Dream Journaling

By Sande Chen

More than 20 years ago, I started recording my dreams. In the beginning, I found them a source of creative inspiration, providing all sorts of fantastic ideas in poetry and fiction. I gradually began to see that my dreams were more than diversions. I could use my dreams in a journey of self-discovery to truly understand my fears or desires. Ultimately, the practice has made my writing stronger.

Many cultures view dreams as a message to be heeded, a message from yourself to yourself. Websites and even television shows offer dream interpretation. While these dream dictionaries or guides may help the beginner, it’s important to note that the best person to analyze your dreams is yourself. No one knows your personal history better than yourself. The meanings you attach to objects and people in your dreams are your own.

Generally, we dream many times while sleeping but do not recall any of it. Dreams fade within minutes, but with effort, one can recall at least the last one, especially if awakened abruptly. I label these “waking dreams” and number them accordingly. In the beginning, I would recommend writing down the dream as soon as possible. As the day begins, thoughts begin to crowd our minds and the dream will disappear. In time, recalling dreams will become less difficult. I tend to record my dreams hours and on occasion, days later. Upon awakening, I usually review the dream and “lock” it into place so that I can record it when I have time. Sometimes, the dream fades anyway, so I label it (faded) and try to remember as much as I can. Other times, I know I’m messing up the order of events, so I label the dream (jumbled). When I can only remember bits, I call these (snippets).

Eventually, the practice of dream journaling becomes second nature. I strive to pay attention to the details in the dream. In the past, I have typed over two pages on a night’s dreams. At times, I have written in film language, describing certain pans and shots. I have drawn pictures and maps. You will discover what is natural for you. In addition, I keep track of any medications I may have taken the previous night, the time elapsed between awakening and recording times, and my sleeping habits.

As you review your dream, think about the following details:

  • Do you recall any colors? Do you think you dream in color? Red is the most commonly reported color
  • What objects are in the dream? Do you own any of the objects? Do they look the same as they do today?
  • Who are the people in the dream? Can you name any of them? How do you know these people?
  • Where are you in the dream? Are you in a familiar locale? What is the layout?
  • What languages are used in the dream? Are the words written or spoken? Do you remember any exact phrases or dialog?
  • If you are in the dream, do you recall any thoughts you had during the dream? What is your motivation for your actions in the dream?
  • If you are in the dream, do you recall any emotions you had during the dream? Are you afraid of something or someone? Do you feel anxious or panicked?

Once the dream is recorded, analysis can begin. You’ll find that aspects from the previous days will often encroach upon dreamtime. For instance, if you spent hours on a spreadsheet, it will wheedle its way in some fashion into the dream. I call these “day residuals” or remnants. They are simply the raw material the brain uses in the dream and may not be directly linked to the meaning of the dream. The interpretation of a dream may take hours of mulling over the dream’s contents. In essence, this is where the real detective work lies.

To start, think about the people in the dream, if you recognize them. How do you feel about this person? Do you admire this person? Is she your example of success, of free-spiritedness, or of independence? What does this person do in the dream? And what is your reaction? Can you figure out what the dream is really speaking about?

One of my dreams featured an acquaintance I had met on-line. All I knew about him was that in real life, he was in high school and was a very talented artist. It took me a while, but I realized he was a stand-in for the inner artistic child. I find my dreams often speak in puns. A seminar on making bread is about money. A dream where I literally place my head on the floor to see another perspective encourages me to figuratively look at all viewpoints.

After each dream, I write down my notes. I try to find associations. For further analysis, dreams of similar content or themes can be compared. For this reason, I give each dream a title for easier organization. In this way, I’m making my own personal dream dictionary.

I recognize my debt to general dream dictionaries, but I’m quite sure I won’t be able to find an entry for “bacon-flavored soda.” I look forward each day to recording my dreams. Not only do dreams give me constant material to write about in my journal, but also each day, I learn more about myself.

About the Author: Sande Chen is co-author, with David Michael, of the book, Serious Games: Games That Educate, Train, and Inform (Thomson/Course; 2005). She has won awards in writing, music, and video. She currently works as a free-lance writer and game designer.