A dream not interpreted is like a letter not read” —The Talmud
Intention is the doorway to recalling your dreams and making yourself available to the insights and guidance they often provide. While some people generally recall their dreams, many of us (me included) don’t remember many unless we form the specific intention to do so. When I’m in a cycle of paying attention to dreams—which involves the journaling process outlined below—I remember several each night. When I’m not paying attention I may only remember a few each month. Doing a short meditation in bed before sleep, and ending with a strong intention to remember your dreams for a specific purpose (like asking for guidance about a particular life situation, growing spiritually, or receiving healing) makes a noticeable difference in both dream content and recall.
- Begin by choosing an appealing journal. Decorating the cover with an image from a dream that was particularly compelling is helpful in affirming your belief that dreams are an important source of emotional, practical, and spiritual wisdom and guidance.
- Don’t use your dream journal for other purposes. It will dilute your intention, and with dreamwork intention is 90% of what enables you to recall the 4-5 dreams that everyone—whether you remember them or not—has each and every night.
- Set up a bedside dream station that you can reach without getting out of bed. You need your journal, a clock, a pen, and a flashlight (or a pen with a built-in light).
- Before bed each night record the next day’s date, which gives your unconscious the message that you’ll recall your dreams and have something to write down. Write an intention in your journal such as “I will remember all my dreams,” or “I need guidance on…” work, relationships, life purpose, or whatever is meaningful to you at the time.
- Discipline yourself to notice what wakes you up in the night and when—record the time of awakening in your journal because the pattern of awakenings may turn out to be meaningful. You will often be dreaming when you awaken. (If it’s a full bladder, a barking dog, or a snoring mate that woke you up, you probably incorporated the disturbance into what you were dreaming). Lie still and catch the tail of your dream if you can, then let as much of it as possible come to memory before getting out of bed to pee, bring the dog in, get water, or attend to whatever awakened you. Then immediately give the dream a short, snappy title so that you won’t forget it. Dream recall is state dependent—that is the memory is available when your body is relaxed and sleepy, rather than when it’s awake or upright. Once you’ve transferred the dream into your short-term memory you still may not remember it in the morning so record your snappy title and take a few notes about the content by flashlight. You can then usually reconstruct the dream in the morning from your brief notes.
- Upon awakening in the morning, don’t move. Stay in the physiological state where recall is easiest. Immediately ask yourself what you were dreaming and give the dream or dreams short, snappy titles before rolling over and writing them down in your journal. Discipline yourself to get up early enough to write down your dreams before getting out of bed. They fade fast, even if they seem vivid at the moment and you are sure that you will remember them later.
- Write your dreams in the first person, present tense incorporating all the detail and feelings you can recall. That brings you back into the dream state where you can retrieve more information, as opposed to using the past tense, which distances you from the experience. For example, here’s part of a dream I entitled Green Giraffe: I am walking down a shady path through the woods in the late afternoon, feeling relaxed and happy. Suddenly, I sense a presence to my left and hear a sound like crunching leaves and snapping twigs. I’m feeling slightly anxious since I’m alone, when a pair of gigantic yellow eyes appear on the left side of the path ahead of me. I see them first as if they are disembodied, but soon realize that they belong to a very engaging green giraffe, who is bending his head toward me quizzically and smiling. I feel delighted and my senses are heightened for I know with complete inner certainty that if I ask him a question he will give me an answer…
- Discussing your dreams with a trusted friend can bring insights you wouldn’t necessarily reach by yourself. When you share dreams with another person, avoid analyzing each other’s images and experiences. Instead, as recommended by Reverend Jeremy Taylor who has written several luminous and practical books on dreaming, preface your comments with “If that was my dream …”. You can never know with any certainty what another person’s dream represents to them. But in sharing what it would mean to you if you were the dreamer, you may trigger a response in the other person that leads to greater insight.