There are many books on dreams, dream interpretation, and lucid dreaming. What makes this one different is that Clare R. Johnson, PhD combines the principles of mindfulness with a fresh approach to lucid dreaming. The end result is a step-by-step guide for understanding dream language, waking up in our dreams, and transforming them to improve our waking lives.
In this book, she explains:
- What dreams are and why they are so important
- How to improve sleep quality and wake up refreshed
- How to have lucid dreams
- How to transform nightmares and heal from the past
This is a helpful and practical book that belongs on every nightstand. It is book for all who want to unleash the power of their dreams and change their lives.
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About the Author
Clare R. Johnson, PhD, is the leading expert on lucid dreaming. She has a PhD from the University of Leeds on using lucid dreams as a creative tool (the first doctoral work in the world to explore this topic), is a lucid dreamer herself, and is the board director of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. She regularly gives talks and leads workshops about dreaming. Visit her at www.deepluciddreaming.com.
Read an Excerpt
What is Mindful Dreaming and how can it help us?
Today, many people are asking themselves: how can I become healthier and happier? Worldwide, we have developed so many aids to create positive moods and enhance our physical and mental well-being, from feel-good movies to fitness centers and spa breaks. Yet there's an entirely free, natural way to increase our personal health and happiness. It even saves time.
Because we do it while we're asleep.
We all dream every single night. Too often, dreams are dismissed as unimportant, or ignored. But your dreaming mind can become your best friend if you let it — a friend who wants to help you to live a happier, healthier life; a friend who is available to listen to your problems and dish out wise advice, even at 3 a.m.
These days there is a lot of buzz about mindfulness, where we focus our awareness on the present moment and become fully conscious of our thoughts, emotions, and experiences. This interest in mindfulness is wonderful, as it means more people are looking to wake up in their lives.
But what about the third of our lives we spend asleep?
Imagine how life would transform if we learned to be mindful in our dreams, too! Recalling dreams and working with them while awake is a huge step forward for mindful living, as it connects us with the deepest part of ourselves. Mindful Dreaming takes mindfulness a step further because we are not only engaging with our conscious experience; we are also engaging with our unconscious. This brings mindfulness into the third of our life that we spend sleeping. Why settle for being only two-thirds mindful, when there is so much benefit from being mindful to what is happening in our unconscious? Dream mindfulness is not even a chore. It is incredibly enriching and can propel us into profound healing experiences.
If somebody offered you a wellness experience where you could float blissfully in a luxury spa pool, go on wonderful adventures, fly through the sky with no fear of being hurt, and return feeling refreshed and pampered without missing even one minute of work, would you take it?
This wellness experience is available to all of us every night, no matter if we're rich or poor, because it's an experience we can create in our own bedroom while we sleep and dream. Dreams are one of the few things in the world that don't cost a penny. Dreaming belongs to everyone, and since we all do it every night anyway, nobody can argue that we are wasting time by choosing to experience dreams mindfully. On the contrary, we get much more out of life when we engage with our dreams, as they can help us on the emotional, physical, spiritual, and social levels.
Dreams are our hidden self; the other part of us that we need to get to know if we want to be truly mindful of who we are and why we are here. Dreams can help us to heal because they can improve our psychological state, release negative emotions, and enable us to take steps towards wholeness. Dreams can help us to create our own best life: to live out our full potential and be who we really want to be. Dreams are gifts. They can make us laugh out loud in our sleep, or wake up smiling. They can give us insight into problems and offer creative solutions. Science shows that dreaming is important for our mental health and well-being. Neuroscience and neurobiology show that dreaming consolidates memory and helps the learning process. Dreams can also integrate trauma and resolve emotional problems, as backed up by cognitive psychology and studies of posttraumatic stress disorder sufferers.
Working — and playing — with our dreams can help us to improve our lives. But what exactly are they? Before we start working with them, let's take a closer look at what dreams are.
What are dreams?
Dreams are experiences, sensations, and emotions we have while we sleep. They usually involve a stream of vivid imagery. There are various historical, scientific, and psychological theories about what dreams are. In ancient Babylon, dreams were considered to be messages from the gods. Hippocrates believed that dreams could reveal cures for ill health. Modern theories of dreaming include Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung's theory that dreams tap into a vast collective unconscious of shared human memory and German psychiatrist Fritz Perls's view that every part of the dream represents an aspect of the dreamer.
These modern theories emerged after 1900 when Sigmund Freud, the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis, popularized the idea that dreams are messages from our unconscious mind. Despite the subsequent expansion of the fields of psychoanalysis and dream psychology, some scientists persist in believing that dreams are entirely meaningless; nothing more than the result of the random firing of synapses in the brain. More enlightened scientists and psychologists see dreams as a valuable link with the unconscious mind, viewing them as a potential training ground for everything from enhancing creativity and resolving nightmares to improving sports skills and accelerating personal growth.
To keep things simple, let's consider it this way: Dreams are inner movies.
