“A dream not interpreted is like a letter not read.” —The Talmud
Dreams can be fun adventures that you don’t want to wake up from, or scary nightmares that shake you out of sleep. More often than not, however, there’s deeper meaning behind the storyline. With the right intention, you can extract wisdom from your dreams, which can help guide you in the right direction in your waking life.
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 easily, a lot of people don’t remember them unless they 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 dreams each month.
To improve both dream content and recall, do a short meditation in bed before sleep and end with a strong intention to remember your dreams for a specific purpose. You can ask for guidance about a particular life situation, find guidance in spiritual growth, or even ask to receive healing.
10 Steps to Journaling Your Dreams
1. Choose an appealing journal. Decorate the cover with an image from a dream that was particularly compelling to help affirm your belief that dreams are an important source of emotional, practical, and spiritual wisdom and guidance.
2. Don’t use your dream journal for other purposes. It will dilute your intention and, with dreamwork, intention is 90 percent of what enables you to recall the 4 to 5 dreams that everyone—whether you remember them or not—has each night.
3. Set up a bedside dream station. You should be able to reach this station without getting out of bed and it should contain your journal, a clock, a pen, and a flashlight (or a pen with a built-in light).
4. Before bed each night, record the next day’s date. This gives your subconscious the message that you’ll recall your dreams and have something to write down.
5. Write an intention in your journal for that night. You can say something basic, yet powerful, such as, “I will remember all my dreams.” Or you can ask for guidance on work, relationships, life purpose, or whatever is meaningful to you at the time.
6. Take note of what wakes you up in the night and when. You will want to 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.
7. Lie still and catch the tail of your dream if you can. Let as much of the dream as possible come to memory before getting out of bed to pee, bring the dog in, get water, or attend to whatever awakened you. Dream recall is state dependent—since the memory was formed when your your body was relaxed and sleepy, that’s the best state from which to recall it. Before sitting up, think of a short, snappy title for your dream so that you won’t forget it.
8. Write it down. Once you’ve transferred the dream into your short-term memory you still may not remember it in the morning. Record the time you woke up, your snappy title, and take a few notes about the content of the dream by flashlight. You can then usually reconstruct the dream in the morning from your brief notes.
9. 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. You’ll have to make sure you 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’re sure that you’ll remember them later.
10. Write your dreams in the first person, present tense incorporating all the detail and feelings you can recall. This helps to bring 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.
Sample From My Dream Journal
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 appears 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 that 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.