Remembering Your Dreams
I can imagine you, having become interested in your dreams saying, ‘Possibly dreams do have something in them that we can learn. The only thing is, I never dream!’
Of course, before one can start dealing with a dream, one has to remember it. So many people cannot recall having dreamt, that the act of remembering becomes a necessary prelude in our technique. Fortunately, one can be assured that the attempt to remember is not a waste of time. In other words, there is something to remember. In laboratory experiments up to the present time, no person has been found who does not dream. These experiments have been conducted in many countries, with various aims in view. Groups consisting of people who claim they have never dreamt, all have been found to dream. This has been done by fixing electrodes just above the eyelids. These are sensitive to eye movements, which always occur during dreaming. Thus, when these ‘non-dreamers’ exhibited the eye movements they were woken, and realised they had been dreaming. Such tests were also carried out on those who claimed total insomnia. It was found that although these people slept less than normal, they did sleep and dream; which was proved by their eye movements, and the recorded patterns of brain activity that change during sleep. However, these people would exclaim the next morning, ‘There, you see, I never slept a wink.’ Their recorded responses, and the watch kept upon them, proved otherwise.
It was found by Shapiro and Goodenough, that particular psychological mechanisms may underlie such dream forgetfulness. Testing groups of those who did and did not remember their dreams, they found that the non-rememberers took much longer to awaken when roused. In each bedroom was an electric bell and microphone. When a sleeper began the rapid eye movements typical of dreaming, the bell was sounded, and the person asked if they had dreamt. The non-dreamers, to recall their dreams had to be woken suddenly by a greater bell volume, otherwise the dream was lost to recall. Many years previous to such experiments, Freud had said that, ‘The forgetting of dreams depends far more on the resistance (to the dream elements) than on the mutually alien character of the waking and sleeping states.’ Shapiro also felt, from the experiments, that the person who does not remember dreams, may be one who deals with his problems by denying (forgetting) them. For during the delay in waking experienced by the ‘non-dreamers’, the mechanism of their forgetfulness erased remembrance of dream portrayed emotions and desires they may not wish to be conscious of.
Due to the information such research has uncovered, it would be reasonably easy for a ‘non-dreamer’ to prove that in fact, he or she dreamt. For instance, apart from showing that everyone dreams, it was also discovered that one’s dreams occur in regular cycles. During a period of seven hours sleep, it was found that every person tested, went through the same cycle of five periods of dreaming. As Edwin Diamond has said in his book The Science of Dreams, ‘This nightly pattern is as universal as sleep and as regular as the motions of the heavenly bodies.’
The dream periods run as follows: sixty to seventy minutes after falling asleep, we dream for approximately nine minutes. After a further ninety minutes or so, one dreams for about nineteen minutes. Then after another ninety minutes one dreams for about twenty-four minutes. After the next ninety minutes the dreaming period increases to twenty-eight minutes, and the last stage, after a further ninety minutes, one dreams more or less until waking.
So to ‘catch a dream’, the ‘non-dreamer’ could set an alarm to go off after about six hours of sleep. This should catch them well into the fourth dream of the night. Realising that such cycles begin only from the time one went to sleep, this would have to be accounted for. Also, the alarm would have to rouse the person suddenly, due to their mechanism of forgetfulness. If this did not work first time, then the alarm could be set below or above the six hours. One would naturally have to make some record of the dream, as a further period of sleep could easily obliterate the hard won memory.
Fortunately, this ambush type technique to catch a dream may not be necessary. It has been noticed time and time again by those working on dreams, that once a sincere interest in dreams has been aroused, one usually begins to remember them. While you are reading this book for instance, you are undoubtedly unaware of your big toe. However, now that your big toe is mentioned, you begin to become aware of the sensations of its form, clothing upon it, position in relationship to the rest of your body, etc. Similarly, when one’s interest is aroused regarding dreams, one begins to become far more aware of them. If one subsequently writes them down and tries to understand them, then such remembrance becomes even easier. Therefore, allowing one’s interest and enthusiasm full rein, will in itself usually pierce the veil of forgetfulness. In fact, you will probably remember a dream tonight!
