One of the dreamers I work with recently said, “I haven’t been dreaming lately.” Because so many people are struggling with what’s commonly referred to as “sleep disorders” these days, I asked him how he was sleeping, for if we don’t sleep we cannot remember our dreams.
“I have the sense that I’ve been dreaming,” he continued, after reporting that he’d be sleeping well enough, “but I’m just not remembering any dreams. Is it because I am so busy at work that I’m not making enough time for them?” he asked. “Or is it because there’s something in my dreams that I don’t really want to know?” He looked at me through the corner of his narrowing eyes. “Is it that I don’t need to remember my dreams because they are working directly? Or is it because I am too eagerly using my dreams for my own purposes?” He paused and let out a sigh. “Am I trying too hard? Or not hard enough?”
“Yes,” I finally managed to answer. “All of the above.”
One of biggest requirements for working with dreams is faith. Not religious faith, mind you, but psychological faith—that psyche (which is the Greek word for “soul”) is not out to get you—and that the function of dreams is actually purposive. We want to learn to take it on faith that there is very precise wisdom in our dreams. And that the dreamtime only ever places us next to the river of dreams in the exact spot—when and where— we are able to cross, though it may not always “feel” this way to the dreamer.
When we are too busy with our waking world lives, with our jobs, our “to do” lists, and the demands of our families, we forget our dreams. But soul-making, like all imaginative activities, requires tending. In other words, we need to practice working with our dreams.
The most important time for working with dreams is the time between sleeping and waking up, in what’s known as “liminal” space. The word liminal means “threshold” and it’s where we get the word “subliminal,” which means “below the threshold.” So we want to practice staying in this threshold space as a way of inviting the images of dreams to percolate up from the dreaming underworld. Five or so minutes a morning is generally all it takes.
And yes, there is frequently something in our dreams that from ego’s perspective we don’t want to know. But this is where that psychological faith comes in quite handy, for invariably soul has a bigger story waiting to unfold through us into the world. And it’s generally a much bigger story that we’re a part of than just our narrow egos have in mind. Dreams then are the character and nature of our souls trying to break through the confines of our waking world egos in order that we might remember and display the stories that are written inside each and every one of us.
When dreams resist our efforts to remember them it is perhaps because we are still too much in service of the day world, strip-mining the psyche as it were, and using the contents of our dreams to merely strengthen our egos, or as a way of shoring up what we think we know. So we want to cultivate the faith necessary to accept the idea that psyche is not out to get us. And learn to trust that the medicine in the dreamtime is working directly, functioning as a guardian of sleep. What follows are some tried-and-true practices for remembering dreams:
- Name your willingness and desire to participate in and remember the images in your dreams as you prepare yourself for bed each night.
- Stay in liminal space—that space between dreaming and waking—if at all possible for five minutes each morning. This is the most important time for doing dream work, for it’s when we are awakened to the story written inside.
- Keep your eyes closed.
- Try to stay in the same body position you awoke in.
- Patiently cast your line and fish with receptive expectation.
- Don’t give up. It’s a practice, and like all practices, you will eventually be rewarded with results. So it’s like building a muscle or like learning an instrument. It’s all about showing up for practice.
- Give your dream a title. Start from what you can remember. (This is especially helpful if you get up to use the washroom in the middle of the night!)
- Refrain from judging your dreams by their contents. Don’t discard an image because it seems like a nothing image. No image is too small to work with. They all have the same weight as far as psyche is concerned.
- Keep a journal—write or draw your dreams in it—even if they are only felt-‐senses, or moods upon waking. And if you decide to draw them—restrain yourself from judging the results of your efforts.
- Finally, resist the temptation to strip-mine the psyche for ego’s purposes alone. Remember, it’s all about showing up, about letting those on the other side—the weavers of dreams—know that you’re awake and listening, even while you’re sleeping. Good luck and let me know how it goes.