An Introduction to the Value of Dream Recall and Decoding
By Layne Dalfen
Hi dreamers and even those of you who think you are non-dreamers!
I have tremendous faith in the power of dream work, for I have seen its positive effects on my own life and the lives of others.
I have found over the years that there is no single, “right” approach to understanding dreams. Each different school of dream theory has had something new to teach me, some new opportunity for me to change and grow through dream work. I encourage my clients to try out many avenues, because this leads to greater flexibility in behavior, increased self-awareness, and, ultimately, enhanced fulfillment and life satisfaction and that is besides the speed at which you can propel your problem-solving skills!
How exactly can dreams help us achieve a better existence? One way is by creating scenarios that mirror the feelings and events we are experiencing in our current lives. When this happens, our dreams present solutions to our problems or reveal strengths we can draw on. For example, when you have a nightmare, it is your subconscious letting you know that you are more preoccupied with a given issue than your conscious mind is letting you believe. The nightmare may be scary, but it also shows you how to deal with your problem. Often the solution comes in the form of a picture or situation you have created in the dream. You can see things more clearly in your sleep.
In the introduction to Carl Jung's book Man And His Symbols, John Freeman relates the story of how Jung—who’d been asked to write a book on dreams for the general public rather than for scholars—had initially refused, only to change his mind in the aftermath of a dream. In the dream, Jung saw himself delivering a lecture in a crowded square. The enthusiastic response of the dream-crowd persuaded him to write his book. He claimed he consulted not only his conscious mind, but also his unconscious.
This story defines the essence of my never-ending enthusiasm for dream work. Like the Jungians, I believe that the ability to understand our dreams provides us with the opportunity to be completely in touch with our whole selves when making decisions. Interpreting our dreams is not only fun and interesting, it is important.
Our dreams are important because they show us how to live and respond more flexibly to the situations that come up. Dreams allow us to pinpoint what is missing in our response to a given situation, so we can learn new ways of behaving. Ever have one of those dreams where you are trying to speak and no sound is coming out? Maybe it's because you have something to say to someone and you aren't coming out with it. This is only one example of how our dreams shine a spotlight on those parts of ourselves that we aren’t using to their fullest extent. Sometimes dreams reveal aspects of ourselves we are not using at all!
In our dreams, we try out these new reactions to current or impending issues. The dream provides a safe place to practice, until we feel ready to take our new behaviors or emotions out into the conscious world. Like muscles that are being exercised for the first time in a gym, underinvested character traits must be developed. At first, each time you go to work out you are sore for days. You are putting unfamiliar muscles to work and it feels strange. After a time though, the movement comes easily and feels natural. The same thing happens with our behavior. We begin by practicing new behavior in dream stories. It's like that dream with no sound coming out of your mouth. It literally pushes you to speak out. Soon, you have a dream in which you are yelling! The dream offers you a place to rehearse. After a while, we bring the new behavior out of the dream scenes and exercise it in real life. Before long, it becomes comfortable. For instance in the example I just sited, if those around you have the impression you are a person who never expresses yourself, what a powerful position you can put yourself in by practicing some assertiveness! And with this new-found comfort, we gain flexibility and adaptability to the different situations we face. We become less predictable in our approach to solving life's problems. We increase our potential.
In dreaming we can access our deepest source of creativity. Paul McCartney's song “Yesterday,” Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem “Kubla Kahn” were all inspired by dreams. Friedrich August Kekule, a founder of organic chemistry, hit on the ring structure of benzene after a bizarre dream in which he saw a snake curled into a loop, eating its own tail. Jack Nicklaus, the professional golfer, said that the solution to a problem he was having with his swing came to him in a dream. When he applied the lesson from the dream to his game, he improved by ten strokes, overnight. And Elias Howe had almost given up on inventing a machine that could sew, until he dreamed he was captured by lance-carrying enemies. He noticed that one of the lances had a hole near its point. This dream image inspired him to rework the needle, and the sewing machine was born.
Interpreting your dreams not only helps you solve your immediate problems—whether creative, work-related, or personal—but can lead you to a richer, happier life. If you choose to look more deeply into a dream, you will learn that we gather material from our past, present and sometimes even the future to solve all kinds of issues.
In doing dream analysis you will discover that we tend to repeat the same self-defeating behaviors over and over. This probably comes as no surprise, but what most people don’t realize is dreams hold the key to escaping from the harmful patterns that hold us back. From our dreams we can obtain release to a freer, fuller existence.
Dream research and analysis is one of the few scientific areas in which each of us can become as knowledgeable as any professional. All you need to do is begin recording your dreams, learn several simple frameworks to help you decipher the meanings and, with a little commitment on your part, you can become adept at analyzing your own dreams. You will learn to recognize and use your own personalized set of dream symbols to solve your problems and reach your goals.
