Exploring your dreams

Start with some techniques to help you remember them

“I never remember my dreams,” people often tell me when they begin therapy, and yet…the fragments they do remember are often intriguing, enough to inspire a longing to remember more. That’s not surprising, since dreams often depict our particular life struggle or journey in puzzling but vivid imagery. 

If you’d like to be able to recall more of your mind’s nocturnal creations, here is some helpful advice from Montague Ullman’s Working with Dreams: 

“The best way to start remembering your dreams is to tell yourself you are going to….So the thing to do is to instruct yourself to remember just as you are about to drift off to sleep.

“Some people can train themselves to wake up during dreaming periods. Most of us, however, have to start our dream recall efforts when we awaken in the morning. There is a three-part strategy that can be useful.

“First, immediately upon awakening (either during the night or in the morning) train yourself to turn inward to allow any residual dream feelings or images to rise to the surface. To do this, lie quietly, minimize movement, and avoid distraction. Make a conscious and deliberate effort to avoid any act or gesture that would dispel the afterglow of the dream experience. Don’t turn on the light, go to the bathroom, or even change positions in bed. It does not matter whether what comes to you is from the beginning or the end of the dream. The main thing is to prevent anything from interfering with the state of quiet necessary for the dream’s resurgence….If you can stay with the dream immediately upon awakening, your recall will be spontaneous and detailed. But if you lose it and try to recapture it you will have to pick it out scrap by scrap.

“Second, particularly if you awaken during the night, write down whatever comes to you — an image, a fragment, or an entire dream. That means have a pencil and paper at your bedside. Some people find it easier to use a tape recorder….

“Finally, while you are trying to outwit your dream demolition machinery, approach the task optimistically, even though you sense at the moment of awakening that the dream has already vanished. Perhaps it has, but all or part of it may still be salvageable. Don’t focus on the fact that you have apparently drawn a blank. Instead, begin to see if by remaining quiet, you can make any residue, any image, any fragment or feeling find its way back into your consciousness. If so, you may be able to use it as a lever to pry some additional fragments loose. An entire dream can be recaptured this way.”

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