There are also a number of ways in which we can further and extend such remembering. Realising what was said concerning the mechanism of forgetting, we can use these same principles for remembering. It was said, for instance, that one may forget because there is an unconscious wish not to face the symbolised emotions, desires and fears of the dream. Therefore, if we change our attitude, release it, so to speak, we may find dream memory more forthcoming. To do this we have to realise that the main aspects of our being can be summed up as instinct and sex drives – feelings and emotions – thoughts, principles, philosophy and the unknown parts of ourselves. Do we, for example, hold rigidly on to particular ideas, unwilling to explore new thoughts, other religious codes, extensions of learning? Do we limit ourselves to only a particular set of emotions and sensations, preferring not to explore the ranges of our feelings? Do we deal with our instincts by denying any such part of our being? And what of the unknown? Is it disclaimed; denied? Or are we willing to tread carefully into it?
Asking oneself such questions, as sincerely as possible, may help one to discover whether or not there is a strong unconscious desire to ‘forget’ anything outside of one’s present experience. These parts of ourselves might be summed up by the words, Sensuality – Sexuality – Sympathy – Empathy – Insight – Understanding – Transcendence. If we are shutting any of these forces or factors out of our experience, we may be missing some element of ourselves necessary for completeness. Admitting the possibility of such incompleteness, is an important step in remembering dreams.
Obviously, the putting aside of emotional or mental attitudes is important in any type of remembering. This includes memory of real events just as much as dreams. Therefore, to understand the workings of our everyday ability to remember might also be helpful. This is because we can use it as a technique to ‘call up’ dreams.
If we take the trouble to analyse carefully any act of memory, we see that a very special state of mind is necessary. This becomes more obvious when we remember the times of not being able to recall ordinary memories that usually are so available. Supposing there has been an accident for instance, and I am telephoning for an ambulance. If I know the injured person well, and am asked to give their name and address, because of the emotion of the moment it might easily happen that I am flustered by the question and find it difficult to answer. Or else, if in a situation such as an exam, where questions need a speedy reply, and a great deal rests upon being able to answer, one might very well find known information beyond recall due to one’s fear of forgetting, or overactive attempt to remember. One other typical situation is the attempt to remember somebody’s name, which somehow seems ‘on the tip of one’s tongue’, yet never emerges. When analysed, this is often due to feeding into our memory system a wrong re-call stimuli. Or, put more simply, we may feel sure the name begins with ‘B’ and are searching through the ‘Bs’; while in fact the name is Miller, and thus should have been called up under ‘M’. So holding the ‘B’ in mind has actually blocked the memory. Then, as soon as we drop the search. and thus drop the blockage, up pops the right name.
From this very quick summary of memory tactics, we can build a method of recalling dreams that will work if used correctly. It is obvious from the examples used that strong desires to remember are as blocking as the fear of failure. Particular emotional or mental biases are also causes for blocking. So also is the search conditioned by information that is thought to be right, such as our search through the ‘Bs’.
As for the actual method, it is this. As soon after waking as possible, ask the question ‘What has been dreamt?’ Having formed the question, one now has to realise that as one has never been conscious of the answer, one is looking for information one has never known. Therefore, all attempts to search for the answer must be avoided, as one does not know where or how this information is filed, The question must be held steadily without even a hope of response, or fear of failure.
Also, as we have no idea of the subjects or images of the dream, we have to leave ourselves wide open to all images and ideas. I can only describe this as standing in a stream of images and ideas, letting them all drift past without interference until the right one comes. When the actual memory comes, there will be an immediate realisation that this was a dream, despite all the other images. Why this is so I cannot explain. But just as, when the right name is remembered, there is a feeling of sureness, fitting the name to the face; so there is immediate sureness fitting the memory to the question. Such a technique has many other uses, but is excellent for bringing dreams to consciousness, and with practice, one begins to feel one’s way around in the technique. If all this seems rather technical, then the simple expedient of trying to recall dreams as soon as one awakes, will work wonders.
