Creative Dreaming and Problem Solving

Few dreams are, by themselves, problem solving or creative – even so, most dreams, especially nightmares, are attempts to deal with our psychological or spiritual problems. The few exceptions are usually very clear. Also, when they occur, the problem solving can apply to a wide range of human experience. For instance the problem might be a personal or psychological one; it might be a mathematical problem, or insight that produced a creative idea, thus solving a problem to do with questions being asked or something being attempted. These first two examples illustrate how a dream can resolve a psychological problem.

Example: ‘My mother in law died of cancer. I had watched the whole progression of her illness, and was very upset by her death. Shortly after she died the relatives gathered and began to sort through her belongings to share them out. That was the climax of my upset and distress, and I didn’t want any part of this sorting and taking her things. That night I dreamt I was in a room with all the relatives. They were sorting her things, and I felt my waking distress. Then my mother in law came into the room. She was very real and seemed happy. She said for me not to be upset as she didn’t at all mind her relatives taking her things. When I woke from the dream all the anxiety and upset had disappeared. It never returned.’ Told to author during a talk given to The Housewives Register in Ilfracombe.

Example: I was lying in my bed and a man was beside me. Gradually he got older and older until he was dead. Then he became a skeleton in bed beside me. I felt horrible. When I woke there was still some difficult feelings but these went. I realised that things, emotions, troubling me for ages had all been cleared. Previously at church the vicar had talked about the healing of forgiveness, and in some way this had happened while I was dreaming. Now, quite a time after the dream I am still in the state of ease. Stephanie – Chester

Although in any collection of dreams such clear cut problem solving is fairly rare, nevertheless, the basic function in dreams appears to be problem solving. The proof of this lies in research done in dream withdrawal. As explained in the entry science sleep and dreams, subjects are woke as they begin to dream, therefore denying them dreams. This quickly leads to disorientation and breakdown of normal mental functioning. Therefore, a lot of problem solving is occurring in dreams even though it may not be as obvious as the example.

Example: I can see, from my past behaviour, I have always needed something to fight. I create a fear, then struggled to combat it. If I haven’t got a problem I will create one. I get a feeling of strength from solving problems. I want to be a hero.

This feature of dreaming can be enhanced to a marked degree by processing dreams and arriving at insights into the information they contain. This enables old problems to be cleared and new information and attitudes to be brought into use more quickly. Through such active work one becomes aware of the Self, which Carl Jung describes as a Core, but we might think of it as a synthesis of all our experience and being. Gaining insight and allowing the Self entrance into our waking affairs, as M. L. Von Franz says in Man and His Symbols, gradually produces ‘a wider and more mature personality’ which ‘emerges, and by degrees becomes effective and even visible to others.’ This is of course a very subjective event, yet it has obvious practical results. The person arrives at a greater social connectivity through it, and this usually results in marked changes in the opportunities life presents them. See Street Wisdom; Techniques for Exploring your Dreams

The function of dreams may well be described as an effort on the part of our life process, to support, augment and help to mature waking consciousness. A study of dreams suggests that the creative forces which are behind the growth of our body, are also inextricably connected with psychological development. In fact, when the process of physical growth stops, the psychological growth continues. If this is thwarted in any way, it leads to frustration, physical tension, and psychosomatic, and eventually, physical illness. The integration of experience which dreams are always attempting, if successful, cannot help but lead to personal growth. But it is often frozen by the individual avoiding the ‘growing pains’, or the discomfort of breaking through old concepts and beliefs. See Individuation

Where there is any attempt on the part of our conscious personality to cooperate with this, the creative aspect of dreaming emerges. In fact, anything we are deeply involved in, challenged by, or attempting, we will dream about in a creative way. Not only have communities like the American Indians used dreams in this manner – to find better hunting; solve community problems; find a sense of personal life direction – but scientists, writers, designers, and thousands of lay people have found very real information in dreams. After all, through dreams we have personal use of the greatest computer ever produced in the history of the world – the human brain. But if we are so afraid of our emotional responses, our creative self is made inactive.

Example: Then the throat pain became unbearable. I investigated it and I became aware of doom. If I didn’t fight it, doom would take over. I was weary of fighting it so I let doom take over and sank into the doom and it was then that I found myself at the foot of the great being and total acceptance of my life. Spontaneously, before I knew it I was offering everything as a sacrifice, including past mistakes and cock-ups, and that I had to do this. And then there were the images again of clefts: the earth, female genitals, undersea-ocean crusts opening and something, as yet formless, emerging. This, I suspect, is my creativity in the world. Sylvia

In Genesis 41, the story of Pharaoh’s dream is told – the seven fat cows and the seven thin cows. This dream was creative in that with Joseph’s interpretation it resolved a national situation where famine followed years of plenty. It may very well be an example of gathered information on the history of Egypt being in the mind of Pharaoh, and the dream putting it together in a problem solving way. See: The dream process as computer; Prayer and Dream Interpretation.

