From dream incubation to keeping a flashlight pen by your bedside, Arianna Huffington walks you through your darkest hours
The power of dreams…and why you should record them
A throw pillow in Arianna Huffington’s bedroom states, ‘Sleep your way to the top’. And the editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post lives by it — by sleeping eight hours a day, that is. The author of 15 books — including 2014’s bestselling Thrive (which tries to redefine success) — had got her wake-up call when she’d collapsed in 2007, to wake up later in a pool of blood. Her doctor’s prognosis: exhaustion. Now an advocate for slumber, her newest book takes us behind the science of it, and explores why the lack of it affects our lives and how we can court it every night. Here is an excerpt from The Sleep Revolution.
Those who have integrated dreams into their lives have found that the “otherworld” of sleep has become more real — something to be welcomed rather than resisted. For me, it is way more than just feeling recharged. There is also a sense of freedom that comes from less attachment to daily battles, successes, failures, and illusions. My daughter Isabella has a recurring dream that beautifully illustrates this. She is a living stop sign, forcing people to come to a complete stop before moving on with their lives. And instead of dissolving when she wakes up, the dream takes on new relevance when she revisits it during the day, reminding her to pause, reflect, and keep all the demands of her life in perspective.
There are some simple steps we can take before we go to sleep to reinstate dreams to a central place in our lives and experience firsthand why they matter. After we put our devices aside, wind down, and let go of the day, we can learn from the practices of ancient temples and do a modern-day version of dream incubation. Synesius of Cyrene, a Greek bishop living around the year 400, called dreams oracles, always ready to serve as our “silent counselor.” And dream incubation is a process of preparing our consciousness to receive guidance from our inner counselors. It can be about big life decisions, but also about anything that we want more clarity and wisdom around, however trivial it may seem.
I love how the Rubin Museum in New York, which houses Asian art, brings dream incubation into our modern lives. It hosts an annual “Dream-Over,” where participants spend the night sleeping among the artworks. A Tibetan Buddhist teacher leads a discussion about the significance of dreams in Tibetan culture, and in the morning “dream gatherers” start a conversation about what everyone dreamed of.
Of course, Tibetan Buddhist teachers and thought provoking artworks aren’t required to get the dream incubation process going. I asked Mary Hulnick, the chief creative officer of the University of Santa Monica, who teaches dream incubation as part of the Spiritual Psychology course, for specific steps to facilitate the process. She suggested asking ourselves these key questions before going to sleep: “In what area of your life would you like to receive guidance? What question do you want answered? Word your question carefully and precisely, write it down, and focus on it as you drift off to sleep. Since the language of dreams is metaphorical and symbolic, ask that the answer to your question be given in a way that you can recognize and understand. Set an intention to remember your dreams. Then go to sleep. When you awake, and this is very important, remain totally still — do not move your body. This allows you greater access to your dream — better dream recall. Once you have your dream secure in your mind, your first movement is to get your pen and paper and begin writing any dreams or parts of dreams that you recall. Sometimes you’ll have and recall a dream the very first night that you ask your dream incubation question. Sometimes, you may find that you need to ask your question for several nights. I encourage you to be patient and let go of any pressure or attachment to receiving a dream.”
If I wake up in the middle of the night, even if I have not asked for specific guidance in any part of my life, I write down whatever I remember from my dreams with a pen that has a flashlight attached to it. I find that when I don’t turn on the lamp on my nightstand, it is easier not to lose the thread of my dreams. (And if you’re not sleeping alone, you’re less likely to wake your partner.) When you wake up in the morning, if you want to remember your dreams, don’t grab your cell phone the moment you open your eyes and become inundated with news, texts, and emails. Before letting the outside world in, taking a momentary pause and a few deep breaths can help you recall more of your dreams, reliving the paths traveled while in your dream world. As we learn to recognize the hidden meanings beneath the surface of the everyday, it becomes easier to listen to the inner whisperings that tend to get drowned in the cacophony of our waking life.
“I started with microscopic steps: adding 30 minutes, taking my devices out of my bedroom, not rushing to my phone first thing. But then, very quickly, the new me drew me like a magnet. The old me was more cranky, more irritable, more reactive. I found [the new me] not really reacting. I like living my life like that” —Vogue
“He (Donald Trump) displays all of the symptoms of chronic sleep deprivation—inability to process simple information, emotional instability, outbursts of anger, mood swings and regurgitation of incomprehensible pablum”—Boston Herald
Reprinted with permission from the Penguin Random House. Rs 599. Available at Starmark. Details: 64550262