Walt Disney working through Pinocchio Storyboards | © Disney Family Museum

How to Master Intentional Dreaming for a Satisfying Life

The best, most complete methodology to get your conscious, subconscious, and unconscious intentions powerfully aligned



“There is nothing like a dream to create the future.” — Victor Hugo

When he was a young boy, the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung dreamed of a castle. He drew pictures of it, and when he was an adult, he built it.

Jung at the door of the tower in 1923 | Only known photograph

In 1923, Jung first constructed just the tower, as he had to watch his money. Later, he built other sections of it, adding bedrooms so others could stay with him.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell speaks of the lunch he and his wife Jean had with Carl Jung “in that marvelous castle he built with his own hands. He was a big man and my wife tells me that his eyes were very attractive.”

When I was 12, I heard the story about how that man built a castle based on his dream. Knights, damsels, and dragons filled my head, but I was also familiar with Jung because my auntie had given a book for Christmas that Jung edited called Man and His Symbols. It was not only his friends and associates who had convinced Carl Jung to work on the book for the public—he was also inspired a dream wherein his work was understood by the wider public, and not just academics.

As a kid in a small Ohio town, I was obsessed with movies and their meaning. Jung’s big hardcover book was a pop-culture treasure trove chock-a-blocked with full-page photos of films and what they signified to that mysterious human wonder known as the “psyche”.

If Jung could dream of a castle and build it, I thought, why can’t I have dreams and make them come true?

But how can you make sure you dream a dream, I thought, that is worth dreaming?

Walt Disney on The Wonderful World of Disney | © Disney Family Museum

At 13, I decided I would influence my dreams. Before I went to sleep every night, I imagined my life working shoulder-to-shoulder with Walt Disney, making movies with him. Making movies with Mister Disney would be my castle. That would be fun. That’s what I’ll do.

I had a clear image of Mister Disney because every Sunday Night he would appear on the television screen, in The Wonderful World of Disney, and laugh and tell little jokes before announcing the next film.

I imagined my dream. It had detail. Mister Disney and I worked over a moviola, editing the latest coming attraction from the Disney Studios. We shared a late night ham sandwich. The bread was pumpernickel. I don’t like pumpernickel, but I ate it because I didn’t want to be rude. We shared a joke, too. It was about a dragon. He laughed and so did I.


Intentional Dreaming

I did not realize it at the time, but I was perfecting a practice I call “intentional dreaming.” It is shaping an aspiration in your imagination before you sleep and integrating it into the reservoirs of your unconscious before you dream.

It turns out that the practice I did as a kid has some scholarly resonance to it. It’s aligned with Carl Jung’s own theory of synchronicity and the science behind quantum entanglement, or what German physicist Albert Einstein merrily called “spooky action at a distance.”

I will get into the specific foundations and steps on how to dream with intention in short order. To finish with my Disney dreams, I have found those childhood aspirations of shared ham on pumpernickel remained in the deep reaches of my unconscious and played out with positive results for decades.

Walt Disney working through Pinocchio Storyboards | © Disney Family Museum

In 1970, I would be invited into the inaugural class of Walt Disney’s art college, California Institute of the Arts, receiving a full four-year scholarship from the Disney Family and Peter Stark Foundations. The props and costumes for all my college film and video productions were provided by the Disney Studio’s Art Department. In 1988, I would become Production Chief of Walt Disney Studios. As chief, I was given Walt’s old animation desk for my office. When I saw it, I wept.

Mister Disney passed away in 1966 — when I was 14. I never got the opportunity to work with him shoulder-to-shoulder. Still, every day at Disney Studios, I felt him in memory and through a deep unconscious connection. It was also hard to avoid. The old guard at Disney, who had known the man well, constantly invoked his name in every decision at the studio with, “What would Walt do?”

In a thousand ways over my life, intentional dreaming has served me well. Eventually, I would speak throughout the world about intentional dreaming. I use Mister Disney’s quotation as the lecture’s cornerstone: “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

Photo by Con Keyes

I never met Walt Disney, but he influenced my formative years. I did not have the attractive eyes of Carl Jung. Actor Alec Baldwin, with whom I worked on The Hunt For Red October, got it right when he called me “beady-eyed.”

