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Dream Recall

When I talk to people about the plum-pleasing pleasure of mastering their dreams, a few things I almost always hear are:

  • I don’t dream.
  • I don’t remember my dreams.
  • My dreams are incoherent and chaotic.
  • I only remember fragments.

I can talk in great detail about each of these, but it’s the last point I’d like to toss around a bit. Have you ever woken up and known that you’ve had a dream, but you can’t remember enough of it to do anything with it? If so, I hope what I offer here is of some benefit to you.

Before corona came to town, I routinely traveled a quiet, two-lane stretch of road where the speed limit is 45 mph. One day, utility crews were pruning trees that were growing toward the power lines. Consequently, traffic was halted. I took the opportunity to take stock of my surroundings. To my right was a large blackberry bush loaded with berries. I followed the greenery up to a cascade of purple wisteria dangling in full clusters. I let down my windows and, yes, the air was lush with their fragrance. Just a few paces up the road, someone had set up a free library on his lawn along with a reading bench, which was nestled beneath a tree. Hanging from the tree limbs were stained-glass suncatchers that were tinkling like wind chimes in the breeze.

Before this day, if you had asked me to describe this road, I would’ve said, “It’s just a road running through a wooded area with a few houses here and there. In 15 years of traveling this road, I hadn’t noticed any of these delightful details, and I still would not have if the trees up ahead weren’t getting a haircut that day. Sometimes there is magic in slowing down as I’m sure you know, but do you also know that the same is true of slowing down a dream?

Like a moving car, a dream that remains only in your thoughts moves too fast for you to see the details. A very effective way to slow down a dream so that you can look through the windows at what’s inside is to take it from your thoughts and put it down on paper. The very act of writing slows down a dream because you can’t think faster than your hand can write out the words. Of course, you can also type out your dream on the keyboard, but when I’m already struggling to remember a dream, I prefer writing it out by hand because, again, it slows the dream to a crawl.

Now, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this is a panacea for dream recall. There are other basic things that you can do that will increase your overall chances of remembering your dreams. But after having done all of those things you still walk away with only a sliver of your dream, then maybe slowing the dream to a crawl will help.

Dream recall is a muscle that must be exercised. The more you work that muscle, the more second nature dream recall becomes. Persistence and consistency are key. It might be easier to take a seemingly incoherent fragment of a dream and, like Scrooge, chock it up to “… an undigested bit of beef…” but when we go that route, we miss so much in the process.

I use the handwritten method only when I’m struggling with recall. Otherwise, I type out my dreams in a digital journal. Either way, whether you’re working on recall or recording a dream you do remember, documentation will almost always yield additional details that might otherwise slip past you.

If you are still unable to recall a dream after giving it your due diligence, document whatever you have and move on. Be sure to date and time your journal entries, which might look something like this:

  • I dreamed I was in a tree. In the dream, I had an overall feeling of frustration, but that’s all I remember, or
  • I know I dreamed. It was a frustrating dream, but I can’t remember any of it, or
  • I woke up feeling frustrated. I don’t remember dreaming, or
  • I don’t have anything to document. Tonight I will dream, and I will remember them when I wake up.

You’ll find that by keeping good records, it’s much easier to track your progress. This might not seem significant at the moment you’re documenting, but you’ll thank yourself in one, five, or ten years later when you look back on it.

Here is an excerpt from a dream I had in March of this year, and the process I used for recalling it (I document my dreams in present tense.):

I am in my current house, and I hear a commotion outside. I look out the back window and see a work crew setting up in the backyard. There is a large 18-wheeler full of equipment, and I am surprised that it fits in the yard. I try to recognize the people. I think they’ve come to put my house on the market, but they are definitely going overboard. I go to the front and look out the window. Even there, a large welcome flag has been raised, and a welcome table with a black cloth and skirt has been set up. I start to tidy up the house because I know that eventually one of them will come and knock on the door.  I’m a bit surprised that they have started all of this without even talking to me first. While I am tidying up, the knock comes.

When I answer, the woman in charge introduces herself, and we walk through the house to the back door where the crew of 7 has finished setting up. The woman tells me that everything is ready to go and that they’ve even dug a perfect hole. “A hole?” I ask. She says, “Yes, for the burial.” I have no idea what she’s talking about as I assumed they have come to put my house on the market. “Here,” she says, “let me show you.” I go out the back door and follow her around front. She shows me a large hole that is perfectly round. I estimate its circumference at 7-8 feet. I’m still confused. “Don’t you remember our phone call?” She asks. “You said you had a gorilla that was near death, and you wanted us to take care of the burial. We have made all these elaborate plans because we want to make it memorable and also invite the public.”

I’ve only included a portion of this dream, but it is one of the most powerful dreams in my journal. When I sat down to write it out, all I could remember at first were the tractor trailer and the hole. After jotting down these two scenes, and having no further memories, I began sketching images of the trailer, the hole, and anything else that came to me. I wrote down my predominant feeling in the dream, which was one of confusion. Why is the trailer in my backyard? How did it get there? What is the hole for? Who dug it? Is it a grave? Before long, I remembered the woman, and then pieces of our conversation came back to me. The moment she mentioned the gorilla, the entire dream poured into my memory fully composed, and I was able to document it from start to finish.

This is an example of a successful recall, but there are times when I, too, cannot get blood from a dream turnip. On these occasions, I document what I can and keep it moving. In any case, by using this method, along with verbal ques before bed to remember my dreams upon waking, I am able to capture more than I lose (and believe me, dreams are never really lost).

One last thing before I go, sometimes a dream will come back to your memory of its own accord later in the day. You might be shucking corn and minding your own beeswax when last night’s dream floats in and settles on you like a mist. And then sometimes it won’t. Be okay with it.

Que sera, sera!