Dreams are rich repositories of stored experiences and beneficial insight, when we know how to work with them. In previous posts (The Importance of Recall and Dream Journaling: Your Key to the Unconscious Mind), we discussed methods for remembering and recording dreams, and we have also worked with methods of working with dreams after we have awoken from them (Working with Dreams: A Method for Dream Re-entry).
One of the richest and most exciting modes of dream exploration, however, is to explore the dream while one is still dreaming. This allows one to consciously explore the dream space in a spontaneous, utterly free way.
Before we can reliably wake up in our dreams, however, it is useful to know what our dreams are like: what is the particular geography, so to speak, of our personal dream space? Are there recurring elements, or situations that we find ourselves in over and over again?
These recurring situations are known as dream signs, and are the certain signal that tells us to “Wake up! You’re dreaming!”
The key to collecting dream signs is the dream journal. By reviewing our dreams, we can more easily notice the elements that reappear, and use them as a foothold to gain conscious awareness in the dream. Then, whenever we see a dream sign appear, we can perform a reality test, which will be explored in-depth in a later post.
Dream signs are often universal, such as being naked or unprepared at an important event (work, job interview, wedding), being late, or not being able to find where you are trying to go. These are common, ordinary situations that crop up in dreams rather frequently, and we can do well to notice and take advantage of them in waking life.
Here are the different categories of dream signs, as outlined by Dr. Stephen LaBerge in his seminal work Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, as well as examples given.
Categories of Dream Signs
- Inner Awareness. Inner awareness is when we become conscious of our own inner state of being, such as thoughts, feelings, and emotions. An example of this would be becoming very angry in a dream, when you are not normally an angry person. This would ideally provoke reflection, and lucidity: “What the heck? Why am I so angry? Oh, it’s because it’s a dream.”
- Action. An action dream sign is when an action in the dream seems wrong or odd. The action could originate from either you or a different dream character, and the actions could involve anything from walking up a wall (impossible), to trying to cook dinner for your boss in the washing machine (highly unlikely). If it seems really weird you are probably dreaming.
- Form. A form dream sign is when the physical form of a person or object looks distorted or impossible. You look in the mirror and see that you are now the opposite sex, your kitchen table suddenly seems incredibly tall, or your car suddenly has six tires.
- Context. Context dreams signs are when the entire context of the dream is wonky: You are at your friend Harry Potter’s house, and the two of you are playing Voldemort Foosball, or you suddenly realize you’ve been able to fly for years, and will now have to escape from your home in the circus.
The secret to dream signs is that they alert us to the fact that we are dreaming. At that point, we are able to embody and own the dream with full conscious awareness. This can lead to enjoyable experiences and memories, and insight into our minds. If we make a habit of paying attention to interesting or otherwise unlikely elements in our dreams, it’s only a matter of time before we “wake up.”