So last night I was favored with what seemed at the time to be a copious flood of really vivid dream imagery. Mostly, I was engaged in whatever these rich dreamscapes were showing me, but on some level, a part of me was able to kind of step back and observe that, “Wow, whole lotta dreaming goin’ on tonight!!” I generally tend to really like such occurrences: dreams are fascinating, and often thought-provoking later on in the waking world, and even just plain fun to contemplate.
Unfortunately, this also turned out to be one of those nights that ended with me awakening from the oneiric thrill-ride, only to find that pretty much every last vestige of my nighttime adventures had winked out of existence the moment I awoke. Nothing of my plethora of dream imagery was left — it was like someone had hit a delete button in my head. I generally tend to really dislike such occurrences: dreams, like I said, can provoke thought, and can offer some very real, deep insight into ourselves, in terms of both our ongoing, fundamental natures, and in terms of what’s been happening with us lately. To put it another way, what’s in our heads in sleep can illuminate where our heads are at in wakefulness.
So I awoke and decided to fill my dream-empty head with some ideas on how to better retain those dreams. I hit the internet and my various dream-related books here, and one piece of advice seems to be overwhelmingly unanimous among dream-scholars, when it comes to counsel on remembering and learning from our dreams: “Keep a dream-journal!”
What form such a journal might take, and how you make use of it, are things for you to decide. There are a few options to consider…
A very crucial election comes in deciding on a form for your dream-journal. You can go the old-fashioned route, and write out your dream-notes by hand, using any variant of the classic “stylus and papyrus” set-up that humanity has employed for centuries (that would be any writing utensil and any surface that will take ink or graphite or crayon, or whatever else you want to use to make a freehand hard-copy record of your dreams). You can use a computer to type out your thoughts (or a typewriter, if that’s your semi-archaic bag…). You can use a voice recorder of some kind (or even a video camera if you feel so inclined). Each method has its advantages and disadvantages.
Writing things out by hand seems to have the effect of really connecting your dream-world with the physical world, as it requires the most muscle-work of the various methods, and is more primal than using more modern technology. It also asks you to keep less equipment on hand — a simple small notebook and pen can do the trick, and there’s no need for some sizable chassis of gear to lug about, and no cords and plugs need to be maneuvered into play. Then again, if you’re trying to record some dream-impressions fresh out of a REM interval in the middle of the night and then go back to sleep (which is again, the overwhelming recommendation by virtually any dream expert you can find), you run the risk of waking yourself up too much to drop right back into slumber: writing by hand means you’ll need to fumble around to turn on a lamp, it means light stabbing into your serene, sleep-filled eyes, and if you write more than a few snatches of prose, the muscle-work that is itself so desirable might also serve to awaken you too much for you to be able to then just doze right back off again when you’re done.
The laptop is a good option available to hordes of people, as it can sit bedside, and it provides its own light, and it asks less muscle engagement than writing by hand. If you’re a horrible typist, though, it may be more frustrating than helpful, and the weight of a laptop might also pop you up out of the sleep-zone more fully than you’d like.
And then there’s the voice recorder:
The voice recorder neatly sidesteps most of the above-listed pitfalls of writing and typing (no significant light needed in order to use it, no muscle exertion called for that might wake you up too fully), but it also arguably leaves you too deep in sleep-mode to always be of use: it’s possible to mumble what seem like crystal clear, incredibly lucid and meaningful observations into a voice recorder in the wee hours of the black morning, only to awaken after sunrise and find that you actually captured nothing but babble and gibberish. On the plus side, the voice recorder is the fastest means of recording out of the options that I’m covering, and it also offers you the chance to learn from your tone of voice, and your delivery — things the writing and typing methods can’t provide. If you use a voice-activated recorder, you may even be able to snare any talking that you might do in your sleep. And no high-tech, super-pricey machine is necessary here — I’m talking about a simple hand-held device like what FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper used for dictating notes to the mysterious, unseen “Diane” in the show Twin Peaks (see the picture above…).
And that’s the how of recording — how you can go about creating and maintaining a dream-journal — but then there’s the when and the what…
In terms of when, there are two major options: you wake up from a dream and immediately record some impressions, even if it’s the middle of the night…or you wait until morning to try to capture everything (waiting until even later in the day is technically another option, but you’ll almost surely lose too much of your dreams by then for the attempts to be worth much to you — our dreams fade fast!). The experts seem to agree that recording as you go — that is, capturing some thoughts immediately following a dream, no matter what time it is — is the way to proceed. As mentioned, you do then run the risk of not being able to get back to sleep right away, but your impressions will never be more fresh and more complete than they are the moment you exit the dream-state — any delay can result in exponentially increasing loss of recall. If you simply can’t bring yourself to do this, though, then the next best option is to wake up, stay in the same position you find yourself in upon awakening for a few minutes as you try to keep hold of as much of your dream-imagery and dream-experiences as you can, and then hit your journal hard and fast, spewing forth every detail you can until you run dry. That’s the when of dream-journaling…
And then there’s the what — what do you record? What’s worth capturing? This one is simple: anything and everything! When you journal about your dreams, regardless of which medium you use (hand-writing, typing, voice recording) and regardless of when you do it, you should let yourself be unfettered by standard rules of good and proper writing that hold sway in the waking world, and you don’t need to worry about whether something is “important enough” or “meaningful enough.” Just record all of it that you retain, and worry later on during the review process if items have significance. You don’t need to be organized when you record, you don’t need to use proper spelling and grammar and punctuation, and you don’t need to say things in ways that are smart or poetic or pretty — just get it down. All of it.
And finally, there is that review process I just mentioned. It’s vital to go back and review the things you’ve recorded in your journal. You can do this every day, every evening, once a week, whatever works best for you…but if you just record and then never look at your dream-impressions again, you won’t get all that much out of the exercise. The review process will let you take note of patterns that emerge in your dreams over time, themes, recurrent images… It may also help to discuss your dreams with someone supportive about the whole field — positive dialogue about past dreams is another way to help with your future recall of dreams yet to come. Your conversations may also yield up insights you may not have had by yourself, whether they come from you or from the person with whom you’re speaking.
Another thing the experts agree on is that once you begin these endeavors, you’ll find yourself recalling more and more of your dreams, and your dreams may seem to grow more vivid and more complex. You may even begin to experience lucid dreaming: the phenomenon in which you know in a dream that you’re asleep and dreaming. Many lucid dreamers are then even able to influence and control what transpires in their dreams…
So if dreaming interests you, the dream-journal may be an invaluable tool in enriching your experiences in this realm. The dream-journal may help you to not just dream a little dream…it may enable you to dream lots of dreams, and they may not be so little!