The overall subject of our dreams is, ultimately, the inner process of individuation. Most dreams, in one way or another, are portrayals of our individual journeys toward wholeness. They show us the stages along the way—the adventures, obstacles, conflicts, and reconciliations that lead finally to a sense of the self. –Robert Johnson
Imagine walking into a dark theater. Hundreds of empty seats await an audience to sit in before a shadowy stage. The director shouts, “Lights, cameras, action!” and you are mesmerized as the actors take their places and the storyline begins to unfold. As you watch, you feel yourself both watching the movie and being in the movie. The plot twists and turns as you connect with the actors and every dream character is playing a unique role. Feelings of excitement, judgment, bias, disdain, fear, hatred, empathy, love and compassion arise. The film captivates your every sense and the images feel alive in your body. As the movie ends and the credits roll you realize that this wasn’t just any movie, it is a story about your life.
And, so it is. The writings I will share with you are based on the power of your nighttime dreams and how they can support soul-centered living in the 21st Century. You are the screen writer, director, producer, casting agent, choreographer, landscape artist and every character starring in your nightly dreams. You are also the observer who witnesses a comedy, tragedy, romance, horror film called “This Is My Life.” All of these creative gestures and more emerge from your unconscious an average of four to five times per night. Every film, crafted by you, reveals your unresolved issues, desires, hope, fears, strengths, doubts, grief, resentments, beliefs, and connections to the deepest realms of your soul. And it doesn’t stop there; dreams are not always purely personal and can encompass the “anima mundi,” the Greek term for “world soul.”
Dreams are the language of our individual and collective soul. The word “soul” stems from the Greek term “psyche.” Carl Jung (1963) declared: “Without the psyche there would be neither knowledge nor insight.” During dream time, while the ego is asleep, psyche comes to life and reveals information unattainable during waking life.
As a prolific dreamer, I became interested in connecting and understanding my dreams when I was eight years old. By age sixteen, I was dreaming about events which inevitably manifested the following day. My mother kept urging, “Write down your dreams, Laura, they are trying to tell you something important,” and thus began my personal and spiritual journey with dreams. Now, more than 30 years later, I have book cases and boxes filled with dream journals. They are treasure troves of thoughts, feelings and wisdom about my family, physical health, past relationships, finances, life’s purpose, shadow aspects, fears, insecurities, self-sabotaging behaviors, desires, strengths and spiritual gifts. Dreams are the purest form of information. Since they are not censored by our conscious thoughts, feelings and perceptions, they possess the capacity to provide more support and insight than therapy, and they are free!
You dream every night whether you remember your dreams or not. The more you seek to understand them, the more likely you will recall them. The first thing to keep in mind is that your dreams are meant to help you not frighten or confuse you. I cannot tell you how many people have secretly shared that they do not listen to their dreams, or remember their dreams because they are afraid of them, or they will have to make some significant changes. Growth can be messy and change is inevitable if you wish to grow. You always have the choice to delve inward and move forward, and you have control over when you choose to do so.
Secondly, all dreams are meaningful despite how ridiculous they may seem, even “snippets” contain invaluable information. Dreams may seem silly but only to the limitations of your waking mind. Even working with one dream image will help you increase your self-awareness and can lead to significant breakthroughs. Dreams create a link between your daily awareness and the unconscious realm and they are highly personal to you, the dreamer. Ultimately, you recognize what your dreams are truly trying to convey. You do not need to spend a lot of time and effort in order to understand your dreams, but the intention to befriend your dreams and the commitment to working with them is necessary.
Beginning with the basics of dream recall, below are seven steps, which if you follow, will lead to remembering your dreams:
Dream Recall in Seven Steps
- Set your intention to remember your dreams before falling asleep. Before falling asleep, repeat 3 times: “Tonight I’m going to remember my dreams.” Tell your dream self that you are willing to remember your dreams, even if it’s only a small “snippet.” Like anything else in life, what we place our attention on expands and dream recall is no different. Dreams may seem silly but only to your waking mind. Often people who cannot remember their dreams are resistant for various reasons. This is understandable considering how confusing and frightening they might seem. Again intention and action are key; it is impossible to trick psyche, you are either committed to remembering your dreams or you are not.
