Here's a short quiz: What do the following people have in common?
Albert Einstein, Paul McCartney, George Frederic Handel, Richard Wagner, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Rene Descartes, Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman, Elias Howe, James Watt, Billy Joel, D.H. Lawrence, Dmitri Mendeleyev, and Jack Nicklaus.
If you answered that each of these highly respected scientists, musicians, artists, writers, inventors and athletes have said their work was deeply enriched and often, completely inspired by their dreams--then you're right--but probably because you figured, "Hey, c'mon. It's a column on dreams!" The reality is that very few of us are aware of the incredible number of dream-inspired discoveries, inventions, and works of art that have shaped our culture and consciousness.
Dreams are a primary source of human creativity and problem solving. Indeed, virtually all cultures throughout time have honored the wisdom and guidance available from dreams--often through the process of 'dream incubation'. To incubate a dream, just focus on an issue or concern in your life with which you have been struggling. Boil down the problem to a single sentence and repeat it as a mantra until you fall asleep e.g. "I need help understanding…" or "What's the real nature of this relationship I have with…."
We are always incubating dreams whether we do so consciously or not. Whatever issue we are concerned with in waking life becomes the grist for the mill of our dream life--thus the popular advice:"Why don't you just wait and sleep on it?" That's what the famous dreamers described above, all did. They were preoccupied with a problem, sweated over it, couldn't figure out the solution rationally and then slept on it.
Did you know that the last movements of The Messiah came to Frederic Handel full-blown in a dream? Then there was Wagner's opera Tristan. "For once you are going to hear a dream," he wrote to a friend. " I dreamed all this. Never could my poor head have invented such a thing purposely." Aristocrat and Russian academic, Dmitri Mendeleyev was investigating the basic elements or building blocks of the universe that combine in various forms to make up all physical matter. He was completely stumped and for the life of him could not explain their seemingly random properties. One day while on vacation with his family, he became tired and excused himself from the room in which his family was playing chamber music. Hearing the strains of their music as he fell off to sleep, Dmitri dreamed that he "saw" the basic elements of the physical universe arrange themselves in an orderly and beautiful pattern like repeating phrases of music. He woke up and outlined from his dream every element in its correct slot and order--what is now known in all chemistry texts as the Periodic Table of Elements.
Were there only time and space to regale you with stories of the dreams that gave birth to the sewing machine, the tale of Dr. Frankenstein and the improved golf swing of Jack Nicklaus.
Now some of you will say as I once did, " But these people have special talents! I'm just a regular Joe. What good are dreams for me?" Yes its true that our dreams don't bestow talent upon us. They just provide the creative ideas with which to solve the problems facing us. Dreams work for us a lot like that old TV commercial: " We don't make the surfboard...we make it better."
It's also true that the answer we seekmay not come full-blown. Sometimes we're just left with the residue of a strong hunch or the solution is clear once we've worked out the metaphors of the dream with a dream group or teacher. Yet, other times our dreams are clearly answers to questions we haven't yet figured out how to ask. That's when, without our even seeking help, dreams serve up pure inspiration.
Take young Al Einstein for example. While still an awkward adolescent headed for a boring job at the patent office he dreamed a dream that changed the course of human history--for better or worse. He reported this dream, the precursor to his Theory of Relativity, in an interview with famed journalist, Edwin Newman.
Einstein told Newman that it was night in the dream and he was with friends sledding down a hill and having a grand time. However on one trip down, he became aware that he was traveling faster and faster. Realizing after a moment that the sled was approaching the speed of light, he looked up and saw the twinkling starry light of the night refracted into a brilliant spectrum of colors he had never before seen on earth. Filled with a numinous sense of awe, wonder and reverence, he intuitively understood he was witnessing an event that contained his calling in life--all the answers as well as questions he would need to ask." I knew I had to understand that dream", he told Newman, "and you could say and I would say, that my entire scientific career has been a meditation on that dream.
… and may your own dreams guide you swiftly and well along your path.