This tale's a fragment from the life of dreams.
S. T. Coleridge
Freezing The Dream
"There are many times when I wake up with the clear awareness that I have
just left a dream. I cannot bring any of it back and that can be real
frustrating," said fellow dreamer Kyla Houbolt to me. I told her that I've
also had the disappointing experience of awakening with a very clear dream
in mind. Then I moved and felt it dissipate.
Let's say that you do wake up from a dream. What's the first thing you do?
Hermann Rorschach, the inventor of the famous "ink-blot" test, observed
that it is necessary to lie quietly because any quick motor movement might
disrupt memory of the dream. It may seem ironic to a flying dreamer, but
the first thing you don't do is move your body. Do not move! Let you mind
drift back to the land of sleep until you reach the dream. Try to remain
still and float between the worlds.
Sometimes all I can recall is a feeling. I let the feeling be; I soak it
up, try to exaggerate it. Then I try to "look around" the feeling. I blink
my eyes and roll them slightly, imitating the movement of my eyes in sleep.
To the right, to the left, up and down. Eventually an image might spring
up. A single picture. As I let the picture float awhile, it usually expands
into a short movie clip. I rerun the movie clip over in my mind. I do the
same with other feelings or tactile sensations that might resurface, luring
out images from the depths of darkness. Pictures might come from the
beginning, ending or middle of my dream.
It's easiest to recall dreams while you're yet lying in bed because dreams
rest on our cellular structure. We actually dream with our whole body, not
just our eyes. And so dream can be best recalled when you remain in the
position in which the last dream happened. Then, after that dream is fixed
in memory, start moving around to discover if you can remember a dream that
occurred while you slept in another position. Do you have a favorite flying
Some extremely vague dreams have no color and little else but shape, form
and movement. For them, I visualize the central thought, structure or
feeling and turn it into a word or phrase, no matter how bizarre it may
seem ("Overlapping wine glass prints." "Soft separating boundaries."
"Hang-dog me as stack of flyers.").
Memory storage is what I call this process. That's taking the dream from
its diffuse intuitive-associative state, pulling it together into sharp
focus and then inserting it into waking memory. You are doing a switch from
an associative to a logical-rational process, and repeating it several
times to get it fixed there. Sometimes you only have to do it once, if you
wake with a really powerful dream. The point of waking memory storage is to
capture the dream long enough to report it: to write it down or tell it at
If there are no images, no feeling, no thoughts, no sounds or other
sensations, if all I can recall is a "black or blank," then I let be and
try again another day.
Rehearsal In The Shower
If you rerun the dream memory enough times, you can actually fix it in
long-term memory. On those days when you are not able to record the dream
as you awake, you can remember it long enough to record it when you do find
the time. One dreamer I know rehearses the dream while making coffee and
feeding her cats.
I often found myself in a situation where family noise would awaken me. I'd
hear our cats meowing, be caught in the glare of sunlight or smell
someone's breakfast wafting up the stairwell. I'd have a flying dream, but
no time to record it and realize I've would have no time until lunch break
or maybe not even until I returned from work. Yet, I knew the dream theme
was too important to let fade.
My technique is to get up and take a shower. I use the time to recall more
of the dream or to fix the dream in memory in my mind. What's great about
the shower (or the private automobile, tape recorder or telephone) is that
I can speak the dream aloud without folks watching me and thinking that I'm
nuts. Thus, I can rely on audio memory as well as visual when it comes time
to write down the dream. The verbal fix is a switch from right-brain to
left brain thinking.
Retrieving A Lost Dream
I envy those dreamers who say a fragile dream memory can spontaneously pop
into the middle of the day's events. But that rarely works for me, unless
I'm having some sort of deja vu experience. Instead, I must lure the timid
dream into the light of day. If I let my awareness drift in a certain way
during waking time I can sometimes peek around the corner to the dream
There are times when I clearly do remember a dream after waking up...and
then I lose it. Other times I have no visual memory of the dream, but a
feeling tone is retained deep into the day. I can sometime invoke recall if
I play a game of let's pretend.
I return to my bedroom, lay down on my bed, get back into a sleeping
position. I pretend it's the night before. I am asleep and dreaming. I soon
discover the distracters: a full stomach, noises from the family
underground, aches and pains, odd smells, a mind buzzing with activity.
With eyes closed and body relaxed, the feeling tone is easier to access.
Images may resurface. If one sleeping position is not fruitful, I try
another. I discover that too much relaxation puts me to sleep.
Play is trial and error. And trying again and again, with a new trick each
time. Does getting under the covers help? Do I need to change clothes? Will
it work if I simply try a sleeping position in the couch?
With my eyes closed, I start moving the focus of my consciousness around.
