What is dream incubation?
When we do "dream incubation," we request a dream on a particular
topic. This is a valuable skill because the topic might be a problem
(for which we solicit a solution), or a dreamworld activity which we
want to experience (for entertainment or education).
occurs naturally from our daytime experiences. Saint Thomas Aquinas
said, "Those things that have occupied a man's thoughts and
affections while awake recur to his imagination while asleep." The
unconscious mind incorporates these topics into dreams because it
wants to ponder them further in the form of symbolic drama. To a
degree, we can manage this process to make it more productive (as
least by our conscious mind's standards), to program dreams which
confront the issues which seem important to us.
to problems. We have all had an incident in which we went to sleep
thinking about a problem and then, when we awoke, we had the answer.
Our unconscious mind deliberated on the topic throughout the night in
dreams (and probably in other, non-dream-related mental operations).
The issue might be related to our career, health, personal
relationships, or other decisions or conflicts. The incubation might
ask for general guidance ("What do I need to know and do in order to
improve my life?"), or specific assistance ("How can I enhance my
financial state?"), or decision-making ("Should I agree to marry this
person?"). One of my friends asked for advice as to whether she
should continue to write a book which she had started. During a
subsequent dream, she saw the credits of a TV-movie based on her
book; when she awoke, she accepted this dream as a confirmation that
she should finish the book.
Techniques of dream
Develop a phrase for your incubation. Follow these guidelines
for an effective incubation:
Make one simple sentence, using the fewest number of words
to express your intention: "I will dream about my sister."
Use positive terms: "What can I do to feel healthier?"
rather than "Why do I feel sick?" The first incubation will
probably give solutions; the second might create a nightmare
which depicts the problem but no answer.
Use either a question ("What should I do to experience more
happiness?") or a statement ("I want a dream in which I learn
how to be happier"). Be specific -- or not. We might want
information about our relationship with a particular person, or
insight into our relationships in general. Be flexible. Express
the incubation in different words on different nights. One
style of wording might be more effective than another. Incubate
just one topic at a time. We will be able to concentrate more
fully on the incubation if we have only one subject. Save the
others for future nights. Consider other uses for dream
incubation. Some people incubate dreams for creative
inspiration (for their artwork). Other people incubate a
generally "happy ending" to any dream which occurs.
Associate the topic with an emotion. When you repeat the
incubation phrase, feel the emotion which is related to it. Our
dreams seem to be generated primarily by our emotional arousals
rather than by our intellectual interests, so an incubation which
has an emotional component is more likely to be honored by the
unconscious mind. The feeling -- pleasant or unpleasant -- might
be fear, anger, sexual desire, eagerness, pleasure, worry, or
Visualize the desired dream. While awake, use your imagination
to "see" yourself immersed in the dream, doing the incubated
action or receiving the desired information. Or picture yourself
awakening in the morning with a memory of the incubated dream. As
you visualize, feel the emotion which corresponds with the topic.
Use other senses besides vision; "hear" the voice of anyone who
will be in the dream, or "smell" the perfume which she often
wears, or add your sense of touch or taste.
Use sensory aids. Visualization lets us "see" internally, but
we can also use our external vision (and other senses); use
objects which correspond to the incubation. For example, if you
want to dream about your uncle, look at his photograph, read his
letters, talk about him, enact a drama in which you imagine that
he is present, draw a picture of him, or watch a home video or
listen to a cassette recording in which he is present. If you can
visit your uncle on the evening of the incubation, add other
sensory input -- the scent of his body, the texture of his hair
and skin. As you do these things, silently ask your unconscious
mind for a dream on this subject. You might place a related object
(such as a photo) under your pillow or next to you in bed, or you
might wear, for example, one of his shirts to bed. And you could
listen to a tape recording of his voice as you enter sleep.
Repeat the incubation throughout the day. Say it many times,
silently or aloud. Mentally concentrate on the phrase, and feel
the corresponding emotion. Every time we reiterate it, we increase
the probability that the incubation will take effect. Write the
phrase in your dream journal and on "reminder" notes which you
will see during the day (and perhaps on a piece of paper to put
under your pillow).
Be relaxed while doing the incubation. The incubation phrase
can be repeated at any time, but it might most effective if we say
it while we are doing a relaxation technique. During this period,
our unconscious mind is receptive, and we are in a
right-hemisphere mode which more closely approximates the dream
state. A similar state is hypnosis (or self-hypnosis); some people
have used post-hypnotic suggestion to incubate dreams on specific
Be certain that you want to know the answer. If we fear that
the response to an incubation will upset us, we might be less
successful with the incubation. For example, if we want to know
whether we should marry a person, but we are afraid that the
answer will be "no" (or "yes") the unconscious mind might not
permit the proposed dream to occur. If the dream does occur, the
mind's Freudian "censor" might keep us from recalling it or being
able to interpret it.