Imagine a whole movie company that exists only for you. It has a vast array of props, costumes, and high-tech special effects. Its directors, actors, and camera crew are sublimely talented and creative. The preferred acting style is wild improvization. All of the actors are there to illuminate your inner life. They do this on a nightly basis, in an erratic series of emotional snippets, hilarious skits, high drama, film noir, and occasionally horror.
Your brain records your nightly personal movie reel, but all too often it forgets most of it the second the alarm clock starts to beep. This is an enormous pity because those dedicated actors badly want to communicate with you. They want to capture your attention and show you how you really feel about yourself and your life. They want to help you to fulfill your enormous potential.
More to the point, those actors are you! You are the star of this movie. Even the minor actors represent different parts of you and your emotions, fears, and desires. Your dreams emerge from your unconscious mind. They reveal the state of your inner self or soul.
It's important to mention here that dreams can and do go beyond the personal level of the inner movie. Some dreams seem to tap into a collective concern or peek into the future. Other dreams reach a deeply spiritual level of awareness that transcends the minutiae of our daily life. Further on, we'll look at lucid dreams and what I call "soul dreams" in more detail. For now, it's enough to note that dreams are highly personal inner movies that emerge from our unconscious. Let's look at why getting intimate with our unconscious mind is so worthwhile.
Why is it important to communicate with our unconscious?
Sigmund Freud believed that dreams are the royal road to the unconscious. Is traveling this royal road worth the effort? Why do we need to do this inner work? Here are six good reasons.
1. Our unconscious holds the key to our health and emotional wellness by showing us how we are really feeling and what we need to change in our lives. When we communicate with our unconscious, we make a leap in self-understanding and can access this huge healing potential.
2. Through working with unconscious imagery, we can heal from past trauma, improve health, relieve physical pain, and overcome fears and anxieties.
3. When there is an open flow of dialogue between our conscious and unconscious, we naturally become more mindful in all areas of our life.
4. Communicating with the unconscious can lead us to a more harmonious sexuality and higher self-esteem.
5. If we have suffered loss, our unconscious will signpost the way to healing from grief.
6. When we wake up to our unconscious, we wake up to our deeper, wiser self. We are able to unlock our deepest potential and create a happier, healthier life.
If these positive benefits aren't quite enough to convince you that it's good to be in touch with our unconscious, consider the downside of not communicating with it. When we are constantly running through life, never giving ourselves a moment to relax, when we are under pressure at work and at home, or when we are going through a difficult situation such as divorce, bereavement, or job loss, we become more and more stressed. In this state, we lose touch with our unconscious because we simply cannot tune in to the needs of our mind and body. Our usual reaction to stress is to keep on running, do everything faster, sleep less, and stop only when we are suddenly knocked out by a nasty virus. Why did we get that virus in the first place? Because we were overstressed.
There is a strong, scientifically acknowledged connection between stress and physical illness. In 2007, the Observer magazine of the Association for Psychological Science reviewed evidence that shows how stress causes deterioration throughout the body, from the gums to the heart, and makes us more vulnerable to cancer and other diseases. Research in the areas of neuroscience, psychology, medicine, and genetics shows that when we are stressed, our body experiences a fight or flight reaction that releases adrenaline, cortisol, and also norepinephrine, a hormone known to seal in memories of highly emotional or traumatic events by strengthening the connections between neurons at times of great stress. This means not only that bodily functions necessary for good health, such as digestion and immune function, slow down and become less effective when we are stressed, but also that we unconsciously build up and store emotionally difficult memories.
Dreams have the important function of releasing an overspill of too-strong emotions, a bit like a volcano rumbling and harmlessly belching smoke. Of course, from time to time our stress levels build so much that our dreams mirror a full volcanic eruption (imagine a spray of boiling lava!), and we wake up bathed in cold sweat after a horrible nightmare. But dreams cannot do all the stress-reducing work alone. We need to help them. When we develop a more harmonious relationship with our unconscious, we experience less stress and establish a more harmonious relationship with our physical health.
When we communicate with our unconscious by working with our dreams, we continue the healthy work of processing and releasing stressful emotions such as fear, anxiety, and sadness, as well as traumatic memories.
The more we release these negative emotions, the healthier and happier we become because we are releasing stress from our mind and body.
How are dreams important for our mental health and well-being?
There are a large number of studies in fields such as neurobiology, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience that demonstrate just how important dreaming is for our mental health and well-being. In the 1980s, biophysics and physiology researcher Candace Pert, PhD, confirmed that there is a complex biochemical communication network between mind and body. Immune cells have receptors for neuropeptides, or the "molecules of emotion," which are released during every emotional state. If strong emotions are not adequately processed, they are stored at a cellular level. These surplus emotions rise to consciousness during dreaming, and Pert theorizes that if we do waking dreamwork, we can help to release them before they become damaging by creating illness in the body. Dreams help us to process our emotions, and dreamwork is good for our health!
