You know me, I love self-hypnosis… many people draw parallels between natural imagery exercises, self-hypnosis, meditation and all kinds of other things… The distinction is not really what matters today… Natural imagery exercises have been found useful for unblocking writers and others feeling creatively stalled. And while I don’t typically like people telling me what to imagine, daydreaming to order is a fantastically useful strategy to add to the creativity toolbox…
Some people do not consider themselves to be creative… I am not suggesting that everyone be able to paint the ceiling of their local Cathedral as well as anyone in history… Or that we have to become artists or ballroom dancers, what I really refer to when I talk about being more creative is having more options, allowing the mind to expand, creating more choices for ourselves and having more fun.
Psychologists designed interventions to learn how activities using guided mental imagery affect blocked writers. Those studies are now described in detail in the book chapter “Writer’s Block and Blocked Writers: Using Natural Imagery to Enhance Creativity” by Jerome L. Singer and Michael V. Barrios (in The Psychology of Creative Writing, edited by Scott Barry Kaufman and James C. Kaufman)
Several different experimental conditions were tried. The one using waking imagery had participants sit in a dimly lit, quiet room and close their eyes. They were asked to spend time visualising 10 different scenarios, such as mentally producing some lovely music or imagining and exploring a nature setting in slow motion. They then were told, “Now some images will come into your mind’s eye. Please describe them to me as you see them.”
Participants were led to develop further three separate images, and then to produce a dream or dream-like image and allow it to develop. Then they were to picture their blocked projects, at which point they were to create a vivid dreamlike experience without actively incorporating their project elements but allowing them to emerge as if they had a life of their own.
They were instructed to do the same thing at home for the next seven nights. And the intervention apparently worked to unblock their creativity and allow them to work with less difficulty on their projects.
Another experimental condition, in a brightly lit room, focused on rational discussion instead of guided imagery, emphasizing mutual problem-solving about the block. It helped loosen up participants, but not so well as the guided imagery experiment.
According to authors Singer and Barrios, then, reasonable evidence was shown that exposing blocked individuals to ways of generating and attending to their imagery and ongoing consciousness might serve to loosen their cognitive-affective inhibitions and suggest new avenues for pursuing their goals.
We all have dreams don’t we? I have dreams about things I want to achieve next year and have been setting about putting plans into action to get those things done. It all starts with a dream for me though…
One of my favourite quotes of all time and I am sure many of you share my thoughts, is the speech by Martin Luther King at the civil rights march in Washington, 1963 which went like this:
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood…”
“I have a dream…” indeed. Inspiring stuff. Aside from this academic stuff I just mentioned, I want to discuss our dreams in a very practical way today.
Today is about how to cultivate your dreaming. It really is a tremendously valuable thing to do. I want to steer away from dream interpretation and will explain why.
As of today, pay attention to your dreaming and your daydreaming. Dreams are important to us in many ways, becasue they do the following:
Firstly, when you dream you actively process information and feelings.
Secondly, dreams are always involving many senses, so the highly sensory experience is very rich. It is quite rare for us to use all our senses at once as we do when we dream.
Thirdly, dreams give us valuable information about what is going on in our lives, whether directly or more often in a disguised or symbolic form.
Fourthly, dreams are strongly sequenced, though often in a way which is emotionally rather than logically organised.
Finally, dreams draw upon a rich range of unconscious, associative, creative links between many kinds of information.
Some people remember their dreams; others tend to forget all but the most dramatic bits as soon as they wake. When you dream or daydream, take time to replay as much of it as you can in your mind before the events of the day overlay it. Relive the story of that dream. Remind yourself of the events, pictures, sensations and other sensory information it involved.
This dream was the product of your mind. Marvel at your own creativity! This is amazing stuff here; get excited by it.
If you get into the habit of asking yourself when you wake, ‘what did I dream?’ you may at first only remember a few particularly strong feelings or vivid images: write them down and review it regularly. I actually used to write a dream journal and wrote everything down as soon as I opened my eyes each morning. It provided me with such inspiration when I required it.
Naturally, lots of you may want to start with dream interpretation straight away. Resist the urge for dream interpretation, ok?
Do your best not to assume that there is necessarily a single clear meaning which can be interpreted according to psychological theories or books on dream significance or dream interpretation. How can your dreams have the same meaning as someone else? Is your brain the same as that persons? For now, ease off the dream interpretation.