Recording The Dream
If remembering the dream is the first step, recording the dream is definitely the second step in dream interpretation. The importance of this lies not simply in having a record of the dream. Having already mentioned the tricks memory can play with dreams, we can see that the recording of the dream is also to guard against such vagaries. One should therefore attempt to write down the dream as soon as possible. All relevant details should also be included. The following example of a dream record shows two possibilities of recording the same dream.
‘I dreamt that a short slightly glowing bolt had entered into my side, and I knew in that moment I had become pregnant with my child. I turned and told my husband, but as he did not seem to hear I did not repeat it. It seemed only to matter to myself.’
If we analyse the feelings in the dream closely, however, the description of the dream might enlarge as follows:
‘I dreamt that a short, slightly glowing bolt had entered my side. I felt great excitement at this, as if I had long awaited it, and was now fulfilled in my waiting. In the dream I knew that the bolt was something divine that had now entered my being. I also knew in that moment that I had become pregnant with my child, and it would change my life. I told my husband about this, but it was as if he couldn’t hear because I was speaking on a different wavelength or something. Then I realised that this should be kept to myself. That I was to give myself over to the child within, that it would grow strong.’
These little additions are so important in correct dream analysis. If they are lost much relevant information arising from them in interpretation is lost also. If we are earnestly working with our dreams, such a record should be made of every dream. Even those that seem inconsequential should be noted down. Why this is so will be explained in later chapters. Therefore, even such a small scrap of a dream as this next one is important: ‘Dreamt that the vision in my left eye was distorted at times, making me see things out of focus or as one would see the reflections in water after a stone is flung in.’
To anyone who has worked on dream interpretation the meaning is very obvious, and also reveals helpful advice to the dreamer. If you cannot yet see its meaning. come hack to it after reading the next few chapters. In this way you will see that an apparently unimportant fragment should be recorded.
A large, stout notebook is best for recording, as in this way all one’s dreams are kept together for easy reference. Possibly a loose-leaf notebook is most adequate, as interpretations and further comments can then be added. But if one cannot find time to write one’s interpretations, at least write down the dreams and date them.
There are also other methods of recording the dream, such as drawing or painting it. Writing it in story or poetry form also is excellent. These methods are more fully dealt with under the chapters on ‘Interpretation’. Although it is not necessary to use these other forms, they do have a very real place in dream analysis; and where the dreamer feels an inclination towards them, should be indulged in. I have only mentioned writing, painting and drawing, but any art form can be used to express and give concrete form to the dream content. Always record it as a straight description first, and then express it in art form, if inclined, later.
Such methods of recording the dream are by no means new. In our mention of the Naskapi Indians, it was said that the individual Naskapi tried to follow the instructions of his dreams. ‘and then to give permanent form to their contents in art’.
Many dreams have thus been the basis of plays and religious rituals. In this way, whole groups could take part in the dramatisation and experiencing of the emotional, instructive and transforming influence of a dream. If it is wondered what point there is in this, we have to remember that as individuals and as a society, we face certain difficulties. We may have terrible depressions that block our normal activity in life, or it might be eruptions of anger, aggressiveness, or sexual drives, that we find difficult to deal with. In other people or races, lethargy, intellectual inertia or fear may prevent a balanced life. Dreams sometimes portray to us an antidote to such states of being. This is usually done in the dream by the release or expression of a new realisation, a new emotion, a new symbol, or a new energy. But the dream happens in the subconscious. So the task is to bring this ‘antidote’ to our everyday life. To ‘bring it home’ to oneself and others, a permanent record of the dream’s content in art form or drama is tremendously effective.
In recording our dream, our temperament can be given free rein. Basically, however, it is sufficient to write it down in full.