Dreaming also enhances performance, consolidates memory, and helps us to hone skills. In 2010, Boston scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center gave ninety-nine people a computer task in which they had to navigate a complex 3-D maze. Then they were asked either to take a nap or to engage in quiet activities while awake, before trying the task again. The results were striking. Those who had stayed awake showed no signs of improvement, even if they had thought about the maze during their activities. But the nappers who described dreaming about the task showed dramatic improvement: ten times more than that shown by those who didn't. Dreaming helps us to integrate new information in order to directly improve performance.
On the biological and neurological levels, it seems dreaming will help us even if we never remember a dream in our whole lives. But when we do recall our dreams, we bring to consciousness our own unique brand of creative thinking. In 1999, in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, psychologist Robert Stickgold reported the findings of his study into the ability of the dreaming mind to make creative associations. Forty-four undergraduates were woken from rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and asked to identify different word pairs. In contrast to fully awake subjects, these sleepy students were faster at identifying weaker, less obvious word pairs. This indicates that the dreaming mind gravitates naturally to unexpected associations. Highly artistic people are known to associate creatively even when awake, but it's inspiring to know that when we are dreaming, we all think more creatively.
When we open the door to our dream images and stories, we open the door to an entire new world of creative and healing possibilities. By working with a combination of nighttime dreams, practical dreamwork as described in this book, and lucid dreaming (where we know that we are dreaming and can guide the dream if we want to), we can become more creative, resolve our worst nightmares, find solace in difficult life situations such as bereavement, and tap into what is happening in our physical body.
My path into dreaming
You might be wondering how dreams became such a big part of my life. My earliest memory is of a dream I had when I was three years old. The dream was so vivid, colorful, and real, that afterwards it seemed to give itself a title: "Drowning in a Turquoise Swimming Pool." That dream marked the start of my fascination with dreaming. There was so much light and beauty in the dream, at first. I was loving playing in the water, until I felt myself sinking too deep and beginning to drown. Then I panicked. But in a flash of lucidity, I realized I had a choice: I could either stay in the dream and drown, or wake myself up.
I chose to wake up.
That childhood dream has become a metaphor for my life: at a relatively young age I began to ask myself, "Do I want to sleep through my life and be the victim of events, or do I want to WAKE UP and create my own best reality?" For many years now, I have become devoted to waking up by becoming mindfully present in every area of my life: not only in my waking life but also in my dreams.
As I grew up, my curiosity about dreams only increased, and I became a very frequent lucid dreamer. I have experienced many thousands of lucid dreams in my lifetime, and in 2007 I became the first person to earn a PhD on lucid dreaming as a creative writing tool. In international workshops and private sessions, I have so often seen the positive influence that dreams and waking dreamwork can have on those struggling to overcome trauma, heal relationships, deal with illness or bereavement, and cure recurrent nightmares.
My own dreams have long had a noticeably healing function, as if their deepest desire is to free me, teach me, help me to cope with loss, and transform illness into healing. Lucid dreaming has helped me to heal from fibroid tumors, overcome creative blocks to write my first novel, find the courage to take important life decisions, and recover from the trauma of the near-death of my baby daughter. I've become my own dream therapist: whenever I turn to my dreams for help, I receive it, and this has improved my life on every level. Mindful Dreaming shows how you can do the same.
What is Mindful Dreaming and how does it work?
By connecting mindfully with our nighttime dreams, we open up the door to our unconscious. We attract everything in our life through the thoughts and images we keep in our mind. In dreams, we come face to face with our deepest unconscious images. Through working with our dreams, we can change our dream movie, and in doing so, we enable ourselves to transform on a deep level. When we transform, so do our lives. The core concept of Mindful Dreaming is very simple. It goes like this:
When we work with dreams to modify the "inner movie" of the dream, we can change deep unconscious patterns that have been preventing us from living life to the fullest. We learn to heal our life.
The average person has around six dreams per night, which works out to more than two thousand dreams a year. That's two thousand opportunities every year to heal our life. How many years of life do we miss out on through not recalling our dreams? Based on the two hours a night we each spend in dream-rich REM sleep, scientists estimate that we spend nearly six whole years of our life dreaming. How many rich, enlivening experiences do we lose through forgetfulness? Isn't it time to wake up to this hidden part of ourselves?
Excerpted from "Mindful Dreaming"
Copyright © 2018 Clare R. Johnson.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 What is Mindful Dreaming and how can it help us? 1
2 Understanding dreams: core techniques 25
3 How to have lucid dreams 43
4 Transform your inner movie through Lucid Dreamplay 67
5 Sexual dreams for health and well-being 89
6 Healing from the past: supporting your younger self 103
7 Nightmares and how to resolve them 119
8 Illness and pain: how to dream yourself well 139
9 Healing dreams for grief and loss 155
10 Soul dreams: dream your way to happiness 175
Epilogue: Create your own best life 193
Practice List 203