I have found that the most useful assumption to make about dreams is that they have some kind of significance for you, the dreamer: they come from your internal, unconscious mind’s storehouse of feelings, experiences and images, and are an active and useful way of processing that is quite different from – and just as useful as – the processing that belongs to the logical conscious part of your mind.
Often a strong feeling will be your first clue to the meaning a dream has for you: so note it, and wonder about it, but don’t try to rush to tie it down by conscious analysis. The real work of the dream is often done simply in the dreaming of it: the conscious mind does not always have to understand, and when it tries to translate dreams into its own terms it may be limiting it, just as poetry translated from another language usually loses something of its more subtle tapestry of meanings.
Think about the value of dreams.
Dreams demonstrate a different level of mental functioning from conscious, disciplined thought. When you pay attention to them, and even cultivate them, you are learning to become familiar with, to trust and to draw upon a fuller range of your own mental resources: in other words, you are using more of what you’ve got. Hey, this stuff is going to keep happening, so why not really use it.
The mind works both consciously and unconsciously. Conscious thought is formally taught in our education system. Its strength is its systematic and disciplined way of handling information. Its limitation is that it tends to be rule-bound and too narrow in its problem-solving approach.
The brain also processes information at an unconscious level: mostly, this is associative and depends on links, similarities and feelings. This processing produces dreams, as well as much of our other ‘creative’ or ‘expressive’ experience. That is why we are often surprised by the spontaneous connections we make or insights we have, and by our imaginative inspiration: it is not what we would have come up with consciously at all, yet it seems somehow completely ‘right’. This way of thinking works ‘laterally’ – it expands, goes sideways, finds multiple avenues rather than just one.
We need both kinds of functioning if we are to make the most of our brain power. Logic and intuition, discipline and divergence, are all vital tools that enrich and enable us. But whereas we are used to working with the conscious mind, in part because we are aware of it and can monitor it as it works, many people are less at ease trusting and using the unconscious processes. Paying attention to your dreams, and deliberately cultivating daydreaming, are both ways of stretching yourself into this area.
So let us have a look at the value of deliberate daydreaming. Where dreams come unbidden, you may find it useful to deliberately evoke the conditions for daydreaming, if, like many people, you have not really valued the activity before now.
How is it valuable? Daydreaming brings us escape and relaxation; visions of the future that inspire and help us to bring about what we have dreamed of; solutions to apparently unsolvable problems; inventions and creative possibilities. Daydream states allow the unconscious, associative parts of the mind to work in their own playful and imaginative ways, bringing not only pleasure but results that our usual deliberate, attentive, rational thought does not. We need space in our lives for both ways of processing if we are to realise ourselves as fully as possible.
The key to daydreaming is to be in that right state. If you want to practice, please visit my website and download the free hypnosis session there, or learn self-hypnosis, read my book “The Secrets of Self-Hypnosis” or invest in the self-hypnosis masterclass audio programme, there is nothing else as good in the world today, really there isn’t. There is a kind of automatic abstractedness that goes along with daydreaming. Mostly it just seems to happen, but when you know about creating and changing states, you can choose to make it happen.
Here are some ways you can cultivate and work with your daydreams:
Firstly, notice when you have been daydreaming. Is there any pattern of circumstances that helps bring about your particular daydreaming state?
Some people find that repetitive, relatively automatic, activities such as jogging, ironing or walking create the right state. Perhaps it is a warm bath, swimming a few lengths, or sitting in the garden. Or it may be swaying to the movement of a train, staring into space, looking out of the window of a bus on the way to work, or going on a long drive.
Once you find what helps you daydream, use it and make space for it in your life on a regular basis, imagine that you are in that experience, recreate those circumstances inside of your mind. Let daydreaming come to you, and notice what kinds of windows it opens from our ordinary world into what other kinds of possibilities. Some of your best ideas and inspirations may come at these times.
Secondly, next time you have a decision to make, or a problem to solve, or a challenge to overcome, you can set up the circumstances so that you can trigger your daydreaming state and allow yourself to explore your problem or decision in this way. When you have done so, make some notes of what you experienced and discovered. Add that to your conscious thinking on the subject: you now have much more information, and the advantage of having engaged more of your mental resources.
Thirdly, for today, forget dream interpretation. That is a conscious and limiting thing to do. Did I make myself clear? Forget conventional dream interpretation. For now use your dreams in personal ways to you.