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Dreams & their
waking life applications

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Put an end to
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& beyond

An experiment:
Learn dream incubation

Lucid dreaming

Go lucid!
Techniques to boost
dream consciousness

Dreams of the future
& warning dreams

The science of sleep
and dreams


Dreams - Practical Meaning
& Waking Life Applications


Not only do dreams offer a private means to explore inner reality and to gain unique, undeniable, personal experiences, but there is overwhelming evidence that they can be used to improve waking life, often immeasurably, supporting Shakespeare's age-old claim by MacBeth that sleep and dreams " are chief nourishers in life's feast." Dreams offer opportunities for fun, adventure, wish fulfillment, creativity, deep personal insight and healing, and all this at no cost and with no line-ups!

Dream Incubation, Healing & Guidance
As far back as recorded history and probably further, dreams have been employed for guidance and healing. The dream temples of ancient Greece are a classic example where the ill would perform a sacred ritual and sleep in a specialized healing temple. The Greek god Asklepios would often appear in a visionary dream, perform a symbolic operation, and the seeker would awaken healed or having received guidance. Closer to home, many native American tribes such as the Ojibwa of the Great Lakes, have expanded their use of incubation beyond healing. Young adults would embark upon a dream or vision quest into the wilderness as a rite of passage into adulthood and would fast and pray until the anticipated dream was received. Blessed by the dream with guidance or revelations about latent personal talents, the youths would return to the tribe with the responsibility to apply and share their gifts for the benefit of the community.

The process of incubation is the basis for all the applications that follow. Although perhaps a forgotten art in our culture, it is innate and neither esoteric nor difficult, and often operates automatically as we fall asleep with a problem in mind. How often have you heard a friend with a pending decision, problem or question say, "Let me sleep on it"?

To consciously incubate a dream, simply hold your question or problem clearly in mind as you prepare for sleep. Then ask (rather than command) yourself to have and clearly remember a dream which reveals the answer as either an insight, an actual experience, or both. In the morning, record any dreams or thoughts which you have upon waking for later reflection. The answer may be obvious or may not be immediately apparent, but trust that the process is working and try to put any insights you get into practice. This last step often involves drawing upon courage and self-discipline to face personal fears and/or overcome present personal limitations, but is important, as explained by the following analogy: if you ask someone for a gift and they grant your wish, they won't be overly impressed or nearly as generous next time if you lose, ignore or forget about it, so try to maintain a grateful appreciation for having received such guidance and it will likely promote further insight and future success.

"After learning about dream incubation, I suggested to myself to have a healing dream since I'd been feeling drained of energy for some time and had a bad cold coming on, which is unusual for me. I dreamt that the pores of my legs opened and ugly leeches oozed out. I awoke feeling much better. I never did find out exactly what it represented, but it sure worked." (M.S., Palo Alto, CA)

"I'm a triathlete. After an important, upsetting race where I biked and ran well below my capability, I decided to incubate a dream about it. After a week of focusing, I remembered this dream: 'I'm with my coach discussing how I was so tight and cramped during the race. He suggests regular sports massages for the racing season and says he knows a guy who could do it.' When I awoke and phoned him, he confirmed the dream and connected me with his massage therapist. A few weeks later I won my first major race, becoming the New England Long Course Champion. Two weeks after that, I qualified for the World Championships in Hawaii." (R.C., Montreal, QC)

"A new relationship came into my life, except that communication suddenly broke off for a few days, so I asked for guidance from my dream as to whether this relationship would be healthy for me. That night, I dreamt I was trying to talk to my new boyfriend on the phone. The connection kept getting cut off his because his end of the line was made of many small bits of phone wire poorly patched together. The dream confirmed my feeling that keeping good communication with this new partner might prove difficult. On top of that, he even told me when he finally called a few days later that he wasn't yet ready to be close to anyone." (S.L., Montreal, QC)

Resolving Nightmares, Anxiety Dreams & Recurring Dreams
Almost everyone has experienced one or more dreams that contain anxiety or outright fear. These experiences can be quite traumatic or become recurrent. For some, unpleasant dreams or nightmares repeat in actual content. For others, the content may change while the theme remains the same, such as scenes of falling, or of being pursued or attacked, of being late or unprepared for class, a presentation or an exam. Some people even dream of being stuck in slow motion and unable to move, or of being naked in public, to name a few common themes. Research has shown that most recurring dreams are described as being unpleasant. Furthermore, many dream theories converge in their view that this type of experience is associated with lack of progress by the dreamer to recognize and solve related conflicts in life.

