Ten tips to remember your dreams
1. Have the right attitude. Honor dreams, respect them, assume they have a message to tell even if you cannot grasp that meaning.
2. Make the recollection of dreams a daily ritual. Dreams, even if vividly recalled, are easily forgotten. Some people try to write down their dreams when they first wake up. This can work, but many mornings the dog is barking, the kids are crying, the boss is calling, and the spouse asks a question. By the time we attend to these “urgent” matters, the dream is lost. Some people keep a notepad beside their bed to record their dreams to avoid this problem. We prefer to record dreams on a phone, through creating voice memos. Record them either first thing in the morning or upon awakening from a dream. Use your phone without any room lights. Bright light causes an alerting response and can make it harder to fall back asleep. Sometimes I am even surprised to find a dream recording on my phone that I had no recollection of.
3. Let the dream percolate in your mind as you go about your routine. Play with the images, see what thoughts and memories they bring. Don’t try to understand the dream, don’t try to reduce its beautiful, artistic language into commonplace truisms. Instead, enter the dream world’s unique narrative flow and patterns.
4. Notice connections between past and present dreams. I have attended a local dream interpretation group for many years. Dreams have their own fingerprints; each group member’s dreams have their pattern over time. The same images recur, with interesting variations, and the same plot structures. We never share dreams anonymously, but it would be evident to any group member which dreamer authored the dream image.
5. Remember that, like any good poem, novel, or painting, a dream can mean several things simultaneously. We must hold that ambiguity and find richness instead of doubt and confusion. Explore rather than try to interpret a dream. Appreciate its richness instead of insisting on a single simple meaning.
6. With the guidance of a therapist, consider some advanced techniques, like dialoguing with dream images and characters or “dreaming the dream forward,” that is, extending it in your imagination to enrich and amplify plot elements. We will discuss these advanced techniques in more detail in a the later chapter on active imagination.
7. If you are a therapist, remember that it is a meaningful gift when a patient offers a dream in therapy. Value and honor that gift by interacting with their dream and taking it seriously. Therapists often covertly discourage discussion of dreams because they feel inadequate in the realm of dream interpretation. They feel like they need to know exactly what the dream means themselves before exploring the dream. You don’t need to know what the dream means, but you may gain important insights by talking about the dream and valuing it. You are modeling for your patient an open attitude toward the whole inner world.
8. Sometimes dreams are dark and frightening. Such dreams carry a message as well and need to be heard and understood. As Richard Rohr advised about spiritual distress, don’t panic; go deeper (Rohr, 2019). We will explore nightmares in a later chapter.
9. Practice good sleep habits. Our culture devalues not only dreams, but also sleep. We sleep too little; we shorten the night with electric lights. We wake up too early. The longest periods of REM sleep occur in the early morning hours, after 5 AM. If our alarm goes off at 5:30 we will miss most of that REM sleep. Remember that our ancestors in northern climates faced 16-18 hours of darkness during the winter months. They probably slept for most of that time, perhaps making cave paintings in some REM like trance.
10. Perhaps most importantly, pay attention to the emotional content of the dream. When we dream, we process and integrate emotions, so paying attention to the emotional content of a dream helps you understand it’s message. Exploring who feels what in a dream and why they feel it will help you remember the dream and be in relationship with it.