Often, when I tell people I work with dreams, I hear some variation of ‘I’d love to dream, but I don’t’ or ‘I’m so boring, I never dream’.
The happy truth is, dreaming is not just reserved for cool, creative types. Each of us dreams four to six times a night, it’s just that not all of us remember it.
The further good news is that there are several reliable steps you can take to increase the odds, if not guarantee, that you’ll start to remember your dreams.
And then things will really get interesting.
Invite your dreams
The first step to remembering your dreams might sound painfully obvious, and that’s because it is. Set an intention that you will begin to remember and honour your dreams.
Dreams, like all wild things, are shy. If you want them to show themselves to you, you have to welcome them. Acknowledge them.
Your unconscious mind responds incredibly quickly and efficiently to suggestion, and so each step you take in making your dreams important in your life will pay dividends.
Prepare for sleep
How can you begin to welcome your dreams?
Each night before you sleep, consciously let go of the stresses and minutiae of the day.
You can do this by going for a short walk, by lighting a candle and meditating for a little while, by journaling, or doing some stretches – whatever works for you.
Perhaps don’t chill with an absorbing book or tv show – the idea is to relax and let your mind empty out.
Try to get to bed at a reasonable time so that you won’t be overtired, and as you fall asleep, think to yourself that tonight, you will remember your dream.
Get a dream journal
Keep a dream journal by your bed.
This can be any kind of a notebook, though my personal preference is for an unlined book that I can also draw in.
Use the left-hand pages to record your dream and the right-hand pages for reflections, comments and interpretations.
Change your routine
Some people find that they dream more vividly if their sleep patterns are disrupted – for example, if they are travelling, or sleeping in a strange bed, or waking up earlier than usual.
I’m not sure I’d recommend disrupting your sleep as an ongoing practice, but if you know you’ll be travelling or otherwise breaking your routine, why not keep your dream journal close at hand?
When you wake, before you move or open your eyes, take a moment to become aware.
Are you still half in a dream? Do you have an image in your head? Maybe you’ve woken with a certain emotion? Sink back into it for a second, if you can.
Review any part of your dream you can remember mentally. If you do this before you move, you will retain the memory more easily.
Interestingly, if you’re trying to recapture an elusive dream, getting back into the physical position you were in when you woke up can sometimes help to bring it back.
Remember your dreams
If you can write down your dreams immediately upon waking, that’s ideal. For parents of small children and others who have to get up at unreasonable hours, it may not be possible.
If this is you, try to fix the dream in your mind by telling it to yourself mentally before getting up, and then write it down when you get a chance.
Even a short fragment or an image can be incredibly rich – it doesn’t have to be a detailed narrative.
Carry your dream journal with you during the day, because you might find that something you see or hear triggers a memory that allows you to fill in some of the gaps.
Record your dreams
As you record your dreams, give each dream a title – “The Forest Dream” or “The Ladybird Dream”. This helps encapsulate what is important about the dream for you.
Also, if you can, write your dream in the present tense, e.g. “I go into the house”, instead of “I went into the house”. This can help bring you back into the experience of the dream and to remember it in more detail.
Finally, write down how you felt when you woke up – happy, tense, anxious etc. This is valuable information when it comes to figuring out what your dream means for you.
Even if you remember nothing else, noting how you felt when you woke up can help you gain insight into your unconscious processes.
Explore your dreams
If you want to work with your dreams, you will need to set some time aside, not just to record your dreams, but to explore them.
This can be initially daunting, but there are easy ways in.
If you come to me for dreamwork coaching, you will learn several different ways of working with your dreams, but here’s a good one to start. It comes from Robert Johnson’s book Inner Work.
1: Write down your dream and list the images that stand out to you.
2: Write down your associations with each of those images
3: Relate the associations to your own life and develop a possible interpretation
4: Create a simple ritual to ground the insight you have gained in reality.
Example of a dreamwork process
For example, if I dream that I am walking in the forest, and I see a man cutting down a tree while birds scatter overhead, the main images might be the trees, the man, the axe and the birds (Step 1).
If I start to associate, I might think that trees represent growth, strength, creativity. The man might represent the male principle, which I might associate the rational mind, or logic. The axe might represent destruction, but it’s also a useful tool. What about the birds? They could represent freedom, also self-expression because they sing (Step 2).
Thinking of my own inner patterns, could I venture an interpretation that sometimes my rational mind, although a useful tool, is destructive to me, destroying my creativity and chasing away my freedom of expression?
I might look at where that might apply in my life – have I been trying too hard to think myself out of a problem instead of applying a creative solution? Have I been limiting my self-expression because my thoughts are ‘cutting me down to size’? (Step 3)
If this thought brings me an ‘aha!’, I might decide to spend some time that day doing something creative, as a way to bring the birds back – to honour my capacity for self-expression (Step 4).
Healing and wholeness
One of the first dream teachers I encountered, the late Jeremy Taylor, used to say that all dreams come in service of healing and wholeness.
I believe this wholeheartedly – and even if you feel that you don’t have enough of a dream to do a real interpretation, if you spend time with your dream, you will gain some healing from it.
Dreams are rarely obvious – they don’t generally reveal themselves as quickly or easily as my fictional example above, and you might need to approach your dream sideways, or from several angles, before you get to see it clearly.
So – good luck starting on your dream path. It’s a winding road, but a very beautiful and endlessly fascinating one. Happy travels!