Dreaming, however, was and is the great equalizer. Whether your eyelids shut on attractive or beady eyes, whether you are rich or poor, whether you are from Mountain View, California, or a small town in Ohio, the entirety of humankind is democratized through its ability to dream. Anyone and everyone dreams. For as Pinocchio’s Jiminy Cricket sings:

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are…

In his ground-breaking book, Sapiens, historian Yuval Noah Harari views humans as remarkable in their ability to see something before it is there. No other mammal has that proclivity. Humans imagined bridges, temples, and airplanes. Eventually, humans figured out a way to bring them to life. Everything standing in Western Civilization results from someone seeing what simply wasn’t there.

Jiminy Cricket explains to Pinocchio that dreams come true. | © Walt Disney Studios

Consciousness

As much as we humans know, we know little about consciousness. Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud’s early modeling of human consciousness still prevails. Consciousness has three layers: the conscious, the unconscious, and the subconscious.

The conscious mind is at the uppermost surface of our operating system. It directs us. It focuses us. It has our daily “to-do list” at the forefront of its awareness. Interestingly, it’s at the very top of the pyramid, but it’s not very deep. We don’t use it that much because it relies a great deal on the storage vault right beneath it.

That storage vault is the subconscious mind. It contains our most recent memories, our feelings, and the habits on which we rely. Our conscious mind may tell us we have to drive to that 3 o’clock appointment, but the habits within our subconscious mind turn the engine key and lower the gas pedal to power us to that appointment in time. We’ve all had those days when we step out of our car and remember little about the drive. That’s our subconscious at work. The conscious fishes from the subconscious all day long — calling up names to faces, future plans, and strategies for problem-solving.

If the subconscious holds the storage vault, then the unconscious mind contains the treasure trove. We may cry when someone tells us a story. That could be coming from the unconscious. This is where the oldest memories reside. The unconscious is in the basement of knowing, but it’s often hard to get there without an easy access card. Memories are often kept in this trove because they are too painful or traumatic. Or, it could also be we have just simply forgotten those moments. It’s from these oldest memories that most of our beliefs, habits, and behaviors are formed. This is why the adage to “know thyself” is so important — to understand why you do what you do — and how to affect profound change.

Illustration by author

In broad terms, through intentional dreaming, we are looking to integrate all levels of consciousness while we are at rest. We want to master our consciousness. Through intentional dreaming, we are using the conscious mind to influence the other two layers of consciousness: the subconscious and the hard-to-reach unconscious.

As pulp and fiber in fruit juice will settle at the bottom of the glass, we are using our conscious mind to stir up the subconscious and unconscious sediments so that the fruit juice is rich at all levels — the fiber and pulp are equally present at the height and depth of the glass.

In today’s world, much is made of “mindfulness.” But consciousness is more than the mind. Consciousness consists of many aspects of being. In those three layers modeled by Freud, consciousness includes thoughts, memories, dreams, intuitions, feelings, and even genetic memory.

Our senses play a part in consciousness. Senses provide important data to the storage vaults. What is a memory without the smell, taste, and feel of the memory?

To complicate matters, even our nervous system is tied to consciousness. It contains that pesky “flight or fight” impulse developed thousands of years ago, which we still must manage as its part of everyone’s genome.


Photo by Sylvie Tittle

The Steps of Intentional Dreaming

Based on my own successful experience with Intentional Dreaming and speaking with others about their successes, this is the best, most complete methodology.

There are 7 steps to the praxis. Here’s the snapshot:

  1. Acknowledge that imagination has power
  2. Bring yourself into “body calm”
  3. Construct the aspiration in your consciousness and imagine it moving with you into your unconscious and subconscious reserves
  4. Go to sleep
  5. Repeat every night before sleeping
  6. When compelled by an intuitive affection, act upon it
  7. Let it go

I’ll go into detail on each point. Then I’ll follow with some of the psychological and scientific theories behind the praxis.


#1. Acknowledge that imagination has power

The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable. ~ Carl Jung

This is not a practice for folks who do not believe in the power of imagination. But remember nothing in the “empire,” as historian Yuval Noah Harari likes to refer to civilization, would exist without someone imagining it first.

What is a succinct definition of imagination? Merriam-Webster defines it like this — the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality.

While you slip into bed, it’s good to confirm the power of imagination. I always think of the Wright Brothers and how they changed the face of the world with their minds. They dreamed of flying and then they built the plane, Kitty Hawk.


# 2. Bring yourself into “body calm”

Before you go to bed, try and get into a good place of alignment with your mind and body. This state is “body calm,” when both mind and body are free of anxiousness.

Most of us live in a mindset of cognitive dissonance in which we have to hold two opposing ideas in our mind, in order to manage day-to-day affairs. For now, just let all the contradictions pass.

There are a hundred ways to do that. I know an executive with high stressors in his job. Every night, he simply remembers the three things he is thankful for that day before he goes to sleep.

