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Current Update as of June 11, 2005 

Inspired by The Edgar Cayce Institute for Intuitive Studies

Edited by HENRY REED, Ph.D.

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Dream Medicine

Dream Medicine



Chapter Seven

   As a doorway, dreams present to each of us our own individualized invitation. For myself, one prospect that was inviting about dreams was their promise of providing seeds of creative impetus. I think of Thomas Edison, asleep in his laboratory. He gave the world a lightbulb.

What is your lightbulb to give the world? It is said that each of us came into the world with a purpose, with something to give. The Native Americans honored this assumption with the tradition of the Vision Quest.

"Go seek your dream," they would say to the adolescent, "and return to share with us who you are." The dream is a doorway to learn how to realize our intended innovations, our unique experiment in life, our gifts.

It has been on such an optimistic note that I have endeavored over the years to interest various people, community groups, businesses as well as schools in the creative potential of dreams.

If creativity is an acceptable accent in which to engage people in dreams, then art is certainly a readily expected domain in which to experience that creativity.

Although the same principles would apply to using dreams for sources of innovation in industry, for example, I have found it is easier to introduce the general concept by demonstrating innovations in art that have come from dreams.

One of the ways, in fact, that I myself have learned to realize what my dreams are showing me is through painting pictures. Besides prompting these pictures, my dreams also gave me some help in the actual techniques of painting with watercolors.

While I present some of these paintings to you here, I will share with you some of my explorations learning to use dreams in art and in fostering creativity.

Confidence to be more yourself in your work–that seems to be the most general result of working with dreams to enhance creativity–which allows our naturally innovative nature to express itself. It was that way with my own work.

I had begun by drawing my dreams, using magic markers for color, doing so primarily to commemorate them and to allow me to reflect upon them directly. I didn’t feel I could "draw," as these dream drawings didn’t look anything like my dreams.

But they "felt" right, and that seems to be what mattered at the time. Then someone gave me a set of watercolors. I tried them out, found them fun, but difficult to use.

I did what I could with them, rather enjoyed using a brush and a box of colors, and was fascinated by what happened on the paper. Yet it seemed difficult to express any intention through the watercolors. But then I had a dream.

I am in a movie theater looking at a large painting projected on the screen. The painting is like a large stained glass window, the surface area being divided into discrete areas, each filled with color. I hear my father’s voice telling me that I can paint like that.

I used this dream as a basis for simplifying my approach to learning watercolors. By taking a piece of paper, drawing a design on it, then filling in the spaces with color, I learned how to apply color to paper in a smooth and even manner.

I learned how to mix colors and how adjacent colors affected each other. I also learned how to build up color from several different coats of paint. Although this approach to watercolor painting is somewhat trite, it did enable me to learn some basic skills and gain confidence.

It was as if my dream was saying, "Look, I know you feel overwhelmed by the complexity of watercolors, so why don’t you try it this way for awhile?" One of my favorite paintings, "On the Way," emerged several years later, from this dream.

Click on the image to see bigger picture.

"On The Way"

During the time that I was practicing this approach, I was also attempting to learn how to paint directly onto the paper. I was watching how my practice in the disciplined approach would affect my more spontaneous painting.

I would fill my brush with color and begin making marks on paper. I would allow these marks to dry and then fill up with another color and make more marks, on top of the previous ones at times.

I was concentrating on watching the various colors build up and interact and had learned how to paint on top of paint without getting "mud." I had another dream.

I am painting under the supervision of Dr. Edith Wallace, my art therapist. I am making marks on paper in a rather spontaneous manner. When I am finished, she asks me to examine the painting to see what I would see. I notice a figure implicit in the random marks, much the same way I might see something in an ink blot, and experience a strong emotional reaction to the discovery. My teacher says that when I encounter such an emotional reaction, I’ll know I’ve found something.

This dream encouraged me to pursue painting in the manner I had been exploring. The importance of feeling was emphasized in the dream, as well as the process of discovery.

The dream also marked another breakthrough for me. It suggested that although I didn’t feel confident about setting out to paint "something," if I would simply put the brush to paper, make little marks, focus on the sensory effects of the color, then something would probably emerge from these marks that would give me a definite feeling of recognition.

