I traveled to space, went back in time and turned into a superhero. I’m close friends with many celebrities. I created new memories with friends and family, some of whom have passed away. I’ve committed terrible crimes. And I saved the day, repeated.
Our Sleeping Ghost is a private theater where you are the director and usually the star and the production budget is unlimited. Yes, some of them are boring (most of mine are about work), but many are entertaining, concise, and occasionally problem-solving. That’s why you should consider turning a blank notebook into your first dream journal.
There is little scientific research on the benefits of dream journaling, but those who make it a practice find it useful or enlightening and very interesting at best at least.
The first potential benefit of dream journaling is that it can lead to a creative breakthrough. Your subconscious dreaming is inherently more inventive. Their dreams jump around in time, make leaps in logic, accept contradictions, and sometimes make no sense at all to our more conventional consciousness.
“Dreaming allows each and every one of us to quietly and safely go insane every night of our lives,” it says William Dement, founder of the Sleep Research Center at Stanford University, once put it.
For centuries past, people believed that dreams were messages from the dead, giving clues as to what the living should do. Egyptian pharaohs believed that gods sent us messages in our dreams; they called her omina, the origin of the word omen. And the major faiths today include stories in their sacred texts in which dreams are important puzzles whose meaning must be worked out.
A more recent theory as to why we dream is that it helps sort, organize, and process all the stimuli from our waking life, like removing cobwebs. But sometimes silk needs to be made from the webs when the answer to a problem you cannot solve in your waking life is being worked out in your more creative dream life.
Dream solutions have the benefit of “operating without the limitations of time, logic, space, or other real-world rules,” wrote Dr. Allan Peterkin in a Guided Dream Journal published by National Geographic. Peterkin is Professor of Psychiatry and Family Medicine at the University of Toronto.
Sigmund Freud, who wrote the first scientific study of the interpretation of dreams, thought that they primarily reveal secrets and embarrassing moments from our past. But his mentee-turned-rival, Carl Jung, thought that dreams tap into universal archetypes and contain clues from our subconscious to help us find happiness and answers to problems.
Another theory is that dreams act like a dress rehearsal for real life, a way to safely test alternatives. That seems a likely explanation for nightmares. Scary dreams originate in your brain’s amygdala, where intense negative emotions like anger and fear reside, Peterkin explained. According to researchers, they are useful because they can help train your brain to prepare for challenges and fears in your waking life.
Incidentally, the word nightmare comes from an image that sounds like a nightmare itself: the Old English word for evil female spirits (maeres) that are believed to sit on your chest and suffocate you.
“The King’s Road”
Dreams are windows into your deepest self. By looking into a cracked, funny house mirror of reality, your perspective changes. And from If you write them down and ponder what they mean, you travel the “silver bullet”, as Freud put it, and lead to the realization of your unconscious.
“Trying to understand your dreams can become an important part of understanding yourself, your relationships, and your world, both inside and out,” Peterkin wrote.
“Poor Man’s Opera”
Another benefit of telling and recording your dreams is easy escape. And who doesn’t need a vacation from life every now and then? In your dreams you can visit the past or the future, go anywhere in the world or leave it, and fly there with or without a plane.
As Kahlil Gibran put it more poetically, “Allow us to yield to slumber, and perhaps the beautiful bride of dreams will carry our souls to a world cleaner than this.”
The word dream comes from the Old English word for “joy, noise or music”. And it’s fun to record the music or decode the noise.
“The bed is the poor man’s opera,” says an old Italian proverb. And there is a new performance every day. Dreams can be “an incredible virtual reality model of the world,” Peterkin wrote, “updated multiple times each night with cool new content.”
In some of my wildest dreams, I married Nicole Kidman, joined Laird Hamilton’s surf crew, beat LL Cool J in a rap battle, and drove Speed Racer’s car, the Mach 5. In still others, Sarah Silverman was my therapist, Ally Sheedy and I had an affair while making an ’80s movie together, and I played Han Solo in a version of Hamlet, which was written with Graham crackers. I went to high school with Hulk Hogan in the 1800s, at the time I attended General Robert E. Lee’s funeral. And I was the Batman.
I can remember these dreams and hundreds more because I’ve been writing them down since high school. It’s the simple act of recording dreams that keeps them from evaporating in the sunlight of the day.
Of the many dream movies, my two favorites are Christopher Nolan’s Inception and the lesser known 1991 Wim Wenders film Bis zum Ende der Welt starring William Hurt, Sam Neill and Max von Sydow. As a subplot in “Until,” the main characters find a way to videotape their dreams and subsequently become narcissistically addicted (to the point of insanity).
There’s little you need to get started. Find a dream journal app or designate a notebook to keep by your bed. And the next time you remember a dream, even a vague, half-remembered one, write it down. Even if it’s boring and doesn’t seem worth remembering, write it down. The more you make a habit of recording them, the better your memory will become.
I also leave a piece of paper in case I jot down some keyword notes and elements in the middle of the night. A single detail can evoke the memory of an entire dream. Telling someone about your dream shortly after you wake up can also help you hold on to it until you write it down.
My dream journals have evolved over the years to include headlines for them, tracking themes, people and places, and noting how many were “good”, “bad” or “neutral/in-between”. I do this to look for trends, but don’t set the bar too high for yourself, especially when you’re starting out.
I also occasionally write a note at the end of the dream when I feel I have some insight into its meaning. Perhaps I will immediately recognize that in a dream about getting lost in a city, the truth is about losing, for example, a work file.
Dream dictionaries compile mythology, psychology, and cultural symbolism, and it can be interesting to look up recurring themes in them, although there is little scientific knowledge about them except in a collective, unconscious way by Jung.
Just remember to always interpret a dream through your personal experience. For example, a dream dictionary may suggest that a dog in a dream means loyalty. But if you’re afraid of dogs, it probably represents something else you’re afraid of. Or if your mom owns five dogs, your dream dog can fill in for her.
As the great mythologist Joseph Campbell put it, “Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.”