Read an Excerpt
REMEMBER, INTERPRET, AND LIVE YOUR DREAMS
By J. M. DeBord
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2013 J. M. DeBord
All rights reserved.
Remember Your Dreams
The first step in my dream work method is learning how to remember your dreams. Dreams can seem impossible to remember or not worth the effort, especially dark or painful ones, and this all-important initial step often seems the most difficult. But it's really not as hard as you might think. It just takes practice and a few good strategies. People also often think they "don't dream." I think it helps to know that, except in rare instances of brain damage, everyone dreams. Comatose people dream. Blind people dream. Babies in the womb dream. Even animals dream. If you think you don't dream, the truth is you simply don't remember your dreams. Don't worry. By the end of this chapter you will most certainly begin to. If you are someone who has no trouble remembering your dreams, you might want to skip ahead to the next section about keeping a dream journal (page 8). For the rest of you, read on.
In my experience, people's inability to remember dreams usually comes down to lack of time or desire. If you are too busy and distracted when you first wake up, your dreams will often slip away. But everyone who tries to remember his or her dreams eventually succeeds. Here are some suggestions for dream recall:
1. Talk to yourself the night before. Tell yourself before going to sleep that you will remember your dreams. Really tell yourself. Say it like you mean it. Say it like a prayer. Anything repeated to oneself three times with full attention is likely to be remembered, so before going to sleep say three times, "I will remember my dreams." If you have difficulty saying it with conviction, you might be internally blocked—you say you want to remember but really don't, or don't think you can. If that's the case, relax and let it come naturally. By reading this book you are planting a seed in your subconscious, and once you know the true value and benefit of your dreams, you will wholeheartedly want to remember them, and the conviction to say so and mean it will grow.
2. Write down your dreams. Make time to remember and write down your dreams as soon as you wake up. This will require an adjustment if you normally start your day at a run, but it's essential. When I'm in a busy environment, I retreat to the bathroom with my journal first thing in the morning.
3. Review at bedtime, cue your mind. If you remember dreams from the last time you slept, review them at bedtime, or browse through your journal. By reviewing your dreams you cue your mind for that night's dreams.
4. Don't move. Stay in, or return to, the same physical position you were in when you first woke up. This physical cue helps jog dream memories and aid recall. I know someone who remembers his dreams as soon as he goes to bed, because the memories are stimulated by returning to a sleeping position.
5. Meditate. A clear mind, calmly aware of itself and its surroundings, is a great helper for remembering dreams. Don't let the word scare you. Meditation is any activity that holds your attention in a relaxed way, so a peaceful walk counts as long as you relax and clear your mind.
6. Be patient. The memories of your dreams are never lost, just stored away. There might be good reason why you block out some dream memories: They are too difficult to accept! Groundwork might have to be laid before the messages can be received. It's fine to be a turtle instead of a hare when it comes to dream work.
For most people, dream memories disappear soon after waking up, though the window of opportunity stays open longer with practice. So get in the habit of asking yourself as soon as you wake up, "What did I dream?" Hold other thoughts at bay as you look inside and ask that question. It's like staring into a dark night and waiting for forms to take shape. In that black inkiness are your dream memories. One memory, just a flash of a dream, is enough to give shape to the rest. Relax. Breathe deep. Search your memory. If a fragment of a dream comes to mind, ask yourself if it fits into a larger picture. For instance:
I wake from a dream and remember only that I was with my brother at a costume party. To remember the rest, I ask why we were there, how we got there, what we wore. I then recall that we drove to the party after visiting our mom. By asking why we visited her, I remember that we picked up costumes she made for us.
Once the initial association is made, it leads further into the dream memories. I usually don't need more prompting to remember the rest of the dream, but if I do I continue the same process of questioning the details and paying close attention to anything that compares or contrasts with waking life.
Waking up opens the memory hole and soon the details slip away, though you might remember other bits and pieces of a dream later in the day. By remaining at the edge of sleep longer and asking questions, the dreams aren't allowed to escape as quickly.
If you do forget a dream, don't fret: Dreams repeat themselves, displaying the same scenario a thousand different ways if necessary. In my experience, the dreaming mind is eager to get to work whenever I am, but the motor might take a few cranks to get started. If at first you don't succeed, keep trying.
If you draw a blank when you first wake up, pay close attention to your feelings, which can give clues to what you dreamed. Allow your imagination to fill in gaps; your intuition and feelings know what happened in a dream even if it can't be recalled. Also, flashes of dream memory can be remembered any time during the day. A simple act like sitting down to type at your computer or getting your usual cup of coffee in the break room can trigger a new detail of your dream to surface.