I used this method of painting for several years, primarily as a psychological tool. If I was in a mood and wanted to explore it, I would paint marks on paper until I felt finished, examine the result until some figure emerged that spoke to my mood.

I also found that this approach was a good one for painting in the mood of a dream, and the resulting figures that I responded to would often help me understand the import of the dream. These paintings were quite personal–I called them my "psychological studies," and were not suitable for showing to others.

Wanting to honor this dream, however, I painted "Dionysos" using this method. As intricate and planned as it looks, I began by some random marks and continued in this manner until a figure appeared, which I then built up in increasing detail using the overlay method I had developed.

Click on the image to see bigger picture.


Dreams can be the inspiration for art. They can provide the impetus to create, the seed of what is to be created. For one thing, you can take a dream and draw it.

Don’t worry whether you think you can make your drawing look like how you remember seeing what was in your dream. Rather think of someone you’d enjoy telling your dream to; only you can’t tell it, you have to draw it.

A dream is a story and a picture tells it. Dreaming, itself, is a process of drawing a picture, as in the slang expression for explaining the obvious, "Do I have to draw you a picture?" or as in the phrase, "drawing an analogy."

So drawing a dream is an extension of dreaming, it is in support of dreaming. Drawing a dream is also one form of interpreting the dream. It is the basic step in the art of dream realization.

The "Dream Drawing Story Game" I’ll describe in a later chapter shows how to make use of the interpretive dimension of a dream drawing.

Giving a person a drawing of your dream without telling them the dram but having them make up a story about the picture will give you a subjective, but definite, demonstration of just how much you have interpreted your dream in your drawing.

My painting, "The Meeting," makes a good story about the potential impact of this process.

Click on the image to see bigger picture.

"The Meeting"

The dream concerned my entering a restaurant and seeing a man sitting alone at a table. When given the drawing, someone told a story of an artist at work in his studio.

Hearing the story, I was surprised to have the man labeled an artist–a placement on my scale of desirability just the opposite of how I had regarded the man in the dream.

How could he be seen as an artist? What was I missing? Was it possible that by rejecting the scruffy and seemingly inept parts of myself I was turning away the opportunity to explore and develop my creative talents?

My friend’s story forced a reevaluation of my dream, of that man and of my attitudes. For one thing, I decided to suspend my usual judgment of my doodles, designs and cartoons as awkward and inept, and allowed them to have more free rein in the expression of my feelings and intuitions.

I treated this process with more respect and also invested in some art supplies. Without this dream, and its interpretation, I doubt if I ever would have become so dedicated in practicing artwork.

Drawing the story of a dream, turning a dream into a picture, is only one way to incorporate dreams into the subject matter of artwork. Simply the mood of a dream can instigate a painting. What two or three colors express the feeling in the dream?

Would this color be big or small, pointy or rounded, concentrated or diffuse? How do the other colors fit in? Here we have the beginning of an abstract expression. Making an abstract expression is a good way to get in touch with one’s moods and to discover the meaning of them.

It doesn’t have to be with marks on paper, however, as nonsense noises, for example, that express the mood can evolve into a song, or movements can evolve into a dance.

The mood of a dream, or the feeling residual, can be the most lasting effect of a dream. Such a feeling can be difficult to put into words, and we are its captive until we can find some way to give expression to it that allows us to realize its meaning.

We can use painting, singing, dance, even poetry, to get in touch with the feeling and, if we come up with a finished product that communicates a meaningful feeling to others, perhaps we have gone another step in the direction of art.

To supply the content for art, we don’t have to use all the dream. A single dimension may suffice. It could be the mood. Sometimes a single image or symbol from a dream can be elaborated in a meaningful and powerful manner.

That’s what I’ve done in my painting, "Flowering." It is one image from one of my gardening dreams. In my chapter on "Inspirational Writing" I will demonstrate the use of poetry for dream symbol elaboration by writing a Haiku poem about this flower, calling it a "Mouse Flower," to express its shy, but magical, qualities.

