Main questionThe main question of this survey was what makes longtime dreamers become and remain actively involved with dreams. Being a believer of the value of dreams myself, I also hoped that the survey would provide clues about ways to promote dreaming. The survey was done online, 104 respondents submitted an interview.
"Life's A Dream" scaleThe various ways of defining dreaming can be placed along what I call the "Life's A Dream" scale. The scale starts with the conservative definition of dreaming as neurological garbage. Any real longtime dreamer will of course disagree with that definition. Definitions or views of dreaming that follow add more and more meaning to it: dreaming as a psychological process, something spiritual or even psychic. The last item of the scale is the view that life literally is a dream.
Most respondents turn out have a spiritual interest in dreams. A minority prefers to see dreams as only useful for psychological insights. That is - I assume - no connection with something larger than oneself is assumed. An even smaller minority sees life as a dream, and dreaming as a way to shape life.
Two different groupsMost of the 104 respondents can be divided into two groups: natural dreamers and self-starters. I had expected that most respondents would have the characteristics of the self-starters group, so the existence of a substantial other group was a surprise.
Natural dreamers nearly always start with dreaming because of dreaming itself, and do so at a young age, before becoming an adult. The interest in dreams is usually triggered by precognitive dreams, Big Dreams or dreams as a place of restoration.
Self-starters start dreaming not because they discover dreams themselves, but usually for reasons related to learning about specific benefits of dreaming. That doesn't necessarily mean that these benefits in themselves need to be that important, but they give a reason to start paying attention to dreams. Compared to natural dreamers, precognitive and other impressive dreams are far less important as a first motivation.
Regardless the group, there are also respondents for whom the first motivation is less clear. The overall picture of all the interviews suggests that respondents often are simply fascinated by dreams. If longtime dreamers have anything else in common, it would be that many seem to have an interest in creativity, or in the paranormal, or both.
Childhoodobviously, it's nice for a child to have parents who take dreams seriously. The respondents seemed to have had helpful parents or grand-parents much more often than I expect to be normal for the general population. Still, the majority of the respondents did not have supportive parents, and nonetheless became longtime dreamers either at a young age, or later in life. So it seems that having supportive parents is not essential to developing a longtime interest in dreaming.
Even though few parents understand dreams, they tolerate children's dreams sometimes as a kind of creative expression. As children grow up parents can become uncomfortable with that creativity, and start discouraging the child's interest in dreams.
Benefits and developmentThe survey asked whether respondents had any specific expectations about dreams. At that time I didn't know about the large group of natural dreamers. Naturally, when one starts at a young age because of experiences with important dreams, the question about expectations makes no sense. That leaves the self-starters. It turns out that even self-starters were and still are remarkably open to whatever dreams are. The most common answer was that there were no specific expectations at the time people started paying more attention to dreams. Another, yet less frequent, answer was an interest in self-development.
Benefits like creative inspiration are much valued by a minority of dreamers. They helped natural dreamers to remain interested in dreams. Self-starters seem to be slightly less interested.
While the expectations of dreams and the definitions remain fairly open over time, longtime dreamers do say they develop a better understanding of the world of dreams, and also adopt or develop new methods for working with dreams. For as far any conclusion can be drawn about how dreamwork evolves over time, it seems that it becomes more creative, less analytical.
There are other interests than self-development. For example, longtime dreamers can also be very interested in psychic abilities and astral traveling. Most longtime dreamers are open to anything, but tend to be more interested in one specific aspect of dreaming, be it self-development, psychic abilities, or for example lucid dreaming.
Education and promotionTo me, the interest of this survey is closely related to promotion of dreaming. Here are a few findings on the importance of education and promotion for the development of interest.
Books are essential for triggering the interest. It introduced many self-starters to dreaming. Sometimes even natural dreamers consider books a valuable source of new ideas.
Remarkably, psychologists / psychiatrists did at best only turn two respondents to dreaming. This may support the finding that self-development is not a crucial element for continued interest in dreams.
Also surprising is that among the 104 respondents, there was not one who uses dreams strictly for simple and straightforward problem solving. On the contrary, this seemed to be a relatively infrequently used feature of dreams. Perhaps I overestimated the value of problem solving with dreams. Everyone knows that that sleeping over a problem helps to get a clearer perspective. One step further would be to incubate dreams on problems, without being particularly interested in dreams in general, philosophy, self-development or psychic experiences. However, nothing in the survey indicated that this is a route to becoming a longtime dreamer.
What is striking is that there are a few dozen of psychics among the 104 respondents. However, as far as I know, dream literature in general hardly caters to the needs and experiences of this group of dreamers. A notable exception is Robert Moss, who has already written three dream books that should interest many (potential) longtime dreamers.
Lucidity and telepathyLucid dreams were mentioned by 43 out of the 104 respondents. Not in any particular order lucid dreams are valued as a valuable experience in itself (sometimes compared to meditation), as a tool to accelerate self-development, as exciting entertainment, and as a means towards developing advanced dream skills as astral travel.
Unfortunately, lucid dreaming is a skill that many find hard to master, and very few actually have lucid dreams regularly.
Dream telepathy was also mentioned by the respondents. While there are various dream groups known to experiment with telepathy, only one of the respondents who mentioned dream telepathy is involved with such groups. Concerning dream telepathy I suspect that many think of the Hollywood style of dream telepathy, not the more subtle kind of shared dream elements. The more subtle form of dream telepathy is easy to miss unless one pays attention to it. For that reason, it is likely that telepathy happens more than appears from this survey.
Profile of a longtime dreamer
To determine what kind of characteristics dreamers have in common, self-starters provide the most useful clues. Their interest in dreams was a much more deliberate choice, and at least a more recent one.
Based on the Motivations For First Interest part of this report, (especially Captivated By Dreams and External Motivations), I would speculate the following about self-starters. It seems that an important ingredient of the explanation is an interest in, or at least being open to, an all encompassing life philosophy, likely to be closely related to metaphysics. Then one of two other traits are needed to become a longtime dreamer, and often it is predominantly one of the two:
While natural dreamers are somewhat less outspoken about their first motivation, my general impression is that what natural dreamers tell in their interviews fits very well with the conclusion for self-starters. As a child, big words like metaphysics are meaningless, but it is clear that natural dreamers have the same curiosity for something more than just this earthly life.
For all longtime dreamers, benefits like artistic inspiration, problem solving, healing, entertainment, and so on, seem to be mostly considered added bonuses, and are only rarely a reason to become a dreamer.
SummaryFirst of all the significance of precognition is surprising, especially as this is still a relatively obscure area. Lucid dreaming became a lot more acceptable to the general public once researchers found a way to adequately proof the existence of lucid dreams. Especially Stephan LaBerge did much to popularize lucid dreaming. There has been research into precognition, but it never did for precognitive dreams what Stephan LaBerge and others did for lucid dreaming.
There seems to be a lot of interest for spiritual aspects of dreaming. I'm not completely sure in what sense every respondent used the term, but for this report I assumed that spirituality referred to something higher than oneself. I think it's at least interesting to know that spirituality and dreams are closely related for longtime dreamers. It might be interesting to find out more about how longtime dreamers define spirituality, and how dreams enable spiritual growth.
For the promotion of dreaming, the survey results suggest to aim much higher than problem solving, or even working at personal but relatively mundane issues. What folks find really interesting about dreams goes far beyond simple extensions of everyday life.