  1. In the June 27, 1964, edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, golfer Jack Nicklaus described how he had fallen into a bad slump. Despite intensive analysis of what could be wrong, he continued to do poorly. He then experienced a dream in which he was holding his golf club differently and swinging perfectly. He told the newspaper reporter, ‘When I came to the course yesterday morning, I tried it the way I did in my dream and it worked. … I feel kind of foolish admitting it, but it really happened in a dream.’ After the dream, his scores improved rapidly.
  2. Dana Cushing, an acquaintance of mine from Boston, has made a hobby of riding old-fashioned, high-wheeled bicycles. After he bought his first one, he spent about three months repairing it. During this interval, Dana had several dreams in which he joyously rode this velocipede. He was surprised by this because he had never actually ridden one in his waking life. When the repairs were finished, Dana discovered that he was able to successfully ride his velocipede on his very first attempt. It seemed as if the ‘practice’ sessions in his dreams had enabled him to achieve waking mastery of the complicated balancing skills necessary for such a performance.
  3. From Oxford Book Of Dreams – Before the Coronation [of King Edward VII] I had a remarkable dream. The State coach had to pass through the Arch at the Horse Guards on the way to Westminster Abbey. I dreamed that it stuck in the Arch, and that some of the Life Guards on duty were compelled to hew off the Crown upon the coach before it could be freed. When I told the Crown Equerry, Colonel Ewart, he laughed and said, ‘What do dreams matter?’ ‘At all events,’ I replied, ‘let us have the coach and Arch measured.’ So this was done, and, to my astonishment, we found that the Arch was nearly two feet too low to allow the coach to pass through. I returned to Colonel Ewart in triumph, and said, ‘What do you think of dreams now?’ ‘I think it’s damned fortunate you had one,’ he replied. It appears that the State coach had not been driven through the Arch for some time, and that the level of the road had since been raised during repairs. So I am not sorry that my dinner disagreed with me that night; and I only wish all nightmares were as useful. William Cavendish-Bentinck, Duke Of Portland, Men, Women and Things, 1937
  4. William Blake dreamt his brother showed him a new way of engraving copper. Blake used the method successfully.
  5. Otto Loewi dreamt of how to prove that nervous impulses were chemical rather than electrical. This led to his Nobel Prize.
  6. Frederich Kekule tried for years to define the structure of benzene. He dreamt of a snake with its tail in its mouth, and woke to realise this explained the molecular formation of the Benzene ring. He was so impressed he urged colleagues, ‘Gentlemen, learn to dream.’
  7. Hilprecht had an amazing dream of the connection between two pieces of agate which enabled him to translate an ancient Babylonian inscription.
  8. Elias Howe faced the problem of how to produce an effective sewing machine. The major difficulty was the needle. He dreamt of natives shaking spears with holes in their points. This led to the invention of the Singer Sewing machine.
  9. Robert Louis Stevenson claims to have dreamt the plot of many of his stories.
  10. Albert Einstein said that during adolescence he dreamt he was riding a sledge. It went faster and faster until it reached the speed of light. The stars began to change into amazing patterns and colours, dazzling and beautiful. His meditation on that dream throughout the years led to the Theory of Relativity.
  11. Parkinson, a Bell Laboratory engineer, in 1940. He was attempting to develop an automatic level recorder to improve the accuracy of measurements in telephone transmission. In his dream, he was with an anti-aircraft crew in a gun pit. One of the guns brought down an airplane with every shot. One of the crew members beckoned Parkinson to come closer to the gun and pointed to the exposed end. To Parkinson’s surprise, he saw that the control potentiometer of his level recorder was mounted there. From research based upon Parkinson’s dream, the first all-electric gun director evolved and became known as the M-9 electrical analogue computer. The M-9 was the precursor of guidance systems for later antiaircraft and anti ballistic missiles.

To approach your dreams in order to discover their creativity, first decide what problematical or creative aspect of your life needs ‘dream power’. Define what you have already learned or know about the problem. Write it down, and from this clarify what it is you want more insight into. If this breaks down into several issues, choose one at a time. Think about the issue and pursue it as much as you can while awake. Read about it, ask people’s opinions, gather information. This is all data for the dream process. If the question still needs further insight, before going to sleep, imagine you are putting the question to your internal store of wisdom, computer, power centre, or whatever image feels right. For some people an old being who is neither exclusively man or woman is a working image.

In the morning note down whatever dream you remember. It does not matter if the dream does not appear to deal with the question and it can simple be an image like a photograph. Elias Howe’s native spears were an outlandish image, but nevertheless contained the information he needed. Investigate the dream using the techniques given in the entry Techniques for Exploring your Dreams. Some problems take time to define, so use the process until there is a resolution. If it is a major life problem, it may take a year or so. After all, some resolutions need restructuring of the personality, because the problem cannot disappear while we still have the same attitudes and fears. See: Avoid Being Victims; secret of the universe dreams.


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