Replace Anxiety Dreams with Visions of Green

    You can turn your bad dreams, COVID-inspired or not, into “green dreams” by priming yourself before going to sleep

    By Casandra Andrews

    I was holding a paper towel with 3 or 4 bean seeds. There was something different about these though, they looked darker and way bigger, like they had swollen up … I swallowed them all … I had a feeling they were going to grow into actual bean plants in my stomach so … I stood in front of the mirror. I was anticipating and waiting for them to start growing so I kept my mouth wide open to see them growing up and out of my throat. And they did just that — the [leaves] started peaking out of my throat but I wasn’t feeling any pain or fear, just a little tingling because there [were] plants growing inside me now.

    — Melancholycrow, Reddit dream contributor

    The pandemic has made a shambles of daily life in America, and the nights haven’t offered much relief. Dreaming has changed during COVID-19 with dreams becoming more intense and unusual — and unexpectedly environmental. Such outdoor-focussed dreams provide relief, and experts say it’s possible to seed them before you fall asleep.

    Deirdre Barrett, Ph.D., a psychologist and dream researcher who teaches at Harvard Medical School, has collected more than 6,000 dreams in a database over the last few years. She recently published the book “Pandemic Dreams,” detailing the visions that have infected people’s sleep in the age of COVID-19. While many of the dreams in her book are anxious ones, there’s a distinct subset of green dreams, in which a healthier natural environment free of pollution has become a reality.

    Research into dreams during the pandemic have identified a grouping of visions that feature soothing images of the natural world. (Photo: Alamy)

    “They glimpse a future with whales or dolphins frolicking at the shore because of human absence,” Barrett says. “More bizarrely delightful, one dreamer emerged from quarantine to find the whales had learned to fly. Some dreamed of leaving lockdown and finding cleaner water in their cities’ rivers and lakes.”

    Barrett says one dreamer was in her back yard which appeared as usual except that large mountain peaks rose in the distance; “her mother told her that pollution had hidden them for decades.”

    I recently had a dream where I was in my back yard and I saw a lion in the distance … looking at me. Then I got nervous and jumped into my garden and a lioness followed me into it. I found a stick and hit its head trying to defend myself, and it just sat there staring off into the distance being perfectly peaceful and not acknowledging me.

    After that, my garden ‘turned on.’ Like it had an engine and everything it needed to be able to drive. It drove backwards …

    — Chreerlir (Reddit)

    One theory behind the rise in vivid dreams during quarantine is an increase in REM sleep. Since many people are working from home instead of commuting to an office, they’re often sleeping in more than they normally would. And more sleep can mean more dreams.

    “When we pay attention to our dreams we get in touch with our feelings,” says Angel Morgan, Ph.D., a professor at Sofia University in Palo Alto, Calif.. “Natural, green spaces could mean one thing to one dreamer and another thing to someone else, but if the dreamer associates natural and green spaces with relieving anxiety, then that is a healing function the dreaming mind provides for the dreamer when they need it in their dream.”

    Social media is filled with what we remember when we wake up, what we scribble in dream journals, what we text ourselves to help jog our memories later. A Reddit subgroup on dreaming is filled with fantastical stories made possible by our dreaming minds.

    Bluezblast, a Reddit contributor, dreamed recently he was flying in an open air school bus. The enchanted vehicle flew into a volcano, then dove into lava. Instead of suffering a painful death, Bluezblast wrote the lava felt like the perfect hot shower, minus the moisture. It wrapped around the dreamer like a warm comfortable blanket in a chilly room.

    Is it possible to turn frightening dreams into something more soothing?

    Yes, says Morgan: “When people learn how to lucid dream they can turn pandemic nightmares into relaxing green dreams.” Lucid dreaming happens when you are aware that you are dreaming. Often, you can control the dream’s storyline and environment.

    To teach people how to do that, she wrote a children’s book in 2018 called “Dreamer’s Powerful Tiger: A New Lucid Dreaming Classic For Children and Parents of the 21st Century.” The book, Morgan says, introduces dream transformation “that guides children and adults to transform nightmares into dreams that are in harmony with nature and the natural world.”

    Another idea for changing the stories our brains tell us during deep sleep is something called dream incubation. Barrett says that if you are disturbed by repetitive anxiety dreams, don’t expend energy struggling not to have them.

    “The best remedy,” she says, “is to think of what dreams you would enjoy — and these can definitely include green dreams.”

    Perhaps you want to dream of walking in a peaceful garden or a pristine vacation spot. With what Barrett calls dream incubation, a term used at ancient Greek dream temples, you can suggest to yourself what you want to dream as you fall asleep

    “Dreams are extremely visual, so an image is especially likely to get through to your dreaming mind,” Barrett says. “Picture that garden, maybe yourself soaring above it. Or replay a favorite dream in detailed scenes.”

    I was talking with (work friends) outside the car when the sky got really dark. Except for where the sun was, it was like clouds took up the whole sky … we were all amazed by its beauty. Over time, the darkness around the sun closed in, it was almost like an eclipse. Then it closes in all the way, and at first just looked like an eclipse. Until a ring went over the sun, it flips and the sun revealed this huge eye, seemingly the eye of some higher being.

    In the moment I felt this huge sense of awe, with a lingering fear behind it. Then the sun would change into different looking eyes and the sky around it would take on these intricate geometric patterns. Everyone watching knew we were witnessing some kind of divine event. As if God was acknowledging us with his existence. And at the end of it all a message was heard, not from spoken word, but a message that came to our minds: ‘World peace is coming soon.’ And then I woke up.

    Zion Garcia (Reddit contributor)

    If images don’t come easily, Barrett says to place a photo or other objects related to the topic on your night table so they’re the last thing you see before turning off the light. Repeat to yourself what you want to dream about as you drift off to sleep.

    In one study performed by Barrett, 50 percent of college students incubating a dream on a chosen topic succeeded in dreaming of it.

    “The technique makes for a pleasant experience as you’re falling asleep,” she says, “and greatly raises the odds that your dreaming mind will honor your request.”

    Inside the Green Dream Animation

    A fantastical animation from watercolor artist Jeff Scher

    Bad dreams? Try turning them green. Dream researchers say that by thinking about a peaceful panoramic as you drift off to sleep, you can eventually manifest your vision. To inspire you, Aerate asked for the help of artist Jeff Scher, a watercolorist who dreams while he is awake.

    Here’s how he describes his process for this animation:

    “Quarantine Dream’’ was animated with pastel and watercolor. I shot it on a traditional analogue animation stand. It was drawn on white paper and then inverted, or turned “negative” in the edit. This technique turned the paper black and the colors into wild and vibrant shades. In addition to giving the flowers a dreamy otherworld quality, they also reference how flowers look to insects who use a bigger swath of the infrared spectrum in their vision.

    The spinning flower shot was drawn on a sheet of paper taped atop a lazy susan under the animation camera. Starting in the center, I painted each flower on after spinning the paper just enough to have the new flower appear where the previous one had been. I like working with traditional materials and finding ways to create new effects from old tools.”

    Dream on.

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