Dreams can be blissful, startling, or more often–mystifying. Ever ask yourself these kinds of questions? Why am I in this house? That person makes no sense. Awesome—my old dog! What are the Everly Brothers doing here? Yikes, what am I doing here? I was just… Woo-hoo! I like flying!
Dreams have fascinated humans forever. In many places you can join dream groups and ponder your dreams with others. Dreams can enrich your sense of meaning and help you solve problems. Some people even learn lucid dreaming, entering their own dreams in order to influence the action.
There are many theories about how to interpret dreams. But there’s one obstacle that frustrates many people who’d like to try.
I Can’t Remember My Dreams
Some people are convinced that they just don’t dream. But everyone dreams multiple times a night, most vividly during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep cycles, which occur every 90-100 minutes. If you wake with no dream memory, it doesn’t mean you haven’t dreamed. You may not be in a REM cycle, or you may tend to transition quickly into full consciousness.
Can you learn to recall your dreams? Nearly everyone can, with a few tips. It can take a few weeks to flow, but if you’re consistent, a basic method works for most people.
The key is to start a dream journal. Because of strong connections between the brain and the physical act of writing, journaling makes dream recall easier.
The 6-Step Method
1. Choose your tools. Place a pen and journal on your nightstand. Some enthusiasts keep a diary in the usual fashion (filling a journal from the front), and record their dreams on the back pages, writing toward the front. Unlined pages allow quick sketches, too.
2. Sneak up on your subconscious. For a few weeks, set your alarm 10 minutes early. And go to bed a little earlier to increase your chances of waking without the alarm.
3. Hold still in the stillness. Just as soon as you become aware you’re waking up (or right after silencing the alarm), try not to move around for a few moments as you encounter the first image or impression in your mind. Don’t worry whether it’s a thought or a dream—just grab your journal and write it down. Draw a blank? No problem. Try again tomorrow—you’re not going to run out of dreams.
4. No judgments. Not of what you do or don’t recall—or even of your handwriting. This is listening to your subconscious, not your penmanship teacher. Scrawl away.
5. Small is good. No fragment is wasted. At first, you may feel frustrated if all you can dredge up is “green sweater.” That’s fine! Just write it down. Through that action you’re building an “open-door” habit that your mind will respond to.
6. Keep at it. Sooner than you think, that sweater will unravel into a paragraph, even a full-tilt two-pager.
Comfortable sleep makes all the above easier, so a dreamy natural mattress might help too.
But What Does It Mean?
Whatever you decide it does. There is no perfect way to interpret your dreams. There are theories about archetypes, and books expounding on “this means that”—but there’s no proof one interpretation is better than another. They’re all just starting points for an interesting conversation with yourself.
What’s valuable about dreams is that the action, people, places and symbols within them can offer you clues and insights into what your deep mind is working on. They might reflect joys and longings, or stresses or conflicts you are working through.
A trail of thought a dream inspires can be productive. Sometimes just ruminating about a dream will lead to an empowering insight you could never have reached with logical thinking. Design, scientific, artistic or business breakthroughs, and personal inspirations are often experienced by tuned-in dreamers.
The Practical Dreamer
Need a starting place? Here’s a one-size-fits-most approach. See what it serves up for you.
Your assumption is, I am every element in my dream. What part of me is _______? As you look back at what you’ve written, ask yourself: What part of me is the bird? What part of me is the house? What part of me is that angry person? What part of me is flying? What part of me is the child? What part of me is the surf? And so on.
Does it make sense? Doesn’t have to. Just see where it goes. If you benefit, invent a better mousetrap or simply enjoy it, your dreamwork is a success.
A Note About Nightmares
Some dreams can be disturbing. If you have PTSD, serious mental illness or pain, or take strong medications, dreams can be frightening at times. If that’s your situation, you might consult a therapist before delving into your dreams—or make dream exploration a part of that healing process. The ideal state of mind for dreamwork is comfortable curiosity.