There were no white dots in the dream, but in the painting, the white "twinklies" are a magical contrast to the flower’s rather awkward lines of opening. I am less shy about my Mouse Flower today, years later and I show it here to you. Perhaps it represents a budding creativity.

Click on the image to see bigger picture.


Just as you don’t have to use all of dream, so also do you not need to restrict yourself to a single dream, but may draw from many all at once.

"Dream Shields," described in a later chapter, are a simple way of combining dream symbols from many different dreams to create a visual statement. As explained in that chapter, a dream shield can be a mandala design using dream symbols as the content.

A mandala is usually a statement about the self, but one can combine dream symbols–one’s own symbolic vocabulary–to create statements about most anything.

Linking dreams together in this way, with an implicit story line or theme, is the beginning of thinking mythically - explaining or answering a question by telling a story composed of symbols from the unconscious. Perhaps such an approach produces an allegorical painting. Think of the juxtaposition of symbols in Magritte’s paintings, or the boxed assemblages of Joseph Church.

I have also been concerned with the spiritual essence of art, having to do with the creative force, and helping people awaken to its presence in their lives. A spokesman for this point of view might be Frederick Franck, with his book, Art as a Way: A Return to the Spiritual Roots.

I also hearken back to the ancient Aztec tradition of the artist (toltecatl = "wise man and artist") as an ideal, much as we might use the phrase, "Christ Consciousness," to refer to an ideal, a potential, a pattern of experience, a truth.

In the Aztec tradition, to be an artist was to know God as sHe manifested uniquely in that artist’s heart and to take all pains necessary to give truthful, and the most beautiful that the artist was capable of, testimony of that presence.

I was able to test this approach by working with three artists over an extended period to develop innovations and improvements in their artwork through the study of their dreams.

The use of dreams to develop innovations in the art technique excites me because it generalizes to innovations in other areas of life. What do we know, generally about dreams an innovations?

For the most part, from historical, anecdotal reports, they seem to come unbidden to a person who has been wrestling hard with a problem, and usually in very explicit form: in the dream, a solution or innovation is witnessed.

I myself have had dreams that helped me innovate in my profession–the experimental psychology of dreams–and in other areas, too, such as the watercolor paintings shown here. Some dreams of innovations came unbidden, others were incubated. Some were explicit portrayals of the innovation, others required interpretation.

What I have found about trying to share with people the possibilities for innovation through dreams is that the creative dreams of historical record–those unbidden and explicit dreams–may inspire people, yet paradoxically leave them passive, waiting until the day they might be given such a dream.

It also gives them an unrealistic goal, in that there is the impression that a creative dream is always distinguishable by its explicit portrayal of an innovation. Not that I would deny that the most cherished and valuable dreams may come unbidden and need no interpretation, but I do believe that it is important to start with what you have and work with it.

How I have worked with selected artists to help them innovate with their dreams is exactly how I have worked with anyone who was working on a problem and who was willing to allow dreams to make a statement about their work: What is your goal?

What are the perceived obstacles to your reaching your goal? What solutions have you tried? In what ways have these solutions been satisfactory and in what ways have they been unsatisfactory? What will be the consequences of your achieving your goal? Are you afraid of any of the consequences?

Are there any rules of procedure that you feel you must abide by in reaching your goal? What assumptions have you made about the nature of your problem that limit your choice of solutions. The answers to these sorts of questions help clarify the nature of the challenge the person has accepted and the meaning it has for the person.

I assume that a work of art, like an invention, reflects the artist or the inventor, that the process of interaction between the artist and the raw materials reflects the artist as well as the materials, but that the creator is primary.

When I take this perspective, then dreams become a natural helper, for dreams are meant to clear a path among the objective realities in life for the person’s subjective, but true, self to come out and contribute to those objective realities.

Again, it’s that notion that everyone has a light bulb to contribute to the world, and dreams are waiting for us to ask for their help in finding and giving birth to that lightbulb. So let’s look at the dreams.

When working with someone on innovation and dreams, when we first look at the dreams, they seem to have little to do with the work issue at hand.

To a large extent that is because most people separate their work issues from their personal issues, so all the feelings, worries, conflicts and other such typical dream contents, although they clearly relate, when interpreted, to the dreamer’s person life, don’t seem to relate to their work issues, which seem to be issues of competence, pride, ignorance and acclaim.

