From September 26 till December 11, I conducted a dream incubation experiment. Dream incubation is the art of seeking guidance from our dreams. Interpreting our dreams, of course, already presents us with guidance, but when we incubate a question or concern, we can promote the feedback loop (in the words of Ryan Hurd) that occurs between the conscious and unconscious. In this concluding post, I want to share some insights I gained from my experiment.
Incubating a dream is a serious practice that requires careful preparation. Focusing on our concerns is important to receiving a clear answer. It should also be an enjoyable experience, a time to let go of the day’s tensions and turn inward.
The number of hours we sleep can affect dream recall, but so can the need to deal with an issue. I sometimes experienced impressive dream recall even with the crazy sleep schedule that plagued me throughout most of my experiment. The last week of my experiment had me following a normal sleep schedule but getting 20% less dream recall than my average because there was work being done within the unconscious that I wasn’t consciously ready to deal with till the end of the week. Although getting less than 6 hours of sleep may not pull up a total blank, dream incubation is definitely more enjoyable on a full night’s sleep (7 to 9 hours).
Ryan Hurd had warned against certain things on dream incubation nights (alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and a heavy meal). I don’t drink alcohol and my caffeine intake is minimal, so I can’t comment on those. I agree, though, that sugar and heavy foods at an evening meal are downers. They may not kill results in and of themselves, but they definitely don’t play nice with the delicate dream incubation process.
This was a particular point of interest to me. There are basically three types of activities that serve dream recall: relaxation, creativity, and inspiration. Relaxation includes meditation, a hot bath, calming music, and aromatherapy. Creativity might be drawing or painting, writing poetry or a story, or watching a low-key film. An uplifting book, DVD, or audiobook can serve as inspiration for messages from the unconscious.
I was really interested in finding out whether one of these would prove more fruitful for dream incubation. I came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter one iota which one you do. All have produced vivid, symbol-rich dreams alongside dull, symbol-sparse dreams.
One thing I can say, though, is that Ryan’s advice about shutting off the media early is right on. The news, Twitter, and Facebook insert unnecessary stress and noise into our brain when we need to be emptying it of all care and noncrucial details.
I also discovered that it’s not a good idea to do any activity that demands prolonged logical analysis. In my experience, it gets energy flowing through the wrong part of the brain for dream incubation. Dreams are visceral and holistic, and we serve them better by prepping the mind with the same kinds of activities (namely relaxation, creativity, or inspiration).
“Dream Incubation” by Rainbow Gryphon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Making the Request
Requesting the most appropriate information was probably the biggest challenge I personally faced throughout my experiment. At the same time, it’s not the end of the world if we get it wrong. We need to expect to sometimes request information that we’re not ready to receive yet. Or we may get an answer but it won’t register until later. Or the answer we get may be confusing to us because our state of mind over what we asked was confused.
For this reason, we need to see dream incubation as a process, not as an activity. Dreams don’t futz around. If we ask an unimportant question, we’ll get an answer in the dream that tells us that and directs our attention to what’s really important. If the question is too ambitious for us at the time we asked it, we might get an answer weeks later. I found it really helpful to keep a log of my dream incubation requests. Even if you don’t do a long-term experiment like I did, writing the request down may help you remember it if you get an answer some time after you did the actual incubation.
There were times when the request I wanted to make was very clear to me. Then there were other times when I had to try out a bunch of requests before I could feel which one was the one I wanted to make. When it comes to the format of the request, a lot depends on personal style. I’m used to asking questions from my Tarot training. Not only that but I’m also used to asking how, what, and why questions rather than yes/no questions. I also made requests for information rather than asked a question (i.e., Please give me more information on XYZ). The format of the request really didn’t make any difference.
What did make a difference was the attitude. Making dream incubation requests can help us become aware of a negative attitude towards life. My early requests, for instance, sometimes reflected an external locus of control. In other words, they took the attitude that outside forces had control of the things that happened to me rather than me having control of them (an internal locus of control). If we change requests like Why can’t I be more productive? to How can I be more productive?, we’ll feel a greater sense of empowerment, and that will reflect in our dreams.
I personally went with something really simple when focusing on my dream incubation request. I simply lay on my back, did some deep breathing to relax, and repeated the request multiple times until I felt certain that it was ingrained in my brain. Visualization can also be an aid in concentration when incubating a dream.
Most important, in my opinion, is trust in the process. Even though we need to accept that dreams may not give us the information we’re seeking in our incubation, we can be confident that we’ll receive important information to help us along the way. Dream incubation, whether it’s a one-off deal or a long-term experiment like I did, is a chance to practice non-attachment. If we feel desperate to receive an answer about something, it’s likely not a good candidate for dream incubation (some emotional exploration is a better idea).
Writing dreams down is always a good idea, but I think it’s especially important when incubating dreams. Even if we incubate for just a single night, it’s worth recording dreams not just from dream incubation night but also for a period of at least a couple of weeks. This is again because incubation is a process rather than an activity, so if we took the time to incubate, we might as well get the most out of it by keeping a record during a substantial period of time after the incubation.
Relating dream content to the incubated request is an art, not a science. Sometimes, answers to my requests were straightforward, even in-your-face. At other times, I had to use more abstract thinking. We must remember that dreams work differently from the conscious mind, so we can’t always expect to get a logically organized answer. I would even say this is the exception rather than the norm.
It helps to first interpret the dream without relating it to the incubated request. Then, go back to the request and ask yourself Where is XYZ that I wanted to know about? You may only see it in a single image, an emotion, a dream character, or a spoken word in the dream. Amy Brucker, who’s also written about dream incubation, says to notice themes or recurring symbols in dreams. Highlight or underline the ones that relate directly to the dream incubation request. Track for a period of at least 2 weeks whether this theme or symbol appears again because you might be receiving more information to answer your original dream incubation request.
I personally learned a lot through this dream incubation experiment. Although I’ve decided not to report on a weekly basis anymore, I’ll continue to incubate dreams. Ideally, we do this when we have a clear request to make because that contributes to the visceral, holistic process of dreaming. Dreams are a well of wisdom within each of us, so pitch a penny into the well through incubation and see if you pull up gold.
Please see the introductory post for an index of all dream incubation experiment articles.