A Little History and How-To
When I teach dreamwork classes, one of the truths I emphasize over and over again is that the DreamTime flows around us always. It’s up to us to decide how we wish to work with that reality. Whether we’ll only wade in up to the ankles or dive in to explore ~ and receive ~ the treasures of the deep can be among the most important decisions we’ll make, ever.
A frequent question posed by students is, “Can dreams give you answers to specific questions or insight about specific situations?”
My answer to that is the same as my answer about dreamwork in general. Of course, it’s possible! And that’s one of the reasons dreamwork can be exceptionally helpful. But, like learning to ride a bicycle, opening to your dreams’ question-answering potential can take some time and committed effort, on an ongoing basis. And, also like with a bike, once things begin to click for you, you need to keep riding on a regular basis in order to not become rusty.
Dreamwork that seeks answers in response to specific requests is called Dream Induction or Dream Incubation, and has been developed as a useful technique since the time of early Egyptian civilization, if not before. Depending on the tradition one comes from, or the personal preference of the dreamer involved, dream induction can be a simple one-step matter or fairly complex, lengthy and highly ceremonial.
Some of the most effective, and earliest, dream induction techniques were practiced at temples of dream healing, located all around the Mediterranean basin during the times of the Greek and Roman civilizations. These temples, roughly 420 in number, were erected to the God Asklepios (or Aesculapius). They were places of hope and healing to peoples throughout those two great empires. Individuals would come seeking the insight and help of a sacred dream to overcome physical or emotional illness in themselves, or in someone they loved.
The process of preparing a “patient” for the sacred sleep could last days. It lifted patients out of their ordinary reality, and worked to connect them to the flow of higher, deeper, truer aspects of themselves and the world around them. The preparations, depending on the traditions of each particular temple, could include:
~ some forms of fasting or restriction of diet, including prohibition of alcohol,
~ creation of art or attendance at/participation in musical or theatrical performances or
~ ritual donation of gifts to the temple
~ ritual sacrifice of animals
~ ritual bathing and other body-oriented ceremony
~ consumption of sleep-inducing mixtures
~ extensive counseling with priests or priestesses, including revelation or promotion of
dreams that would indicate a worthiness, a preparedness, to receive dream healing,
And all of that was PRIOR to being admitted to the actual underground temple of dream healing itself, where one would seek dream intervention by Asklepios or one of his spiritual helpers.
Such extensive preparation could certainly seem excessive and impractical to most of us today. Yet it illustrates some elements that might feel intriguing, appropriate, perhaps even respectful of the DreamSource, and therefore useful in the creation of your own personal dream incubation process.
When I work with a client or student on developing their personal incubation technique, I usually start with something very simple. Something like:
Please define your question as clearly and simply as possible. Now try to get the question down to ten words or less. Six or less is better. Now, as you begin to fall into sleep, gently repeat your question over and over and over, until you almost feel like you’re floating on the question, floating into sleep.
If you want to, and it’s appropriate for your sleeping situation, you can even begin by quietly speaking the question aloud a few times, or ten times, or more, as you begin to rest. Perhaps the question will even begin to take the form of a simple, nursery rhyme-like chant or mantra. That’s fine. Then let the question continue to simply float out, mentally, telepathically, as you fall asleep. And see what comes to you upon awakening.
For some people, that simple dream induction process is enough, even the very first time. For others, it may take a few nights or more to get the fine-tuning down.
Some of us ~ and there are times when I’m one ~ need a little more process to our dream inductions. Often, writing the question, especially in its simplified version, in a dream journal seems to add some force or focus to the induction. There are times when I’ll even write a short letter to my dreams, along the lines of:
“Dear Dreams, Please tell me what I need to know about _______. Thanks. Love, Neal.” It sounds goofy, but it works.
Other people find it most helpful to simplify the question, and then meditate on it for a while during the evening, or just before sleep. Since meditation is one way of accessing the DreamTime, it makes sense that it would be a helpful technique to jump-start the night-time dreaming process.
Sometimes, if it’s an important question, I’ll sit and shamanically drum or rattle while chanting my question for up to an hour before sleep. That really brings a visionary dream experience of potency and clarity for me.
You may find that it suits you to make the induction process very ceremonial. You may choose to eat a ritual meal, take a ritual bath or shower, use special bedding, burn special incense or candles, employ special herbs (lavender oil on the pillow or mugwort leaves in the pillow) or aromatherapy oils, or perform other ritual acts of empowerment, cleansing, opening or supplication that have meaning to you. If it feels right to you and does no harm to others, incorporate it into your dreamwork process.
And don’t forget to consider your sleeping area to be sacred space, and to treat it so on an ongoing basis.
Your dream invocation process should be unique to you – as unique and personal as the fashion sense, music preferences, or spiritual practice that enrich your life.
That’s a long answer to a simple question about whether dreams can answer questions. Dream induction has been useful to human society for millennia. Explore it for yourself, with the openness, determination and curiosity of a child a play. See what gifts then come your way.
C. 2004, 2006, 2008 by Stephen Neal Szpatura All rights reserved.
Dreams Answer Questions
Stephen Neal Szpatura