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Some people think they are not creative, but as our dreams show us every night, we all have creative abilities. Here's how to tap them for inspiration!

Most psychologists believe that creativity originates in the unconscious mind, which continually shuffles through thoughts and experiences until it recognises something that may be of use. It then offers an idea to the conscious mind, which edits it into acceptable form. However, many musicians, writers and artists claim that there is more to the process than this, and that ideas sometimes come from elsewhere.

Artistic insight

Mozart is said to have “heard” his music as if objectively, while Italian composer Giuseppe Tartini dreamed that the devil visited him and played a sonata that “surpassed the wildest flights of my imagination”. Tartini considered Il Trillo del Diavolo (The Devil’s Trill) the best piece he ever wrote. Robert Louis Stevenson found that by telling himself stories as he was going to sleep, his “little people”, as he called them, continued the stories in his dreams, “creating tale after tale upon their lighted theatre”.

Scientific breakthroughs

Creative inspiration in dreams is not just the monopoly of artists. Niels Bohr, a key figure in quantum physics, is said to have dreamed the long-sought model of the atom, and Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev dreamed the Periodic Table of elements – to give only two impressive examples. In these instances, the dreamers were already immersed in their work and were looking for new perspectives – so inspiration may have come from their unconscious, which formed new ideas in the process of reviewing recent thoughts. But another theory is that dream inspiration comes from a spiritual source and works because the dreamer is receptive.

Dream telepathy

In sleep the conscious mind becomes quiet, and this allows the unconscious to process impressions that have gone unnoticed during the day. Research suggests that those that appear to be psychic may indeed by paranormal. Work at New York’s Dream Laboratory in the Maimonides Medical Centre involved volunteers sleeping in the laboratory, while experimenters attempted to send them pictures telepathically. When describing their dreams, the sleepers reported things that related clearly, beyond the possibility of chance, to the pictures.

Research suggests that the more we work on remembering, controlling and interpreting our dreams, the more likely psychic and creative dreaming is to happen, and the more likely we are to be aware of the results. Try looking for correspondences between the events recorded in your dream diary and your daily experiences. Do any of the former appear to predict the latter?

Mining your dreams

Believing that inspiration can infiltrate your dreams is a good way to encourage it, so try the following:
1. Identify the specific inspiration you require (e.g., the opening theme to a song you are writing).
2. Think of the desired goal frequently and tell yourself confidently that it will be given to you in dreams.
3. Make no conscious effort to find inspiration.
4. Hold the wish in your mind as you fall asleep.
5. Write down your dreams, and work on the possible meaning of any symbols with free or direct association.
6. Be patient; if inspiration does not come immediately, tell yourself that it will come another night.

David Fontana is a PhD in Psychology, a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, and the author of The New Secret language of Dreams (Duncan Baird, Simon & Schuster Publishing, http://www.simonandschuster.com.au/), available from all good book stores, and from which this extract is taken with permission.