What is it?
In a normal dream you don’t realize you are dreaming, but in this special kind of dream you do.
Susan Blackmore interviewed a number of people who are researching consciousness and collected the interviews in Conversations on Consciousness (N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2006). It was reading her interview with Stephen LaBerge that provided me with the analogy, which I should have thought of on my own.
LaBerge stated that during his research “signal-verified lucid dreams occurred almost without exception in unequivocal REM sleep.” There’s no doubt that, like ordinary ones themselves, they are experiences.
I have had them, and you probably have had them also.
There’s only one difference between them and ordinary dreams: in this extraordinary kind of dream the dreamer interprets what is happening differently. The only change is in the dreamer’s metacognitive interpretation.
Ordinary dreams are experiences that are less restricted than ordinary experiences. After all, you cannot ride a winged horse like Pegasus in “real” life, but it’s certainly possible in a dream because normal causal laws are loosened. All kinds of crazy things can happen.
In a sense, there’s even less restriction in dreaming lucidly than in ordinary dreaming. That’s because more possibilities seem open simply because you realize that you are in another world or another life. You realize that you are dreaming.
Furthermore, you can train yourself from only being an occasional, novice lucid dreamer to being a more sophisticated one (as LaBerge has done). By itself, an occasional lucid one is just an interesting experience, but, to a researcher like LaBerge, it can become much more than that.
Here’s the analogy: it would seem that lucid dreaming is to ordinary dreaming as enlightened living is to ordinary living.
This also would explain the view commonly expressed by meditation masters that nothing changes while everything changes.
“Enlightenment” means “spiritual awakening” or “kensho” or “satori.” According to, for example, many zen masters, it does not have to remain an initial, perhaps even spontaneous, experience but one that is capable of indefinite expansion through continued practice.
Isolated by itself, an enlightenment experience is just an interesting experience, but, to meditation masters, it can become much more than that. In fact, according to them, it’s the best way of living.
There’s only one way to determine for yourself whether or not that’s true: master a spiritual practice such as zazen meditation and find out.