I like to meditate for a few minutes before I hit the sack. This simple meditation I outlined for Better Humans has been effective for over 1400 years:

Some have had a good workout or run during the day. Simple deep breathing can do it, too. So can a hot bath. However you get there, leave the anxiety and worry behind. Don’t go to bed with a tight body and mind. Bring your body calm to bed.

Also, keep the sleeping area quiet. Don’t have those blue light devices on (laptop, tablet, phone) for at least a half hour before bedtime. Blue light will keep you up and, depending on the content you have been dealing with (the news), it might add to your anxiousness.


#3. Construct the aspiration in your consciousness, and stay playful

Here’s the best advice I can give you:

Recognize that life is working for you, not against you.

When you’ve achieved body calm, take yourself to that ascent of being — again, recognize that life is working for you, not against you. I hesitate to call it a mindset. Let’s call it a consciousness-set. Think, feel, and experience peace.

Build your aspiration in your mind. Perceive it in your imagination. Bring as much form and sensory awareness you can to the process. Is there a fragrance to it? Is there a texture? Remember, I ate pumpernickel bread for my construction. Once you have it firmly planted it your upper consciousness, shoot it like an arrow in a bow, driving it down into the other two layers of your consciousness (which you also need to imagine).

Illustration by author

The aspiration should be of achievement, not of result.I see myself as doing great creative work in that challenging acting role,” not “I want to win the Oscar.” Or “I know I can make a difference running the company,” not “I want to make a million dollars.”

It also needs to be about your impact, not someone else’s impact. You are mastering your life, not another’s life. Based on my experience, you can affect your own life, but not someone else’s life.

Once it’s within your inner realm, imagine the construct growing. Let it grow until it is in all three layers of your consciousness and let it stand strong.

Illustration by Author

#4. Go to sleep

Make sure that your sleeping space is as quiet as you can make it. Don’t have the TV display on. Don’t worry if you can’t recall your dreams. You might, but you might not. Most people can’t recall their dreams. Because you can’t recall it doesn’t mean you did not dream it.

Based on my research, B6 is an excellent supplement that encourages recall. I take a small dosage of 25 mg daily after my breakfast meal with my other vitamins. Some studies recommend a dosage of 250 mg a day and to take it a half hour before sleeping, but that has not been effective in my experience.


#5. Repeat every night before sleeping

If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme. ~ Jiminy Cricket

Training requires discipline to reach mastery. Every night, repeat the process. Repeat the process until you feel you have done enough. That may be a few days, weeks, or months. Part of this is about heightening your sense of intuition in your waking life. Somehow you will “know” when it has been enough. Maybe there is another aspiration in your wish-portfolio you can start upon.

Remember that the wooden puppet, Pinocchio, fell asleep. It wasn’t until he awakened that he became a real boy.

Pinocchio announces to Geppetto, the toy maker, that his dream came true. | © Walt Disney Studios

It’s important to keep a playful attitude during the repetitions, not a passionate one. It’s not I must have this or my life is over, It’s more like this would be a lot of fun.


#6. When compelled by an intuitive affection, act upon it

Something will happen to you in your waking life which has to do with the concept of synchronicity (discussed below). There will be some seemingly random event that occurs that you will somehow feel compelled to act upon.

It’s a “baby step”, but somehow it’s a step towards the aspiration. Do it. You’ll know it because you’ll get that “warm and fuzzy” feeling. You have to trust in that intuitive affection and act upon it.

After I dreamt about working with Walt Disney, my dad told me that Walt Disney was sick. From deep inside me, I felt the need to make him a little movie to cheer him up. I can only say it was a complete and pure act of love. I had no other agenda but to make the man laugh.

In my childhood, there were no cell phones, so I made a 2-minute movie the old fashioned way: with a stand-alone 8mm camera and in the backyard. It was about a knight, a damsel, and a dragon. My next door neighbor, Barbara Nelson, 11, played the damsel. Walt Disney saw the movie on a projector that his assistant, Peggy, brought into the Burbank Hospital. I was told he had a good chuckle.

That one simple and seemingly foolish step continued to play out in my reality for three decades. If you believe that life is working for you, not against you, why wouldn’t you listen to the small whisper of intuition?

Illustration by author

Last year, I vowed to stay active. I gave myself a challenge of walking 100,000 steps in 1 day. I started my intentional dreaming process and after a few days, I got a “nudge” to start walking every day. I did. My intuition was telling me, at somewhat advanced years, that I needed to increase my stamina.

