A dream is a personal document, a letter to oneself.
Once you are able to recall your flying dream, what then? Will you remember
your experience this evening, next week or a year from now? Perhaps your
breakfast companions will help you perpetuate the memory. But if they listen
with half an ear, like my family does, I wouldn't count on it. Instead it's
best to make a record of the dream.
There are some folks who just draw or paint their dreams. However, artistic
renderings usually capture but a few symbols or a single scene and can take
a lot of time. One dreamer I know acts out the dream as best she can, but
this restricts memory mainly to gesture. Another dreamer I know uses a tape
recorder. Unfortunately, locating a particular dream later can be a problem.
Do you fast forward or rewind? Most folks find a written record to be the
richest, most accessible and stable method for the long term. At first, it's
best to record every dream you can remember, until it becomes a habit you
can easily return to, like riding a bicycle.
Here are some advantages of a written record:
Making A Written Record
- Handwriting mimics the "flow" of the dream. Dreams are rarely just symbol snapshots; they tend to be movies, instead. Simply putting pen to paper can evoke the sequence of events that eludes us if we try to remember everything at once.
- Writing is yet another memory review. It adds the tactile element: the movement of our hands help "fix" recall in cellular memory. We will be able to remember with our body, not just our brain.
- The process of writing helps organize our thoughts about the dream. New insights can appear, ideas and connections will occur and these become clues to understanding the content of the dream.
- If we wake up in the middle of the night and do not write down our dreams, we may not recollect them when we reawaken in the morning.
- The hard copy provides the opportunity for later review, which can be invaluable for dream sharing, dream analysis and discovering psychic elements.
I'm amazed that some dreamers seem to be able to record all their dreams
perfectly, the first time, exactly as they recall them, in a nice bound book
with few additions and mistakes. Or directly onto a typewriting page or an
e-mail memo. They must have much better memory and more patience than I do!
Sometimes I wonder if they are recording only simple dreams...or perhaps
their reports are generalizations, lacking the details?
When complexity is at a minimum, when the dream progresses in coherent form,
I, too, can review the whole dream, scene by scene. In that case, the dream
story will flow from my pen as final copy, no corrections required.
But I must admit that most of my initial dream reports are, to put it
nicely, rough drafts. I like to record my dreams curled up under the covers
with a legal pad balanced on my knees. I grab out of memory what I can
recall and write it down. The first go-round can miss things. It tends to be
quick glances and phrases rather than a complete story narrative. And I'm
not the only dreamer who sometimes records the dream backwards, last scene
Dreams On Computer
Do these rough drafts get transformed into a legible record that I'm willing
to share with others? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. It depends on how
motivated I am and how much time I have to convert to sequential narrative.
When I do make the move to computer, I'll often keep both versions, in case
there's something I've overlooked in the transition.
At one point I experimented with a data base dream package that set up the
dream as a drama. It had location, characters, action and so forth. That was
fine for my regular dreams, but when it came to the unusual, like imageless
dreams and hypnogogia, it didn't fit at all. So I finally gave up trying to
put my square pegs into round holes. I ignored the standard classifications
and created my own. When recording methods and materials threaten to limit
your dreams, make sure your dreams win the day.
There is one important thing a text-based software doesn't provide: large
margins for drawings and doodles. After all, signs, symbols and scenery are
basically visual images. It may be that a verbal description won't capture
what a quick sketch can do. Then, you might draw dream objects, dream
characters or maps of dream locations.
Detailing The Dream
Some Basic Elements In Dream Reports
Over time, I've found that the most difficult things for me to recall are
the verbal and the written. I've noticed that fellow dreamers have trouble
in this area, too. Our dream reports tend to say, "The woman talks
about...X" rather than using exact quotes from the woman's conversation.
- Scenery and props
- Action (including reading)
- Overall context (story or theme)
- Sounds (including conversations)
- Taste and tactile sensations
- Feelings, moods and emotions
- Thoughts, ideas, intuition, memories and instincts
Since the words I read in the dream or audio statements dissipate most
easily, if they are present, I'll concentrate on remembering them first. And
then, when I unfreeze and begin to move around in bed, I'll grab my paper
pad and write those words down. Only then do I begin recording the dream
Once, a dreamer told me, "I really feel like I'm missing out on something if
I just record, 'I go to the store and buy three apples and go home.'"
I replied that I sometimes record a dream this way: "The man comes into the
room and says 'Hello' to me."
