Among all the New Year’s resolutions competing for your attention, I’d like to suggest one that you probably hadn’t considered: That you make a practice of Writing Down Your Dreams.
For the New Year, why not crack open that blank journal collecting dust on a shelf, or begin a new document. Label the document DREAMS. Let it sit in the middle of your Desk/Laptop/IPad (not buried in file) as a reminder to record your dreams before you head into the Labyrinth of Email, FaceBook or Newsfeed each morning. Perhaps you already share your dreams with a partner or family member- over coffee or during a morning walk -as humans have done for Millenia. Speaking dreams is a form of communion, a way of feeling and being felt more deeply than is possible in ordinary discourse. It’s a wonderful practice, but not sufficient to take full advantage of dreams’ healing and creative potencies. For that, you have to write them down.
In Natural Dreamwork, we view dreams as living energetic experiences rather than messages to decode. When we write dreams down, we recognize that we can’t recapture the whole experience of the dream. The dream record is simply a map that guides us back to dream territory for deeper exploration. In our waking visitation of the dream, we steep in it again and explore the dream experience more fully. Aspects of the dream that weren’t recognized the first time become more prominent, more fully appreciated.
Our capacity to take in dream experiences is limited by conditioned beliefs about ourselves and how we ‘should be’. It’s also limited by whatever taboos we have around feeling particular feelings- whether anger, sadness or erotic delight. These blinders become clearer as we record our dreams. In a first encounter, we frequently miss important aspects of the dream. I rush out of a room, convinced I am late, just barely noticing the little boy in the corner holding out a chocolate bar: A baby has white dots on her cornea, I try to wipe them off with IPad cleaner. When that doesn’t work, I head for the sink.
In the first dream, the conditioning, ‘I am late, I need to be somewhere other than where I am’ blocks my appreciation of the gift of pleasure the boy tries to offer. In the second dream, the pain of recognizing an impediment keeps me from fully experiencing the predicament of the baby with spots on her eyes- or the suffering I inflict on ‘the baby’ and myself with my attempt to cancel out the problem. Writing them down, including the details of the dream images gives me access to these deeper layers. The written details of the dream are the gateway to its depths. Contrary to what Freud claimed, dream details do not disguise the meaning of the dream. That role is reserved for the ‘dream ego’, the narrative voice that tells stories and convinces the dreamer (within the dream),“It’s time to leave” or “These spots have to be removed”.
As you develop proficiency writing down your dreams, you’ll begin to notice curious and humorous images that weave through many of your dreams. Some of these threads are unique to you and bring a coherence to your dream experience and your life. Other images are part of the evolving dream language of the collective. They help us metabolize the stresses we share with others. Dreams of wearing ( or not wearing ) a mask has emerged as a common thread for many during the pandemic. Other threads are more subtle. When I first started recording my dreams over 20 years ago, I had a pink flip phone. In my dreams I would try repeatedly to dial my phone without ever succeeding in making a call. The context of these dreams suggested a pun on cell phone: Self phone. I was anxiously trying to connect with deeper aspects of myself, unsuccessfully. Since the advent of the ‘Smart Phone’, the ‘I Phone’ my cellphone dreams have a different tone and my dreams have done their best to separate me from this device-my mind, my ego. In a series of dreams, I’ve had my phone pried phone out of my hand, twisted beyond recognition, and tossed into the ocean. At some point my dreams let go of the Iphone image, and I found myself alone in an unfamiliar city enjoying myself, even though I had lost my phone and my purse. Our dreams change, and we change. This is most often apparent in retrospect- as we look back over months and years of dream records. Writing down our dreams, we recognize the recurrent themes, as well as the ways we are changing.
Some dreams are gifts we have to grow into. We may not fully appreciated them when they are first written down. On numerous occasions, I have opened up an old dream journal and been struck with powerful aspects of the dream- sometimes delightful, sometimes like a sucker-punch- that I hadn’t experienced when I first recorded it. It is as if the dream had been waiting for the future me to arrive.
While all of these reasons are good reasons to record your dreams, I believe that the best reason to do so is that the act of writing down our dreams liberates us and stimulates our creativity. There are no rules about our dreams: no grammar rules, no etiquette rules, posturing, and all emotions are welcome. Writing down my dreams has given me more freedom from my inner censor than any other practice. I attribute my development as a poet and a writer to the practice of writing down my dreams.
So why not make 2022 the year of this new and different resolution, and begin to record your dreams? Go gently with yourself, remembering that there is no right or wrong way to go about this wonderful adventure.
Keren Vishny originally trained as a physician, and practiced Internal Medicine for 10 years before retraining as a psychotherapist and NaturalDreamwork practitioner and teacher. Her exploration of her own dream has led to the re-emergence of her poet, in hibernation since age 14. She is affiliated with the CG Jung Center in Evanston, as well as the Marion Woodman Foundation.