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Remembering Dreams

In my practice , I am often asked, ‘how do I remember my dreams?’ An allied lament is, ‘…but I don’t dream at all.’ Here, I share with you some of the learnings I have acquired over nearly two decades of dream work and tending to my inner life.

For those of you who wish to be able to better recall your dreams, I am sharing some tips that have worked for me. Not all of them are self-discovered. As I undertook my own readings and explorations, I came across interesting books and dream workers who were my guides on the path. I tried and experimented  —  always with the intent to be in service of the dreams. Some of them worked better than the other. So try and experiment yourself. Feel free to explore and see what works best for you. Each one of us is different and there is no one right method. But whatever you do, try to inculcate a discipline, for ‘practice makes perfect.’ You may have to be ‘at it’ for a while before you get results.

For the purpose of this blog, I am not going to delve into an allied question, ‘why should I record my dreams?’ The current question pre-supposes that you are someone who is keen to work with your own dreams. The latter is a separate enquiry altogether — for another blog.

Disclaimer first: a readiness check

First timers struggling with recording dreams need patience and above all a desire to have a dream. And this is where it will help to check our readiness. Ask yourself the question, ‘am I willing to listen to my dreams?’ In my opinion this is a question that needs to be reflected upon before you initiate your adventure into the world of dreams and dreaming. I have met many an earnest seeker wanting to learn how to understand dreams. But I have often found that there is a difference between desire and dedication, between want and commitment. Sometimes people want to work with dreams because it’s in fashion. Other times, it’s because they read about it somewhere and feel excited to explore. Often, the exploration emerges from a space of incredulity, and sometimes from a space of speculation. Whatever be the reason, it helps to be aware of why one wishes to engage in the task one wants to undertake. Check for your own reason(s) behind wanting to work with your dreams.

The 1995 fantasy movie, Jumanji, describes to me the potential dangers of undertaking an adventure without preparation. When the two friends unwittingly roll the dice of a board game they don’t understand, they unleash a chain of events far beyond their own capacities to manage. Working with the unconscious, which we access through our dreams requires prudence and discernment. It is my considered opinion that dream work is not fun  but enriching. It is challenging, engaging and at times even demanding — for it places in front of our egos (the little identity of ‘I’ / ‘me’ / ‘mine’) immense demands which we must be willing to undertake. Does that mean, we wait for ever  or do not start out? Surely not. What it does mean is that dream work should not be taken lightly. Only if you feel called to it, should you initiate your journey to the world of dreams and dreaming.

Sometimes, however, life does not give us a choice — we are pushed into the alternate world. Some of us end up with nightmares or dreams that leave us with a sense of awe, wonder and terror. Sometimes, the dreams are so vivid that we feel it on our bodies and through the waking life of ours. In such circumstances, it is best to not delay but engage with dreams with sincerity. However, for those of us for whom dreams are a mere curiosity or an idea appealing, we must take a pause and clarify our own motives. Dreamwork is sacred work, especially for those (like my colleague and I) of us who are schooled in the Jungian and Processwork approaches. By sacred, I mean that we do not approach it like a parlour game or a party activity. 

Remembering and recording dreams

With that disclaimer out of the way, and the assumption that you wish to work with your dreams sincerely, let us explore ways to remember and record dreams:

Step 1. Preparation

Before we initiate the journey to the world of dreams, some basic preparatory steps are needed. For dreams to become our friend and guide, our frenzied pace of modern life needs to take a backseat, even if for some time. Patience is needed — for a dream is not amenable to our whims and fancies. We can scarcely control the happenings of the dreams much less their occurrence. 

  1. Before going to bed, keep a pen and diary (which will be your dream journal) by your bedside.

  2. Spend some time with yourself, say 10–15 min. before going to sleep. During this time, avoid mobiles, books etc. If you are in a habit of reading or replying to emails before going to bed, take this as an opportunity to try something new. Once you are done with your electronic gadgets, keep them aside and be with yourself for 10–15 min.

  3. During this time with yourself, request the other side (for want of a better word I use this term) for dreams. Be sincere. Imagine as if you are speaking with an unknown entity  —  the DreamMaker  —  and ask it to help you remember your dreams. Use a language of request 🙂 and not demand.

  4. Simultaneously, mentally affirm to yourself, ‘I will remember my dreams.’ Imagine waking up the next day and writing a dream. Try it — it might work, as it does for some. Self-affirmation and visualisations are useful aids to enhance our innate capacities. Though, they are not the only thing.

  5. Do this daily irrespective of whether you are on travel or busy. Do this whether you get a dream or not. As I mentioned, you have to be ‘at it.’ Treasures of the soul are not found at the surface of the ocean. If you can’t take out 15 min., take out 5 —the point is to do it. If you can’t, how do you hope that the other side will respect your intent?

