From Journal to Memoir: Dreaming Your Way to Awareness

Biographile's From Journal to Memoir series

Editor's Note: In this multipart series, Biographile and Dr. Rita Jacobs, PhD, will walk you through finding the inspiration and motivation to start - and keep - a journal, and will later offer some approaches to transforming journal entries into memoir. In part eight of this series, Dr. Jacobs shares with us the importance of our dreams in writing. See earlier posts in the From Journal to Memoir series here.

Dreams have a prominent place in most cultures. In some they require exorcism by shamans, and in others, they are lionized in banal but heartfelt sentiments like Walt Disney's, "All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them."

But I'd like to focus not on the general but on the specific. While most of us dream, not all of us remember our dreams. Yet, the practice of keeping a dream journal can yield more dream recall than you would imagine.

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It is pretty much indisputable that no one has the same sleep dreams as you do- a dream is like a fingerprint, unique to the dreamer. Of course, there are images that might recur in various people's dreams and those are the ones that are frequently cited and explained. For example,an online guide to dream interpretation, one of many, tells us that "animals are a common theme in dreams. Find out what the top five most common animals in dreams mean: 1) Snake, 2) Wolf, 3) Spider, 4) Cat, 5) Dog." And if you click on the animal, you get an explanation. This is an A-Z compendium where you can find out what it means if you dream of snorkeling or bowling. It is not a sophisticated, personalized tool, but you might get some ideas and some laughs here.

Certainly, many of these attempts at interpreting of dreams owe their origin to Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, although dream interpretation has a much longer history. Freud was at times adamant about the meaning of specific images and has been criticized for positing that so many dream symbols related directly to sexuality, but that is another topic.

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For the writer, keeping a dream journal or interpolating dreams into your regular journal is not necessarily about interpreting dreams according to a specific iconography, but rather to use these dreams to continue your own and very individual self-exploration. According to Carl Jung, "Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes." And the goal of the journal writer is to awaken to the various facets of our ever-changing selves. Writing about dreams is one way to accomplish this before we move on next week to consciously capturing memory.

Writing Exercise: For the journal writer, the best place to begin is to record your dreams. If you have trouble remembering, which is not unusual since dreams often flee the memory quickly after we get out of bed, it's wise to keep a dream journal or a piece of paper next to the bed so that you can scribble the dream down when you awaken.

Another technique is to write down the dream you would like to have before you go to sleep. Though this technique doesn't always dictate your dreams, it can help you remember the dreams you do have in the morning.

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Dedicate yourself to recording your dreams three times this week. Don't worry about telling a story at first, just get it down on the page. After you've done this, take the time, either right then or later in the day, to seek out any themes in your life that the dream might touch on. After you've written out the dream, it will stay with you for the day and you may find yourself revisiting it several times. If so, make notes for further writing. After a while, you may find yourself able to link the themes in your dreams as you decode what your subconscious is working out, but the dream is a push for further writing - don't get frustrated if you can't make complete sense of it. And if you want to have some fun or need an extra push toward interpretation, you might want to consult a dream dictionary.

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