How to Keep a Record of Your Dreams
James Harvey Stout offers some useful tips on how to keep a dream journal.
1. A dream journal is useful in many ways. When we write in a journal, we honor our dreams; this attentiveness alone often results in better recall. Also, with this ongoing record, we see recurring themes and the variety and evolution of symbols; this information aids in interpretation and dream work. We increase our familiarity with our dreams and their common elements, so we are more likely to recognize them in subsequent dreams and hence become lucid.
2. The journal might require a substantial amount of time. The best journal is comprehensive, with every detail of every dream. But we might need to compromise if the journal is too time-consuming. Some people record only dreams which seem to be particularly "significant" or emotion-laden or vivid. Even Sigmund Freud was troubled by the amount of time demanded by a journal; he wrote in one for 14 years and then threw it away, saying, "The stuff simply enveloped me as the sand does the Phoenix."
3. Buy a notebook for this purpose. We show respect for our dreams by buying a notebook specially for this purpose. We can use any type of notebook; if we get the loose-leaf variety, we can add pages in case we want to add further interpretations or dream work to a particular dream. (If we use a notebook in which additional pages can't be added, we might simply leave some blank space at the end of each dream.) "Subject dividers" help us to divide the entries by month, for easier reference. Some companies sell workbooks to be used as dream journals.
4. We can computerize our entries. There might be a database software package specifically designed for dream-journal entries. In any case, we can make our own, using a home computer and database software such as FileMaker, Excel, or Microsoft Works. Rather than typing the text of our dream into this database, we will create fields for the date, title, and key words. These "key words" will be the important elements of the dream: actions (swimming, flying, sex, etc.), characters (father, dog, etc.), emotions (anger, fear, etc.), objects (house, gun, etc.), locations (home, job site, etc.), and other features which we might want to examine later. After creating this database, we can "search" for recurring symbols; for example, if we search on the word "car," we will get a list of every dream in which we saw a car. (This will be useful for understanding the ways in which our unconscious mind uses that symbol.) In the database, we can also categorize a dream as lucid, incubated, precognitive, etc. And we can record any related dream work, wakeful experiences, or other data which is important.
5. We can tape-record our dreams. This might be easier than a notebook; we don't have to turn on a light and write anything. We simply speak into the tape recorder; we don't even need to turn on the machine if it is sound-activated. However, some people find that their recordings are inaudible mumblings (because of the drowsy condition from which they were spoken). Even if the record is audible, we must spend time transcribing the tape. Also, this method is unsuitable for someone who sleeps with someone else; the speaking will awaken that other person.
6. Record wakeful events and issues. When we read the journal later, we can interpret and appreciate the dreams more fully if we remember the wakeful issues which were important to us at that time. Before bedtime, write a brief note about the day's events and emotional concerns; those matters might appear during a dream. Also write any incubations or planned lucid-dream activities.
7. Keep the journal next to your bed. We should be able to reach the journal without getting out of bed, and without needing to shift the position from which we awoke (if possible). There should also be easy access to a light and a few pens (in case one of them stops working). If these items are convenient, we are more likely to expend the effort to write in the journal.
8. We can use a small light when writing in our journal. This could be a lamp next to the bed, or a flashlight, or the type of lamp which clamps onto a book, or a combination pen/light which is both a writing implement and a small pen; the latter can be bought in stationery stores, or it can be made by taping a pen and tiny flashlight together.
9. We can write our dreams in the dark. This might be necessary if we have a bed-partner who would be disturbed by a light, or if we recall dreams better with our eyes closed. We can write without seeing the paper if we use our fingers to guide us along a straight line and to find the edges of the paper. Record the dream immediately after awakening. This memory will vanish if we don't record it very soon. For each dream, write the date. Also give the dream a title which expresses the most-important aspect; this will help us to find the dream later in our journal (e.g., "The Two-Headed Dog" rather than simply June 5, 1994). Write the dream in the present tense (e.g., "I go" instead of "I went"), to give the plot more of an active, emotional quality.
10. We might write only a synopsis. If we awaken with dream recall, but we want to return to sleep, we might record just a brief summary: the main characters, the primary action, the setting, and the feelings. Later, when our sleep is finished, we can add the details so we have a complete record of the dream.
11. Record a dream fragment, if that is all that you have. We might remember the rest of the dream later. Or we might simply use this fragment for dream work or an interpretation. The fragment could be as brief as a single feeling, image, or action.
12. Record all aspects of a dream. This includes settings, characters, emotions and moods, actions and reactions, colors, conversations (verbatim, if possible), and other details. Any of these elements might be the key to interpretation or dream work. Also note the emotions which you felt when you awoke and when you wrote the dream into your journal.
13. Don't interpret while you write. This might distract us from the recall. However, if a symbol's meaning becomes clear to us as we write the dream, we could make a brief note about it; we will do the interpretation later.
14. We can make entries in various forms. In addition to writing the text of the dream, we can make other types of entries which explain the dream. Some people add artwork, including drawings (with black or colored pencils), collages, or diagrams.
15. Read your journal. If we review the entries regularly, we see recurring symbols, changes in types of dreams (e.g., perhaps a reduction in the frequency of nightmares), and other factors which help us to understand ourselves and subsequent dreams.
This article was taken from the book Dreams with James Harvey Stout.