How to incubate a dream

Last week, in the comments, Abi said she wished she could visit her dream house more often, and I suggested she might try incubating a dream.

Creative dreaming is all about ‘flying on the wings of intent,’ to borrow a phrase from Carlos Casteneda. Setting an intention is how we start to establish regular dream-recall, as I explain here

Once we have begun to experience regular recall, we can use intention in the same way, to incubate a dream on a particular topic. I sometimes do this with a group.

The first time I did it, I asked my workshop participants to intend to dream about a tree. Of the six people in that group, five reported tree dreams the following week.

Two people dreamt about saplings, and another about ‘baby trees.’ I dreamt about a tree-lined avenue. The fifth person, frustrated by a marked no-show of trees for the first few nights, wrote a poem about a tree to help set her intention, and then dreamt she was on a ranch in America, where she saw a single tree in the distance which looked like a child’s drawing of a tree.

This person thought, either in her dream or upon waking – she couldn’t tell which – ‘There was a tree!’ The same thing happened in my dream, where I thought, ‘Ooh… lots of trees!’

This is the waking ‘I’ being aware during the dream, and an interesting bonus of dream-incubation is that you’re likely to become lucid at the point where the dream meets the conscious expectation.

I incubate dreams to resolve plot problems and develop my writing ideas, as well as to gain insights into anything which might be bothering me in my everyday life.

If you want to try it, think about your dream intention at points throughout the day, affirming, ‘Tonight, I will dream about…’ Repeat your intention as you go to sleep.

You can reinforce your intention by writing it down, or drawing an image to represent it. Promise yourself that you will record any and every dream you recall when you wake up.

This last point is important. If you don’t automatically record everything, your conscious rational mind can click in too early and push your dreams away.

Besides, if you’ve asked for a dream, it would feel rude not to note down the answer. The dream will not co-operate if it thinks you’re just messing around.

9 thoughts on “How to incubate a dream”

  1. Fascinating post, Jenny. I’ve heard of dream incubation before, but never got round to trying it. I will definitely have to give it a go now!

    1. If you’re a regular recaller, you should get results straight away as part of your practice, Emma. If you don’t usually record any dreams, start recording, incubate for a specific theme straight away, and persevere. Research suggests most people can establish good recall within 2 weeks. I give my groups 3 or 4 weeks to get in the zone before I suggest incubating on a particular subject, but I can’t see any reason why it shouldn’t work earlier

  2. I remember dreaming of the sapling struggling in a bramble filled band of woodland at the edge of a motorway and feeling a bit miffed that it wasn’t a beautiful mature oak in the sunshine. The dream was faint, dark and unsatisfactory at the time. A couple of years on, reading this post and remembering, I identlfy fully with the now clear memory of the sapling. I need to try and re-incubate the image to help myself to grow away from that oppressive environment. It has also given me a very clear idea for a short story.

  3. Hi Liz – I remember you telling that dream as well. As everyone who brought a tree dream that evening had saplings, if I were to extrapolate meaning I’d perhaps say you were all experimenting with incubation for the first time, and that’s why your trees were young. It would be really interesting to hear what your dream tree might be like now, if you incubated one. That would be a wonderful picture, too.
    (Lizzie’s story of how she created the House of Dreams picture is here )

  4. Love this post Jenny!!! Thanks so much for explaining this. I am going to try it tonight. Will do the telling myself what to dream bit today too to build up to it. Can’t wait to see the results.

  5. Ooh – exciting! Regard it as a 2-3 day task, Abi – record everything – see what happens.

  6. I love this post Jenny. It’s fascinating. I have sometimes tried to sort out problems with plot through my dreams and although I don’t wake up the following morning with a lightbulb moment, gradually during the day, all the knotty bits seem to unravel so something’s working somewhere albeit rather slowly in my subconscious! I shall practise over the next few days with trying to conjure up specific and beautiful images in my dreams so thank-you very much in anticipation.

  7. You’re so right, Alex – I think this necessary work of the subconscious is part of the creative process, and surrendering to it is a much more efficient way of meeting problems than trying to bash your plot into shape before it’s ready. The work happens on its own because your question is there in the front of your mind – the only difference is that with dream incubation we make it conscious and actually ask it. Let me know how you get on!

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