Step 2. Recording

The next step is to actually record the dream  —  if you have had any. If you do not have any dream, it is a good idea to just note down your feelings and body sensations as you wake up. It will help build a daily discipline.

A dream is a like a wisp of cloud on a sunny day or a butterfly flitting on a spring morning  —  one blink, and its gone forever from memory.

  • Upon waking up the next day (or if you wake up at night), write down your dreams, the first thing i.e., if you recall any. They do not have to be completely coherent, logical or elaborate — so please record whatever you remember. Approach a dream as it were a movie unfolding. Imagine as if you are now trying to write down the movie you saw while asleep and recounting it to a dear friend with all its details; your dream journal being that dear friend.

  • One of the common pitfalls is to question and wonder the veracity or weirdness of the dream. If you do so the dream  will be vanish faster than a soap bubble. It does matter if in the dream you were flying in the air or if you were swimming with the fishes  —  just note it down. Often times, our conscious mind, with its logic and rationality tries to correct the dream or its sequence. Be mindful of this and just document what you remember.

  • If you have a vivid dream or a dream that is too long, then it is helpful to first write down the bullet points (so that you don’t forget the dream and its sequence). Subsequently, elaborate it as soon as you can. Try to write the dream in the sequence in which it happened.

  • After you feel you have written the dream completely, record any feelings and body sensations you had while dreaming, or while recording it. 

  • When you feel what you have recorded is complete, write down the date (of the dream), and close your diary. It is possible that sometimes, a dream fragment may be recollected much later (or as you finish your writing)  —  in such a scenario, go back to your journal and write down the additional dream fragment that you may remember. Try to place it in the sequence of the overall dream as it had happened.

Incidentally, some people prefer to talk out the dream as a voice note and transcribe it later. I have tried it few times  —  it works well for me when I am in a tearing hurry. Another method is to type it out on your phone . However, this method needs tremendous self-discipline to stay away from ‘notifications’ — the bane of modern life. Therefore, it is best to record the dream as soon as you get up while it is still fresh in your memory. Make it the first task of the day  — and definitely before reaching out to your phone.

Step 3. Honouring

Once you have written your dream, the next step is to honour it. There are many ways to honour the different aspects of this process. First, do a simple mental ‘thank you’ to the DreamMaker — howsoever, you conceive it to be. Additionally, ensure that your personal dream diary remains with you, away from prying eyes. It is also preferable to stay with the dream as contrast to indiscriminate sharing and therefore, resist the temptation to share your dreams with all and sundry. Another way to honour is to be disciplined  —  try to do the preparatory steps and recording, every single day. Soon you will find that some channel will open up with the other side.

So…now what? That is the natural question. This is the subject matter of another post but here are few quick hints. 

Step 4. Dreamwork

Dreamwork or engaging with the dream to understand its message and what it means for you is a lifelong task. It is not something to be done in one day, one minute. Often times, there is a temptation to use ‘google’ (or any other search engine) to understand the dream. One of the biggest challenges I have encountered as I support groups and individuals in their dreaming journey is the google method of understanding dream. This does not work, for though dreaming is a shared human grace, our dreams are equally personal as they are universal. Therefore, it works best to invest in building your own inner ‘dream unfoldment’ engine. 

I am aware that the temptation is huge, but try and resist. Instead, join a dream group near your house. Engage with a dream worker or a trained analyst. If none of this is possible, then check out online groups or someone who is willing to work online. My own journey started that way. I had to do an initial in-person meeting, for which I travelled 500+ kms., and luckily for me, I could subsequently work online, interspersed with face-to-face meetings from time to time. Of course, I decided to train further and so had to do much more in-person work, but for someone willing to understand dreams, at the initial phase, online work is also supportive — in absence of a viable in-person support. Engaging with the dream is a decision that will come to you from your gut — you will know when to work with it professionally. 

In both my personal and professional experience, not everyone needs to engage with their dreams on a professional basis. While I will definitely advocate writing dreams and reflections therein, I am a bit more discerning about working with dreams. Often times, a prospective participant or a to-be client is baffled when I suggest them to withhold participation in a dream workshop or to wait a bit more for another dream before beginning the dream journey. Sometimes, I refer people to someone else  —we are not the ones who decide the next steps. For that, we have to listen to the voice of the dream. It shows the way.

The next step

The next step is to put into practice the understanding received. I will be happy to hear from you on what your experiences are as you follow this process. Email me and share what worked for you and what did not. I will be happy to learn about alternate approaches you have found useful and supportive. 

Thank You and Happy Dreaming.

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