“Though we seem to be sleeping, there is an inner wakefulness that directs the dream, and that will eventually startle us back to the truth of who we are.” J. Rumi (translated by C. Barks)
We all dream every night as we pass in and out of our REM cycles, but usually remember only the one or two dreams that we have just before waking. (Animals dream too, by the way – just watch your cat or dog at sleep, chasing those dream birds or bunnies as they twitch and make sounds). Recently at a dream workshop I was conducting, a participant complained that her problem was that she was flooded by dreams; commonly remembering four to six dreams every night: she couldn’t keep up with the volume. They weren’t necessarily nightmares, just dream overdrive, but leaving her exhausted when she woke up. Other members responded, “I wish I had your problem- I can barely remember any”.
The latter seems to be the more common complaint — the poverty of dream recall; but the converse — the plague of too much recall — is also a dilemma. The rest of this post will look at ways to either enhance recall or to contain the deluge when the problem is dream overdrive.
Better dream recall
Dream drought? Can’t remember a dream to save your life? Try these suggestions:
- First and foremost don’t expect that you will be able to recall a dream if you haven’t written it down or recorded it some way. Dreams have the substance of mist or wisps of smoke: they need to be solidified in writing or recorded orally to gain enough substance in the waking world. So get a journal and keep it by your bedside. It could be a beautiful fanciful one, or a simple spiral notebook – your choice. Be sure to have a pen on hand as well.
- Learn to recognize a dream when you have one! This may sound obvious, but many dreams are not long narratives with a clear story line. One line remembered from sleep is a dream. One phrase counts. So does a single word. Don’t dismiss these dream fragments – often they contain the essence of the message your dream mind is sending you in a crisp “readers digest” format. In addition, the productions of our mind from the in between zones of waking and sleeping- the hypnopompic and the hypnogogic zones, where we are not quite awake nor quite asleep – these are dreams too.
- Dreams do not come only in words. If you wake with a feeling state that is not explained by your immediate environment – that is what you are recalling from your dream. Wake inexplicably happy? That is your dream. Wake feeling anxious for no apparent reason? That too is your dream. Have an image or a picture? – that is your dream too. Record these.
- Your body may remember your dream even if your mind doesn’t. This is called positional memory. Put your body back in the position it was in when you dreamt- that is, if you sleep lying on your left side with your knees tucked up, do that now. Often the dream will float right back into your brain as your body accesses this body memory of it.
- Imagine wrapping yourself up in your dream. Reach your arms out, grab the ends of your imaginary dream shawl or dream tallit, and wrap them around you as you close your eyes. Your dream may be close at hand.
- Before going to sleep at night, set your intention to have a dream, and to remember it and to be able to write it down. Write that sentence in your dream journal just before going to sleep. This is called dream incubation. Once you have primed the pump and have started remembering, you can also use this technique to ask for help and guidance on specific issues or dilemmas.
Dream deluge? Feeling flooded by too many dreams? Try these:
- Use your dream journal to set an intention to only allow the dreams of highest priority into your conscious mind, and to filter out anything else. Incubate something like “I will remember only the essence of the dream that is in my highest good and best interest.”
- Hang a Native American dream catcher near your bed. The blessing story that goes with these is that the dream catcher snares any upsetting dreams or nightmares in it’s threads, and the narrow hole in the center allows only positive dreams to come through. You can also infuse it to snare an over-abundance of dreams.
- Surround yourself and/or your bed and/or your room with a bubble of light for protection, safety, and good boundaries. Find the color(s) that are just right for your purpose.
- Imagine closing a door in your mind before going to sleep; this door is to the portal between the waking world and the dreaming world. You can also add a phrase such as “I close the door to unwanted intrusions in the night”.
- Say the word “No” strongly, perhaps even out loud, to your dream muse. Be firm and clear that you are setting a limit and boundary.
- Before going to sleep, decide if you would like a dream to come through. Then write a sentence or two about the issue or topic you would like guidance on; and end the writing with a seal (“chatimah” in Hebrew) such as “may it be so”, or “just this and no more”
May your dreams be right-sized.