But when their personal issues are seen in a broader perspective, and when the answers to all the questions concerning the work goal are considered, it becomes clear that the personal issues and the work problems are both a part of the same core issues–discovering and risking being more of yourself.

I remember working with one artist, a ceramic designer, who was unsatisfied with the textures she was able to obtain on the bowls she was making. We spent a lot of time talking about what bowls meant to her; she had her private reasons, which she didn’t feel were particularly relevant, as well as her public, professional rationale.

One of her dreams involved a "shrimp boat." Discussion of that dream revealed a worry that she would "miss the boat," a concern she had about her life in general as well as about her art, a fear that she didn’t have what it takes, or had the "wrong stuff," and would get left behind.

I had the impression that she had the "right stuff," but was sitting on it because it didn’t match what she thought was expected, what would gain recognition from her "art audience." She was approaching her work left-handed, as it were, since she kept her better hand behind her back.

When we got to talking about shrimp, I noticed that although she said she didn’t like them, she was able to describe their texture in some detail. It seemed as if she had some energy invested in the shrimp texture, so I suggested that she explore this texture in her ceramics.

Out of this exploration came a new textural vocabulary which she developed in her work. As part of this artistic breakthrough came also more self-acceptance and confidence concerning the value of her own inclinations. The professional and personal dimensions grew simultaneously.

Several artists have participated in my work with dream incubation. I’ve included two examples of their dream inspired drawings here. Eleizer Canul, a Mayan artist, did the drawing shown here after we discussed the use of dreams for making art.

In this dream, I am riding my bicycle (he didn’t know I was a cycling enthusiast) right into the mouth of a Mayan sculpture. Much of his art is the reproduction of ancient Mayan carvings, so it was a real pleasure to see how a dream could inspire him to create something totally new.

Click on the image to see bigger picture.

"Dream of Henry" by Eleizer Canul

The second drawing is by James Yax. Also a professional artist, his drawing of meditation came from the dream he had while sleeping in the "dream tent," going through the dream incubation process I described in an earlier chapter.

Click on the image to see bigger picture.

"Dream Tent Dream" Jim Yax

When I was asked to be the subject of a Dream Art Exhibit, I was concerned that somehow exhibiting my work would jinx my continued enjoyment of painting. Perhaps I was simply nervous and self-conscious, not thinking of myself as an artist-for-show but instead more an artist in spirit.

For most of the three months I spent preparing for the exhibit, I had no dreams. I would have been a very frustrating subject for one of my experiments.

But as I was getting more and more of my old paintings framed, and having a chance to reflect upon how important it has been to me to have the opportunity to paint, my focus shifted to my message to others: "Just as I had lacked confidence in my ability and had been inspired by my dreams, so can you be inspired by your dreams."

Then, a week before the show, I dreamed that the exhibit was opening, and that I was outside, painting an invitation to the show on the sidewalk. I awoke from this dream and immediately painted a sketch of how I was painting on the sidewalk.

Then I was able to complete a finished painting in that style for the exhibit (not shown here). I was grateful that my dreams had provided me with something new to work on. Then, on the morning of the opening, I awoke with another painting on my mind.

I painted that in my dream journal and realized that for me the process of dreaming and painting would continue as an ongoing exploration. This last dream removed my doubts and made it possible for me to be present at the opening of my exhibit, answer questions, and share my delight at the work.

I want to tell you about another dream, because it shows just how dreams can guide you toward some profound discoveries as you work with them. In this dream, a secret is revealed to me:

I am in a sacred cave. A voice of a Native American points out the dry creek bed running through the cave, asking me to look at the designs. I see how the water, rippling over the sand of the river bed, has carried and distributed different colored minerals, creating beautiful patterns. I realize I have seen this kind of thing before when the voice remarks that such natural phenomena are where the Native Americans found the designs they use in their art. I am amazed at this revelation.

I realized that this dream, while it may have been pointing to a factual basis of Native American art, was also providing me with a new way to look at watercolor painting.

