Posted by: Edward | November 14, 2008

Introduction to Dream Work

Dreams are a fascinating phenomenon. They’ve intrigued psychologists as long as its been possible to call people psychologists. Before that they bewildered mystics, priests, shamans and soothsayers. I’ll be honest my own treatment of dreams owes nearly as much to the shamans as it does to the psychologists. I see dreams as a window into the unconscious processes that do the bulk of our mental work largely outside of our awareness. I see dreams as a particularly intense phase of pattern recognition software sorting through sensory experience that we normally filter out of our experience of reality. The dream process throws sensory remix on the internal screen and works out the patterns with narrative analogs or higher order metaphors. These unconscious pattern processes are further narratized by the presence of the low level dream consciousness which needs a story structure to understand the goings on.

Making Use of your Dreams

Now, all of this mental work isn’t going to waste if we don’t remember it. The dreams are helping us learn new skills and understand things that will surface later as intuitions or emotional reactions to situations. If we forget our dreams though we are missing an opportunity to find out what the rest of mind is concerned with ahead of schedule. This is one reason why dreams are often related to being able to see the future. Your dreams can point out things you don’t know you know yet, including projections of how things are going to go in the near future. We have an opportunity to look in on our unconscious processing phase when normally we only see its output, the intuitions and emotions. This can give us insight into whey we are having various emotional reactions we didn’t understand before. It can also allow us to alter what we pay attention to consciously to feed the processes different information. We also have the opportunity to alter those unconscious processes. Just by paying attention to our dreams they will start to shift. It’s like the observer effect in quantum science. The fact that you are paying attention to you dreams means your dreams get a larger stake in the data that the dream take part in processing. If you want to take advantage of these opportunities there are three basic practices you could institute in your life. These are keeping a dream journal, interpreting your dreams and incubating your dreams.

Keep a Dream Journal

Keeping a dream journal is the easiest and probably the most important of the three. Store a recording device such as a pen and notebook or an audio recorder within easy reaching distance of where you sleep. Then simply record whatever you remember when you wake from a dream. Try to move as little as possible when reaching for the journal as maintaining your sleeping posture makes it easier to hold onto the dream memory until you start recording. In order to strengthen the habit, you should record even if you wake in the middle of the night and even if you don’t remember the dream. When recording the dream, stick as close as possible to the sensory details of the dream, try not to interpret at this point as it tends to distort the memories. If using pen and paper feel free to draw things from the dream. After you’ve exhausted the dream memory then you can put down some of your thoughts about the dream. I suggest that you put down a three word tag that you feel sums up the feeling town of the dream. Record date and time as well.

Interpret your Dreams

Once you have developed the habit of keeping a dream journal the next practice to work on is dream interpretation. It helps to look across several dreams for patterns. Look for recurring images, themes, characters. Try to take the dream at face value first. then look for ways to relate it to your day to day life. Look for dream situations that remind you of things in your normal life. You can write down your dream interpretations on facing pages in your dream journal if you only write/draw dreams on one side of the pages. I also suggest that you start a personal dream dictionary for recurring symbols starting at the end of the dream book. Organizing it in this way can make the dream book a potent tool for self exploration. Make sure you take your interpretation and self insights and apply them in your life.

Incubate your Dreams

The third practice is called dream incubation. Dream incubation is when you load your dreaming mind with a topic or subject to work on. If you’ve established the prior two practices then you’ve got a solid basis to start incubating specific subjects into your dream processes. The basic practice of incubation is to choose something you want to dream about or work out with your unconscious and to concentrate on it before bed. I like to do a brief meditation session and then declare what I want to work on that night. If you pray it is reasonable to pray to dream about what you want to work on, In fact, many religions have specific prayers for this purpose. It can help if you make the declaration rhythmic and rhyming and highly sensory as this makes the idea easier to remember. It can also help to relate your topic to personal symbols from your dream dictionary in the back of your dream journal. The next morning try to interpret your dreams in terms of what you incubated. Don’t be surprised if it takes you some time to get dreams that make sense to you in terms of what you incubated as you are training your mind to include consciousness in a feedback loop that you’ve not included consciousness in before. And if you can’t remember the dreams you’ve incubated, don’t worry, your unconscious is working on it anyways.

If you like this article feel free to give it a thumbs up on stumbleupon.



  1. Alright you bastard, I’ve dusted off my old dream journal. And every night since I’ve put it by my bed, I have had vivid, memorable dreams… then of course, the pen next to my bed is out of ink, or the pencil tip breaks, or any number of idiotic things prevent me from actually recording my evening adventures. 😛

    Also, I’ve always felt the word “dream journal” sounds like something a 13 year old girl keeps under her pillow. She fills it with doodles of ponies and princesses and the prom. I haven’t come up with a better name though, so I’ve decorated mine with stars and glitter. And CRAM + EW in a big heart.

  2. What you say it makes a lot of sense and is so simple to help ourselves through our own mind, that some will see it as a laughable idea. That is the curse of bringing new understanding that is in our own reach. And the one the described it best is Plato in The Allegory of the Cave from the The Republic.
    I just had an awful dream that was very powerful and in my dream a some sort of dream interpreter told me that the key to my dream is hold by the word “Wils”. I woke up and typed it on Google and there you are, suggesting how to understand the intricate storyline of my dreams. I never heard of you before, but I will definitely remember your name.
    Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: