Here’s the excel spreadsheet showing the word search analysis results for my 2018 dream journal:
I recently had an odd dream about a cat that left me with more questions than answers.
It was, I can personally testify, a dark and stormy night. I had gone to bed in a state of extreme emotional distress. Earlier in the day one of our cats had disappeared, and I was sure that he—the aptly named Phantom—had slipped outside through an inadvertently open door. After searching the house several times, I began walking through our neighborhood, whistling and calling. It was foggy and raining, with a temperature in the low 30’s. There were dogs everywhere. Every single one of our neighbors, as I discovered during several hours of pacing the streets around us, has at least one dog, and they literally hounded me as I looked and called for Phantom, who in the very best of circumstances is unlikely to come when I whistle. The fall of darkness meant the local coyotes would soon be on the prowl, the main reason why our cats are mostly indoor dwellers. My anxiety soon shifted into profound guilt and despair. It was all my fault… If Phantom had gotten outside the hedge surrounding our yard, he could have shot off in any direction, spooked by cars, people, and barking dogs in every yard. Never having been beyond the hedge, he’d have no idea how to get back to the safety of our house. The more time passed, the further away he might be wandering. I was the cause, it was my negligence, I had let him get out, and now he was lost in the night somewhere, with dangers all around….
After hours of fruitless searching, I fell exhausted into bed around 10 pm. (I had just returned two days earlier from an overseas trip, so I was already quite bedraggled and sleep-deprived.)
Sometime after 1 am I awoke, with the sound of the rain falling on the skylight. I immediately decided to get up, go outside, and whistle some more for Phantom. This would be the quietest time of night in our neighborhood, when even the dogs would be asleep, and I’d have the best chance of hearing him if he meowed in response.
As I quietly got dressed, I thought about a dream I’d been having just before waking up. In the dream Phantom comes walking towards me, tail held high.
A sad, depressing wish-fulfillment dream, I thought to myself. No, it’s worse than that, it’s a cruel and desperate fantasy that taunts me with a vision of what I want to be true, not what sadly is true. Stupid dream, I angrily thought as I put on my rain gear and grabbed a flashlight. Stupid dream.
And when I walked downstairs to the front door, there he was. Sitting on the living room couch in the darkness, looking straight at me.
For a dizzying moment, I wasn’t sure if I was really awake or still dreaming.
No, it was really him. Phantom came running up to me with his tail held high.
I still don’t know where he had been. Apparently not outside, but nowhere inside that I could find after careful, intensive searching. If he had been inside, why the f*** didn’t he come out for almost twelve hours?
And…. What do I make of my dream now?
The fact that Phantom appeared almost immediately after I awoke does not necessarily diminish or detract from the dream’s wish-fulfilling function. It could be that in this case, my wish just happened to come true in waking life, as well as in the dream. Freud would be fine with that, I think.
Another possibility is that Phantom came out of hiding before I woke up, and I somehow heard him through the closed door of our bedroom, and then incorporated that auditory stimulus into my dream. Maybe.
Perhaps, in the extremities of my emotional distress and biorhythmic disorientation, I was unusually open to subtle perceptions I don’t normally notice, and I somehow “felt” his presence, safe and close by. Hmm.
A more speculative possibility is that Phantom, either awake or sleeping, reached out to me in my dream and let me know he was back. True, there is rather little evidence at present for interspecies telepathic communication in dreams. Still, I wouldn’t rule it out completely.
A more naturalistic explanation would be that my unconscious mind simply calculated the odds of the various scenarios regarding Phantom’s fate, and concluded that the most likely result of the whole situation was his reappearance, naturally eliciting great happiness and relief on my part. Which is indeed what happened, and how I felt.
To quote the final words of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and what Alice Found There, “which do you think it was?”
This post first appeared on December 14, 2018 in Psychology Today.
Dreaming, play, theater, science, religion, social and political crisis.
Jung, Freud, Shakespeare, a troupe of immigrant artists, Alice in Wonderland, Lucrecia de Leon, the US President.
These are the topics and the people I will be discussing most frequently in a series of presentations lining up for 2019. Each presentation will speak directly to the interests of a particular audience, and each one will also connect to the other talks I’m giving in ways that I hope will lead to a greater interwoven whole.
(All of these conferences and gatherings are still in the planning stages, so details may change.)
Society for Psychological Anthropology
Biennial Meeting, Santa Ana Pueblo, New Mexico
This will be part of a panel on “New Directions in the Anthropology and Psychology of Dreaming” organized by Robin Sheriff and Jeannette Mageo.
“Dreaming, Play, and Social Change”
This presentation offers a novel theory of dreaming—as a highly evolved form of play—and discusses its implications for new research in psychology and anthropology. The theory integrates findings from evolutionary biology, neuroscience, psychoanalysis, religious studies, and developmental psychology (especially D.W. Winnicott). This approach moves beyond the fruitless debates over the “bizarreness” of dreaming. From the play perspective, bizarreness in dreaming is a feature, not a bug. In dreams the mind is free to play, to explore, imagine, and envision new possibilities beyond the limits of conventional reality. Of special interest to anthropologists, the content of dreams, i.e., what people playfully dream about, mostly revolves around social life. Many of the cognitive abilities vital to waking sociality are also present in dreaming, which correlates with research showing that dream content accurately mirrors people’s most important waking relationships. In some instances, dreaming goes beyond mirroring the social world to actively striving to transform it; the playfulness intensifies, and the dreaming imagination labors to create something new, to go beyond what is to imagine what might be. This visionary potential is often activated during times of social conflict and crisis. Three brief examples will illustrate the playful dynamics of dreaming in relation to a crisis in the dreamer’s community: 1) the prophecies of Lucrecia de Leon, a young woman from 16th century Spain; 2) the creatively inspiring “big dreams” of a group of immigrant artists; and 3) the politically-themed dreams of present-day Americans about their current President.
International Association for the Study of Dreams
Regional Conference, Ashland, Oregon
May 31 to June 2
This is the general description of the event, which I am helping to host with Angel Morgan. On Saturday morning I will give a talk on the role of dreams in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” and Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” both of which will be performed that weekend at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
“Theater, Dreams, and Art”
Shakespeare wrote “All the world’s a stage” and Carl Jung wrote that a dream is theater in which the dreamer is the scene, player, prompter, producer, author, public, and critic. The best plays are like the best dreams: surprising, decentering, mind-expanding, awe-inspiring, emotionally exhausting, and acutely memorable. They are unreal, yet realer than real; retreats into fantasy that catapult us into fresh engagement with the world. Many talented artists, as well as everyday creative people, have said they feel the same kind of freedom to explore their emotions in dreams that they do when they have an encounter with the artistic process. Many often connect the two by first logging their dreams, then drawing on the raw emotional content and imagery from their dream experiences to feed their art. That said, bridging dreams with theater and art tends to offer a wide variety of fascinating approaches. In this conference we hope to inform and inspire dreamers of all ages and backgrounds, as well as those who use theater, dreams, or art in their work, such as: parents, psychologists, therapists, counselors, writers, actors, directors, dancers, visual artists, and musicians.
International Association for the Study of Dreams
Annual Conference, Kerkrade, the Netherlands
This is part of a panel I am organizing with Svitlana Kobets and Bernard Welt on “Visionary Dreams in Art, Religion, and History.”
“Vision and Prophecy in the Dreams of Lucrecia de Leon”
This presentation explores the visual imagery, religious symbolism, and prophetic warnings contained in the dreams of Lucrecia de Leon, a young woman from 16th century Madrid who was persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition as a traitor and heretic, despite the fact that many of her dream warnings came true.
This is part of a panel Jayne Gackenbach is organizing on the interplay of artistic practice and scientific inquiry.
“Dreaming Is Play: A Bridge Between Art and Science”
This presentation offers a theory that dreaming is a kind of play, the imaginative play of the mind during sleep. This theory has directly inspired me in new activities with art and artists: supporting regional theater, collaborating with the Dream Mapping Troupe, and cultivating a forested dream library.
American Academy of Religion
Annual Conference, San Diego, California
This is a “call for papers” topic that will soon be posted by the Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR) group of the American Academy of Religion, and open for submissions from all AAR members. If the CSR steering committee receives enough good proposals on this topic, there will be a panel session at the conference in San Diego with three or four presentations.
“Cognitive Science of Religion (CSR) Approaches to Dreaming”
The rise of psychology of religion in the early 20th century was driven in part by Freud’s and Jung’s efforts to understand the nature of dreams. What would a new 21st century approach to dreams look like, using the resources of CSR? Specifically, to what extent do cognitive functions known to operate in religious contexts (e.g., memory, imagination, metaphor, teleological reasoning, social intelligence, agency detection, dual-systems cognition) also operate in dreaming? To what extent does this shed new light on the various roles that dreams have played in the history of religions (e.g., theophany, healing, prophecy, moral guidance, visions of the afterlife)? Proposals are welcome that draw together detailed accounts of religiously significant dreaming with specific CSR concepts and theories.
“It is in dreams that one can catch sight of the most fundamental and stable symbolisms of humanity passing from the ‘cosmic’ function to the ‘psychic’ function.” (Paul Ricoeur, 1967)
[The following is the text of a presentation I will make on Saturday, Nov. 17, at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in Denver, Colorado.]
The revelatory power of dreaming, illustrated in the sacred texts and practices of religious traditions all over the world, has naturally led people to actively seek more access to that power. If spontaneous and unexpected dreams can have so much transformational impact, what would happen if one were to prepare for such a dream, and carefully arrange to amplify its impact?
The term “dream incubation” has been used by Western researchers to describe any set of ritual preparations aimed at eliciting a special kind of dream experience (Patton 2004). As Kimberley Patton outlines it, dream incubation involves three elements: locality, intentionality, and epiphany. Dream incubation practices usually involve sleeping in a special place or setting (locality), seeking guidance on a specific question, dilemma, or task (intentionality), and interpreting the resulting dream as a transpersonal response to the dreamer’s intention (epiphany).
Many of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions have ancient practices of dream incubation, defined in these terms. These include the Greek and Roman temples to the healing god Asclepius, where people prayed and slept in hopes of a curative dream; the Vision Quest rituals of the Ojibwa, Iroquois, and other Native American groups, in which an adolescent slept alone in the wilderness for several nights until visited in a special dream by a personal spirit; the Muslim practice of istikhara, with pre-sleep prayers and purifications aimed at eliciting dream guidance on an urgent question; and the Dream Yoga of the Tibetan Buddhist sage Naropa, which teaches methods of preparation for dreaming with greater clarity and consciousness.
In each of these traditions, focused waking attention prior to sleep has the effect of influencing people’s subsequent dreams, which then influence their consciousness upon awakening via interpretation, which then colors their later dreams, on and on in a spiritually dynamic and virtuous cycle (Bulkeley 2008).
Another term widely used by Western scholars, “lucid dreaming,” highlights the powers of self-awareness and volitional control that can arise in dreaming. Such powers have long been recognized and actively cultivated by Hindus, Buddhists, and Daoists, so lucid dreaming is hardly a Western invention. The sages and mystics of those traditions talked about conscious awareness in sleep as a kind of meditative practice that extends beyond the waking state. In indigenous cultures around the world, shamanic healers are trained to become conscious within sleep so they could seek out cures for people who were sick. And many philosophers from classical Greece and Rome admired the potential in sleep for a pure form of mental clarity (although few of them actively explored these possibilities).
The human mind is capable of becoming conscious and active during the state of sleep—that’s the common thread in all these historical traditions. Combining this with the findings of modern psychology and neuroscience—that the mind during sleep can activate the full range of cognitive abilities found in waking (Gackenbach and LaBerge 1988, Kahan and LaBerge 2011)—it becomes clear that lucid dreaming is a natural power of the human mind. Everyone is capable of these revelations in their sleep. Rituals of dream incubation tap into those deep reservoirs of lucid potentiality, and at their best these practices nurture a spiraling interplay of spiritual experience and growth.
With that cross-cultural material setting the stage, I will focus now on a little-known historical example of revelatory dreaming with unusual elements of incubation and lucidity. In this case, the dreamer lived in a community that did not appreciate her visionary insights. On the contrary, she was violently persecuted because of her dreams. This example highlights the potential dangers of revelatory dreaming, dangers that revolve around two key questions:
- How can we tell if a dream is a true revelation, and not just a personal fantasy or total fabrication?
- What is the best/safest/most effective way of channeling the disruptive energies of a revelatory dream?
More than 400 years ago, a young woman with a gift for prophetic dreaming was arrested as a traitor and heretic. Her dreams were judged by the religious authorities to be a danger to the king, the church, and the country as a whole. She was imprisoned, interrogated, tortured, and punished because of her dreams. All of this happened despite the fact that her dreams came true—they accurately predicted a national disaster that could have been avoided if her dreams had been heeded. Instead, she was punished as an enemy of God.
Her name was Lucrecia de Leon. She was born in Madrid in 1568 (making her a contemporary of Shakespeare’s, born in 1564). Madrid was the new capital city of the vast Spanish Empire and its intensely Catholic ruler, King Philip II. She grew up during a time of rapid urban expansion; Madrid had about 10,000 people when she was born and more than 80,000 by the time she was a teenager, with priests, diplomats, and government officials streaming in from all corners of the empire.
Her parents gave her the name Lucrecia, harkening back to the Roman legend of a supremely virtuous young woman of that name (Lucretia) who was raped by prince Tarquin; even though she was blameless, the young woman killed herself to prevent any taint of dishonor from infecting her family’s name. Ever after in Roman and then in Catholic tradition, Lucretia became the ultimate symbol of female honor, chastity, and obedience. We know that Lucrecia de Leon’s father, Alonso, was proud of being an “old Christian,” meaning a Spaniard of pure Christian blood, with no foreign elements tainting his lineage. It seems likely he and his wife Ana chose this name for their firstborn child to emphasize the supreme importance of feminine purity and virtuous behavior.
Alas for Alonso and Ana, their daughter turned out to be a big dreamer. From early in life she gained a reputation in her neighborhood as someone whose dreams frequently came true. In the fall of 1587 a powerful nobleman, Don Alonso de Mendoza, who was interested in apocalyptic omens and symbols, heard about Lucrecia, and he became fascinated by her dreams. Because she was illiterate, he arranged for a priest to come to her house every morning and, in the context of confession, record her dreams from the previous night.
Many of her dreams revolved around Spain’s holy war against England and the Protestant Queen Elizabeth. For years King Philip had been working on a plan to invade England with an attack from the most powerful navy in the world, the Spanish Armada. Philip claimed a holy mandate for the invasion, and the Catholic church helped him whip the Spanish people into a violent frenzy aimed against England.
In this heated, religiously militarized atmosphere, Lucrecia dreamed repeatedly that the Armada would fail. From the fall of 1587 through the summer of 1588, her dreams as recorded by Don Alonso’s priests mentioned the Armada several times, always in negative terms. When the Armada was defeated by the English in the fall of 1588, everyone in Spain was shocked—everyone but Lucrecia.
In the time following this, Lucrecia’s dreams became more widely known, as people looked for new guidance in the aftermath of the Armada’s defeat. This aroused the ire of King Philip, who in the spring of 1590 ordered Lucrecia arrested by the Spanish Inquisition on charges of heresy and treason. She was taken to the Inquisition’s secret prison in the ancient city of Toledo, the spiritual capital of Spain, and held there for five years before a final verdict was rendered in her case.
The main source of evidence against Lucrecia were her dreams, dutifully recorded by Don Alonso’s priests (all of whom were also arrested and imprisoned in Toledo) and then seized by the Inqusition. These dreams are still available for study today in the national historical archive of Spain, in Madrid.
Here is the first one in the surviving manuscripts:
The first of December of this year , the Ordinary Man came to me, and calling me said: “Stick your head out of the window,” which I did, and I heard a great noise and asked him: “What noise is this I hear?” He answered: “You will soon see.” And then I saw coming from the east a cart pulled by two bulls or buffalos (so they said they were called), in which I saw a tower, on the side of which there was a dead lion, and on the top of which was a dead eagle with its breast cut open. The wheels of this cart were stained with blood, and as it moved it killed many people; and many men and women, dressed as Spaniards, were tied to the cart. They were shouting that the world was ending. Not having ever seen anything like this, I asked: “What vision is this?” The Ordinary Man told me that he could not tell me (although he showed signs that he wanted to). In this instant, the Old Fisherman appeared, and I asked him: “Why have you left the seashore and come here?” He responded that it was necessary to come because this man wanted to tell me about this vision, and it should not be known until the third night. I saw that he was carrying a palm leaf, which it seemed he was creating right there. I asked him: “Who is this palm leaf for?” He said: “For the new king who will be to God’s pleasing. I will give it to him, but for the moment I cannot say any more.” And then I woke up…
Lucrecia’s dreams often began in the normal setting of her home, looking out her bedroom window, and then something fantastic and otherworldly would happen—she would journey to a faraway land, or see an amazing sight in the street, or go the palace for an intimate conversation with the king. El Hombre Ordinario (the “Ordinary Man”) was a nearly constant presence in her dreams, and so was El Viejo (the “Old Man”), also known as El Pescador (“the Old Fisherman”). A third figure, known as the “Young Fisherman” or the “Lion Man,” also appeared frequently. These three “companions” usually appeared in a coastal setting, on a beach or cliff overlooking the ocean, hence her surprise in this dream at seeing them in the city rather than at the seashore.
Many other dreams besides this one included strange animals, bloody violence, apocalyptic warnings, and a variety of allegorical symbols. The emotional tone tended toward the negative: fear of the enemies besieging Spain from all directions, and despair at the inability of the king to safeguard his people.
This first report highlights Lucrecia’s general capacity for lucidity and metacognition (that is, high-level mental functioning) during her dream experiences. Almost every one of her dreams included sophisticated thought processes and features of conscious reflection and social intelligence. When she said during her trial testimony, “I wake up the moment my eyes are closed,” she was not just speaking poetically; she was trying to describe the highly conscious quality of her dreaming.
As a result, many of her dreams had at least two levels of activity. At one level she witnessed and/or engaged with elements of the dream world, and at another level she analyzed and interpreted the events occurring on the first level. She often spoke at length with her three companions about the meanings of her ongoing dreams, although the mysterious men rarely gave her a straight answer and often argued among themselves. During these digressive discussions the three companions would occasionally mention Don Alonso, Fray Lucas, and other people in Lucrecia’s waking life, either to correct their mistaken interpretations or comment on their behavior. This added another level of awareness and cognitive complexity to her experiences.
As the dreams went on, night after night, they began to interweave with each other in unpredictable temporal loops, going back to images from previous dreams and looking forward to the appearance of new images in future dreaming.
A core concern here and throughout the series was the fate of the king and the question of who would replace him on the throne (having observed the crown prince up close, Lucrecia apparently had little confidence in the official succession plan). The Old Fisherman’s magically appearing gift of a palm leaf, a common Christian symbol of spiritual victory, made it clear that Philip’s reign must end so a new king “to God’s pleasing” could lead Spain to a better future.
Lucrecia dreamed repeatedly about dangers to Spain, the death of the king, the scheming of Francis Drake and Queen Elizabeth in England, and threats to the Spanish fleet, which was led by the Marquis of Santa Cruz. In a dream from December 14, 1587, Lucrecia saw a terrible vision of war on the sea and woe for the Spanish Armada:
I saw two strong fleets fighting a fierce battle. Because I had seen them fight before, I knew that one was the fleet of the Marquis of Santa Cruz, the other of Drake. This battle was the fiercest and loudest of all those I had seen in other dreams. Previously, I had seen them fighting in a port; this one was on the high seas and lasted all afternoon because before it began I heard a clock strike one; it lasted three hours, until sunset. Once the sun was down, I saw the defeated fleet of the Marquis of Santa Cruz fleeing toward the north, having lost many of its ships and men, and I saw Drake’s fleet returning to England to take on more troops. I saw Drake writing letters, asking for more men. He also wanted to forward a request for troops to the Great Turk, but one of his knights said, “Do not send it, the men we have are enough to secure victory.” And with this I woke up.
Lucrecia had several other ominous dreams in 1587 and 1588 about the Armada’s dire future, which were recorded by Don Alonso’s scribes and shared among various members of the court and nobility. When the Armada was in fact defeated in August of 1588, no one could say they had not been warned. Yet it seemed inconceivable to the religious and political leaders of Spain that the vehicle for this shockingly accurate prophecy was a poor, uneducated young woman. Indeed, her very existence now posed an embarrassing affront to King Philip, who had put so much personal and theological emphasis on the holy cause of the Armada. Finally, he had enough. In May of 1590 he directed his religious police, the Inquisition, to put an end to her prophetic career.
So. What does this story tell us about the two questions I posed at the outset, questions that are relevant to almost every historical and contemporary instance of revelatory dreaming?
First, how can we tell if a dream is a true revelation, and not just a personal fantasy or total fabrication?
The answer is clearly not a trial by the Spanish Inquisition. That much comes through in Lucrecia’s story.
Ironically, the trial did highlight many of the criteria that can be used to reach a more satisfying answer. Indeed, in many ways Lucrecia, Don Alonso, and his colleagues conducted an admirably well-designed research study of precognitive dreaming. Her dreams were recorded as soon as they occurred, by someone other than the dreamer. The significant patterns emerged across many dreams, not just from a single dream. The dreams were recorded many months before the predicted event (the defeat of the Armada) occurred. The dreamer displayed no signs of mental illness or erratic behavior. She gained little personal benefit from sharing her dreams; indeed, she brought tremendous danger upon herself by doing so. And, when all was said and done, her dreams unmistakably came true—they accurately predicted a shocking national disaster.
By these pragmatic criteria, Lucrecia’s dreams can be judged true revelations.
Second, what is the best/safest/most effective way of channeling the disruptive energies of a revelatory dream?
For the few months that it worked as planned, the system Don Alonso set up provided Lucrecia with an amazing opportunity to contribute her oneiric gifts to something bigger than herself. By sharing her dreams with Don Alonso’s scribes each morning, she felt she was actively helping to promote the welfare of her country and her faith. She evidently found this a very meaningful pursuit, and it was during these times that Lucrecia was healthiest, her dreams most vivid, and her relationship with Don Alonso most trusting and mutually respectful. Although the process took a horrific turn, there was a brief period in which a highly effective method emerged, with a group of dedicated people channeling a powerful source of revelatory dreaming towards an issue of immense public concern. The king and his religious police may have rejected the product of this method, but that does not take away from the fact that, had they been heeded, Lucrecia’s dreams could have staved off a catastrophe that cost thousands of Spanish lives.
Let me conclude with the idea that Lucrecia’s abilities as a prophetic dreamer were unusual, but not unique. Other people in various places and times, including people today, have experienced similar phenomena. Perhaps everyone has the potential for such dreams, given the right circumstances. Lucrecia’s dreams highlight latent abilities within the human psyche that are real, powerful, and potentially valuable, although they may appear threatening to traditional religious and political authorities.
This is true today as well. The wild multiplicities of dreaming inevitably run into conflict with rigid, monolithic systems of thought and behavior. At a time when waking-world boundaries are hardening and clashes between ideological tribes are worsening, the act of dreaming, and sharing dreams, becomes a meaningful political and spiritual gesture. Dreams remind us of our existential freedom and capacity for future growth, and they help us see the world from various perspectives besides that of our waking ego. They tap into our deepest sources of creative insight, and, in cases like Lucrecia’s, they envision threats to our communities that can be avoided if consciously recognized and humbly acknowledged.
Bulkeley, Kelly. 2018. Lucrecia the Dreamer: Prophecy, Cognitive Science, and the Spanish Inquisition. Stanford University Press.
________. 2008. Dreaming in the World’s Religions: A Comparative History. NYU Press.
Gackenbach, Jayne, and Stephen LaBerge, ed.s. 1988. Conscious Mind, Sleeping Brain: Perspectives on Lucid Dreaming. Plenum.
Kahan, Tracey and Stephen LaBerge. 2011. “Dreaming and Waking: Similarities and Differences Revisited.” Consciousness and Cognition 20: 494-515.
Patton, Kimberley. 2004. “‘A Great and Strange Correction’: Intentionality, Locality, and Epiphany in the Category of Dream Incubation.” History of Religions 43: 194-223.
Ricoeur, Paul. 1967. The Symbolism of Evil. Beacon Press.
American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting
Western Esotericism Unit
“Esoteric Traditions of Revelatory Dreaming”
November 17, 2018, Saturday, 1-3 pm
The revelatory power of dreaming, illustrated in the sacred texts and practices of religious traditions all over the world, has prompted people in many cultures to seek more access to that power via rituals of dream incubation, which can generate intensified dreams of conscious awareness and metacognition (lucid dreaming). With that comparative material as context, this presentation will focus on the author’s original research on a little-known historical example of revelatory dreaming: Lucrecia de Leon, a young woman from 16th century Spain whose prophetic dreams threatened the king and brought down the wrath of the Inquisition. This example highlights some of the potential dangers of revelatory dreaming, dangers that revolve around two key questions: How can we tell if a dream is a true revelation, and not just a personal fantasy or total fabrication? What is the best/safest/most effective way of channeling the disruptive energies of a revelatory dream?
Simple steps you can take to help the future study of dreams.
Sooner or later, people who keep a dream journal realize they are creating a document of more than just personal interest. They realize their journal is an amazing window into the lived experiences of a unique individual, offering potential insights for psychology, history, anthropology, and many other fields. And they wonder if it would be helpful, under the right conditions, to offer their journals to researchers for study and exploration.
It’s true, dream journals can be profoundly helpful to researchers who want to better understand the powers of the human mind. Some of the most important questions about the nature and meaning of dreams can only be answered by looking closely at the natural flow of dreaming during the course of a person’s life—that is, by looking at a well-tended dream journal.
This, I believe, is the most exciting horizon in the future study of dreams, and we can make huge progress in this direction by gathering high-quality journals from diverse people and exploring them with a variety of creative methods of analysis.
Not everyone who keeps a journal wants to go down this path, and that’s fine. The primary audience of a dream journal is the dreamer him or herself, and it really doesn’t have to expand any further than that.
But if you do have an interest in contributing your journal to the general study of dreams, there are a few simple steps you can take to prepare your journal, and yourself, for the process.
1. Record your dreams well.
The goal is to record your dreams in a way that works best for you, and that researchers can understand and study. Legible handwriting is a good start; many great projects begin with nothing more than a collection of handwritten journals. Audio recordings are another possibility. A file written in a digital word processing format is ideal, and most researchers will want to study a digital transcription of the dreams, in addition to the original recordings.
Make sure to include the date of the dream with each report. Some people date each dream from the day of the morning they wake up; I date my dreams from the day of the night I go to sleep. Either way is fine, just be clear and consistent.
At this point, English is the most widely used language for scholarly analysis. That will eventually change, but in the meantime, the ideal formatting of your journal would include the original language(s) of the dreams, along with an English translation if needed.
Each dream report should be just that, a report of a dream. It’s best if you include no associations, memories, or comments in the report. Just the dream, please. All of the further associations, etc., can be included in a separate file (see below).
The most helpful dream reports are written in as much detail as possible, especially about the settings, characters, thoughts, and feelings you experience within the dream. And, although it’s not necessary, I think it’s best to report the dream in the present tense—“I see my friend and we say hello,” rather than “I saw my friend and we said hello.”
2. Include additional material.
If you have the time and willingness to collect additional information about your dreams and their context in your life, that would of course be of great interest to anyone studying your journal. The key here is to be organized, and make it clear how the extra material is connected to the dream reports. Otherwise, a researcher could easily get overwhelmed by all the non-dream information, and lose track of the dreams themselves.
It’s helpful, both for the dreamer and for researchers, to know the following: 1) The location of where you were sleeping when you had the dream (the city is usually enough) and the level of familiarity (e.g. home vs. a hotel); 2) The length and quality of your sleep during the night of the dream; 3) The ages of the characters in the dream and their relations to you in waking life.
Drawings, sketches, and diagrams can be very effective for some people in describing their dreams.
Most researchers will be curious about your personal background, family upbringing, etc., so you might consider writing a brief account of your life, sharing whatever you think is most relevant for understanding your dreams.
3. Think about what you want.
Before contacting a researcher, make sure you’ve given some thought to the arrangements you would like to have in place. You should be aware that, sadly, there are very few institutional resources in the world devoted to the study of dreams. Most libraries, universities, and schools of psychology do not have the facilities or financial resources to accept donations of dream journals. However, there are individual scholars in various fields who have experience in working with participants in projects like this. Ideally they would be able to help you with expenses for formatting, translation, etc.
There is currently no commercial value to dream journal data. Most people are content with two non-financial benefits from the research process. First, they receive a greatly expanded vision of the meaningful patterns in their dreams. No researcher can ever predict where exactly the process will lead, but most people find intrinsic satisfaction in learning more about the deeper meanings of their dreams.
Second, they enjoy the feeling of tangibly helping the cause of dream research and broadening public awareness of dreaming. Once someone learns from personal experience about the transformative powers of dreaming, they naturally wonder how the world might change if more people became familiar with this potent inner source of creativity….
Very important: Think about how much confidentiality screening you want for your dreams. Some people do not mind allowing others to read their “raw” dream reports, while other people prefer to delete some passages and change the names of people and places, to preserve their privacy and the privacy of others. Once the real names in your dreams have been replaced with pseudonyms, it becomes difficult if not impossible to identify with certainty the real characters in the dreams.
And if there are a few dreams in the journal you simply don’t want anyone else to see, that’s okay, go ahead and remove them from what you share.
4. Make sure the arrangements are fair, ethical, and mutual.
Only get involved with researchers you trust. Make sure they understand that if at any point you want to end the research process, that’s it, you’re done, no questions asked.
Take a look at the ethics statement of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, and confirm that anyone you deal with is acting in accordance with these principles.
The researchers should report any significant findings to you, and they should consult with you on possible publications that reference your dreams. If you request, the researchers should treat you as a co-investigator, offering you regular updates and opportunities for your feedback and giving you as much public credit as you want to receive.
Your dreams, and your dream journal, are primarily for you. That’s a foundational principle, never to be forgotten. And, in addition to that, beyond the sphere of your personal life, your dreams have an amazing potential to teach many important lessons to other people, now and far into the future.
Note: this post first appeared in Psychology Today on November 2, 2018.
More awareness of sleep leads to more awareness in sleep.
Why is it so hard to motivate people to sleep better? Sleep is vital to human health, yet many of us get much less of it than we truly need. Sleep deprivation causes devastating personal and social damage, including more frequent accidents, injuries, illnesses, and behavioral problems. But people rarely make a serious, sustained effort to improve their sleep habits. Why not?
One reason is the common assumption that sleep is just an empty void, a barren gap of nothingness between times of being awake. Who wants to prioritize something that’s empty and blank?