I continued telling him that at other times, I record a dream this way: "The
back of the blue and white Victorian faces south. Through the arched
doorway, ambles a fellow with the feeling tones of my grandfather and my
current boss. At about six feet four, he looms over me, but his informal
clothing make me feel at home. He wears faded blue overalls and a plaid
shirt in soft earth tones. Underneath a mop of long, blonde hair, his icy
blue eyes stare at me curiously. 'Hello, Linda, how are you?' he asks."
It's the same essential event, but I've used two different ways to describe
it. I prefer the latter, but if I went into that much detail with every
single dream, I'd be writing forever.
Instead, I do detail work on selected dreams, when I have the time.
Especially with lucid dreaming and borderland experience, I am more aware of
the subtleties of my dreams. There is more to remember and thus more to
I think it's important to practice detailing at least some of your dreams.
It's another "discipline" in observation and becoming aware of the fullness,
the richness and the diversity in any dream. Try recording a dream vignette
in vivid detail every once in a while.
Again, freeze frame the dream and dredge up the feeling tones. As I'm
pulling up the information, I sometimes get a sense of the periphery or
background of the dream. For example, in the dream above, I could perceive
that someone else was standing next to me. Who was it? And what was
happening around us? If I try to play with the sensation of the dream, I
might determine that there were more folks in the room than just the man and
me. Ah, yes, there were several people - male, female, young and old. And,
we were gathered for a meeting.
Dream air-obics starts to stretch your awareness, and again it's a real
paradox. You begin by concentrating on one thing, yet to do so, you pull
energy from the corner of your mind so that it, too, comes further into the
center of your awareness.
While general exercise of the mind muscles is great for general health,
there is a specific practical reason to pay attention to detail. It's dream
analysis. Factual recording features nouns first, then action verbs. But it
can miss adjectives and adverbs. Without description detail (like color),
overall feeling-tone or specific emotions, important clues to unlock the
meaning or source of the dream may elude you.
Reading the report of an experienced recorders opened my eyes to elements
I'd not been including...such as
Dream recording is a skill that requires both memory and ability to put down
what you recall. It's a skill that can improve, as you discover story
elements and details that you may have previously ignored.
- What I look like or am wearing
- Which direction I am going
- How high or far away an object is
- What the weather is like
- How I react to what I am observing
- How the other characters are acting or reacting to me
And remember, not all dreams are visual. You might awaken with just the
sound of rushing wind, a blissful feeling or the vivid sensation of
floating. I sometimes awake knowing that I have been thinking a lot. If any
sort of image forms, it's of words on a page: a phrase, a sentence. Or, I
seem to be moving blocks of information around, just like I do on the
computer. Most likely, I've just left a non-REM sleep period. Converting the
abstract to language can be a real challenge!
Can you tell the difference between these two dreams?
I am in Lima, Peru on the ocean with a camera. I'm trying to get a perfect
shot and not drop the camera in the ocean. I ride the crest of the waves. I
keep setting up the shot but the timing is off. I want to click it at the
crest of the wave, but I keep missing the shot.
I was swimming in the sea. The sea was blue green and deep blue in the
distance, the bottom sandy, the water cool and clear, the sky clear blue.
The wind was whipping up small waves.
BW, Athens, Greece
One dream is written in present tense; the other in past tense. In the
first, the dreaming self is in the middle of the action, playing a starring
role in the movie. The other is more detached. It's written from the point
of view of a waking ego, trying to remember something that happened oh, so,
far away and long ago. It's not designed to retrieve that distant memory and
bring it to you here.
When it comes to recording your dreams, I urge you to use the present tense.
Writing a dream in present tense keeps it vibrant...not as vague
understanding by the waking ego...but as the life of the dreaming self. As
one of my dream characters told me, "The time is now!" Thinking and writing
in present tense keeps us close to the living dream.
Sometimes the dream refers back to what happened before the current scene.
In that case, I use the past tense to indicate my dreaming self's good
memory of things that I, as a waking ego, may not be aware.
I always use past tense when I write what happened the previous day. To
differentiate my waking ego voice from the "voice" of my dreaming self, I
try to place most notes below the dream proper. I once had a dream about
leaping a fence. After recording it, I wrote my quick associations:
(Note: Yesterday I was hiking in the woods, when I saw a similar fence. I
was thinking about an article I'm going to write about the upcoming
If I insert comments within the dream text, I'll use parentheses and the
past tense to alert me that this item didn't occur until after the dream
ended. For instance, it wasn't until after I woke that I decided the man
in my dream looked like my friend Bob:
The man (reminded me of Bob Trowbridge) walks with me to the fence.
