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How to Control Your Dreams

Master the ancient art of dream incubation

by Keith Harary, Ph.D.

Our newest Mind-Brain Lab is an exercise in the ancient technique of dream incubation, where dreamers focus on specific ideas and images just before falling asleep. The many benefits include deep enjoyment of a longed-for fantasy, communing with your unconscious, and insight into your waking life.

If an image or idea has ever been on your mind all day, showing up in that night’s dreams, you’ve already experienced a spontaneous form of dream incubation. This phenomenon has led people to focus on specific ideas or problems in an effort to instill them into their dreams. Such intentional efforts at dream incubation have been practiced all over the world for thousands of years. These efforts may be as complex as spending days in a special environment meditating and practicing elaborate cultural rituals or as simple as quietly suggesting to yourself you’ll dream about a desired topic just as you are falling asleep.

The interactive dream incubation exercise we present allows you to share this experience with OMNI’s on-line community. By participating in this experiment, you can help us gain meaningful insight into the dream incubation process and the dreams most likely to evolve out of specific incubation scenarios. As you embark upon this journey, you may find yourself considering the intimate relationship between the reality of your dreams and everyday waking reality.

If you have any doubt about your ability to comfortably handle this exploratory journey into the realm of incubated dreams, or have a history of serious psychological problems, we recommend checking with your doctor or therapist before you begin.

If this is your first visit to the dream lab, start your experience with dream incubation instructions in the Incubation Antechamber below.

Incubating Dreams: An Omni Primer

Dream incubation rituals have been practiced throughout history by cultures from the ancient Greeks and Egyptians to native peoples of North and South America. The early Greeks, for example, practiced animal sacrifice and purification rituals in their temples in the hope of convincing the gods to bestow especially desirable dreams upon them. Such incubated dreams were believed to be effective not only in providing the dreamer with valuable information, but also for soliciting divine assistance in healing the sick.

Omni’s approach is a bit more streamlined — and kinder to animals, too. You should find the following steps, utilized in modern dream research, especially effective in tapping the deeper wisdom of your sleeping unconscious.




Showing up for work stark naked isn’t your usual style, but there is something oddly familiar about finding yourself in that vulnerable predicament. Maybe you’re feeling so insecure that literally exposing yourself to your co-workers seems only a more intense manifestation of your ongoing work experience. Or maybe so much has been going wrong at the office you aren’t surprised to encounter another awkward situation.

Whatever the reason, you feel relieved to wake up and find the whole episode was just a dream. But that sense of relief quickly fades when you realize your dream was triggered by feelings about your job situation. Looking back, you remember having those very feelings the night before.

Such experiences represent a spontaneous form of dream incubation, in which your dreams are directly influenced by the images and feelings occupying your thoughts in your final waking moments. But dream incubation can become a more conscious and deliberate process, in which you can actively focus on creating a dream that deals with a particular topic or evolves from a particular theme.

“Dream incubation is much easier than lucid dreaming (conscious control of dreams in progress) or learning to interpret your dreams,” says psychologist Gayle Delaney, Ph.D, who pioneered the modern techniques of psychological dream incubation in the early 1970s. Her program is summarized below:

  1. Choose an issue of immediate concern to you in relationships, work, creative endeavors, self-image, hobbies, or sports.
  2. On a piece of paper, to be kept at your bedside, write the date and a few lines about your problem or challenge.
  3. Compose a one-line phrase clearly expressing what you want to know, understand, or discover.
  4. Turn out the light and silently repeat to yourself your incubation phrase. Every time your mind wanders, bring it back to the phrase as if it were a mantra or a lullaby. This will keep you from worrying about your issue, and will put you to sleep quickly.
  5. When you awake, write down whatever is on your mind whether it is a dream or not. Often your response will come in a brief dream tempting to discard as meaningless if you are not yet skilled in reading your dream metaphors.
  6. After breakfast, interview yourself about your dream or early morning thoughts and see if they are a literal or metaphorical response to your dream incubation.




Most of us consider the waking world concrete and predictable, and dreams mere fantasies that dissipate the moment we awaken. Yet the waking world is filled with surrealistic images and unpredictable events that can see m the stuff of dreams. Dreams, meanwhile, represent the innermost truth about our unconscious thoughts on reality. In that sense, they represent a level of perception that is “more real than real.” By taking time to grasp the meaning of our dreams, we may come to understand with far more depth our relationships with others and the world.

Just as we experience the people, events, and objects around us, we also incorporate the feelings, images, and symbols they provide into nightly dream encounters. Many other people incorporate those same individuals, events, and objects into their own dreams. If you find yourself dreaming about someone you know, chances are that person also dreams about you.

Dreams may also inspire us to take tangible action in the waking world. Many buildings, products, and artifacts are doubtless inspired by images their creators first experienced while dreaming. Perhaps the spontaneous creativity of their sleeping imagination revealed to them the solution to a problem they were grappling with at an unconscious level. Or a fleeting image from a half-remembered dream became the conscious inspiration for creation.

Much of what you experience as waking reality, including everything from scientific breakthroughs to musical compositions may, at some level, represent a conscious expression of images “borrowed” from your dreams and those of others. Once those images are materially expressed, they may once again be “borrowed” by the sleeping unconscious, thereby taking on another in carnation within the realm of dreams. That new dream experience may, in turn, inspire any of us to take further creative action, thereby continuing a creative cycle that evolves and changes within each succeeding dream and waking manifestation.



To incubate a night vision, focus on our latest dream scenario. Simply look at the image below and you will be transported to the inner sanctum. Remember, you may begin the dream incubation process by imagining yourself entering a dream already in progress. Just focus on the image and read the words below for at least 60 seconds.

Art by Jacek Yerka
Courtesy of MORPHEUS

You find yourself in the Palace of the Lizard King, an underground nexus that extends without end. Images of subterranean dampness are offset by intricate Medieval tapestries and flickering lights. This is a realm where nature, beautifully crafted artifacts, and mysterious energies collide. The faint smell of incense drifts through an underground arena, where the local population reclines openly, sexually, and where labor is unknown. Tiny emeralds glisten in stark vegetation growing without natural light. You hear footsteps approaching from a distant cavern. The steps are coming closer . . .

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