[vc_row full_width=”” parallax=”” parallax_image=””][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]by Jonathan Duerbeck, dreamschool staff

How does TV influence dreams?  At Dreamschool, we understand that our dreams show us our own state of consciousness.  That is, the state and content of our minds.  The impact of watching TV on our consciousness is shown in our dreams.  One place we see it in waking life is in more passive use of imagination.  We can see examples of this in dreams. 

Passive imagination?  Where do we get that idea?  What does that mean?

When we watch TV (or a movie, or a show on the internet), we can easily let our mind become engrossed in the images that someone else created.  Unlike a book, no original imagining is required on our part.  The TV images we receive are designed to entertain, and they come at us in a rapid-fire succession of camera shots designed to keep our attention engaged with very little effort.  We can get curious, excited, or happy as we watch and hear this make-believe experience. 

Yet, unlike real life or even a video game, we don’t have to respond at all to what we’re experiencing. 

We can just sit and do nothing about it, because “it’s not real.”  For many people, it’s a vacation from reality!  Watching TV is like practicing passive imagination.  That is, allowing a succession of images and thoughts to entertain the mind and engross the attention.  How does marathon TV-watching train our minds?  Instead of imagining for ourselves and responding with action, we let someone else give us mental images, and our imagination muscle gets kind of weak and flabby from disuse, and we’re more apt to keep our attention occupied with a separate world of imagined mental content.

If people watch enough TV, does their attention span shorten?  Does their willful control of their own thinking weaken?  Do they have more fantasy thoughts and TV images in their mind?

Sometimes we receive dreams at dreamschool that seem to show the influence of TV.  Here are two examples.

DS1545 … Age: 17 … Dream Date: 4/7/09


I dreamt that I was a federal agent working for the FBI.  Mark Harmon (the actor) came over to me and grabbed me by the shoulders.  He then told me that I needed to find the young boy that was missing.  I said okay and proceeded to load my gun.  Next, I was in a old barn.  I went over to a chest and opened it, and inside was the missing child. – female/IN, United States

In this dream, we have TV images (an actor, being in a situation similar to a TV crime drama) making up the bulk of the dream.  People in dreams are images of the different ways that we think and express.  The dream figure of an actor represents a way that the dreamer uses the action of pretending in waking life, just as actors are part of a pretend reality.  Dreaming of Mark Harmon doesn’t show the dreamer who she IS; it shows the dreamer who she pretendsto be, who she imagines she is, or who she wishes to be.  When the main characters in a dream are actors, the dreamer has had more attention on thinking and pretending than on the reality of what exists.  This is a predictable after-effect of allowing the mind to passively follow pretend TV images. 

The Mark Harmon dream figure tells the dreamer what to do, and she obeys.  This shows that this way of pretending was actually directing the dreamer, who was following the direction of her own mental images in waking life.  That’s backwards from directing our own imagination, and that’s what we practice with TV images.  Then if we continue that mental action, even after our bodies get up and leave the TV set, we keep following the mental TV of our own imagined thoughts…instead of choosing what to imagine and directing our own thinking.

 DS1552 …. Age: 31 … Dream Date: 4/19/09


I had previously watched a reality show a few hours before I went to sleep. In my dream I embodied one of the characters and the person directing me was also a character from the show, who plays a more leadership role. In the dream she asks me to dress up in a stylish outfit and practice my runway walk for an upcoming show. I repeatedly walk up and down a hallway practicing my walk, but she repeatedly tells me my walk just isn’t right. I don’t feel comfortable with my walk- it was as though my rhythm was off somehow. But the rare times she would look away, somehow my walk would improve, but as soon as she returned, I would mess up again. My dream continues on this way till I suddenly wake up. –female/IL, United States

This dream takes place in the TV program the dreamer just watched. 

Well, that’s not such a big deal, you might say.  Someone had an experience, and then they dreamed about it.  There’s something else here that relates to TV, though. 

Here also, the dreamer is being directed by someone from TV.  Again, the TV person is a dream figure that shows the dreamer a way that she pretends in waking life…kind of like what she practices when watching TV!  A kind of pretending is directing the dreamer in waking life, and she can only direct herself in the here-and-now reality when she stops imagining things about herself.  This shows up in the dream when the TV character isn’t looking at her—and then she does just fine.  She may have been preoccupied with worry-images of how she might fail in some endeavor, or distracted with fantasy images of what she wants to be like.  Perhaps the biggest pretense that people get lost in is self-imagination, what we imagine about ourselves.  When we’re not in control of our mental images, those thoughts get in the way of doing and being our best.

Has watching TV affected your waking consciousness…and your dreams? 

In waking life, check yourself to see if your attention is on creating and responding in the now…or were you thinking about what happened on your favorite show last night?  Check to see if your mind is on the things that YOU are choosing to imagine and plan and create…or were you fantasizing a hypothetical conversation you’ll probably never have? 

In your dreams, check to see how often you have actors and TV characters playing a major role.  See how often your dreams revolve around thoughts and dream-conversations with no dream-action.  How often are your dream scenes disjointed with no transition, like a sudden uncontrolled, automatic movement of your attention?

You can use your dreams to be mindful of whether you are in control of your imagination.  You can program your mind a lot better than a TV can.•