How I learned to take control of my dreams

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Where do we find time to reflect, before the world wakes up and starts with all its noise and chaos?

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Sometimes I feel like I’m living two lives. There is my regular life, which involves a lot of laundry, and staring into the fridge, and tapping away at my computer. And then there’s my second life, which is filled with emotion and high drama, screaming, passion and sex. I face danger, I fail exams, I am chased, I get violent and sometimes I even take flight. This second life is, of course, played out entirely in my sleep, but it’s every bit as real to me as my first.

I have a wide variety of dreams, but frequently experience the Classic Three. There is the exam dream, where I haven’t studied the curriculum and realise with horror that I’ll fail. There’s the sex dream, where I’m with some hot man (most recently Chris Hemsworth), and I wake up at just the wrong moment. And there’s the chasing dream, where I’m being pursued by a demon and frantically trying to stay alive.

I’m fascinated by my dreams, by the power of my mind to conjure these different worlds. (I’m less intrigued by their meaning; failing exams and having sex with movie stars isn’t that hard to analyse.) My subconscious can design university campuses and chase scenes, create the sensation of flight, even invent vaguely plausible ways for me to seduce Chris Hemsworth.

And so, as I lay in bed one morning, having just been chased through a maze in my sleep, I toyed with the idea of manipulating my dreams. After all, I take control of my waking life (as much as the kids and work will allow) so why can’t I take charge of my subconscious?

I read up on dream incubation, which is just like the movie Inception, only without the drugs or danger. The aim is to focus on a specific issue or question as you fall asleep to direct your dream towards a topic or answer. The more specific the subject and intent the focus, the better the chance of a result.

It sounded interesting and potentially enlightening – and besides, I was sick of failing exams several nights a week. So I gave it a go, focusing intently on a problem I was having with a friend, telling myself I’d dream the solution that night.

And it worked … sort of. I dreamed I was out with my family when my phone buzzed loudly in my pocket. I picked up the phone and looked at the message. It was a text from my friend – the friend I’d been thinking about before sleep. I woke up with a start, with the lines from the text emblazoned in my mind. It’s not your responsibility, the text read. And it was just what I wanted to hear.

The dream helped, but more importantly, it taught me that I could manifest dreams. It was a revelation. For nearly 50 years I’d believed I was a slave to my whimsical subconscious – a subconscious that loved movie stars and hated exams – and suddenly I learnt that I had agency, too.

Every night that I didn’t fall asleep immediately, I started practising dream incubation. To be fair, this wasn’t often – I get very tired, okay? – but on those occasions I managed to stay awake long enough, I was moderately successful.

I manifested dreams about particular people, I manifested story ideas, and I manifested a different ending to my exam dream. I didn’t actually pass the exam – I think that’s still several dreams away – but I did recall that I had already graduated, which was the next-best outcome.

Dream incubation isn’t a foolproof technique, because my subconscious is still a whimsical place. Last night I tried to dream the last line to this column, and instead I dreamed I was at a party in my undies.

But it has certainly made my second life far more rewarding while giving me more food for thought in my first. And it has reminded me, again, of the wonders of our minds – there is so much more going on inside our brains than we know. There is so much more to marvel at, and unpack.

There are nights when I work through complex issues and losses in my sleep, or when I live out my fantasies or fears. Sometimes I learn something profound, and sometimes I wake in fright. And sometimes I simply party in my undies. That works, too.

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