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What Did You Dream Last Night?
For Centuries, Dreams have Inspired Art and People Have Tried to Make Sense of Their Dreams. Here's How to Harness Your Dreams to Jump-Start Your Creative Muse.
Have you ever gone to bed with a problem and risen in the morning with an answer? That’s the power of your brain on dreams.
Now, imagine using your dreams to solve a story problem, develop characters, or simply jump-start your creative process.
If you perform a web search for books, stories, movies, or art inspired by dreams or about dreams, you’ll find dozens of examples that you already know including Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Stephen King’s Misery; movie franchises like “Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Inception,” or dream-themed works of art created by Goya, Picasso, and Dali.
Dreams are mental images that your brain makes during the REM sleep cycle. Everyone dreams but not everyone remembers them. More on that in a bit.
From earliest times, dreams have been part of human culture. Scientists have evidence that Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) a powerful dream inducer, have been used for 3,000 years to aid in ritual healing.
One of the oldest passage on dreaming comes from the Torah describing Jacob’s Ladder. Genesis 28:12
And he dreamed, and behold! a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to heaven; and behold, angels of God were ascending and descending upon it.
And then there is Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung and their deep thoughts about the meaning of dreams.
History and theory aside, you can use your dreams to ignite your writing and creativity.
Make Friends with Your Midnight Muse
Author, teacher, and dream worker Tzivia Gover has written six books on the topics of sleep and creativity associated with dreams. Her latest, Dreaming on the Page, is a method for harnessing your dreams to feed your creativity.
Tzivia is a member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. She has been studying dreams for 15 years and teaches a dream creative writing program to non-traditional students such as teen mothers and ESL learners. She has also studied proprioceptive writing, using writing to gain a better understanding of the mind. Think Journaling.
She says the discussion of dreams is universal and a powerful moment of connection for students. Dreams also inspire students who say they have writer’s block, or nothing important to say or to write.
Confession: I have difficult dreams. When I remember them, I wake with a racing heart or start my morning with an emotional hangover of what was that all about? However, I was so impressed with Tzivia’s writing style, her examples, information on brain science, and writing prompts I decided to give it a go. Keep reading.
I spoke to Tzivia about my dream avoidance and she assured me lots of people have disturbing dreams and that bedtime can be stressful. Insomnia is real. She advised that I “make friends with my dreams.”
A bit more science: During sleep, the frontal areas of the brain that suppress the intense emotions generated by the amygdala shut down. Think of a volume button turned low. The brain then has free rein to create dreams, good, bad, or weirdly wonderful.
Try the Dream Method
Tzivia’s dream work method concentrates on capturing the wonderful. Here is a condensed primer if you want to try it- and you should.
Pick a notebook or journal for the project. Writers love blank books. This will now be your dream journal. Tzivia records her dreams every morning. She has years of journals of ideas now to draw on.
When you head to bed, write down one moment or event from you day that was good and that you want to hold on to. This one exercise was powerful. I journal in the morning before my day begins. Capturing one good moment at the end erased some bad energy.
When you wake, either in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning, try to capture your dreams. At first you may only capture a color, a sensation, or a question. Tzivia assured me that over time and with practice, I’d remember more. Capturing dreams like any new creative process takes practice. I can attest this is true.
So what happened? I was not a “good student” the first night. I was so focused on remembering my dreams that I had a fitful night’s sleep. Tzivia covers this in her book. I felt better knowing I wasn’t alone. After the second night and two tired mornings, I stopped trying to remember and write anything down. But then I began to remember my dreams and as Tzivia predicted, at first it was images or emotions. Now my dreams, even the disturbing ones appear as scenes, the basis of stories.
If you begin a dream journal, over time you’ll have a new resource to describe feelings, imagery, and combinations of events, themes, and people. Tzivia transcribes her dreams into poetry. You’ll also have one-of-a-kind writing prompts. Additionally, you’ll be creating a regular writing habit, a powerful routine to inform the rest of your creative work.
Gift Yourself A Dream
I spoke to Tzivia a few days before each of our birthdays. She told me she was looking forward to her birthday dream. Curious, I asked what that was. Every year the night before her birthday, she sets an intention about her birthday and lets her mind gift her a dream. I can’t wait to try this on my own birthday. I’ll report back on what happened. You can also gift yourself a New Year’s dream, an anniversary dream, or new month dream - anything really.
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Have You Created Something From a Dream?
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