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Why You Should Write Down Dreams You Don’t Quite Remember

I’ll tell you a secret.

Even though I’m a high-yielding dreamer and a dreamwork practitioner, there are mornings I convince myself that my dreams are too distant or too hazy or too jumbled to bother writing them down.

I turn over and go back to sleep.

And … every time I listen to the voice in my head that tells me that’s the truth, I regret it later.

Have you ever taken on a regular practice — meditation, exercise, journaling, prayer, or diet — on the basis that the ritual itself, not the activity you are practicing, is what is beneficial?

If you have, you’ve possibly experienced what I have: benefits you weren’t expecting. For instance, many people who commit to exercising every morning before work or school do so to lose weight or get fit. Along the way, however, they discover things about themselves or the world they weren’t anticipating when they decided to exercise every morning.

They learned to appreciate the sunrise or the quiet of the house before the other humans or animals were awake. They realized they liked stretching, but hated running. They met a new friend at the gym. Just by getting up each morning, and committing to a ritual, the individual who starts off with one identifiable goal, ends up growing in unexpected ways, expands her worldview, or meets people he never would have met had he not simply committed to the regular practice.

Ritual surprises you.

If you’re interested in cultivating an active conversation with your soul / subconscious / higher self, I would highly recommend taking on the regular practice of writing down your dreams upon waking, as soon as you wake up, no matter what — simply because you said you would. Make morning dream recall a ritual. Honor it. Keep it. Try it for thirty days. See what happens.

I’ve written before about the many benefits of writing down your dreams, but today I want to focus on why writing down your most elusive dreams — the ones you struggle most to make sense of or explain— are still very much worth the effort.

In this way, dream recall can become a sacred ritual, a cue to your higher self (or your guides, if that’s who you’re aiming to connect to) that you take your inner life seriously. That you are ready, as Jung wrote, to “pursue the inner images.”

Write your dreams down simply because you said you would.

Here are a few benefits you may realize if you do.

Writing down even a fragment of a dream often leads to remembering more of that dream or other dreams you didn’t remember immediately upon waking.

This happens to me all the time. All the time.

I wake up thinking I only remembered a small confusing part of an insignificant dream. If I push myself to write it down anyway, I may or may not remember more of that dream (or care about the details.) But something else may arise: another dream image, another dream feeling. Sometimes two, three, or four more dreams will rise to the surface of my memory simply because I rolled over, grabbed the phone, and wrote down random words that didn’t make much sense. Because I said I would.

When I am working with new clients who claim they don’t dream often enough to even get started, the first thing we do is cultivate their relationship with their dreams and their dreaming self by committing to writing down whatever they remember even if it’s one word, one difficult-to-articulate scene, one sensation, one feeling. Because they said they would.

Imagine your dreams as friends you made plans with. If you keep making plans with them, but you don’t show up, they’re going to stop coming. It’s not the strongest analogy, I know, but it’s still relevant. More vivid dreams, more powerful dreams, more telling dreams come to individuals who commit to the practice of remembering them.

Not all dreams are stories. Not all messages from your higher self will be language-based.

Your dreaming mind isn’t the same as your waking mind. We often think, feel, and communicate differently in dreams than we do in waking life. Stop holding your dream self to the standards you hold yourself or others to in waking life.

Imagine your dream self is a baby, or a person from a foreign country still learning the language. Imagine your dream self is an alien, a really wise, friendly alien who doesn’t speak your language. How would you communicate with that being? How slowly may you interact? How closely would you pay attention?

With the baby, you may use facial expressions instead of words. With the person from the foreign country, you may use your fingers to point at objects as symbols. With the alien, you may use math or shapes or other universal symbols you both could understand or share. But what of a being or entity who wasn’t humanoid? Who didn’t have eyes or ears or senses? Perhaps, you would communicate telepathically through feeling or sensation.

All this is to say that just because a dream doesn’t seem to make sense in a linear fashion, or come through with a narrative or a plot, doesn’t mean it’s lacking in significance or importance.

On the contrary, language sometimes gets in the way of the message.

If you are struggling in the morning to get down a confusing dream, be kind to yourself — and still do the ritual.

A dream note could contain a simple phrase: “man in cowboy hat with overlapping triangles approaches me from behind the door.” Or “remember a feeling of being frightened by the orange cat.”

Both those fragments are “enough” of a dream to work with. If you were my client, we could have a lot of fun investigating those two dreams.

If you choose, however, to write the dreams down and forget about them until later, that’s also okay. It brings me to the next potential benefit.

Dreams you can’t make sense of today, you may understand tomorrow or next year.

If you are someone who is interested in precognitive dreams, this one is especially relevant for you.

Dreams that seem to take place in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people or dreams that make little or no sense now, may make a lot of sense in the future once you’ve met the people or arrived at the place you once couldn’t identify.

Often people will struggle to write down dreams if they don’t recognize the place or have language to describe it. Do your best. Again, be kind to yourself. You are here to honor your commitment to a practice. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

You may find, as mentioned above, that once you started writing the dream down, you’ll find it’s easier to articulate the dream than you originally thought. Even if it isn’t easy to find language for the dream or string together sentences, try to use some basic key words your future self, when searching your dream log might use to identify whether a past dream has come true in “the future.”

Examples: lover, job, ocean, war, school, yellow dress, townhouse with a stained glass window.

All of the above could seem irrelevant at the time of the dream, but imagine a year later when you meet an attractive woman at your new publishing job, who is wearing a yellow dress, and she shows you a book you’re going to edit, the cover of which features a townhouse with a stained glass window. The book was written by a former refugee.

All of a sudden, the dream makes some sense.

Some dreams are still in development. So are we.

My main focus in my own personal dreamwork at this time is on spiritual development and on healing old wounds. A big part of healing old wounds involves identifying patterns and conditioned ways of being. In order to change or heal, we need to first face and feel into who we are now and how we behave.

Our dreams — compassionately — often show us what we can’t see clearly or feel in waking life. When you write down your dreams every day as a ritual, committing to the practice no matter what feelings arise, you may identify a pattern. You may remember something from childhood you’ve long since forgotten. You may see how time and again you react to certain people or situations in a certain way. You may then be able to work with an old wound you didn’t know you still had.

It may take a few dreams or many dreams before you recognize a pattern. Further, if we let go of a dream because we think it insignificant, we may be throwing away an important clue our dream self is trying to lovingly send us in a subtle way.

For instance, I may dream about an old coworker I haven’t thought about in years. I decide to not write the dream down because the person wasn’t someone I cared about and the dream details seem mundane.

However, if I did write the dream down, I might notice that over time, I have another dream about that person. And another. And another. Eventually, I might realize that old coworker looks a lot like a boy that bullied me as a child.

The dreams about the coworker weren’t insignificant at all — they were a slow, gentle way of turning my attention to a painful event from my distant past.

Dreams are a wellspring for insight and self-discovery. Creating and committing to a morning ritual for remembering our dreams is a way to honor this, and cultivate a practice for self-development and healing.

(This was originally published on Medium in my collection of dream-related essays and articles “Into the Dream.”)

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