The average human being will sleep approximately 229,961 hours over the course of their life. Dreaming, including working on dream recall and lucid dreaming, can offer us gateways to cultivating a rich inner life and in supporting our spiritual and creative practices. In many spirit-led cultures, dreaming and sacred dreams have a tremendously powerful role; dreams can help guide and shape us and offer teachings, lessons, and inspiration. But in western culture, people assume their dreams are by-products of their waking hours, and often don’t know how to work with them in any intentional way. Dreams can be very powerful forces of creative flow and insight in our lives. Given how much time we spend in dreams, this represents a great opportunity to explore spiritual practices tied to dreaming. Today’s post specifically explores how to use dreaming to support ongoing creative practices and creative work, including setting intentions, dream recall, and lucid dreaming.
This post is part of my ongoing series on creativity and spirituality, which I consider to be of critical importance due to the rise in AI designed to strip us of our own creative gifts. Last week’s post explored how daydreaming and mind-wandering can support creative practices. Today we’ll explore the other side of this–dreaming–and how dreaming can also cultivate a rich creative practice and inner life. Previous posts in this series include taking up the path of the bard parts I, and II, practice makes perfect, the fine art of making things, bardic arts as spiritual development, rituals to enhance creativity, cultivating the flow of awen in our lives, the bardic arts and the ancestors, visioning the future with the bardic arts, and creativity to support mental health. So let’s continue our journey in exploring the bardic arts as a core part of spiritual practice and being human with–dreaming!
What is Dreaming?
Before we get into how to engage in dream seeding, lucid dreaming, and dream recall, it is useful to explore what we mean by dreaming. Let’s start with some cultural assumptions about dreaming and take a moment to examine our own assumptions.
In the West, dreams are considered completely part of our subconscious, that is, they are tied to our brains and are seen as our brains processing the day’s experiences, working through things, and connecting us to ourselves. We can see this from work like Carl Jung, who writes:
“Dreams are impartial, spontaneous products of the unconscious psyche, outside the control of the will. They are pure nature; they show us the unvarnished, natural truth, and are therefore fitted, as nothing else is, to give us back an attitude that accords with our basic human nature when our consciousness has strayed too far from its foundations and run into an impasse.” –Carl Jung, Collected Works Volume 10, paragraph 317
This perspective is a useful place to start, but if we are seeing creativity as a sacred act tied to spiritual practice, it is insufficient for our purposes today.
If we look at cultures beyond modern Western ones, we can see that dreams are much richer and spirit-filled. In this view, dreaming is a way to not only connect with ourselves but also connect with spirits (ancestors, deities, etc), receive their lessons and teachings, and travel in a world that is just as real as our own. We can see dreams at work in various ways with the cultures that influenced modern Druidry, including the Welsh. In the Mabinogion, The Dream of Rhonabwy, where Rhonabwy has a three-day dream where he visits the time of King Arthur. Ettlinger (1946) in “Precognitive Dreams in Celtic Legend” shows that some of the most ancient sources show the power of dreams for the Ancient Irish. Dreams were powerful portents and signs and were considered divinatory, visionary, and healing. She notes a number of different ancient Irish stories where prophetic dreams lead kings to avoid conflict or seek it out, and they often sought out advice to interpret their dreams. We see similar philosophies in existing indigenous traditions today. For example, in Black Elk Speaks, much of the teachings that Black Elk conveys to his people were passed to him through his dreams. The Aboriginal Australian Dreamtime is a critical part of Aboriginal spirituality and is recognized as the essence of who they are as people. As described by Clanchy (1994), the Dreamtime dates back at least 65,000 years and part of it includes stories of how the universe was created, but also land that they inhabit, the spirit of the place.
What I’m presenting here is just a small piece of various cultures’ beliefs about dreaming beyond ourselves and into the world of spirit/the divine. Dreams can be as real as the waking world, a place where we can be inspired, gain ideas for creative practices, journey, and cultivate a rich inner life.
So you might think about how you view dreams–do you see them as fully internal? Do you value them? Do you believe that you can receive messages from them? Do you actively cultivate and seek out dreams and dreaming? Do you see them as sacred? Thinking about these questions can help you take your own sacred dreaming and allow you to connect with them for creative practices.