But here’s the thing: that common assumption is false. Sleep is not empty. It includes a highly active mode of brain-mind functioning that has stimulated the creative works of artists, visionaries, and innovators throughout history. The better you sleep, the more fully your mind can enter into this natural mode of enhanced mental creativity. Once you become more conscious of your mind’s activities in sleep, you can begin to develop its powers and focus its creative energies wherever you choose.
Psychologists call this “lucid dreaming,” a modern term for an experience that was well-known to ancient cultures. Early teachings from Hinduism and Buddhism talked about conscious awareness in sleep as a kind of meditation that goes beyond the waking state. Philosophers from classical Greece admired the potential in sleep for a pure form of mental clarity. In many indigenous cultures, shamanic healers were trained to become conscious within sleep so they could seek out cures for people who were sick.
The human mind is capable of becoming conscious and active during the state of sleep—that’s the common thread in all these historical traditions. Combining this with the findings of modern psychology, it becomes clear that lucid dreaming is a natural power of the human mind. Everyone has this potential in their sleep. You have this potential. It’s simply waiting for you to actualize it.
A good way to start that process is by observing and identifying the levels of awareness in your current sleep and dreams. You may be surprised to find there are already many elements of lucidity in your dreams right now; you just hadn’t noticed them before.
The practice is easy. When you go to sleep each night, repeat to yourself: “I’m going to be more aware tonight when I sleep and dream.” When you wake up each morning, write down whatever dreams you can remember. If nothing comes to you, that’s fine, don’t worry about it. If you do remember a dream, write it down and give it a score based on the following scale of awareness, which I’ve adapted from Purcell et al., 1993:
Levels of Lucidity
- You are not present in the dream, and the content is vague. (For example, “Something about chasing.”)
- You are present as an observer, and the content includes some details. (“I see someone being chased by a monster.”)
- You observe and think about the content, which includes more specific details. (“I see a dark-haired man being chased by a monster, and I wonder where the monster came from.”)
- You are a character in the dream, but with no power or agency. (“I am being chased by a monster, and I can’t get away and I start to panic.”)
- You are a character in the dream, with some awareness and agency. (“A monster chases me in my house, and I decide my best option is to hide in the basement.”)
- You gain more awareness and agency in the dream. (“While a monster looks for me upstairs, I realize my car is outside, and I grab my keys and run.”)
- You gain full control within the dream. (“I see a monster coming, so I lock all the doors to my house, and the monster has to leave me alone.”)
- You gain some control over the process of dreaming. (“A monster gets into my house, so I mentally pause the dream to give myself a chance to escape.”)
- You gain more awareness and control over the process of dreaming. (“A monster gets into my house, but I know that’s the start of a chasing dream, so I switch everything to a beach scene where I’m flying over the ocean.”)
- You consciously co-create the dream.(“I realize I am dreaming, and I decide to go back in time to my family home, where I can learn more about my hopes and fears during childhood….”)
Most dreams are in the 1 to 6 range. Many people have experienced dreams at the 7 and 8 levels, but rarely. Only a few people have experienced dreams at the 9 and 10 levels, although virtually anyone with the right training and practice has the potential to experience dreams reaching the highest levels of conscious awareness.
If you record your dreams using this scale, you will quickly discover which scenarios bring the most lucidity into your sleeping mind. You will learn what kinds of dreams stimulate your consciousness, and what kinds of dreams block or diminish it. Maybe you have dreams with less awareness during the week, and dreams with more awareness on the weekends. Maybe there are certain things you do during the day, or people you see, or places you go, that have a direct impact on the lucidity levels of your dreams. Perhaps your awareness varies depending on what you eat, or when you exercise, or what you watch on tv….
This is valuable information to know about yourself, and you can use it to guide the development of a lucid dreaming practice that is focused directly on your needs and interests.
There are many different methods and techniques available for increasing the frequency of lucid dreaming, all of which have their pros and cons depending on the individual dreamer. A method can be very effective for some people, but completely useless for others. You will have an easier time finding the approach that works best for you if you start by learning about your own natural patterns of awareness in sleep.
Once you establish a solid foundation of healthy sleep, you can train your mind to become an amazing source of creativity and innovation. I suggest you begin your journey of lucid dreaming by reviewing your sleep and making sure you are doing everything possible to settle your body, deepen your rest, and prepare your mind for new adventures in the growth of consciousness.
Note: The “levels of lucidity scale” is adapted from: Purcell, S., Moffitt, A., & Hoffmann, R. (1993). “Waking, Dreaming, and Self-Regulation.” In A. Moffitt, M. Kramer, & R. Hoffmann (Eds.), The Functions of Dreaming (pp. 197-260). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
This post was first published in Psychology Today on October 18, 2018.