This piece is here to assist growth of the most quintessential element of your dream practice, dream recall. So many of the dream practice inquiries we receive are about having lucid dreams. While the lucid state is magical, our most significant dreams are not always lucid, but spontaneous, vivid dreams. The path to lucidity, if you so intend, starts with remembering more and more of your vivid dreams. Whether you’re having trouble recalling dream experiences at all, or trying to make your adventures more frequent or vivid, this is for you! Focus on viewing the dreamscape that is almost automatically streaming towards you each night. Remember: you are training your mind’s eye to see more of what is already there.
With any practice or ritual, set and setting is of utmost importance. Your set is your mindset, your momentary mental state. Your setting is your environment, your surroundings. Successful dream practice is best realized when the dreamer is mindful of internal and external conditions before, during, and after dreaming. With frequent repetition, your mere noticing of these conditions may even act as a device for dream recall. Consider your mental note of set and setting at the beginning of your practice, what we will now refer to as the dreaming period — which begins at this moment, and continues through dreaming, until the point where you finish recording in your dream journal, share your dream in the world, note synchronicities in waking life… wait… so it never really ends? Right, but it’s not such a daunting task! Like a well-held yoga pose, you should never be straining to maintain dreaming as a central focus in your scope of self work. Go easy on yourself, be patient. Try some of the tips below for experiencing and remembering your dreams and see what works for you. Please design your own practice and techniques (and share them with us!).
The first step in realizing an active dream practice is to choose a dream journal. We like filling up Moleskines (Paul likes the thin, grid lined journals that help him write in straight lines), find what works for you. Keep a pen inside. This is your tome, your unconscious autobiography. When you wake, record your dreams. Don’t expect to have an epic saga your first night, in fact, don’t set any expectations. Write what comes streaming towards you, sensory details of the dream, how it makes you feel, any similarities to your waking life (both literal and symbolic), or what you are wanting to know about the dream. Take a deep breath in from between the fresh pages, and embrace what must become the most habitual element of your practice.
What to consider recording in your entry:
Date, time of day… (the basics)
Perceived vividness or lucidity (try numbered parameters 1-5)
Your intention for the dreaming period (ex. “remember a dream” or “show me what I need to see”)
Title your dreams as you would a song or poem
Sketches of the dreamscape (there is an artist in all of us!)
Now that you’ve dedicated your dream journal, we’re ready to honor set and setting and prepare an intention for the dreaming period. The word intention is often imbued with too much energy. Don’t confuse yourself or stress over the complexity or beauty of this thought, instead choose an intention that will help you quickly make peace with the dialogue of the day, and encourage a mindful set and setting to carry you into dream. A common intention for your practice might be: “empty my mind so that I may fill the space with dreams.” Make your bedroom your dojo. Once you step in, put down the screen technology. Our televisions, laptops and pocket computers constantly pump us full of unnecessary dialogues that can easily drown out or overshadow the dream material waiting to manifest in your mind (and the blue light depletes natural melatonin levels!).
Positive additions to your bedroom setting tonight might include:
Inspired music (binaural beats, shamanic drumming, ambient, ecoacoustic or spiritual tunes that won’t drown out your focus on breath and heartbeat)
Diffusing essential oils or lighting incense (try mugwort, clary sage or lavender in the diffuser and burning palo santo or white sage)
Designate a corner of your nightstand (like you would a puja table) to house talismans, totems, inspiring dream books and of course, your journal.
A cup of tea or a dreamy snack…. Dream Bars anyone?
Keep the space clean and uncluttered, and so will be your mind.
Hold your intention as you fill your bedroom with the very essence of your being: “empty my mind so that I may fill the space with dreams.” The intention has now become a mantra — try repeating the phrase several times in succession to solidify your foundation for the dreaming period. Your mantra can be as simple as, “I will dream tonight” or “attend the breath,” but it should always feel comfortable, as if it just came to you.
As you lay down, find comfortable posture and bring your focus to your breath and heartbeat. Try breathing in repetition, in through one nostril and out the other, alternatively closing one at a time with an index finger as Tibetan dream yogis do (there are many more yogic breathing practices to look into on your own). These Eastern masters also encourage sleeping on your right side to stimulate a dream-inducing pressure point with your rib cage.
Embrace the hypnogogic state! Hang out in limbo and see where your imagination leads you. We can often plant the seeds from which dreams to grow with a couple minutes of time spent in the space between waking and dreaming — when your set is half-consciousness of your intention and you are imagining quite a different setting. This state of mind is essential for visualization exercises, and often sought by dreamers wishing to return to a past dream image for more information. It’s a perfect state to accompany with music as a meditation. If you enjoy playing music to influence your hypnagogic imagery, consider choosing a song that invokes the feeling associated with a certain dreamscape you wish to return to. Create images out of nothing, and seek answers to your deepest questions.