If you try to understand a dream long after it occurred, lack of day notes
may mean you are unable to relate your dream elements to your waking life.
This can be a block to either symbolic interpretation or literal recall.
Titling A Dream
Right after you finish recording your dream, you know the main symbols, the
action and your immediate associations. Fine. Simply bring your pen back up
to the top of the page and write them down. Voila! You've got a title. For
example, I might call the above dream, "Bobbing and Leaping the Fence."
Titling dreams is important for many reasons. At first, it provides a sense
of completion. It's as if you have finished a chapter in a book and can now
go on to the next story. Later, reading a well-crafted title will trigger
memory of the full dream. It's a lot easier to find a titled dream a year, a
month or even a week later.
Titling is a very creative act, a kind of dream Haiku, where you take the
essence of the dream and focus on it in the few words that form the title.
Gleaning the essence can unlock the dream for interpretation. Sometimes,
writing out the title releases the puns within.
Timing The Dream
- Give Me a Brake (I'm going too fast, in danger of breaking up a relationship)
- Pulling Dreamworkers Out of the Soup (I'm acting like a Mom with my dream group, trying to rescue them from troubled dreams)
- Putting the U into Study (I put the subjective "You" into the objective "It," the study of dreams. I'm making dream study personal.)
In the past, dreamers would request my help in interpreting a dream. I'd ask
them, "Well, when did you have that dream?" And they'd say, "I don't know.
Maybe two or three weeks ago." Or, "A couple of years ago." Then I'd ask,
"What was going on in your life when you had the dream?" Too often, they
If you want to crack the dream code, dates are often crucial. After
recording your dream, I simply turn my head and look at the calendar that I
have tacked to my bedroom wall. I could also look at my wristwatch. You
don't have a calendar in view? Get one.
I may not always have day notes within my dream record. But if I know the
date, I can go to my personal engagement calendar (written or electronic) to
discover what I was doing during waking life in the neighborhood of the
Is the "dream date" the day you go to bed or the day you wake up? Some
people use one, some the other. I use the day before, because that's when my
preparation begins. The least confusing method can be to use both dates,
such as "October 3-4."
Dating the dream can be useful to indicate special occasions. Some folks
keep track of moon phases and Astrological signs, too. Did you know that
"The Day of Airborne Dreamers" is June 29th? So, have you ever had flying
dreams on that night? You'll not be able answer to that question unless
you've already put dates on your past dream reports.
If you have a clock on your night stand, you can put down the time as well.
Recording the time helped me determine the variance in types of dreams, like
when I usually had nightmares and when I was most likely to have a lucid
dream. Numbering the dreams let me know which type came first, which came
afterwards, in any given night. If I record the dream backwards or most
important scene first, numbering the paragraphs is crucial.
There are many other things you might write with your dream report, but this
is the bare minimum.
When You Wake Without A Dream
- Title and date (and number, if more than one)
- The text of the dream report
- Day notes (if you have a quick idea about the dream)
What if you can't remember a full dream? Write down key words. The outline
of the dream. The picture fragments. And if you can't recall any fragments?
The thoughts, feelings or sensations just before you woke. And if you are a
Initially, while you are developing the dream record habit, it's best to
write down something every morning. You can...
But please don't record "No dreams." This is a self-defeating prophecy.
- Record how you slept.
- Record the first feelings of the day.
- Write down why you want to recall dreams.
- Create an affirmation for dream recall.
- Sketch a thought.
Later, these pump-priming activities give way to the outflow of actual
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- Garfield, P. Creative Dreaming. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1974).
- Koch-Sheras, P., E.A. Hollier, B. Jones. Dream On/A Dream Interpretation and
- Exploration Guide for Women. (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1983).
- Magallón, L. L. Psychic-Creative Dreaming. (Internet course, 1997).
- Moss, R. Conscious Dreaming. (New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1996).
- Roberts, J. How to Develop Your ESP Power. (New York: Frederick Fell Publishers, 1974).
- Wilkerson, R. C. "An Introduction to Dreamwork/Guidelines and Journal Keeping." (On-line document, 1998).