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Current Update as of February 17, 2003

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Edited by HENRY REED, Ph.D.

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Incubating Dreams Solves Problems 
Dream Incubation

If we go to sleep at night with a sense of purpose, Edgar Cayce suggested, we might solve problems through our dreams. Dream incubation, or the practice of dreaming with a purpose, has received support in the two studies described below.

Actively seeking help from dreams to resolve a longstanding problem increases the probability of resolving the impasse concluded the first study. In this investigation, persons with problems that had been unresolved for at least a month served as subjects. Each person’s impasse was something important; its resolution would make a positive difference in the person’s life. Only persons who could recall at least three dreams from the past week were eligible to participate.

The participants attended four weekly meetings. For the first two weeks they learned and practiced one dream interpretation method involving dialoguing with a dream symbol. They also learned how to apply dream insights to daily life. By the second week, about half the participants had dreams that related to their impasse, but less than one-fifth had taken steps to actually resolve their impasse based on a dream or had awakened with a sense of resolution.

For the second two-week period, participants practiced a specific dream incubation routine. Each person created a personal mantra that phrased

the essence of the impasse. After writing in a journal at bedtime about the desire to resolve the impasse, the dreamer repeated the personal mantra while sitting up in bed, then continued to repeat it while falling asleep. The participants were to perform this incubation procedure for the first three nights of the week, rest for two, then use it again for two more nights.

On the fourth week of the study, the participants met to assess the effect of the incubation procedure on impasse resolution. After two weeks of dream incubation, close to three-fourths of the participants had recalled a relevant dream and almost one-half had made efforts based on a dream to resolve their impasse. This result was significantly higher than that observed during the initial two weeks of the study prior to engaging in dream incubation.

At the conclusion of the four-week, problem-solving period, the researcher individually interviewed the participants and assigned them to three categories. One-third had resolved or partially resolved their impasse. One-third had received dreams that shed light on their impasse, but had achieved no resolution. Another third had made no progress. Certain findings gave clues about why some participants were successful at dream incubation while others were not.

Successful incubators were working on internal problems, while all those who made no progress were working on vocational issues. These also focused their problem-solving efforts toward the external world, while the successful incubators focused their efforts on in­sights or self-change. The successful incubators had more dreams that were related to their impasse and reported more problem-solving efforts than did those who were not successful.

The researcher noted that there were several instances of dreams that contained messages from the dreamer’s higher self. The beneficial effect of fo­cusing the problem-solving ability of dreams by attending to incubation procedures clearly was worth the effort for those whose personal attempts showed they were ready to move past their point of impasse.

Source: “Dream incubation: An experimental inquiry into the practice of petitioning dreams for guidance, healing, and problem solving.” Doctoral dissertation by Brian Winkler, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, 1990.

The second study was undertaken as part of a college course on dreams at the Harvard Medical School. The instructor, Deidre Barrett, Ph.D., asked the students to pick a problem of personal interest and attempt to dream a solution. The instructor reviewed with the students several different specific techniques they might use for direct­ing their dreams.

One week later, approximately half the students had recalled a dream related to their chosen problem. More than a third of the students believed their dream had solved the problem. Students were more likely to solve a problem of intense personal interest, or a medical problem, than one of a general or academic nature. When independent judges examined the students’ diaries, however, they were somewhat less likely than the students to view the dream as having solved the problem, but their ratings were generally in keeping with the dreamer’s own assessment.

One student was confronted with the problem of arranging furniture in a new apartment and dreamed of a novel furniture arrangement that really worked. Another student was trying to decide which graduate school to attend and dreamed of flying over a map of the country while a commentator noted that it was dangerous to land too close to the dreamer’s hometown. The dreamer realized that it was important to leave the sphere

Two students posed medical questions. They both received such clearer, more distinct answers than the other types of problems that the researchers singled them out for special mention. In one case, the student asked about an irregular menstrual cycle. In the dream, the student’s doctor said it was due to being on a diet and to heavier-than-normal exercise. The diagnosis proved correct. In the second case, the student was concerned about whether or not she had taken her medicine that day. The prescription called for one pill a day, with negative consequences for either taking no pill or more than one. In the dream, the person witnessed the circumstances of taking the pill that day.

The researcher concluded that al­though there was no measurement of the quality of these “dream solutions,” it was clear that people were capable of dreaming solutions that were novel, personally satisfying to the dreamer, and reasonable to an outside observer.

Source: "The effectiveness of dreams for problem solving." Paper by Deidre Barrett, Ph.D., presented at the 1992 Annual Convention of the Association for the Study of Dreams.

Additional articles on dream incubation for creativity:

Dream Incubation for healing:

Joan Gravallese 's story of her dream quest experience:

Noreen Wessling on making dream quests:

Margaret Dwyer's description of her dream incubation work: www.intuitive-connections.net/2002/dwyer.htm

The Committee of Sleep:

Creative use of dreams for inspiring art:

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