From Dreamworking: How to Listen to the Inner Guidance of Your Dreams
Have you ever met someone who claims to never remember any dreams? I hear this claim surprisingly often. Are you currently having trouble with dream recall? People can go through periods of “oneiric constipation”— these people normally have good dream recall but periodically find themselves in a “dry spell” for some reason and would like to get things moving again. What can be done in these cases? Strategies for remembering dreams are really just variations on a theme of setting intention. It is a universal law that whatever we focus our attention on we get more of, including dream recall. Perhaps the simplest form of setting intention for dream recall is simply to focus the mind before sleep and tell ourselves that we would like to remember a dream in the morning. Having your dream journal and a pencil close at hand is an act of intention setting. If these basic steps don’t work, consider one of the following techniques, all of which I have found to be helpful:
- Read through some old dreams. Reading through your dream journal (if you have kept one at any point in your life) is a good practice for many reasons. It reminds you that you are in an ongoing relationship with your unconscious self, and gives you a sense of the history and progress of that relationship.It also prompts your dreammaker to step up the dialogue by signaling that you are ready for the next chapter in the saga.
- Revisit a specific dream. If an old dream has stayed with you, its full message has probably not been fully understood and received. How far back can you go? As far as you want, even back to childhood (often these important early dreams are still very relevant). Use your visual imagination to re-enter the remembered dreamscape while awake and run through the whole dream in your mind. This is a powerful stimulus to the dream recall centers of the brain; it primes the whole system to start working again.
- Read a good book about dreams before bed. This will stir the dream imagination and get things moving surprisingly often.
- Incubate a dream. Dream incubation is a particular kind of intention setting that involves asking for a dream that will shed light on a particular concern or question. The technique essentially involves forming a question in one’s mind before sleep and then considering the next morning’s dream in relation to that question. Sometimes the results seem remarkably in synch with the question, other times not. Take a look at the Recommended Resources section at the back of the book for more information on this technique.
Here is an example of a dream that came in response to an incubated question. Myrna is a 35-year-old woman, a breast cancer survivor working hard to keep the disease in check. She continues to use a variety of therapies both orthodox and alternative to stay in remission, and has been very successful in doing so, outliving her original prognosis by several years. Her incubation question was, “What can I do to support my ongoing healing?” That night Myrna had the following dream that she called Riding in the Archbishop’s Car:
I get the into Archbishop’s car along with the Archbishop, another woman, and a driver. I sit in the passenger seat. Another woman is sitting behind me. I try to adjust my seat so I make sure there is enough room for the woman behind me. As I’m doing this somehow the back of the seat gets loose and I’m afraid it will tip over. The driver tells me how to fix it, and I do fix it. The woman behind me tells me not to worry—she has enough room. We were going to a church feast in another town, a kind of pilgrimage. (End of dream.)
I asked Myrna for her associations regarding this Archbishop.
I’ve known of him since I was a child. He was almost a magical figure to me. We used to go caroling to his place with a small children’s choir. To me he always looked like Father Christmas. He is a very peace-inspiring person. He is pretty old, in his mid-eighties, and he has been very sick for a long time. When I saw him two months ago on my last visit home, I was chatting with his driver, and the driver told me that his doctors don’t know what to do for him anymore—only God is keeping him alive. I think he is a symbol for somebody who can stay alive for a long time with a pretty severe illness.
Next I asked her what it felt like to be in the car with him. She answered, “It feels healing and peaceful.” As we discussed this dream, we agreed that Myrna’s dreammaker had responded to the incubated question with two specific suggestions— first: stay close to your spiritual center and those people and places that inspire you spiritually, because this will keep you alive for much longer than the doctors can. And second: watch out for your tendency to over-accommodate other people, because this unhinges you and makes you vulnerable to tipping over.
- Ask for the next installment of an old dream. Do you have any dreams from months or years ago that still seem mysterious or incomplete? There is a useful variant of dream incubation that can be used to request the “next installment” of the story. Before sleep, revisit the previous dream by running through it in your imagination, then ask your dreammaker to send another dream that will have more to say on the same topic.
Remembering the dream on waking
What happens in those all-important few moments just as we are waking up? What can be done to support our dream recall during this period? What mental drill works best for grabbing hold of a dream? In my experience this is a very individual matter—what works for one person may not work for another. Here’s the drill that works for me:
- As soon as I am aware that I have had a dream, I say to myself (usually not out loud) “Oh! I just had a dream!”
- Then I go back into the dream and run through it in my mind.
- Then I go back through it a second time. While doing this second run-through, I look around in the dreamscape for other events and details I might have missed the first time. Now I have it.
- If I sense that it is a really big dream and I want to make sure I really have a good hold on it, I may go back through it a third time.
- Now (not before I’m sure I have it in my memory) I let myself think about what it might be asking for (my go-to way of considering its message). Usually my ability to gain insight from the dream is very reduced at this early still-sleepy stage. Typically, I have little or no idea what the dream may be trying to tell me.
- Next, if possible, I tell the dream to my partner. In this sharing stage, the possible meaning of the dream often starts to come into focus, either because of some insight that she may offer, or just in the act of telling itself, which seems to fully pull the dream out of the shoreline state into full consciousness.
From Dreamworking: How to Listen to the Inner Guidance of Your Dreams by Christopher Sowton, ND. © 2017 by Christopher Sowton, ND. Used by permission from Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd., www.Llewellyn.com.