At this time of year, we celebrate Easter, Passover, the equinox, and the coming of spring. Themes of renewal, resurrection, and freedom abound as we mark this season, and remember that the healing potential lays under the darkest of places. Although here in New England we are still dealing with a layer of snow, the buds are pushing through the ground and out the ends of the tree branches, reminding us that what has been buried underground all winter has not died, just has been waiting for enough light and warmth to come forth. Our darkest dreams, our nightmares even, contain the roots and sources of our freedom and liberation. As we struggle up through the layers of sleep to our dream-saturated waking consciousness, retaining what we can of the messages that came through to us in the night, we can find the hints of our healing, and as Mary Oliver suggests, we get that “click” of an “Aha!” and the taste of sweet blossoms in our mouths.
Dreams (by Mary Oliver)
the dark buds of dreams
In the center
of every petal
is a letter,
and you imagine
if you could only remember
and string them all together
they would spell the answer.
It is a long night,
and not an easy one—-
you have so many branches,
and there are diversions—-
birds that come and go,
the black fox that lies down
to sleep beneath you,
the moon staring
with her bone-white eye.
Finally you have spent
all the energy you can
and you drag from the ground
the muddy skirt of your roots
and leap awake
with two or three syllables
like water in your mouth
and a sense
of loss—-a memory
not yet of a word,
certainly not yet the answer—-
only how it feels
when deep in the tree
all the locks click open,
and the fire surges through the wood,
and the blossoms blossom.
May your dreamings bring you insights and blossoms
“In most of our dreams, our inner eye of reflection is shut and we sleep within our sleep. The exception takes place when we seem to awake within our dreams, without disturbing or ending the dream state, and learn to recognize that we are dreaming while the dream is still happening”. Stephen LaBerge
Most of us have heard of the phrase “lucid dreaming” but have not been aware of the intricacies of it. It has become an increasingly popular concept however, and Wikipedia told me that a smartphone app for it was downloaded half a million times within six weeks in 2012. A lucid dream has been defined as any dream within which we are aware that we are dreaming. To be lucid while dreaming implies being “awake” or conscious while asleep (sort of an oxymoron), and then to be able to control or direct what happens inside the dream. (While my blog title is “Awake To Your Dreams”, lucid dreaming can be thought of as being awake in your dreams).
Until recently I was somewhat prejudiced against this as a worthwhile goal, given that I believe that it makes more sense to dream all the way through a dream that we are given, and then to work with it. In other words, not to interfere with our wise unconscious dreaming self from doing the work that it does best: Taking our unarticulated dilemmas, longings, desires, wishes, issues, pains, and struggles and then present them to us in dreamtime with as much metaphor and symbol as it thinks we need in order to be able to begin processing them. Pictures, images, emotions, storylines, fragments, a single word or a whole epic- let ‘em role – and then go back and find the layers of meanings. But as I have been giving the concept more thought, I have been coming to see other options available in lucid dreaming that do not necessarily hijack our innate processing systems.
So as a modern adult with a teenager to learn from, I Googled “lucid”. It was defined as “articulate, rational, or luminous”, with additional synonyms of thought through, clear, eloquent, and silver tongued (the later being my personal favorite). Not what I actually had expected, given how it is commonly used in the dreaming world. And yet, it makes sense. I especially liked the use of the word “luminous”: implying otherworldly, shining and glowing, and yet clear and eloquent- all hallmarks of a dream well dreamt from our souls’ warehouse of dreams.
There seem to be two kinds of lucid dreams: 1.) “Dream initiated lucid dreams” that begin as a regular dream, and then turn lucid, and 2.) “Wake initiated lucid dreams (or “W.I.L.D.”). These can occur a.) while we are drifting off to sleep but are still technically awake and we are aware immediately that we ‘re dreaming, or b.) when we incubate a dream before going to sleep. To incubate a dream, we purposely journal, think, or pray to journey into a dream on some issue or dilemma while we are awake, and then dream on it in the subsequent dream. This later method is a form of lucid dreaming that combines inside and outside worlds- focusing our attention on what we hope to have a dream about while awake, and then having the dream on that topic while asleep. This seems to be one way not to interfere with the wisdom of our dreaming mind- we kind of point our radio frequency dial in the direction we want, and then our dream mind picks up on the right signal and we make contact.
Both kinds of lucidity can be useful for nightmare sufferers. The ability to point our dreams in the direction of healing while awake, and the ability to purposefully change course in the middle of a distressing dream to avoid a pitfall or disaster can greatly alleviate the distress of chronic nightmares. If we don’t misuse the method to bypass the inner work we need to get through, this skill can be a gift and a short cut to relief. No one gets extra points for prolonged suffering! I once had a dream in which I was being assaulted. I somehow knew it was a dream and that I didn’t want the assault to continue, so I remember deciding to get out of there. I knew I had to swim upwards to get out. Then I had the sensation of straining my way up and out of the dream like swimming through sticky molasses, aiming for the light at the top. I could feel the pulling and kicking feelings in my arms and legs, and when I got to the top I was awake. I still recall the feeling of relief and self power that I got myself out of there.
The ability to lucid dream is both innate and can get better by practice, much as exercising any other kind of muscle gets stronger with practice.
Here are a few popular methods of getting more lucid:
1. “Am I Dreaming?”
Ask yourself periodically during the day “Am I dreaming?” and perform some kind of reality check. If you do it often enough you will remember to do in in your dream as well. For example, if you lean against a wall and ask yourself “Am I dreaming?” and you don’t fall through the wall you are awake; since in a dream you are more likely to fall through. Jump up in the air: if you land you are awake; you are more likely to be able to hover or fly if you are dreaming. Clap your hands together or snap your fingers- if you can hear, see and feel it, you are awake. If you are missing any of those sense awarenesses, you are asleep.
2. Journal It
Keep a dream journal. As you build up a dream lexicon of re-occuring images and themes, they will become easier to recognize in your dreams. Make a list of your common images and themes and review them before going to sleep.
3. Set Your Clocks
Try a variation on Stephen LeBerge’s method. Set an alarm clock to wake you up at periodic intervals of several hours duration during the night, and record the dreams you have then. We are most likely to have lucid dreams during our deepest REM sleep. So after recording as much as you can remember, lie back down to the position you were just in, and tell yourself “I am aware that I was dreaming”, and you will be more likely to know that inside of your next sleep/dream phase. (Personally I can’t imagine wanting this badly enough to wake myself up for it on purpose, but that’s just me- there are those who do it.)
4. “Look At Your Hands”
a.) As you get into bed, look at your hands, and say to yourself over and over “I will dream and I will see my hands” until you are tired and go to sleep.
b.) If you wake in the night, look at your hands and repeat the phrase.
c.) With practice, you will see your hands in the dream and can say in the dream “Wow- here are my hands- I am dreaming!”
5. The Diamond Method
While you meditate, try to visual your whole life, both waking and sleeping as facets of a diamond: All is one, just different aspects of the same whole, a synthesis of the spiritual and the psychological. (A. H. Almaas). Our dreams and our waking selves are thus just two facets of the same human consciousness. Almaas calls this diamond the Universe, or God, or the Soul. The key is to recognize that all of life is happening at once, and it is only our limitations and perceptions that separate it out into its different facets or dimensions. Once we recognize this, it then becomes easy to see dreams and waking as simply different facets of the diamond, and therefor easier to be “awake in your dreams” with little effort.
Of course, as Robert Waggoner points out in his book on lucid dreaming, we can’t control everything in a dream, or in life – not the color of the sea, or the height of the waves. But when we develop a relationship with our Inner Guide, our inner Wise Woman or Wise Man, our clear cut Diamond Self, then we can direct the ship of our life more confidently and with more resources.
Doing dreamwork by yourself on your own dreams can be like trying to see the back of your own head without two mirrors.
If this post seems a surprise in the series on nightmares, that may be both true and not true. I had initially planned the next post on the big nightmares that often have a source in trauma. However, some challenging life circumstances got in the way of this intention, and I was happy to find that I had stored this post for a time when I needed one and didn’t have the time to write from scratch. In truth, it is perfect timing for a conversation about dream sharing with others. When we work with our most challenging dreams having a guide, a companion, or a group is an invaluable aide to help us stay grounded and centered as we journey through the dark nights of the soul. So here we are:
Dreams usually arrive in our consciousness as conundrums. We usually have to spend time hanging out with the dream material to unravel it’s coded messages. As we get more skilled in attending to our dreams, we can get pretty good at it, especially if we can catch our own puns and plays on words. Problem is, most dreams come to us fairly encrypted. Just as we can often see some one else’s issues or truth more clearly than our own (who among us can’t identify (ahem…) just what our spouse, child, parent, etc. should do to be a better person!). We often hit the same blind spot when we attempt to decode our own dreams as we do when we try to see our own “issues” clearly. Our dreaming self offers up it’s mystery into our conscious minds, but if we want more than it’s initial offering, we may need to enlist the help of others: from those who can see more clearly the backs of our heads and into our blind spots. (FYI, even Freud and Jung rarely considered their owns dreams completely analyzed if they worked on them alone.)
The flip side of this coin, as we discussed in a previous blog, is that only the dreamer can truly know the resonant meaning of his or her own dream. This is because only the dreamer has the first person access to their dream, and only the dreamer can say how it relates to their own life. Richard Russo quotes Jung as saying “…to truly understand (another’s) dream, we would have to know everything about the dreamers life- something only the dreamer is capable of.”
Jeremy Taylor, based on the work of Montague Ullman, designed what I call the “Code of Respect” for dreamwork with others: When we offer an idea about the meaning of a dream, we preface it with “If this were my dream…” “If this were my dream, I would wonder about the horse in the corner of the field.”… “If this were my dream, I would want to know the significance of that bright red color in her dress.” … “If this were my dream, I would wonder if that child in your dream was a younger part of yourself; it reminds me of what you said about your life when your parents got divorced when you were six”. You can be as specific or general as your insight takes you, but if you preface it with this phrase, then you are offering the option of your opinion to the dreamer, but not insisting that your explanation is correct. We can also receive our own insights from working on some one else’s dreams. What might catch my attention in your dream is something that has significance for me- whether or not it does for you. Thus, we get do a bit of our own dreamwork with other people’s dreams- what a nice benefit for sharing dreamwork. So, if you are working on another’s dream with them, pay attention to own your own projections!
The ultimate is dream sharing is being with a group- a dream circle. I have been in a personal circle of my own for almost 30 years. We know each other pretty well at this point, and on occasion don’t even get to the dreamwork if we have a lot to catch up on, but we have held the frame of dreaming together as bond and a structure to our monthly meetings. We’ve dreamed each other through births, marriages, illnesses, deaths, career changes, surgeries, milestone birthdays and now into the empty nest phase for some of us (not me yet though! – mine is the youngest of the group’s children at 15.)
I have also facilitated dream groups for over 25 years. Again, the bonds formed in the circle often extend out of the circle as well. If you chose to form a dream circle, be clear about whether some one is in charge, or you have a rotating leadership, or a “self help” model with no one in a leadership role. Set up a format and a structure that works for you, and then stick with it. So many groups without formal leadership devolve into “just chatting”, and then loose momentum and die out. As a group worker with training in group dynamics and group process, I know that these are some the biggest reasons for group failure: lack of a clear purpose, lack of clear goals, and lack of clear structure.
Choose your fellow dreamers as carefully as possible; it doesn’t have to be people you already know, but since dreamwork is such an intimate sharing, you do want to be able to trust the members to keep confidentiality and treat each other respectfully. One option is, that you can choose whether or not to share your “aha” with the group– it is always fine to say “oh’ I’ve got it”, without divulging the details if it feels too personal to share. When I teach large classes in dreamwork, I always give people this option. This creates more of a sense of safety to go as deep as you want, and still have choice and control over what you disclose.
Dream well, may your dreams bring you home.
It is on the whole probable that we continually dream, but that consciousness makes such a noise that we do not hear it.” Carl Jung
Last time we discussed a few techniques to help you remember your dreams. Developing a practice of dream recall is like any other practice–it gets better with practice! So don’t be discouraged if it takes a while before you remember them on any regular basis. Also, it is perfectly normal to have periods of time where you remember many dreams, and dry periods where you can’t capture a thing. It could be that your daily life is so full at the moment that there is no room in your psyche for more information to come through. Or you may already be working deeply in your waking life (in therapy, in journaling, in deep conversations, for example), so that your dream muse feels that your inner life is being covered for now! In any case, here is a handy list that may help you to “prime the pump” of your dream life.
TIPS FOR REMEMBERING DREAMS
1. Be prepared, or, you can’t fool your unconscious. Have dream recording materials right by your bed so your dreaming self knows you are serious.
2. Accept and value every dream or dream fragment; don’t dismiss anything as too trivial or too small. Write down even a word or phrase if that’s all that comes through- you will be amazed at how much information you can get out of just one word once we get into understanding the dream material.
3 Pick an unpressured period of time to try to remember (like a vacation or weekend) if there has been a long period of non-remembering.
4. Allow yourself to waken spontaneously without an alarm clock. One friend of mine calls her alarm clock her “dream eraser”!
5. On waking, lie still and review the dream in your mind before moving. Allow the lingering images of the last scenes to act as a hook to help you recall earlier portions.
6. Record your dream before doing anything else – even before sitting up if possible. Of course, if you remember it later in the day, it’s never too late to write it down. I seem to have a penchant for remembering in the shower – so I just keep repeating it to myself until I am dry enough to write it down.
7. If you know that you had a dream but can’t remember even a bit of it, write the date and the word “dream” in your dream journal, thus honoring the process and prompting future remembering.
8. Share the dream out loud with another to set it orally as well as in writing.
9. Lie down and bring your body back to the same position that you slept in to stimulate positional recall. I love this one- if I lay down on my side and curl up, even later in the day, I can often recapture the felt sense of the dream, and then the rest of it rolls in.
10. Use the image of wrapping yourself in the dream as you would a shawl –- taking the edges of the dream and wrapping them around you to envelope you back inside the dream. Feel with your body the sensations of being wrapped up in a cozy shawl of dreams.
11. Write down your immediate thoughts and/or feelings as you awaken, even if you don’t think they came from the dream. They may have emerged from the “hypnopompic or hypnogogic zones”, the in-between states between waking and sleeping.
12. Sketch out, or draw your dream. A picture can be worth a thousand words- sometimes we get insight when we can see the dimensions and colors and shapes of our dream images that words alone cant do justice to.
13. Practice dream incubation before going to sleep at night. In brief, this means spending a few minutes before going to sleep writing down the question you want answered; and then writing the dream down on the same page, so that you can see the connections between your question and the answer; which may be in dream code and then figured out in relation to the question. Next time- more on this…
May your dreams be abundant! Let me know how it goes…
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us.
And the world will live as one.”
― John Lennon
As a therapist, I always encourage my clients to record and bring in their dreams to work on. The dreams can often help us to zero in on the core of the issue very quickly, and can give us a quick snapshot to focus on. I practice what I preach- I have been a member of my own dream circle for over 25 years, and still delight in the dream discoveries we make with each other every month.
So what to do if you have trouble remembering your dreams- or think that you don’t dream?
First off, rest assured that everyone dreams every night- sleep studies that chart our REM sleep (REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement, the quick movements our eyelids make when we are dreaming) show that on average, we all have about six dreams per night (There are about six cycles of REM and non-REM sleep each night). This is predicated on an average of 7-8 hours of sleep a night. If you are one of the lucky ones who can get by on less, then you probably have fewer cycles. We generally only remember the dreams that occur in the cycle right before we wake up.
To enhance dream recall there are several things you can do. First of all, you need to want to remember them. It seems simplistic, but if you think about it, we tend to remember things better that are important to us, that we put our minds to. So when you go to sleep at night, tell yourself that you want to remember your dreams; and you promise to pay attention to the messages they are sending you. After that, don’t trust to memory alone when you awake. Dreams are like puffs of smoke or wisps of fog- move too quickly and poof! they disappear.
Most dreams are like helium balloons– they need to be tied down to stay with us. Invest in a journal, and keep it right next to your bed, along with a pen or sharpened pencil. You can now even get special “night-light” pens that light up in the dark either online, or at most office supply stores. Try to write down your dream as soon as possible upon waking. Alternately, you can use a tape recorder to capture it, but you then have to be disciplined to transcribe it later.
Move as little as possible, so that you don’t disturb the fragile dream fabric. Sit up slowly, or even write while still lying down. If you had a dream, and it slipped away, try putting your body back into the same position it was in when you woke- your body has “positional memory”, and you can often re-capture the dream if you return to the same position.
Try to write it down in the same order in which you dreamed it-– what happened first, next, last in a dream makes a difference when you are working with it later. If you are afraid you will forget it if you don’t write down the end first, go ahead and do so, then re-write it in order, or at least make arrows and notations so you know the order in which you actually dreamed the scenes. Date each entry— that way you begin to have a record of dreams and themes that re-occur, and can check them against what was going on in your life that day or week to get some immediate connections and insights. Don’t try to analyze while you are recording the dream– it can get confusing to sort out what was your dream, and what were your thoughts about your dream later on. If I have some immediate associations, I write a section I call “notes” after the dream, and then jot down my thoughts so they don’t contaminate the actual dream material.
Coming soon– more tips on recall, ancient dream temples, and what it means to purposely “incubate” a dream. Please share this blog and these ideas with others who may have interest.
Linda Yael (www.lindayaelschiller.com)