Everybody dreams, but most people remember very few of the dreams they’re having every night. If we want to actively include our dream experiences in our waking lives, we have to make an effort, or at least a gesture, toward inviting dreams to become more conscious. This invitation should be both practical and playful (see below), but above all, it should be respectful. We want to honor the dreaming process, not control it.
Honoring the dreaming process means that once we have expressed a willingness to make room in our busy lives for dreams, we must accept what they give us in response to our invitation. If we get lots of teaching dreams, or healing dreams, or transcendental dreams, then we should respond to these dreams by letting them open, deepen and enrich our lives and the lives of those around us.
However, even after inviting dreams wholeheartedly, we may get confusing, fragmentary, unpleasant dreams, or nightmares. We can honor those dreams as well. When our dreams seem to offer us nothing useful or meaningful, we can abide with them nonetheless, trying to apply gentleness and humor to their uncomfortable communications. As Robert Bosnak has suggested, we can “listen to the dream with a willingness to bear the brunt of its utter incomprehensibility.” Such dreams have teaching, healing, and transcendence in them, too—but we can’t count on getting proof of that every time! Ideally, we just let them come, give them our attention, and let them go.
Sometimes, our invitation to dreams may seem to have been rejected. We do everything we can, but still don’t remember our dreams at all, or perhaps have only vague impressions. Yet even this is a response to be honored. There are periods in our lives when dreams need to do their work without engaging our conscious minds in the process. In most cases, if our interest in dreams continues, and we wait long enough, they will emerge into our awareness again and become memorable. Although we can extend invitations and make efforts, we aren’t in charge of how dreams come and go any more than we are in charge of when good fortune or tragedy comes and goes in our lives.
Some tips for inviting dreams (and to help you remember them):
- Prepare for sleep and dreams by “settling down,” letting go of daytime distractions before going to bed. Possibilities: Take a bath or shower (or simply wash your face and hands mindfully). Practice meditation or prayer. Take a short, easy walk—looking and listening. Light a candle. Take deep breaths. Look at the sky. Listen to music you associate with resting. Turn out lights as dusk is coming on, and let the room darken around you. Imagine that as you cross the threshold into your sleeping space, you are entering a world where dream experience takes precedence over waking experience.
- Keep a “dream amulet” of some kind beside your bed. This is generally an object (or a picture of an object) that guards the threshold between waking and sleeping. For many, the dream amulet represents an animal—either actual or mythical. Acknowledge this amulet by touching it or just looking at it before sleep.
- Remind yourself before sleep that you would like to remember your dreams.
- If you wake during the night, try to remember at least a glimpse of what you were dreaming. If possible, write down at least a word or two.
- When you wake up in the morning, try to arrange your schedule so that you can linger in bed for a little while (at least once or twice a week), letting your sleepiness fade and remembering impressions from your dreams.
- Make a simple rule that every day, no matter what, you will write something down about your dreams of the night before. This may be a full account of a story-like dream, or a list of key experiences from the dream, or just a single word or phrase: an image, color, sound, or sense impression. If you can remember absolutely nothing from your dreams, then write one word to describe how you felt when you first woke up. If you prefer, you can “describe” the dream in some creative medium other than words. (This process, if carried on faithfully each day for at least a couple of weeks, “primes the pump” for your dreams, and will almost invariably lead to remembering more.)