Fear of nightmares from early in life, or other anxieties or misguided beliefs about dreams and the unconscious can block dream recall, but this can usually be overcome by learning about the useful nature of dreams and by recognizing that many nightmares, like a bitter but quite necessary medicine, represent opportunities for healing and insight, and can warn of psychological imbalances that we need to remedy, or of current behaviors or decisions which may soon become detrimental unless we change them, as exemplified in this dream by Stanford University pioneer sleep researcher Dr. William Dement:

"Some years ago I was a heavy cigarette smoker, up to two packs a day. Then one night I had an exceptionally vivid and realistic dream in which I had inoperable cancer of the lung. I remember as though it were yesterday looking at the ominous shadow in my chest X-ray and realizing that the entire right lung was infiltrated. I experienced the incredible anguish of knowing my life was soon to end, that I would never see my children grow up, and that none of this would ever have happened if I had quit cigarettes when I first learned of their carcinogenic potential. I will never forget the surprise, joy, and exquisite relief of waking up. I felt I was reborn. Needless to say, the experience was sufficient to induce the immediate cessation of my cigarette habit."

Fortunately, there exist treatments for nightmares that do not involve medication and which have shown to be remarkably effective. Some of the most effective techniques presently being used in psychotherapy include voice dialogue work, dream lucidity, guided imagery, dream rehearsal.

The lucid dreaming approach for resolving nightmares is demonstrated the following typical integration dream:

"After many recurring nightmares where I'm pursued by some terrifying figure, I learned of lucid dreaming and had the following dream: I'm in a frantic car chase with the pursuer right behind me. Swerving into a lot, I bolt out of the car and run with him hot on my heels. Suddenly, the scene seems familiar and I realize that I'm dreaming, though the parking lot and trees still seem more real than ever. Drawing upon every ounce of courage that I have, I swirl to face my pursuer, repeating to myself that it's only a dream. Still afraid, I scream at him, "You can't hurt me!" He stops, looking surprised. For the first time I see his beautiful, loving eyes. "Hurt You?" he says. "I don't want to hurt you. I've been running after you all this time to tell you that I love you!" With that, he holds out his hands, and as I touch them, he dissolves into me. I awake filled with energy, feeling great for days. The nightmare never returned." (M.R.,San Jose,CA)

A Rich Source of Creativity
Dreams have long proven themselves to be storehouses of creativity and may in fact be the well from which imagination springs. With dream incubation and the new opportunities presented by lucid dreaming, artists, musicians, dancers, sculptors, and inventors are able to dive deep into the source of inspiration and explore the vast reaches of their own creative potential by meeting face to face with the unconscious. The increased clarity and directable nature of the lucid state often enables the dreamer to return awake laden with creative insights.

A few example dream-inspired works are The Beatles' well-known hits "Yesterday" and "Let It Be", Samuel Taylor Coleridge's famous poem "Kubla Khan", Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde". Other artists who credit dreams as a source of inspiration, include poet-painter William Blake, painter Paul Klee, and screenwriters Judith Guest and Ingmar Bergman, to mention but a few. Many composers to have used dreams for inspiration including Sting, Peter Gabriel, Robert Palmer, Billy Joel, Mozart, Beethoven, Giuseppi Tartini, Igor Stravinsky, Sir Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan), French composer Vincent D’Indy, African composer Joseph Shabalala (Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder), opera composer Richard Wagner, and Tuvan “throat-singers” Huun-Huur-Tu from central Asia, among others. George Frederic Handel claims to have heard the last movements of his famous oratorio The Messiah during a dream.

