In ancient cultures, dreamers slept in dream temples when they faced a major dilemma or had a crisis to solve. They hoped that the gods would send them a dream to alleviate their problem, cure their illness or help them make a difficult decision. Modern-day dreamers can apply this same technique in their own dream temples (bedrooms) through a process known as dream incubation.

Dream incubation is the process of trying to create a dream on a specific subject. It is frequently done to gain insight into situations and to develop a resolution to problems. We often incubate dreams without consciously intending to do so. You’ve heard the expression, “sleep on it.” When you have a problem and you can’t find an immediate solution, it’s best to “sleep on it” and see if an answer comes to you in the morning.

Here’s a dream an acquaintance relayed to me when she and her husband were trying to conceive.

My husband and I are in our bedroom when I hear a strange noise coming from downstairs. I go downstairs and see a baby elephant inside our coffee table. In real life our coffee table has a top and bottom but in the dream the top and bottom are connected by glass. So this little miniature elephant is stuck inside the coffee table and it can’t get out. It’s bleating, making this crying sound blowing its snout, and marching around like it wants to get out. I can see it in there. But I have no idea how it got in and I’m frantically trying to figure out how to get it out. I can’t figure out how to get the elephant out so I call my husband to help me. My husband ignores my cries for help and the little elephant just keeps bleating. I’m worried that I’ll have to get it out myself.

Did you notice some key symbols of this dream?

  • Strange noise from downstairs = something strange in lower part of the body.
  • Glass coffee table = womb
  • Baby elephant = baby infant
  • Bleating = bleeding

I wish I could say I recognized all of these symbols beforehand. They were only clear in hindsight – about two weeks after this dream, the woman discovered she had an ectopic pregnancy.

Dreams are our dependable allies and we can learn to tap their wealth of wisdom to help us lead more productive and satisfying lives. One of the major benefits of incubating a dream is that it makes interpretation a little easier. After all, you already know the subject the dream is addressing. Dream incubation can shed light on questions such as:

  • How can I solve this problem?
  • What choice is best?
  • What is causing this illness?
  • What can I do to quit this bad habit?
  • What is the right career for me?
  • Where am I on my life path?

Incubating a dream is a simple process and takes only a little extra time in the evening before you go to bed. It’s best to incubate a dream on a night when you are not too mentally overwhelmed with other concerns and can focus on the incubation process which involves five steps.

Step #1: Identify a problem. Any type of problem will do, no matter how small.

Step #2: Reflect on the problem. In a dream journal (a notebook used for recording and interpreting your dreams), briefly write down your thoughts about the problem. Here are some questions to use as a guideline:

Why is this issue a problem?

What do you think is causing the problem?

What do you want?

How do you feel about this problem?

What alternatives have you considered?

After this reflection phase, you may find that you don’t even need to incubate the dream. You may have all the insight you were seeking. The reflection phase is an important step that many people skip because it is the most time-consuming. It is not always necessary to perform, particularly if you are familiar with the incubation process. However, if you’re incubating a dream for the first time, it is a useful technique.

Step #3: Develop a question. Formulate a specific question that addresses your problem. Creating a question rather than just a focusing statement is important because the dream will often reflect your question in the manner in which it was asked. For example, if you ask for options, your dream may show you various paths to take. Ask the question from your own perspective, not someone else’s, as your dream will most likely deliver the answer in terms of your own actions and behaviors.

Step #4: Repeat the question as you drift off to sleep. By mentally repeating the question over and over, you will firmly implant your request in your dreaming mind. Push any distracting thoughts away and keep focusing on your incubation question as you fall asleep.

Step #5: Interpret the incubation. Upon waking, record all of your dream impressions including feelings and dream fragments. Interpret your dream based on the question. For example, if you asked “how” to solve a problem, examine the dream action for a solution. If you asked “where” should you relocate, look at the dream setting. If you don’t remember a dream at all, this doesn’t mean you haven’t had a successful incubation. You may come to a sudden decision or receive clarity or peace of mind about your concern shortly after waking. I usually get such insights while I’m taking my morning shower. Be aware of such changes in attitude and outlook.

A Sample Dream Incubation

Here’s a real-life example of my friend’s first-time dream incubation.

The problem: The dreamer had received a job offer from a firm but she thought the offer was too low for her experience and qualifications. She wanted to leave her current company before they reorganized but she wasn’t sure if she’d get any other offers before her deadline.

Her incubation question: “Should I take the job offer from ABC firm?”

The dream: “I dreamed about someone piling dirt in front of my driveway and being mad and then I realized that my neighbors were attempting to help me out.”

The interpretation: As is often the case, the dream did not give a direct answer to her question but chose to open her eyes to the real situation. The firm’s low offer was in effect the same as piling dirt (insulting, damaging, tarnishing) on the dreamer’s property (reputation, worth). The big clue in the dream is the emotion – anger – which the dreamer in waking life had not allowed herself to express. The dream also offered new insight. Help from the neighbors foreshadowed a better job offer from a firm just up the street from my friend’s home. She joined this firm three months later, just making her deadline.



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