Dream researchers tell us we dream every night, but what does it mean when our teeth fall out? Or how about when we get chased? While the visions in our dreams appear to be abstract, we're all curious about their meaning. Gayle Delaney, author of “In Your Dreams” and co-director of the Delaney & Flowers Dream Center in San Francisco, offers tips to help you remember your dreams, “sleep on” a problem and create a dream journal.
Seven steps to better recall
We all dream from four to 20 times a night. We dream those dreams in color and in wonderful vividness. But upon awakening it is easy to forget the adventures we live each night. Here are some very simple ways you can hold on to the usefulness and excitement of your dreams:
1. Keep a pen and paper at your bedside.
2. Get enough sleep. Most of us really do need 7 to 8 or more hours to feel our best, and to recall our dreams easily. If you need an alarm to wake you or a cup of coffee to feel good in the morning you are probably are not getting enough sleep.
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Video: What do your dreams mean? 3. Before sleep, write out your day notes in your journal. Just four lines about what you did and felt today. This will greatly increase your recall in the morning.
4. Wake up naturally. This way you will usually awaken right after your longest dream of the night. If you are getting enough sleep you won't have to be battered awake by an alarm clock.
5. Lie still for a moment and learn to ask yourself, “What was just going through my mind?” Form the habit of thinking this thought before you ask yourself what day it is, or what you have to do today.
6. Take your time and write out your dream in any way you remember it. If you are rushed, jot down a few notes. They may suffice to bring back the dream when you have more time.
7. If you don't remember a dream, write out one sentence about whatever you were feeling or whatever first came into your mind as you awoke. In time this habit will convince your memory that forgetting a dream will not get you out of the natural resistance to putting pen to paper. Within one or two weeks, almost everyone I have ever worked with starts recalling dreams using these steps. If you do not, ask yourself if you are for some reason anxious about remembering your dreams. Most likely, you are not following one of the steps!
How to harvest your dreams
Keeping a dream journal will add excitement, mystery, romance and, I hope, a great deal of insight to your life. A journal will show you that your dreams are rich and usually very well constructed from a dramatic and meaning point of view. Five minutes of journaling will help you recall your dreams more fully and accurately. Your mornings will be full of recalled adventures, and you will keep the dream from vanishing so you can interpret it later in the day. The difficulty in recalling dreams for most of those who follow these simple instructions for a week or two is not in recalling too few dreams, but in remembering too many. If this happens to you, decide how many dreams you care to record per week, and let the rest go. One dream a day is usually enough to satisfy most people, and one dream a week is enough to keep you busy if you study it closely.
Recording your dreams can be a pleasure, and if you include the information suggested below, your dream journal will assist you in understanding your dreams. You can use the following format:
At night before going to sleep, record three or four lines describing what you did and felt today. Emphasize the emotional highlights of the day.
Title of dream
Leave a blank line between your day notes and the dream you record in the morning. After you have recorded your dream give it a simple title that will help you to remember the dream at a glance when you review your journal. Dream titles will be a great help to you when you study your dreams in series and look for recurring themes.
Write down every detail and feeling you can recall and have time to record.
Use this space to record any thoughts or feelings you have in the last moment of the dream or immediately upon awakening. Also write down any feeling or impressions you have about the dream as you awake. Later you can use this space and additional pages to make notes about your interview of yourself or with a dream partner. Include any comparisons you might like to draw with other dreams, or with waking life experiences.
Sample dream journal page
Here is an example of a page from the journal of Bertrand, a cabinet maker who would like to be a writer as well.
Date: June 3, 2001
Long day in the shop. How can I change my circumstance so I can write rather than make cabinets all day long? I feel paralyzed and frustrated. Had fun playing with my children, this evening. What is preventing me from creating the life I want?
Boss on my back
I'm carrying my boss on my back, piggyback style. We are in a visually stunning scene of meadow and ravine, surrounded by rolling hills and mountains. I'm going downhill with my boss on my back. I'm attempting to run, but he is too heavy for me. I'm trying to be careful and strong. My boss says, “That's why I liked using those five Green Bay Packers.” As he says that, implying that I am not as strong as they, I stumble and go to the ground on my belly slightly. As I get back up I ask, “When did you use the Packers?”
It felt awful to have my boss put me down. In our dream group session interview, I realized how much like my dad this critical and very demanding boss is. So I'm still carrying my critical self-judgments learned from my father on my back. Small wonder I lose my confidence if I compare myself to five Green Bay Packers! The beautiful scene reminds me of the beauty of creative writing, and of how I stumble when I lose my confidence
If you use a new, dated page for each dream you recall, you will have plenty of space to write your commentary at the time you recall the dream, after an interview, or during a monthly or yearly review of your dream journal. Brief, but careful day notes will be a great aid to recalling the specific waking context that led to a particular dream. Frequently, the issues you outline in your day notes are the very ones you will dream about that night.
If you are beginning your dream journal, you might like to start by recording the dreams you remember from childhood a well as any particularly vivid or recurring dreams and nightmares you recall from your youth and adult life. These will give you a variety of important dreams to reflect upon as you study your dreams. Good luck!
How to dream up a solution tonight
Have you ever gone to bed with a stubborn problem on your mind and awakened the next morning with the solution? Many have. You can do it tonight.
You can learn to sleep on a problem and awaken in the morning with a dream that will contain either the answer to your question or at least information that will move you toward solving your problem. Here are simple instructions you can follow to “incubate” a dream tonight:
1. Choose the topic you want to dream about. You might ask for a new idea for a project you are working on. Or you could ask questions like, “How can I improve my relationship with my co-worker, sister, husband?,” “Why do I keep picking men who are dead ends?,” “Why am I so irritable, or sad lately?”
2. Write down on a piece of paper by your bed the exact incubation question you are posing to yourself tonight.
3. Repeat that question silently to yourself as you fall asleep. If you skip this step you will greatly reduce your chances of generating a dream on your chosen topic.
4. Whenever you awake, write down whatever is in your mind. It may be one fleeting image of an old friend, the tail end of a dream, or just the idea you were asking for.
Remember that dreams show you what you really think and feel. They help you recognize patterns of feeling, thinking and behaving that may be helping or hindering you. And they show you aspects of relationships and situations that you fail to appreciate in waking life.
Interview yourself about your dream without assuming that your incubation succeeded. Only after you figure out what your dream is about should you ask yourself if it sheds new light on your question.
Your dreams won't tell you what to do. They will, if you know how to interpret them, open your eyes to new information and perspectives that will make such good sense that you will probably ask yourself, “How could I not have seen that before!”
For more information, check out the International Association for the Study of Dreams.
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