Near the end of college, my then-girlfriend and I decided to try out something called “dreamscaping” on one of our dates. We went to a coffee shop with a large notebook, put our names in the middle and took turns writing down ideas for things we thought we could do in the future. From potential career paths to investing in ridiculous hobbies, everything that could be written down was written down: become a sommelier, live in Morocco for twenty years, learn to fly a plane, write a book about..., etc. Looking back on this moment, it was a giant step closer to one another in our burgeoning relationship, at that point only a year in the making.
Since that time (Ashlee and I are married), we have dreamscaped together three times total. It’s something we do every few years and has become a way to get back in touch with deeper versions of ourselves and with each other. Ashlee has even developed the practice further and integrated it as a tool in a transformational coaching workshop titled “Architecture of Self.” Dreamscaping can be wonderful for couples who have been together for decades or for only a handful of months. Below, I’ll lay out how dreamscaping is done and why it’s useful.
How to Dreamscape
Dreamscaping with a romantic partner is actually pretty simple. It’s six steps:
1. Go to a location that will be enjoyable and has a flat surface large enough to write on.
2. Bring a large notebook or big piece of paper and a couple pens.
3. Put your names and date in the middle.
4. One person writes a dream down and talks about it.
5. The other person takes a turn doing the same thing.
6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until finished, between 45 minutes and three hours.
The process is pretty simple but dreaming with another person (or even by yourself) can be difficult, so here are some tips to get the most out of your experience. (Some of these tips will be elaborated further in the why section at the end.)
Be practical and impractical
When writing down a dream—i.e., something you want to do (or just think would be fun to do) in the future—try not to worry about whether or not the dream is realistic or makes sense. I’ve noticed that a lot of people get paralyzed by how realistic or unrealistic their dreams are (with some people worrying their dreams aren’t crazy enough, while others worry theirs are too crazy.) Because of that I’m just going to tell you from the get-go: as a rule, force yourself to write down dreams that are practical and to write down dreams that are impractical. The reasons for each are: 1) if you have a real-life dream you are actively pursuing, what better venue to share more of that with your partner, and 2) unrealistic dreams (or dreams you’re not currently pursuing) are useful to share because it’s common to know one’s partner solely in the most-practical terms. By touching on something “impractical,” we create the possibility for a deeper kind of knowing.
The goal of dreamscaping is to help you and your partner dwell in deeper mental and emotional intimacy for a prolonged period of time. Because language affects human beings most intensely when it allows one to imagine oneself in an embodied situation, try to be specific. Think of the difference between writing down a dream like, “Travel more,” versus something like “Live in Mallorca, Spain and ranch cattle for ten years.” In the second, a far more personal, embodied, and vulnerable piece of you is being shared. Even if the situation is something you’re not exactly sure about, that’s okay!—we’re dreaming after all.
Even if you’re the captain of cool, there are probably parts of you that are interested in obscure or untrendy things. Use one or more of your turns to dream up a life around one of those.
Listening is an important part of dreamscaping. When your partner is sharing, listen and be attentive.
Bring something tasty
When recommending dreamscaping to friends in the past, Ashlee and I have often said it’s helpful if you’re slightly intoxicated. If you don’t drink alcohol, bring a favorite treat! Maybe something from your childhood that helps you get in touch with that sense of play and freedom.
Why Dreamscaping is Useful
Dreamscaping is helpful for relationships (and for oneself) because, at the core, human beings are far less practical than we like to think. Despite American culture’s obsession with productivity, every kind of therapy or psychological study shows that deep, unarticulated emotions animate most of one’s inner experience of living. Envisioning a future life taps into those hard-to-articulate feelings.
By sharing dreams with your partner (and listening to them share theirs), you:
1) get to see the being of wants and desires beneath most of the particular decisions he/she/they make everyday. These desires are in many ways ineffable. By taking the time to write down dreams and talk about them with your partner, you articulate embodied situations which have those abstract desires inextricably inside them. A literary way to view this is as a method of instantiation. Novels and movies are written assuming that an audience won’t understand a character without knowing how an idea or emotion would play out inside that character’s internal world in a specific time and specific situation. This means dreaming is one of the few ways we have to communicate these deep wishes to a partner.
2) The exercise allows you and your partner to build a framework for possible futures together, knowing what kinds of lives one or both of you could enjoy living. This is immensely useful for long-term romantic partnerships since human beings are always changing. Knowing what types of futures your partner could be interested in helps you get a larger scope for your potential life together.
What about goals?
There are ways to use dreamscaping to begin actively shaping a particular kind of life, but if you’re new to the activity, I would recommend holding off. The reason for this is that those in industrialized cultures are often obsessed with quantifiable results, which can really block an individual from getting in touch with the deeper currents of desire which lead to a more fulfilling day-to-day existence.
Here, the term is demonstrative. A “dreamscape” like a landscape is a representation or view of a place. The exercise is meant to create a desire-oriented, relational geography in which you can dwell more deeply with your partner, outside the limitations of time or circumstance. Of course, those things enter into the exercise, but the goal is precisely this deeper dwelling.
This doesn’t mean the exercise is impractical, however. Rather, an exercise like dreamscaping exists outside the categories in which something can be labeled as “practical” or “impractical.” Sometimes you will be able to point to an outcome and say, “Yes; dreamscaping did that for us.” Other times, if the exercise is successful, it will be so much a part of your relationship you won’t realize the very oxygen you’re breathing has changed.
I’ve personally seen dreamscaping revolutionize the kinds of conversations one can have with a romantic partner, both for myself and for several friends. My hope is that you take the time to do this exercise, to be silly and serious, to share utter realisms and the most fantastical ridiculousness. If, after dreamscaping, you and your partner discover a new and strange closeness, the exercise will have been a success.
Trevor lives in Portland, OR where he spends most of his time writing, listening to good music, being with friends and hanging out with his wife, Ashlee. He devours books and writes poetry. He is currently finishing his Master's in English at Portland State University.
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