The word “lucid” in the term “lucid dreaming” is a misunderstanding waiting to happen. If you define it as “waking up inside a dream”, or “becoming aware that you are dreaming during a dream” -- an experience nearly everyone has had at least once -- it can give the false impression that lucid dreaming is an on/off, either/or proposition: either you are lucid dreaming or not.
It’s more useful to think of the development that comes from working with dreams to be a deepening and broadening of awareness. This involves a far greater range of skills or abilities than just the one-trick pony of realizing you are dreaming. It’s a path to be followed, or a scale to be ascended, and not just a single goal to attain. And it involves your awareness of the dream state both while you are dreaming and when you are awake.
Let me give you some examples.
Let’s say that you are dreaming a location reminiscent of your grammar school. But you realize that it is somehow different: there’s a room in this building that didn’t exist in your school. The realization within the dream that this isn’t exactly like your old school is already a new level of awareness. If this level of awareness gets strong enough it can be enough to trigger the “Hey! I must be dreaming!” response. But there are many levels between total passive acceptance of dream content and activities, and achieving the awareness that you are dreaming.
There are times that we remember our dreams as being particularly “vivid”: the colors were deep and intense, the emotions were strong, the symbols jumped at us with their significance, there were characters that radiated personality and charisma. This heightened sensitivity to the content of dreams is another manifestation of higher awareness.
How often do you spontaneously recall dream content in the middle of the day? Another sign that dream awareness has heightened is when daytime experiences trigger memories of dreams from the night before. You walk into a grocery store and see the apples and oranges, and -- bam! -- you clearly remember seeing a fruit basket in a hotel room in dream the previous night. This is also an increase in awareness (a raising of consciousness). Establishing a relationship between daytime and dream experiences is an important step in understanding the meaning of dreams.
If you are noticing certain symbols (objects, places), themes or sequences repeating themselves in your dreams, and also taking note of how these dream elements change over time, that is also a form of intensified awareness.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the acquisition of lucidity in dreams is a bad thing. It’s very exciting and also an important step in mastering the skills needed to make dreams into tools for navigating your life. But it is only one of many skills the dreamworker can acquire. It’s not a matter of on/off, black/white, lucid/not lucid. There’s a whole banquet set at the buffet table. Don’t stuff yourself with caviar and crackers, ignoring everything else.