HARPERS BAZAAR – It comes as no surprise that Shailene Woodley is a big dreamer. In just a few short years, she has gone from playing a teen mom on The Secret Life of the American Teenager to receiving a Golden Globe nomination and working with actors like Kate Winslet, with whom she stars in this month’s sci-fi epic Divergent, which comes out March 21. Still, dreams remain an obsession for Woodley, who occasionally records her own and has even experimented with lucid dreaming. Here, she gives us a peek inside her very active REM cycle.
I’ve always been interested in dreams. I love the mystery of them—there are so many philosophies about what they mean, where they stem from, and why we have them. We haven’t been able to completely prove any of our assumptions regarding dreams, and that fascinates me.
When I was younger, I had recurring dreams a lot. As a 22-year-old woman, I still cannot watch Jurassic Park because when I first saw it as a four- or five-year-old, it gave me nightmares. I will never forget the visual: a giant T. Rex eyeball in the window of my second-story bedroom, like it was always watching me.
In another recurring dream, my dad and I were on a pirate ship, winding through treacherous channels, tending to hundreds of sails in high-powered winds, and floating next to cliffs that could have been right out of The Princess Bride. We were always running away from something, though I don’t recall what. I remember feeling incredibly adrenalized when I dreamed about the ship.
There is an herb called mugwort that I’ve tried, which is supposed to help enhance dreams. You can burn a little before bed or sleep on a mugwort pillow. It’s found in all parts of America, East Coast and West—anytime you see weeds growing through cracks in a parking lot, there’s probably mugwort. You can harvest it yourself, dry it, bundle it, and burn it like sage.
Specifically, mugwort is associated with lucid dreaming, which I’ve experienced a few times. I’m no expert, but when I’ve tried it, I’ve used a technique where you fall asleep while knocking on a wall. Something about that keeps your brain awake while your body goes to sleep, inducing that great moment when you realize, Wow, I’m conscious of the fact that I’m dreaming.
I’ve also had dreams that have brought increased clarity to a situation. Recently I dreamed about somebody I’d just met and woke up with an intense sense of familiarity and comfort toward her. I felt I knew her so well even though we had met only once. Other dreams revealed to me that I should be more wary of certain people I trusted—and generally they have been correct, like a premonition.
Now I’ll occasionally have the same dream two or three nights in a row, and then it’ll disappear. But even in moments of tranquillity, my mind’s favorite hobby is visualizing epic adventures for the present and future. Lately my most vivid, clear, and colorful dreams have been the ones I’ve had during catnaps, when I doze off on an airplane for an hour or in a car for 20 minutes. My mind is in hyperactive mode. “Fit everything in—you’ve got only 20 minutes!” it tells me. And the sparks just start flying. —Shailene Woodley