Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Problem Solving and Creativity in Dreams

A cool thing about dreams is they support you in your waking life. That is, they can help you solve problems or give a different perspective on them whether you remember the dreams or not. You may even consciously intend to dream about a problem and ask for help from your dreaming self.

I think of my dreaming self as a somewhat different persona from my waking self. I can ask her to dream about a problem and help me out. She has a different perspective on my problem because she doesn't have to consciously deal with any consequences from the solutions. She has a greater depth of memory of everything that has ever happened to me. She can access all of my long-term memories, as well as any human race memories, plus she lives in the dream world that I can only remember while awake. I guess you could say she and I have a different experience of living the same life.

During rehearsals for a production of the musical Pippin in 1980, I remember experiencing difficulty directing a particular scene in the show. It was a short love scene between the two leads, then the chorus came in and the action changed. Every time I watched the scene in rehearsal I didn't like it. When I told the actors it wasn't working, they agreed and one said, "Tell us what you want us to do and we'll try to do it."

The problem was I didn't know what to tell them. I drove home from school worrying about the scene and carried that worry through the evening and into bed. At that time I was recording my dreams and interested in them, but I hadn't realized yet that I could intend dreams, that is, decide in advance the subject of the dream. So I considered what happened with the Pippin scene just good luck.

During my dream I watched the troublesome scene as if I were in a theatre myself watching the show. The actor and actress moved around the stage in a different manner, a more interesting way, and the scene played perfectly when the chorus came in. I awoke excited to get to school because I knew exactly how to change the scene to solve the problem. At rehearsal I explained how I wanted to redo the scene, the actors did it, and it worked perfectly just as it happened in my dream. The actors liked it better too.
I felt extreme gratitude to my dreaming self for solving the problem.
Another time the influence of a problem-solving dream was not so obvious. One of my English students had begun to behave aggressively in class. With minimal provocation he snarled at other students and called me bitch under his breath. Because I'd had his older sister in class the year before I knew their home could get unpleasant with the father's threatening presence. I went to bed worrying about the boy's aggressive behavior and what I ought to do about it. My choices were to talk with him personally, to call the mother in the hope of her intervention, or to write a referral so the principal would deal with the situation. I feared none would solve a worsening situation. I also feared aggravating their home life problems myself.

Despite my worry I slept well. I did not recall a dream in the morning but felt confident my dreaming self had been working on the problem. I intended to trust the first impulse that came into my mind. When I started thinking about what I would do about the boy at school, I knew immediately the best action to take. I kept the boy after class and told him the truth, that I was worried he would follow his father's ways and spoil his chances to have a girlfriend. I told him girls would like him very much because he was handsome and loving and fun to be around, but I emphasized his aggressive behavior would spoil those chances with girls. The boy responded in an open and warmhearted manner. He didn't want to end up like his father, and he felt flattered that I thought he was handsome. I don't know what happened at home but in class the boy turned an amazing corner. He started talking to the girls so much I had to tell him to be quiet. He grinned like we had a secret. His grade went from a C to a B by the end of the semester.

Thank you, dreaming self.

There are well documented cases historically where dreams helped people solve big problems, including the invention of the sewing machine, the discovery of the benzene molecule, and artistic creations by such authors and composers as Robert Louis Stevenson, Voltaire, and Tartini.

Recent scientific studies have shown students do better on tests after they have slept because of the dream activity of shunting material from short-term to long-term memory. Other studies demonstrate the benefits of waking imagery, hypnotically-induced dreams, and regular dreams in solving problems and unlocking creativity. Psychotherapy uses dream analysis commonly because of the belief that dreams can help the client solve problems.

Here's a tip.

The next time you have a problem that seems to consume time and energy, try sleeping on it. It could be anything that bothers you, from a problem at work to your love life. Mull it over during the evening. After you get into bed, say, "Dreaming self, help me solve this problem." Don't imagine scenarios of how to solve it. Just trust it will be solved. Then go to sleep.

After you awaken the next morning, write down any dream or fragments or thoughts. If you have none, don't worry. When your thoughts turn to the problem, go with the first answer that comes into your mind. See what happens.

If it works for you, a little more trust will build between you and your dreaming self.