Gather the related facts for problem-solving incubations. The
unconscious mind needs data to process during its problem-solving
function; it cannot operate in a vacuum. Supply this data by
reading about the incubation subject, pondering its causes and
consequences and potential solutions, and noting your feelings
about it. Don't expect an answer during the information-gathering
stage; the unconscious mind requires time -- and it will do much
of its processing during our next sleep period.
Repeat the incubation just prior to sleep. Review the factors
and feelings involved in the incubation, with calm assurance that
the unconscious mind will provide a resolution; this is not a time
for profound analysis or anxiety regarding the subject. Ask your
unconscious mind to fulfill the incubation and to help you to
remember and interpret (and accept the message of) the resulting
dream. As you approach sleep, repeat the phrase (with
corresponding imagery and a gentle feeling), and sense that you
are releasing the repetitions into the unconscious mind like
helium balloons ascending into the sky.
Search for the solution in your dream interpretation. When you
awaken, recall your dreams, and explore them for any feelings or
symbolic images which might refer to the incubated topic. The
correlation might not be apparent at first, but it might appear as
you study the dreams further. If we incubated a solution to a
problem, the answer might emerge as a hunch during wakefulness,
even if we do not remember the dream in which the problem was
Analyze the response to your incubated question. We need to be
careful in accepting advice which has apparently been given by a
dream. Dreams frequently exaggerate their themes for dramatic
effect, so they might not be presenting realistic guidance. And we
must consider the possibility that we have interpreted the dream
incorrectly. Be certain that the interpretation feels right and
seems sensible before acting on it.
Be patient. An incubation might not occur until a few days
after we request it. Perhaps this delay occurs because of
"scheduling conflicts"; the unconscious mind has other matters to
investigate during the limited time allotted for dreams, and our
topic is not a priority. Or maybe the incubation won't occur until
we rephrase the question, or until we are psychologically "ready"
to hear the answer, or until the unconscious mind has formulated
its response (after processing the data), or until we have
mastered one of the skills of incubation. Consider these
possibilities, and others, while you wait for the incubated dream.
Accept the unconscious mind's overrides. The last paragraph
suggests that the unconscious mind is in control of our
dreamworld; we need to respect its authority and intelligence.
Some people worry that dream incubation is "tampering" with the
dream process (and displacing more-important dreams which the
unconscious is trying to give to us) -- but the unconscious mind
has the prerogative to ignore any incubations which would
interfere with its serious work; it is likely to accept only the
incubations which conform to its interests. Although we have
leeway to impose our will and desires within the dreamworld, we
will always be amateurs and guests in that realm. We need to
acquiesce humbly to the unconscious mind's wisdom.
Be alert to dreams which tell you to back off from
inappropriate incubations. Following are examples of my
unconscious mind's "don't-waste-my-time" dreams. I feel that the
meaning of these responses was that I should refrain from
relatively meaningless incubations, and that I should not seek
something in dreams which I could find in my waking life.
Because I enjoy my computer, I wanted to incubate a dream
about it. In a dream, I saw a computer for a moment, and
someone said (in a breathless voice which implied that he was
too busy to talk to me), "There's your computer. Are you
I knew that lucidity often occurs in dreams in which we see
sources of light. On two nights, I tried to incubate a dream
about (1) a lightbulb and (2) the sky. In both cases, the
response occurred not during a dream, but after I awoke. The
lightbulb incubation was answered when I arose from my bed and
turned on a light; a quiet inner voice said (somewhat
sarcastically), "There's your lightbulb." The sky incubation
generated a similar response; when I was at a park the
following day, I felt my gaze go upward, and a voice said,
"There is your sky."
When I lived in California, I enjoyed swimming at the Santa
Cruz beaches. An incubation for a visit to a beach resulted in
this dream: "I receive an envelope which appears to have been
sent from a distant place. The envelope seems to contain sand.
I open the envelope, and pour the sand into my hand. I wonder
about the significance of the sand, but it feels like an
ordinary substance. I think, 'It's just sand.'" My journal adds
this note: "This dream seems to be telling me that the
incubation was a trivial request. I received a component of the
'beach' request (the sand), but it had no meaning."
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