First, it is good to be aware that there are two fundamentally different approaches to understanding these kinds of experiences. One is the “psychological model”. According to this model any experiences we have, whether we call them “lucid dream” or “astral projection”, are only taking place within our own psyche. Basically, this model has the underlying assumption that consciousness is a product of matter and all our experiences take place in the brain. This model dominates most mainstream scientific research into dreams and is also the starting point for some lucid dream researchers. The other is the “projection model”. This model assumes that we can actually leave the physical body in some other body and experience ourselves on another dimension of manifestation. According to this model, consciousness is something beyond matter; consciousness is not created by matter, it simply uses matter to manifest in this dimension.
If our basic starting point is the psychological model then it makes sense to use the term “lucid dreaming” for any conscious experience that we have during our sleep state. After all, no matter how aware we are the experience has to be a subjective dream of sorts, because in our model it is not possible to have experiences beyond our physical body during sleep. From the view point of the psychological model there is no such thing as a projection of consciousness (astral projection etc.).
If our basic starting point is the projective model, however, we can start to think more carefully about the range of experiences that we can have while our body is asleep. From the perspective of projectiology, leaving the physical body happens to all of us every night. It is simply a result of our multidimensional physiology (para-physiology). As our physical body goes to sleep, our subtle body (the psychosoma in projectiology) floats out. But that does not mean that we all then have out-of-body experiences, because most of us don’t experience anything. We sleep in our psychosoma (astral body). There is no lucidity. In the projective model, the lucid dream is a particular state of consciousness that sits between an unconscious or sleep state on the one hand and the fully lucid projection of consciousness on the other.
Once we realize that every human being projects every night, we come to understand that the challenge of the out-of-body experience is not getting “out of” the body. It is maintaining our consciousness in a state of awareness during our regular slip into multidimensionality. We leave the physical body, but we sleep and dream in our extraphysical, subtle body. To paraphrase from Waldo Vieira’s comprehensive Projectiology treatise: Many people are awake in the extraphysical dimension, but most are not awake to the extraphysical dimension.
Lucid projectors regularly report encountering friends and family out of the body who are sleeping or “sleep walking” in their psychosoma.
The movie What Dreams May Come provides a great illustration of the process by which a consciousness can be in the extraphysical dimensions, but essentially confined to a world of its own creation. After the main character, played by Robin Williams, “dies” he finds himself in a beautiful world of paintings. These are paintings like those his wife used to produce. It is a familiar comforting space and he remains there until his helper (or extraphysical guide) decides that he has adjusted well enough to confront the extraphysical reality. At that point the paintings fall away and a whole world shared with many other consciousnesses becomes apparent (what William Buhlman calls a “consensus reality”). The vast majority of us move through our natural nightly projections in the same way that Robin Williams’ character did after his death; surrounded by images of our own creation.
But as we look more carefully we realize that our dreams can have different qualities to them. Some are purely psychological. For example, we may be floating just centimeters above our physical body while having a dream based purely on the inner content of our mind (fears, desires, unexpressed emotions etc.), without any external influences. In other cases we are actually projected some distance from our body, floating along and our dream involves us flying as our mind taps into the external experience and incorporates it into the dream. Such a subtle, extraphysical stimulus can be incorporated in the same way that that external physical stimuli sometimes are. For example, when the blanket has fallen off and our feet start getting cold, or when birds begin to sing early in the morning these things can become woven into our dreams as well. Clearly, the physical and extraphysical are not completely separate, as is also apparent from the fact that there appears to be a correlation between dreaming and certain physiological changes (Rapid-Eye-Movement, particular brain wave activity, etc.). From a bioenergetic perspective we know that the physical body and the psychosoma are in continuous connection through the so-called silver cord of energy. This connection appears to involve the transmission of information between the two vehicles in ways that we do not yet fully understand.
From this multidimensional perspective, a lucid dream is still a dream, i.e. an experience dominated by images created by our own mind, but one in which we become aware that we are dreaming. Something triggers our awareness, whether it is the absurdity of a given scenario – “Hang on, why am I walking around in a video game?”, or a sudden recall of our actual situation – “Hey why am I in my office? I am in bed sleeping!” Or perhaps it is simply something we have willed ourselves to do prior to going to sleep. Whatever the trigger, we become aware of the fact that we are dreaming; we become lucid in our dream. But if this is all that happens we are still dreaming. We may realize that we can create our own environment, for example by changing an unpleasant scenario into something more appealing, and start taking conscious control over our actions, but our experience is still dominated by our own thought-form creations (called morphothosenes in projectiology). In other words, we are still cut off from the extraphysical reality that surrounds us, moving about in a mental world of our creation. If we do not accept the possibility of multidimensional life, it is entirely possible that this is where we will leave it.
Being lucid in our dreams is already a great accomplishment. It feels good and can have psychological benefits and we may think that we have reached the pinnacle of our nocturnal awareness. But from a multidimensional point of view, the next step is that we break through our own mental creations and start to see the more objective aspects of extraphysical life; the next step it to actually awaken to the extraphysical dimensions. It is at this point that we start talking about a projection of consciousness. If we are open to the existence of other dimensions, then the lucid dream can represent a great springboard for our exploration. Once we gain awareness of the fact that we are dreaming, rather than focusing on creating more dream images, we can set our intention on gaining awareness of the underlying extraphysical reality (e.g. through affirmations such as “Awareness now” or “See reality now”, but also through ongoing practice and conditioning of our mind in our daily life).
So in summary, lucid dreams and conscious projections are distinct experiences. They are both on a continuum that begins with complete unconsciousness and ends with the incredible expansion of cosmic consciousness. Lucid dreams still see us essentially caught within our own mental creations, but they represent a final threshold between our own subjective inner world and potential entry into the vastness of extraphysical life. While lucid dreaming can teach us about our creative potential in all areas of our life, and thereby be of great psychological benefit, the conscious projection connects us to our sense of immortality and can be the portal to deep self-knowledge and understanding of our evolutionary journey.