- Keep a dream journal near your bed (or a tape recorder). The more you record your dreams, the more dream recall you will experience. Writing the dream down anchors it and demonstrates your commitment enabling you to progress from the mental level of intention to the physical level of action. The other important reason for recording your dreams is that you will have clearer recall upon awakening. If you wait to write them down, you risk losing the clarity of the dream including the feelings you experienced while having the dream, and your feelings are essential. Dreams are elusive and will disappear within seconds.
- Pose a question before falling asleep. It may pertain to any area of your life in which you would like some guidance. Allow any issues you are working on, or answers you are seeking, to come into your awareness as you fall asleep. Ask one question about a situation you are dealing with and have trust that your dreams will give you the answer(s). The issue isn’t to try and control the outcome of your dreams, so only ask open-ended questions.
- Record your dreams as soon as possible, even if it’s during the night. Try not to turn on any bright lights or anything that makes noise. Turning on an overhead light may take you out of a state of dream awareness and cause you to lose the dream completely. Using a light-pen works wonders. Always record the dream using the first person narrative “I” and in the present tense. The key is to keep yourself in the dream so you can recall as much as possible. You want to feel the dream as though it is alive, a living embodied experience that lives inside of you. Record even the smallest bits and pieces of your dream, they could very well be the catalysts for remembering the rest of the dream later in the day. Even writing down a snippet of your dream is helpful and often triggers the ability to recall the rest of the dream.
- Carpe noctem! If you awake during the night, seize the opportunity by focusing on what you want, e.g., guidance about a specific issue, desire or interest. Instead of worrying about your finances, health or “to do” list at 3a.m., choose what you center your energy on. Think about something in your life you would like to enhance, it could entail your work, health, or family. What you shine your light of attention on will often manifest as a dream when you fall back to sleep. I practice this regularly and have received dreams flowing with guidance about sensitive relationship issues, ideas for juicing up my creative projects, and even specific foods to add to my diet for increasing energy.
- Focus on dream symbols and feelings while recording your dream. Recall the feelings you had during the dream and upon awakening, but be careful not to judge your dream. Remember that the majority of dreams are metaphoric, not literal. People tend to think the worst about their dreams, which blocks their ability to understand them. Again, dreams are given to us to help us become more aware.
- Make a commitment to remember your dreams and develop your own “dream language.” As you do so, your dreams will become easier to remember and understand. Dreams are recalled within seconds upon waking so you may have only 15-20 seconds to “upload” a dream into your long-term memory banks. Your dream journal will become a valuable tool as you proceed on your soul’s adventure.
In the next article, I will delve into “common dream themes.” Dream research shows there are several types of dream themes that people experience at one time or another. You will discover how these recurring dreams can lead to personal growth and transformation.
Sleep deeply and dream big!
Copyright 2020 Laura V. Grace. All Rights Reserved.
Laura V Grace, PhD, is a spiritual activist, Jungian counselor and author. A member of Spiritual Director’s International, her background is in world religions, East-West spirituality, Jungian dream analysis, and integrative studies. She has attended The New Seminary and One Spirit Learning Alliance in New York and received her PhD at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Laura’s counseling practice is grounded in depth psychology and somatic studies. She specializes in relationship issues (couples and individuals), women’s issues, spirituality, anxiety, stress and depression.
Active in the International Association for the Study of Dreams, Laura has taught more than two hundred courses on the transforming power of night-time dreams. Her unique process “Dream Inquiry” helps dreamers interpret and use their dreams as a powerful tool. Her newest book entitled Dreams: Soul-Centered Living in the 21st Century, A depth psychological and somatic approach to transformation, published by Aeon Books is available November, 2020 through Amazon.