Don't judge a dream while remembering it. This can be a terrible hindrance by the ego to avoid painful or uncomfortable dream content. If the ego (see page xvi of the introduction for a refresher on how I use this term) is one-sided, dreams will go the other direction just as far to illustrate what is out of balance. In return, the ego, avoiding a hard look at itself, can go to great lengths to preserve its illusions. Everything seen in a dream is part of yourself or connected closely. Accept it. Embrace it. It's all you taking shape and telling a story about your life. Listen and learn; don't judge.
If you have tried self-suggestion and the other tools described here to remember your dreams and are still drawing a blank, try the following strategies.
Napping. No alarm to wake up to, no work day to begin. Napping on a sofa or guest bed can stimulate dream recall, as can any change of sleeping environment.
Going to bed at your regular time but waking fifteen minutes early to an alarm is another option. I don't like it because waking to an alarm tends to scatter my dream memories, but early sleep research discovered that people woken while having a dream are very likely to remember it.
Sleeping longer than normal is also known to help with dream recall. It gives the mind and body needed rest and opportunities to dream. People who go for long periods without sleep tend to have really bizarre dreams, which I attribute to rebellion in the unconscious side of the mind. Polyphasic sleep, sleeping multiple times in a twenty-four hour period, can also affect dreams. One particularly extreme form of polyphasic sleep known as the Uberman sleep schedule breaks sleep into six twenty-minute naps, one every four hours. This can produce terrifying dreams, according to some people who have tried it. You don't want to make an adversary of your unconscious mind; it needs complete sleep cycles of around ninety minutes to run processes for maintenance of mind and body, without which a person breaks down mentally and physically. Plus, with each consecutive dream cycle, dreams become longer and more meaningful. Half-hour naps don't cut it.
Some drugs inhibit dream memory. In my experience, drugs that aid sleep also affect dreams by making them strange and meaningless, or blocking memory. The small print is supposed to indicate if a drug affects sleep or dreaming. If you are taking a sleep aid, read the insert and ask your doctor about other methods of aiding sleep.
Going to bed intoxicated also affects dreaming, as does cannabis. Some war veterans use medical cannabis to escape the nightmares of being back in combat; like alcohol, it suppresses dream recall and interferes with the sleep cycle.
In recovery groups it is well known that soon after cleaning up from a drug or alcohol problem, a person will dream intensely. Dream activity usually picks up after a few days of sobriety, or after a few days of rest from a busy job. It gets intense because there is a backlog of dream content, but it's better to slog through and let the dreams run their course than use a drug or some other means to avoid them. I've also known people who have quit using tobacco or taking prescription drugs and began remembering unusually powerful dreams.
If all else fails, take a long vacation and leave the alarm clock at home. Extra sleep is the best stimulator I know of for remembering dreams.
If you wake up in the middle of the night and remember a dream, you only need to write down the major symbolism to jog your memory and fully remember it the next time you wake up.
Keep a Dream Journal
A dream journal will be your best friend when it comes to remembering dreams and should always be at your bedside when you sleep. Not only does it provide an invaluable record, but the act of writing is a physical cue that can aid dream recall by "getting in the flow." I use the same notebooks for making lists, jotting notes, and keeping track of dreams, but in my early years of dream work I used to have journals dedicated to just dreams. Your dreaming mind knows paper and pen are ready nearby as you sleep and will take the opportunity to give you something important to write down. Maybe not the first or second night, but the dreams will come. You only need one really "good" dream to get the ball rolling. In the meantime, journal as much as you can. Even fragments, impressions, and feelings are important. Use a voice recorder if pen and paper aren't handy, or a computer if that works best for you. I find that there's something about writing with pen and paper that helps me get in the flow, but it isn't really all that important what you record with. The important thing is to record.
Let me offer a few key pointers about writing down your dreams. Begin by noting the date. Note the characters from your dreams, the settings, the symbols, the time or time period, the actions that occur, your reactions, and anything that feels important or "clicks" in your head. Don't edit or censor yourself. Details that appear trivial or nonsensical at first can be important while interpreting later, so write it all while it's still fresh in your mind, including your thoughts and feelings about the dream.
1. Write your dream descriptions in the present tense. This is an important one. It helps to think of a dream as an active memory, a present situation described in the present tense. This makes it feel more immediate. So instead of "I drove to the store and bought some milk, and saw an old friend there," write, "I drive to the store and buy some milk, and see an old friend there." Present tense is a mental cue, a mind hack.