Before I get into the next section, I want to share two things. First, I feel like I am very much still learning my way into these practices–while I’ve been interested in dreaming and dreamwork and have been doing it for years, I still feel like there is a lot of untapped potential in my own dreaming practice. Second, I have found that the more that I am committed to embracing and cultivating a rich inner life (meditation, ritual, spirit-focused, time in nature, bardic arts), the more that I am able to engage in these practices in much more depth. But, if I have too much screen time, I am falling off in my ritual work, etc, am consuming media before bed, the dreams also seem to be elusive. I feel like sacred dreaming is a package deal–cultivate an inner life in a few areas (ritual, meditation, limiting consumption of media/screens) and all are enriched.
Lucid Dreaming, Dream Recall, and Exploring Dreamscapes for Creative Practices
Dreaming is a very powerful form of creative activity that can lead to the spark of awen and new ideas, that can help us solve problems, and that can support us as creative people. Like daydreaming, a large body of research exists on the connections between dreaming and creativity, including how to engage in lucid dreaming and dream recall to support creative practices.
Sleep studies show that REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which is the deepest form of sleep, is both the most vivid form of sleep and the kind of sleep that fosters the most creativity. REM sleep is also where the brain creates associations and connections between otherwise unrelated information. Lucid Dreaming, where the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming and can sometimes shape their dreams, also takes place during REM sleep. Lucid dreaming is one gateway to creativity, and thus, can be a very powerful tool to learn and work with as part of your own growing creative practice.
Many people have the ability to spontaneously lucid dream, approximately 55% of adults can share at least one lucid dream experience while 23% of people can lucid dream at least once a month, a whole body of research has explored how to help people more successfully lucid dream. Lucid dreaming begins with dream recall—the International Lucid Dream Induction study found that people who could recall their dreams had a much higher likelihood of successful Lucid Dreaming. Once people learn how to recall their dreams, they can then engage in lucid dreaming, both of which can foster creativity, new ideas, and new insights. Thus, exploring dreaming is a worthy practice for any aspiring bard! For the rest of this post, we will explore how to recall your dreams, lucid dream, work with your dreams creatively, and seed your dreams for future creation!
Learning how to Recall Your Dreams
So, let’s start with Dream Recall as a step into the act of sacred and creative dreaming. Like other dream methods, a combination of several is likely to be the most successful. Humans have been dreaming and experiencing sacred dreaming back into our pre-history, and thus, you are hard-wired to work with your dreams in powerful ways. Even if you are frustrated at first or do not get the results you want, keep persisting and you will be able to recall your dreams in time.
Mnemonic for Dream Remembering. Using a simple phrase that you chant to yourself and continue to repeat as you fall asleep is a simple method to start to remember your dreams. Say something like, “I remember my dreams” or “when I wake up, I will remember my dreams.” This method is based off of the Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams in the psychological research, discussed below.
Recording of Dreams in Bed. Find a way to record your dreams while you are still in bed. For this, I recommend either a small journal that can stay on your nightstand or a recording device (like on a phone) that can allow you to speak your dream aloud while still in bed. I actually prefer to use my phone for this–I simply hit the record button and I can use it even when it’s dark, without turning on the light. Later, when I wake up, I listen to the recording and write down the details in a dream journal.
Stay in bed and attempt to remember. Stay in bed as you work to recall your dreams–as soon as you get up and make the transition from sleeping to waking, you may find that you will recall less and less, and eventually, the mundane pushes the dream completely from your mind. By staying in bed, as close to sleep and dream as possible, you will be able to remember more.
Keep a Dream Journal. Work to keep a dream journal for all of the dreams you can remember. The dream journal can help you keep a record of dreams over time. You can revisit the journal and see patterns, creative ideas, and more come forth.
Seeding your dreams. I also have had a lot of success with “seeding” my dreams by engaging in rituals, meditations, and/or chanting right before bed. See the last section of this post for more information.
Embrace herbal allies. Mugwort has been known throughout the ages in multiple cultures to be a dreaming herb–she offers you more powerful and intense dreaming. She is a common plant that grows throughout temperate regions of the world. She is very easy to grow and easy to use–you can burn her as incense or as a smoke-clearing stick, drink her as tea, smoke her (alone or in a smoking blend), make an oil and anoint yourself or a candle for meditation before bed, take a bath adding mugwort, etc. Any of these interactions allows you to connect with Mugwort’s dreaming energy. Other herbal allies can also help you relax and fall asleep–chamomile or catnip are wonderful teas to enjoy before bed.