In such a method, one drags dissolved colored pigments over a textured bed of paper, creating designs. I can see painting itself as an human extension of an act of nature. This dream of the "Sundance Cave" discovery kindles in me a new appreciation of the art making process.

Click on the image to see bigger picture.

"Dream of the Sundance Cave"

It is difficult for me to form an evaluation of these paintings in terms of artistic standards. From a psychological standpoint, I believe I see something of merit in them. I see something of myself in these paintings, something I like.

Some of my friends who are professional artists say that they value the unique quality with which the watercolors are imbued, something they say reminds them of what is special about me to them. It sounds trite in words, and maybe all that is being reflected is love, or perhaps spirit.

At another level, I can see how the paintings reflect something of my psychology. These paintings are not the flowing, expressionistic happenings that are often associated with watercolors at their finest. On the other hand, although there is a precision to some paintings, they did emerge somewhat spontaneously, like a doodle, and are full of expression.

I see the paintings reflect an integration of a long-standing polarity within me, between planning and being spontaneous, evidencing an ability to arrive at a dimly perceived goal through a long process of successive approximations, which is a combination of both intentionality and chance.

Such integrations I value, and have my dreams to thank for them in many areas of my life. The kind of improvisational activities involved with dream interpretation generalizes, I believe, to encourage me to be spontaneous elsewhere.

When I was in college, for example, before I was into dreams and was an active alcoholic, whenever I wanted to do some painting, I had to get drunk. Otherwise I was too constricted to allow any kind of spontaneity.

After I "channeled" Jim Beam or Jack Daniels, the paint would flow across the canvas. Sober, I could only do structured drawings, drunk I could sling paint. After the recovery from active alcoholism and several years of work with dreams, I found that I could now paint quite spontaneously. It was a wonderful discovery.

Over time, the relationship between what I was learning from my dreams and what I was learning from painting combined to form my mandala painting meditation practice. From dreams I was learning to integrate the opposites within and without.

Mandalas, designs made from circles and squares, are symbolic of the integration of the opposites. I found that painting mandalas provided me with a safe place to practice the spiritual meaning of integration I was learning from my dreams.

Allowing the archetypal structure of the mandala to guide me in the background, I gradually developed confidence in the watercolors as I painted the mandalas rapidly, spontaneously, with little conscious deliberation.

My greater intimacy with the feeling of moving the pigments across the paper allowed an increasing freedom of movement in my painting.

I began to see in my paintings what I learned from my dreams: On one level, it seems that I am the author of my life, but on another level, I can detect the presence of another intelligence at work who is guiding the action.

When I cannot remember my dreams, I can paint, and find the needed mirror.

Click on the image to see bigger picture.

"Celebration Mandala"

Getting help from my dreams has seemed to involve my being open to innovative modes of perception as well as feeling of greater self-acceptance.

Dreams knit together the contradictory and conflicting aspects of my personality in ways that I could never have invented myself.

As when my first dream slowly taught me the value of the rejected potato chips and mayonnaise, so later dreams have given me the confidence to let go of any limited notion of how I "should" be and discover instead how I actually am created–in the image of the Maker.

Each of us is creative, each in a unique way. Dreams seem to want to help us discover that there is a whole lot more to us than we ever suspected.

Although they need to be approached and treated with the respect due a sovereignty, dreams are not really an end in themselves. Their secret is that they are but a doorway to a more valid and meaningful perception of life than we normally obtain through our extraverted, materialistic education.

Dreams provide us with an innate, alternative education, and do so simply by working on our consciousness with stories that affect us at a deep emotional level. The greatest truths lie within us and come to the surface in our dreams. We needn’t agonize over these dreams, trying to break their code.

There is no code. They are simply stories we need to remember and to bring into our lives in a variety of natural ways. In that way they can guide us, not only in our own search for happiness, but also in our efforts to prepare a better world in these difficult and threatening times.

I can think of no other renewable resource that is as universally available for developing that vital link to nature’s own invisible laws and purposes and to the spirit’s activity within us than getting help from our dreams.

Each of us has a special, unique light to share. Research into our dreams can help us each bring enlightenment to others in the way only each of us can, and discover who we really are in the process.

*This excerpt copyright ©2005 Henry Reed

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