You might now be asleep, but if not, try to become aware of falling asleep. Become aware of your breath and heartbeat. Feel yourself approach the sleep gate… a pleasant heaviness overcomes you that doesn’t let you open your eyes… until the instant you arrive, asleep and dreaming!
Dream images are tricksters, often slipping from memory in half-a-moment. We create devices for remembering dreams, mental traps to catch them by the tail! Let’s start with the basics, and lead into a couple advanced techniques helpful to stabilizing dream images for recall.
When you wake up, try not to move from the position you find yourself in. Remain in the same posture for as long as it takes to grasp the thread of your last dream. If you don’t have somewhere to be, consider returning to the dream you’ve remembered for a snooze cycle. The next time you wake up you may remember even more of the original narrative. Dream narratives tend to get longer and deeper throughout the night. You’re more likely to remember your last dream of the night than any other. After decades of practice, some of our friends are able to recall up to 5 dreams each night!
Try using a voice recorder to capture the threads of a dream during any wakings. Play it back in the morning and transfer to your journal. A note on waking in the night:
We did not always have electric light, and as such, humans used to follow a very different sleep schedule that we believe encouraged dreaming! They would sleep in stages, typically for 3-4 hours, and then observe a period of waking before returning to bed for another 3-4 hour period. Historical experts believe this period of waking was introspective and creative, with regular activities including crafts such as carving wood or brewing beer, reading spiritual texts, sharing dreams and making love.
Whether you’re stuck in a period of difficulty recalling any dream activity at all, or trying to take your dream activity to the next level, try as our ancestors did and break up your sleep periods. Set an alarm for the middle of the night and remain awake for a period of 15 minutes or more before you hit the pillow again. Or, try making the time for a nap at an unusual time of day. You will be surprised at how simply changing your clock may increase vividness and encourage recall.
Paul and I recently started using wearables to track our sleep cycling (see: Jawbone UP3) with encouraging results. These devices will wake you with vibration only during set window of time, waiting until a REM of deep sleep cycle ends. At the end of these cycles, we are most likely to be dreaming and remember our dreams! We will keep you updated on our progress using them for mid-night waking periods as well as pairing dreams with our sleep cycle charts in the morning.
When starting our on the dreaming path, sometimes committing to an every night practice is just too much. Take a dream vacation and choose a 3 day period to hold your practice (perhaps a long weekend). You may find that you are more relaxed about the entire experience, and able to savor the waking moment so vital to remembering your dreams. To encourage you to take said vacation, we’re offering free Dream Bars to help you set your intention! Use code vacation at checkout with any 3-bar pack.
Mnemonic associations strengthen memory and the ability to remember our dreams. Try choosing a “dream anchor”: a talisman, sculpture, even just a corner of your bedroom. Designate that form as the last one you see before you close your eyes to sleep AND the first thing you look at when you wake. Intend to habitually consider the dreamspace between the two imaginal memories. With repetition your mind will begin to stabilize dreams before they whisk away. Your dream anchor could also be a word, or even a scent! The nose connects directly to the parts of your brain associated with memory and feeling. Over time you will automatically develop a conditioned response to recall narratives from your dream state when you encounter a certain smell. Try diffusing essential oils or smelling a small pouch of the parent herb before and after dreaming.
Recording and perpetuating dreams in your journal might just become one of the most fulfilling practices in your life. In addition to the aforementioned journal ideas, consider adding dream interpretations to your entry. Don’t dismiss the literal interpretation of your dreams as “too simple.” On the one hand, they might be telling you something as simple as leaving the laundry in the wash; on the other, dreams often speak through symbols. Consider all perspectives and what’s happening in your waking reality at the time of the dream. I believe it’s best to start with current thoughts, feelings and dialogues before reaching into pasts or futures. We will write more regarding symbols, but for now there are many dream and symbol dictionaries out there. Find one that works for you and perhaps connects to social, spiritual or mythological traditions you identify with.
We mentioned that the dreaming period never truly ends. One of the best ways to cultivate dreaming awareness is to return to your dream journal during the day to read your entries. You’ll find that you have an uncanny ability to predict the future. I’ll often go months without opening mine, and the day I do am awestruck with the relevance to events in waking reality. Look to fill in the blanks and you’ll surprise yourself recalling details of a dream days later. Note all synchronicities of your dreams to daily life, the moments that feel like dèja vu, they’re what’s worth living for.
If you read our Human Dreaming Condition thought, sleep and dreams weave their way into culture. Challenge your normal routine self work. Create your own dreaming culture in your home, inspire friends, and grow dreaming as a practice in your community. We promise, dreams make others smile as you defy taboo, sharing seemingly vulnerable private moments. Sharing just one dream, one time, to one other person is doing the dream a service — we give it a voice. Sometimes you will have dreams for others, especially those who are energetically close to. We’re all dreaming ourselves, all the time, this universal faculty ties all mankind together.
Until next time… listen to yourself, be kind, and dream on friends!