focus. With “seagull” still in mind, think of “flying”. You want "flying" to come from the idea "seagull". This results in the concept “a seagull flying”. Hold onto that concept, feel it, imagine it. Then flap your arms like a seagull would its wings, pretend your arms are wings, and kick off from the ground. Flap hard, flap rhythmically, deliberately, and keep your eyes to the sky. Do all this, while still holding the idea of “a seagull in flight” in your mind. And just like that, you’re flying! All that's left it to enjoy the wind against your face, the sense of freedom, and the simple joy of the moment.
Is that... it?
Well, no. This guide is ultimately a very basic introduction into schemas and how to apply them. Schemas are the foundation of all dream control, but when you move beyond concrete, simple schemas (like "seagulls" and "violins"), precision dream control very quickly becomes complex, abstract, and nuanced. Which isn't to say it's hard to do. It's simply difficult to explain and understand how it all works without the foundation provided in this guide. The next guide in this series will explore the idea of linking abstract and concrete schemas to achieve other common goals like summoning people or objects. It will also explore how linking schemas can be applied in more interesting ways that give you more control over your entire lucid dreaming practice. But if you’re clever, you can build from this framework to do anything you can imagine. And when that imagination reaches its limit, you’ve been armed with the tools and knowledge necessary to expand it. Stay tuned. Stay lucid.