Keeping a dream journal can be as important as keeping a journal of your day-to-day, conscious experience. As surprising as it may sound, the average person only dreams for about two hours each night. According to Paul Lippmann, author and psychoanalyst, forgetting dreams is the norm. Between 5 and 10 percent of our dreams are remembered. When remembered, if not recorded, they are often forgotten. If not forgotten, they are neglected.
Dreaming, dream forgetting, and dream neglect reflect the dynamic and contentious relationship between our conscious and unconscious modes of functioning. Dream neglect highlights a waking consciousness that doesn’t recognize the vital relationship between what occurs at night and the psychological events of the day, nor the immense, potential benefit that comes from tending one’s dreams.
Why Should We Remember Our Dreams?
The ego’s eyes are blinded to the night. While there is no diagnostic entity called “dream neglect syndrome,” untended, the unconscious wildly roams through the day and our unruly waking world drifts unknowingly on its currents.
Gordon Lawrence, the developer of social dreaming, believes that dreams reflect social as well as personal meanings. In his book, Experiences in Social Dreaming, he states, “Provided we can remember our dreams, we can have confidence that we are in touch with our unconscious, and if we can associate to them, and use amplification, we are on speaking terms with our unconscious. If that is made possible, we can minimize the possibility of being caught up in psychotic-like social processes, because we can speak with our own psychosis.”
To be “on speaking terms with our own psychosis” (unconscious) helps us to be attentive to these unconscious currents that create confusion between our internal world and external reality and underlie many of the conflicts in the world. This helps us to better navigate our interpersonal relationships.
Why Keep a Dream Journal?
To be on speaking terms with one’s unconscious requires discipline, intentionality and curiosity, for the ego’s apprehensive eyes are turned away from the night. A dream journal establishes and sustains one’s conscious relationship to the dream world. According to Aizenstat, dreams are practical. They have information that support life. There is no downside to recording dreams, and an unexpected side effect is that we might remember more dreams.
Journaling dreams also nurtures our creative self. One far-reaching and subtle consequence of dream neglect is the failure to develop the imaginal Ego, the source of creative thinking. Dreaming helps us think new thoughts, to realize thoughts that we are unable to think until we dream them. Lawrence writes, “cognition and consciousness arise out of thinking, which will have its basis in dreaming.”
How to Journal
A dream journal is your book. There is no dream journal rubric. That said, here are some suggestions.
Keep a journal by your bedside. On waking, record your dream. Aizenstat, in his book Dream Tending, recommends writing the dream in the present tense in order to make the dream immanent. After writing down the dream, record your impressions and reactions to the dream. You don’t have to be a psychoanalysis to learn something from dreams. What feelings does the dream evoke? What are your associations and reflections? How do the themes and images relate to circumstances in your life?
In Dream Tending, Aizenstat describes exercises that can deepen your relationship to your dreams. One important technique is dream council. He describes this “as a forum to gain and maintain relationship with dream images…It is the bridge between dream world and daily life.” Dream council is like a cabinet meeting of dream figures playing in a field of dreams with eyes half open.
To develop your dream council, select a handful of resonant images from your collection of dreams. These images can be animals, humans, objects or even dreamscapes. Once you have chosen the images, give them a name based on their essential qualities. Make or find small objects to represent them.
You are ready to have council. Choose a location that can host the council. It can be a table top, desk or floor. Place the figures intuitively in the space and watch the figures with “imaginative eyes,” listening with all your senses. Which figures capture your attention? Engage the council with a question or issue that you are struggling with. Let the council hold the question and listen to the different figures. What do you learn from them? Conclude the council with a ritual signifying the transition back into the waking world.
Dream council opens the door to unconscious thinking while in the waking state. It can be disquieting, illuminating and practically helpful. It welcomes the presence of the dream and, as Aizenstat states, “our dreams love to be in communication with us,” and we change as we open ourselves to their messages.
Written by Larry Brooks
Larry Brooks, Ph.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who has been in full-time private practice in Glendale for 25+ years. In addition to his psychotherapy practice, he provides consultation to post licensed mental health professionals and has written for the Cultural Weekly, an online publication critically examining cultural issues of the day.
- Lippmann, P. (2000). Nocturnes: On Listening to Dream. Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press.
- Lawrence, W. (2003). Experiences in Social Dreaming. London: Karnac.
- Aizenstat, S. (2011). Dream Tending: Awakening to the Healing Power of Dreams (revised/expanded ed.). New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal.
Dr. Stephen Aizenstat
Stephen Aizenstat, Ph.D., is the Founder of Dream Tending, Pacifica Graduate Institute, and The Academy of Imaginal Arts and Sciences. He is a world renowned Professor of Depth Psychology, an imagination specialist and innovator. He has served as an organizational consultant to major companies, institutions, Hollywood films, and has lectured extensively in the U.S., Asia and Europe.
He is affiliated with the Earth Charter International project through the United Nations where he has spoken. Professor Aizenstat is the Chancellor Emeritus and Founding President of Pacifica Graduate Institute. He has collaborated with many notable masters in the field including Joseph Campbell, James Hillman, Marion Woodman and Robert Johnson.