Remembering Your Dreams
Many people believe they cannot meet the first requirement of dream work—remembering their dreams. Some investigators, for example Freud, say that we forget our dreams because we don’t want to know what is in them. If true, this would be tough to overcome, and remembering our dreams would require professional assistance. However, this isn’t the only reason we forget our dreams. Our memory just doesn’t work as well when we are asleep. The events in our dreams leave a very feeble impression on our minds, but we can correct this problem by taking steps to capture the memory as soon as we wake up. Dreams are not as difficult to remember as many people think. Most of the methods for dream recall are simple and easy, and they start to work in just a few days.
For those of you who are not accustomed to remembering your dreams, let’s discuss the process step by step. The first and easiest suggestion is simply to tell yourself to remember a dream. As you drift off to sleep, say to yourself, "I am going to remember a dream."
It is also useful to spend a few minutes visualizing this process. Picture what it will be like to wake up the next morning with the dream images in your head. Imagine what it will look and feel like to reach for a pen and paper and start writing. Leave the pen and paper beside your bed because believe it or not, you will probably remember a dream within a few days.
If you wake with a dream or even a fragment of a dream, it is important to write it down right away. Don't get out of bed. You might forget it. If you can’t remember the whole dream, write down as much as you can. Don’t worry about writing in complete sentences. Just try to get as many images, characters, actions and feelings from the dream as possible. Many people find that as they start writing, more and more of the dream comes back. It won't be long before you are remembering all the details. And if you do, go ahead, write your dream down in detail.
When you’re done jotting down the notes on your dream, write down how you felt when you woke up. Were you happy, sad, scared, angry? Did you feel tired or rested? Did you have some thought in your mind, or some fragment of a song? When I first started recording my dreams, I didn't get out of bed until I grew accustomed to remembering. Now I only get up after I've started writing and feel confident I can sit up and continue. Some people write the dream while their eyes are still closed. Just make sure you have a large pad!
Sometimes, if I haven't put a pad beside the bed, I sleepily ask my husband Andy if I can tell him the dream as soon as I open my eyes. Once you say your dream aloud, often more detail comes to you. And once that happens, it is remembered. Plus, you have the option of later asking that person for details. (Although you shouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t remember.) Recently I learned that Vitamin B6 (100-250 mg) taken before bed increases dream recall and vividness.
Keep a flashlight on your night table in case you wake in the middle of the night. Though it is not feasible for me to use a tape recorder at home because Andy would kill me, I recently used one on a solo trip. This was one of the best experiences with dream recording I ever had. I kept a mini recorder on my night table, and when I woke up I pushed the record button with my eyes still closed. I got every part of the dream that way, and then I wrote it out later. This was ideal for capturing little details I might have missed by getting up.
I know this might sound outrageous to some of you, but if there is a problem you have on your mind, you can ask yourself or a higher Power to dream a solution. Here’s how it works: first you write out your problem, formulated as a question. In this note, you should ask for a dream with a solution in symbols you can understand. For example, if your problem is deciding whether or not to sell your home, your note might look like this:
Is this the right time to sell the house? Do I really feel right about selling? Am I comfortable moving on to a new space? Am I ready? Tonight I will have a dream that gives me the answer to these questions.
You might use similar kinds of questions about a relationship you are in or a job that you're thinking about changing.
It also helps to sit for a few minutes and conjure up the mood you have when you think about your problem. For example, while writing out my questions out about whether to sell my house, I closed my eyes and let the feeling of confusion, dashed with a fear of the unknown, surround me.
Read the note before you go to sleep each night and spend a few minutes bringing that feeling forward. Glance at the note during the day. Then write down or record every dream you have afterwards, and interpret it according to the methods in this book. You will find that many of your dreams during this period deal specifically with your question.
As far back as 2000 years ago, the Kabbalah described these steps to what we now call dream incubation. If you dream about a problem, your dream will also suggest an answer. Many dream workers ask you to evaluate if the answer makes common sense once it has been interpreted.
Dream work brings us inward to our deepest unconscious, at the same time as we move outward to our broadest humanity. This is one reason why understanding our dreams can bring us together. If we are more in tune with our own hearts and souls and stay focused on what we can do to make this world a better place, the world will be a better place. Dream work can be an important step on the road to a better existence for you and for everyone.
Whether you choose to work alone, with another person or in a larger group, dream work can help you at every level of your life—from the most minute problem to your highest goals. The wonderful thing about dream work is that it always gives back more as you give more of yourself.
I look forward to you joining me on this quest, and allow me to help you gather the tools you need to change your life completely.