2. Now add a title to your dream. A title solidifies a dream in memory and provides a quick way of remembering it later. Titles also help track trends such as recurring scenarios, settings, and characters. If the point of the dream isn't clear at first, add the title once it does become clear. I recommend making up simple titles—a noun or two to describe the setting or characters and a verb to describe the action. Some dreams we'll look at later in this chapter have titles like "Plant a Tree with My Husband," "Walking the Platform," and "Swimming with Dolphins." Other titles like "The Snowstorm" and "Heavy Feet" summarize the dreams without using both a noun and a verb. You'll start to get a feel for this relatively quickly.
After accumulating several dreams in your journal, you will probably begin to notice patterns. Dreams run in cycles averaging roughly three months—this is the norm, not the rule. In my experience, when I'm feeling stuck in my life, my dreams will cycle around and keep coming back to the same point. When I'm making progress in my life, my dreams will spiral closer to the center. The door that was closed is open the next time it appears in a dream. The road that was blocked is clear. Try not to put too much pressure on your dream life, though. Some things take time and can't be hurried.
One circular dream pattern of mine involved flying to Paris. Something prevented me from reaching my destination, and my dreams told the story as a missing passport, a missed connection, a taxi that arrived late, or no money in my wallet to buy a ticket. Then my dreams took flight but didn't land. The cycle continued for several years until I understood what Paris meant to me and how to reach it in waking life. I'm working toward it by writing this book—Paris is, after all, a literary and intellectual center. It's also the city of romantic love, and I have that partner in my life now. No more dreams of trying to reach Par(ad)is(e).
That's about it for the basics of remembering dreams. Next we'll look at the basic elements found in most dreams. This information will help you identify the stories your dreams are telling. If you learn to think about your dreams as stories told through symbolism, sort of like parables, it helps you not only remember them but also interpret them, which we'll get to in Step 2.
Make your dream journal as detailed as you can. There is no such thing as "too much information" when writing down dreams.
Focus on the Three Key Elements: Symbolism, Settings, and Characters
I separate the three topics of symbolism, settings, and characters, but in fact they all belong under the umbrella of symbolism. I separate them because I think it helps you understand dream structure by learning to identify dream settings and characters as their own forms of symbolism.
Your education in understanding dreams begins with symbolism, because everything in dreams is symbolic, except on rare occasions when they speak literally. People are often relieved to find this out, because what compels them to seek my counsel is the fact that something very distressing is happening in their dreams: an evil shadow; a vision of murdering a spouse or harming a child. It's only natural that people would wonder if dreams like these mean that something is seriously wrong with them, and it can be a tremendous relief to discover that the disturbing dream is symbolic. The evil shadow symbolizes feelings about a threatening financial situation. Murdering a spouse symbolizes feelings of deep frustration with the person. Harming a child symbolizes feelings related to disciplining the dreamer's child.
When something happens in a dream that is outside the realm of possibility, like when you do something you wouldn't normally do, it's a clue to focus on symbolism. The next dream shows what I mean.
In my dream my four-year-old son is crying about something. Not acting totally obnoxious, just a little upset. I turn to him and spray him across the eyes with OC pepper spray. I see him clinch his little eyes shut and grimace; then I realize what happened and awake in terror. The dream stays on my mind all the time now. The fact that it was my hand that harmed him in the dream disturbs me so much I can't shake it. I can't figure out where the thought of spraying him came from; it is causing me a great deal of anguish.
This father would never spray his son with pepper spray in real life, so I immediately suspect that he does it in the dream knowing that the action is symbolic. My initial thought was that because his son is sprayed in the eyes by the pepper spray, maybe the dreamer might not be "seeing" something related to raising his child.
Next I focus on the pepper spray itself. The dream refers to a specific type of pepper spray—OC (oleoresin capsicum). The dreamer told me he had been sprayed with it while training for his job and said it's "like napalm on the face." He also said the use of it seemed "more punitive than anything else."
Now we were getting somewhere. The dream seemed related to the difference between discipline and punishment. The dreamer told me he plays the role of "bad cop" while his wife gets to be the "good cop" to their son, and he is tired of having to be the one "to bring the hammer down," to make his son comply after his wife tries and fails. The dream compels him to symbolically enact the meaning by doing something he would never "dream" of doing for real, as a way of dramatically expressing his feelings. The dreamer was relieved to find out his actions were entirely symbolic, not an expression of a hidden desire to harm his young son. A talk with his wife resolves the issue.
Excerpted from Dreams 1-2-3 by J. M. DeBord. Copyright © 2013 J. M. DeBord. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.