A Valuable Problem-Solving Tool
The tale is now famous of how, after an embarrassing slump, golfer Jack Nicklaus claims to have solved a problem with his golf swing within a dream, which subsequently improved his game by ten strokes -- overnight! There are undoubtedly plenty more undocumented examples spread over history, but some well-documented ones include the dream-inspired experiment and resulting discovery of the chemical mediation of nerve impulses by Otto Leowi, which won him a Nobel prize, Elias Howe's discovery of the sewing machine, many of Thomas Edison's inventions and Friedrich Kekulé's discovery of the structure of the benzene ring from a hypnagogic dream where he saw a snake-like form swallowing it's tail. Said an excited Kekulé to his colleagues, "Let us learn to dream!"

Physical & Professional Skill Rehearsal
Young children, especially babies, spend more time in REM sleep than do adults. In these stages of intense physical and mental development, some researchers believe we're actually practicing how to talk, walk and perform other physical and mental skills while we dream, suggesting that this may be one of the innate functions of dreaming.

German psychologist and lucid dream researcher Paul Tholey used dream work in his training of the German Olympic ski jumping team. He had the skiers learn lucid dreaming so that they could creatively experiment with new maneuvers, without risk of injury, and gain confidence in the most believable virtual environment available -- the world of dreams.

Dreams are also beginning to be used in this regard for improving business, and professional performance:

"After nursing school, I dreamed how I would manage a cardiac arrest and most anything stressful in my new career. I can make myself dream just about anything that I need to 'practice' before doing it." (C.A., Jacksonville, FL)

A medical student reported this lucid dream: "Before I went to sleep, I was mulling over the ways in which I could present my internship experience to my classmates. While dreaming, and knowing I was dreaming, I wheeled a cart of stuff into the classroom, set it up, and did a wonderful presentation. I saw overheads outlining my talk, slides, posters - everything I would need. When I awoke, it was clear how I should organize and present the material, so I did, and it went beautifully." (M.K., Wildwood Crest, NJ)

Fun, Exploration, Wish Fulfillment, Personal Growth & Illumination
Dreams provide what star trek fans might call a nightly holodeck experience or what hi-tech buffs might see as the ultimate virtual reality, where there is no limit to graphics resolution, computing power or on-line storage. In dreams and in lucid dreams especially, where the world avails itself to the desires of the dreamer, adventure and intrigue are almost guaranteed because the usual laws of physics and of society no longer apply, and many of the apparent blocks set by age, sex, race or religion simply fall away. In dreams we can be the hero of our own adventure, find romance, fly, travel through "solid" objects, breathe underwater, and perform feats free from embarrassment, peer pressure, monetary limits, and even physical handicaps. The boundaries of imagination are the only limits. One can even follow in the footsteps of Tibetan monks who master lucid dreaming as a spiritual illumination stepping stone on the path to enlightenment.

"All my life I've taken wondrous adventures upon the wings of my imagination while dreaming. I have flown many nights, talked to bears, dogs, raccoons, and owls; I have swum with dolphins and whales, breathing underwater as if I had gills" (L.G. Chico, CA)

"I suddenly realize I'm dreaming from the surprise and excitement of recognizing that I've become a salmon swimming upstream! Leaping high into the air, I climb a series of chutes. Then I flip up onto the shore and the flipping sensation feels so odd that I soon awaken." (W.D., Palo Alto, CA)

"Falling asleep, I remember wondering what truly 'knowing myself' would be like. Dreaming, I become aware of this incredible, indescribably powerful 'Love Light'. The thought comes that there is no power like it - it's absolutely non-judgmental, and dwarfs every worry or desire I've ever had. It is peace and simplicity and well-being. It includes sexuality but encompasses far more. Basking in what feels like 'an ocean of grace', I soon realize that I'm not looking at it, but rather that I AM it, recognizing myself." (C.W., Palo Alto, CA)


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