Be consistent. Even if you aren’t recalling any or many dreams, keep engaging in the approaches above. Eventually, with enough perseverance, you should be able to remember your dreams. Remember that this is a gift from the ancestors, something that they cultivated and brought into our present. Thus, like the flow state and the bardic arts, these are ancestral gifts. Our ancestors want us to have them. Give it time.
Working with the Remembered Dream to Enhance Creative Practices
The dream is like the seed of something that you can plant and watch grow. The dream is the spark of awen that leads to creation, healing, and growth. You want to keep working with your dream after you have it to ensure it is nurtured to grow. Another metaphor here is that the dream is like bringing home a package wrapped in gift wrap with a bow. To really know what’s inside you have to work with it further.
Writing down your dreams is an outstanding practice if you want to use dreams for creative practices. Write down the details of your dreams, ideally as many as you can, but certainly, ones that are powerful or notable in some way. Consider returning to read these dreams at various intervals–maybe later the same day or maybe even a week or month later to gain new perspectives.
Exploring symbolism and the content of the dream. One of the things that Jung’s subconscious perspective gets you is to recognize that any images or symbols you experience in a dream are unique to you as they are a product of your subconscious, or, as we’ve explored here, they may be messages from spirits. Thus, dream dictionaries aren’t really useful–I don’t recommend them. Rather, you want to think about what the specific symbols mean to you. How do you interpret them? What comes to mind?
Use brainstorming techniques with the central focus/theme of the dream. You can use a technique like mind-mapping or freewriting to explore the dream further. For mind-mapping, get a blank sheet of paper and put the dream/seed of the dream in the center. Then just brainstorm, branch out, and see what comes to mind. For freewriting, start by writing down a summary of the dream and then keep writing–write without worrying about if your grammar is correct or your sentences are complete. Just write to generate ideas and see where the writing goes.
Use the dream as a seed for creative meditation. You can also use the dream as a seed for meditation. For this, a process called discursive meditation (which we practice in AODA) works quite well. In discursive meditation, you start with a theme (in this case, the image/theme/symbol/idea from your dream) and then allow your mind to follow the theme and generate ideas. If you get too far off of the theme, you work your way back to the theme (just like you would follow the wrong path back to the right path). Thus, you can use this meditation form–a form of highly focused thought–to explore the dream in more detail.
Spirit journey back into the dream to explore more. Using spirit journeying techniques, you can go back into the dream and explore further. Open up a sacred space and protect yourself. Invite a spirit or guide with you if you’d like, and then step back into the dream, or into a specific scene of the dream. Astrally explore this as much as you feel the need to, seeing what may spark your ideas or creative energy.
Let your subconscious play. Use mind wandering or daydreaming here, using the dream as a starting point and seeing what happens.
Sit down with your bardic instruments (body, paints, carving tools, pen and paper, etc) and create from the dream. Use the dream as a seed for creation. Paint the dream, compose the song that you received the first notes of in the dream, write poetry about the dream, and bring the dream to life in some way. You are essentially giving the ream as giving the dream life, shape, and manifestation.
Talk about the dream. Tell the story of the dream to someone else. Ask them to ask questions to you about the dream–how did you feel? why is that important? See where the conversation takes you.
Lucid Dreaming – Research-Based Strategies
Once you are able to recall your dreams, you can move into practicing lucid dreaming. Again, Lucid dreaming is when you are aware that you are dreaming; this awareness may give you more control over the dream.
The following are some of the research-based techniques that can assist you in developing the ability to regularly have lucid dreams. You can try all of these techniques or start with one and see what works best for you. The International Lucid Dream Induction study found that a combination of these techniques was most effective to support lucid dreaming. The second, third, and fourth techniques should be done in bed when you are in a comfortable position.
Reality testing: Reality testing is when you, throughout the day, pay attention to if you are dreaming or waking. The goal is to habituate yourself into this practice—if you regularly make it a point to ask if you are dreaming or waking during your waking hours, you can ask the same question when you are lucid dreaming. Ask yourself the question, “Am I dreaming or awake?” repeatedly throughout the day to habituate the question in your mind. This can be combined with breathwork. The reality test in the lucid dream, then, allows you to recognize you are in a dream. Typically this technique is only successful when combined with the two techniques below.
Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD). MILD gives you a phrase or chant to say while you are falling asleep to prime your mind to remember. You can say some version of “next time I am dreaming, I will remember I’m dreaming.” Repeat the phrase (silently or aloud) as you are falling asleep. You simply will yourself to remember.
Wake back to bed. This third technique is when you wake up in the middle of the night (intentionally or unintentionally) and then use the MILD technique as you are falling back asleep, especially as REM sleep often comes in the middle of the night, so when you fall back asleep, you should now be in REM and able to lucidly dream.
Senses Initiated Lucid Dream Technique (SSLID): This technique works to condition the senses into a state that is supportive of lucid dreams. It has three steps, which are done in a cycle of repetitions before bed:
- Step 1: Vision. Close your eyes and keep your eyes completely still and relaxed. Focus entirely on the darkness behind your eyelids. You may see patterns, images, dots, lights, or nothing at all. Don’t try to see anything, just stay relaxed.
- Step 2: Hearing: Fully attend to what you hear. You may be able to hear sounds from outside or in your house; you may also hear your own heartbeat. Regardless of what you hear, just attend fully to your hearing and stay relaxed.
- Step 3: Body: Fully attend to the sensations of your body and sense of touch. Feel the warmth, the temperature, how your body feels, the blankets and pillows. Relax and passively observe this sensation.
To successfully perform this technique, you should first take 3 seconds for each of the steps and cycle through the senses four times. Then, take 20-3 seconds for each step and do another four cycles. Do not count, just estimate and move on. Do this and then work to normally fall asleep after completing the cycles
Lucid Dreaming – Spiritual Strategies
Beyond the research-based strategies above, you can also do various kinds of rituals, meditation, and prayer to assist in lucid dreaming.
Spirit Request technique: Just like with dream recall, you can make a request (prayer, lighting a candle, ritual) to ask your spirits/deities/guides to assist you in lucid dreaming. Perhaps you already have a spirit/deity in your life that could assist with this work. For example, as an animist who works deeply with plants, I would spirit journey to the spirit of Mugwort, who I know (and have met through ritual work and depicted in my bardic work). I would ask Mugwort to assist me with lucid dreaming. I would make offerings to her, work with her, and cultivate a longer-term relationship with her as part of this request.
Ritual Sleep technique. Another aid to both dream recall and lucid dreaming is ritual sleep. Ritual sleep is when you open up a ritual space (sacred grove, sacred circle, whatever method you use), do meditation, prayer, or other activities, and then before you close the space, you go to bed. Sleep becomes part of the ritual you are enacting. When you wake up in the morning write your dreams down and then close the sacred space. There are so many possibilities for how you can use ritual sleep!
Creative Priming for Dreaming, Daydreaming, and Lucid Dreaming
Most of the time, dreams can reflect our lives, or maybe may seem quite random. But, just as dreams can be a seed for the waking world, you can also seed your dreams and try to nudge your dreams in certain directions for working on creative problems or tasks.
Once you have started to lucidly dream, go to town. Bring your creative instruments with you just like you would in the mundane world. Ask the spirits in the dreamtime for inspiration. Do rituals for inspiration, see if you can visit and flow with the awen in the dreams. Speak to the ancestors. Dream and bring those dreams into reality.
To do this, you can try any number of approaches:
- Chanting the words and/or holding an image firmly in your mind as you fall asleep
- Ritual or meditation right before bed on the topic
- Prayer or Spirit requesting: ask spirits/deity/higher powers to guide your dreams.
- Chanting the “Awen” as you go to sleep to be inspired and connect to the flow.
This post got a little long, but there’s just so much good stuff to explore with sacred dreaming, lucid dreaming, and dreaming for creativity. If we think about things that make us truly human, that AI can never replicate, it is finding creative experiences in our dreams. Since we sleep every night, this is a wonderful opportunity to more fully build a creative, inspired inner life and encourage the flow of awen in our bardic arts! Blessings and sweet dreams!
Ecospirituality Course: I wanted to share that I will be one of the guest instructors in an upcoming zoom-based EcoSpirituality Course being hosted by Nate Summers. There’s an early bird discount for the course till Tuesday.
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 Saunders, David T., Chris A. Roe, Graham Smith, and Helen Clegg. “Lucid dreaming incidence: A quality effects meta-analysis of 50 years of research.” Consciousness and cognition 43 (2016): 197-215.
 Aspy, Denholm J. “Findings from the international lucid dream induction study.” Frontiers in Psychology (2020): 1746.