Several months later on the day after Thanksgiving, I walked my 100,000 steps without a hitch. I wrote about this in an earlier Better Humans story and spotlighted intentional dreaming.

The outpouring of comments on intentional dreaming was so large, I asked the editor of Better Humans if she thought a more lengthy article might be of value to the readership. She agreed. So, now you are reading it. Thank you.


#7. Forget about it

There’s that popular song from Disney’s Frozen that became the mantra of many a young girl: Let It Go. After you stir your aspiration into the deep well of your psyche, then you need to let it go — as the chorus chimes.

Because you dreamed it with intention and because, despite its challenges, you recognize that life is working for you, not against you, you can be comfortable in forgetting about it. It’s in the basement of your unconscious now. That’s where most of our beliefs, habits, and behaviors are formed. It’s more than the standard line of “putting it out there,” it’s mastering putting it out there. There’s no need to have a sense of rigidity about how it will unfold, other than you will be required to take action (step 6 above).

When I had no money, I dreamed of traveling the world, and I did — from Paris to Shanghai. I never spent a dime. I dreamed of living on a farm because I wanted to be closer to the natural world and now, I do. Twelve years ago, I had an idea to facilitate a global art installation involving a message of global unification, and now it is happening with some of the most respected organizations on the planet.

Now here is when it gets fun…


“Spooky action at a distance”

That’s what Austrian physicist Albert Einstein called it. It’s when two particles are separated at a great distance. It could be thousands of miles. Despite the distance, when one particle is affected, so is the other. There is no other connection to one another but for a shared past.

The particles remain entangled not only in retaining the same properties but in cause and effect. When one is altered, the other is altered. Physicists now call the “spooky action” by another name, “Quantum Entanglement’.

If you find yourself resistant to intentional dreaming as a practice because it seems irrational, it may help you to recall the wonderful—and seemingly paradoxical—phenomenon of quantum entanglement. It doesn’t make sense (in our normal mundane way of sense-making), but it happens anyway.

Which is how synchronicity seems to work.

Synchronicity

Synchronicity is perhaps Carl Jung’s most profound and complex theory. It claims that the inner world of the psyche will affect your exterior world. If there is peace within, you will ultimately find peace around you. If you have internal trauma within you, it will manifest in the exterior world as chaos.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell believed that our demons are our limitations: over-reliance on drugs, sex, the blame of others, etc. “They have a power within you to which you have not given expression, and you push them back. And then, like all repressed energy, it builds up and builds up to the position that you are trying to hold. The monsters in your life are the limitations that you refuse to address and integrate. These monsters block you from achieving an integrated life.”

Carl Jung said that the internal anguish within will affect the external reality. This is the phenomenon of synchronicity. There are many case studies worth examining, and you can find them in The Rupture of Time: Synchronicity and Jung’s Critique of Modern Western Culture by Professor Roderick Mann, Ph.D., Psychology, University of Essex, UK.

In synchronicity, our consciousness becomes entangled with reality, separated only by the filter of the body. So if we train our consciousness to express itself in a particular way, then our reality will reflect that consciousness. And when we take that first step to act upon the dream in the everyday world, we begin a process that continues to develop in the real world and seems impossible to derail.


Conclusion

Carl Jung thought it important to build his childhood castle. “I had to make a confession of faith in stone,” he said. “It became the symbol of my psyche. And when I completed it [the Bollingen property] as an old man, I realized it was a symbol of wholeness.”

Some people create vision boards, others creatively visualize, and others open themselves to the laws of attraction. All those methodologies are in the same wheelhouse as intentional dreaming. From my personal experience, I have found intentional dreaming to be the most effective.

Cynics may conclude that intentional dreaming simply instills confidence to move forward on an aspiration. Cynics may almost denounce synchronicity, the Big Bang or spooky action at a distance. I love science, but I have never believed science tells the full story. I align myself with social activist and thought leader, Martin Luther King Jr, who said this:

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

Intentional dreaming, for me, has been more than adding confidence to the ego. It is aligning your psyche to help navigate your destiny. What do you have to lose by trying the methodology? You are lying in bed anyways. It’s not a drain on time resources. Why not attempt it for a few days or weeks or months? And then, well, then, simply forget about it…



Carl Jung’s competed Bollingen Castle Retreat in Zurich, Switzerland | Photo

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

David Paul Kirkpatrick

Written by

Co-founder of MIT Center for Future Storytelling, President of Paramount Pictures, Production Chief of Walt Disney Studios, naturalist, optimist, and author.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.