Here to the right, to the left, like I'm focusing at a distance and then
back in to the tip of my nose. Maybe slowly try little hops. It's like
rocking a cradle or bouncing it. At times, while I'm focusing in one
direction, something tickles at the periphery of my vision in the other.
I'm teasing the images back out, not forcing myself.
Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I only keep up the process
until my body gets restless. Then I get up and go on with the day.
Walking The Dream
I like to take walks. Motion has two effects, two sides of the same coin.
First, movement helps me focus on bodily sensations and remember things
related to the body better. Things like flying dreams. Second, the rhythm
of the walking loosens stuck patterns so that I am in contact with
inspiration, insights, ideas or other flows of consciousness. And what is a
flying dream but a flow of consciousness?
Once, I went for a walk down by the creek. I let my consciousness drift
around, while looking at the sky and the trees. Then, I shifted to memory,
thought back in time to the morning, just after wakening. I realized that
one reason I didn't remember any dreams is that I had awakened too early,
felt fatigued and then forced myself to get more sleep. By the time I awoke
the second time, I was late for work. My daughter was pounding on the
shower door and yelling about her science experiment. So I didn't have any
chance to practice recall in the shower, either.
I returned in imagination to that point when I woke up the first time. I
bounced my focus back and forth between that memory and the present
experience of the walk by the creek. I finally realized that the reason why
I wasn't remembering any images was that it had been an imageless dream. It
was a mental or aural dream with conversation, only. Had I written it down,
I would have recorded a person speaking a single sentence to me.
But I couldn't remember what the sentence was. It made sense when I got it.
Now I couldn't recall a single word. Great, I thought, it's gone forever.
No, no, it's okay, I told myself. Keep walking down the road. Finally, I
remembered two words. One was "full" and one was "project." Okay, full
"something" project. And then I pulled in the first part of the sentence.
It was "You are going to have a full "something" project." I started second
guessing myself, coming up with possible words. "Full rounded?" I could
feel the barriers go up because I was inserting my waking logic. I was
trying figure it out, not remember it. Some birds flew by and triggered the
thought, "Full fledged project." That's it! "You are going to have a full
Some dreamworkers will tell you that every piece of dream is equally
precious. They will give examples of dreamlet bits and pieces that have had
profound effects on the dreamer's lives. I, too, have found birdlike wisps
of dreams that I'll always treasure. But this wasn't one of them. So why
bother to go through all this effort to recall just a fragment?
I do it to prime the pump. When you begin to recall and record your dreams,
or when you return to dream recording after a hiatus, you don't have the
dream flow habit. At that point, it's important to recall whatever you can
and write down whatever is produced, until the system starts chugging out a
steady stream of dreams or dreams of greater length and more detail. Then
you can become selective. Many fragments are the equivalent of a dancer
doing warm-up stretches before creating a dance or an artist sketching
black and white doodles before producing a colored oil painting. Play with
whatever you get and your dream psyche will appreciate it. The quantity and
quality of your dream life improves with the attention you give.
Limiting Dream Recall
A dreamer once told me he was filled to overflowing with bitsy dreams. "I'm
waiting for a dream that impacts me, because I get real sick of these
little tidbits here and there. They just don't leave me satisfied." I
replied, "Nobody says you have to record every single one. As a matter of
fact, I don't think there's enough time in the day."
Pieces or epics, once the dream stream is turned on, it's possible to have
an overabundance of riches. I'm in agreement with dreamworker Ilona
Marshall who often suggests to herself that she not have so many dreams
to remember. She requests of her psyche, "Just give me the powerful ones or
the ones that are really important." I consider health to be "really
important," and flying dreams a barometer of health, so those are the ones
There are even certain times in my life when I rather not recall any dreams
at all. If there is much of importance going on in the waking state, my
full attention is required elsewhere. When I'm sick, when I'm on a writing
deadline, when I need to prepare for a dream conference, my mind may have
to focus on other things.
After you develop good dream flow habits, there's no need to feel guilty
when you do not record every single dream that you recall. Or not recall at
all. So today, you can't dance or paint or fly? There's always tomorrow.
- Ashley, N. Create Your Own Dreams: a Seth workbook. (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1990).
- Dee, N. The Dreamer's Workbook. (New York: Sterling Publishing, 1990).
- Garfield, P. Creative Dreaming. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1974).
- Magallón, L.L. Seth Dream Network/Dream Recall Tips, Reality Change, 11-12/85, 30-31.
- Marshall, I. Suggestions For Dream Recall and Creative Application, Dream Network Bulletin, 6/4 (Nov/Dec. 1987), 13-14.
- Thurston, M. Dreams: Tonight's Answers for Tomorrow's Questions. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988).
- Wilkerson, R. C. An Introduction to Dreamwork/Guidelines and Journal Keeping. (On-line document, 1998).