The first step to start a dream journal is to dream!
We often talk about archetypes and primordial mythological stories. There’s a longing to use these concepts to improve our real life. Take the abstract and make it tangible.
To do that, we have to go where all of these ideas jump out; our subconscious.
And the best way to access it is… well, you guessed it!
In our dreams.
They are a direct communication channel with your subconscious. Humanity has been trying to decode the symbolic images and visions we receive during the night since the dawn of time.
Giving form and restructuring these seemingly chaotic dreams can be essential to understanding the universal truth and eternal narrative that govern the human consciousness -- and yourself.
But in most cases, simply going to sleep won’t cut it...
Why Start a Dream Journal
We forget a lot of the details!
The majority of people have about 35 dreams per week, yet they can only remember about 2.
And the level of depth and clarity is usually sub-optimal and doesn’t allow for in-depth analysis or revisiting them later in the day.
When you wake up, you have approximately a 2-minute window before everything becomes a blur.
Now, imagine that you have a notebook next to the bed where you can record your most significant dreams the moment you jump out of your subconscious.
What are the benefits of keeping a dream journal?
- You can read them over and over again in the daylight
- Break them down, look at them with fresh eyes
- Expand on them
- Tie them to what’s happening in your life at the moment
- Use your creativity to express your dreams artistically
- Revisit them after weeks
- Apply different methods of analysis like Jung’s active imagination.
Most importantly, if you do that for a long time, you’ll slowly build a “dream bank”, where you can go back months and spot the emerging patterns and narratives.
Think of it as a personal map of your subconscious.
This is why you should keep a dream journal!
How to make a dream journal
There are many ways to organize your dream journal and figure out what to record.
It can be an ongoing process and it’s up to you to figure out what’s working and what isn’t.
What I’m going to outline right now is a rough framework you can utilize tonight, containing the essence of dream journaling.
But before I do that…
What’s a dream journal?
It can be whatever you think it is!
A notebook, a digital document, a canvas or an audio recording.
A dream journal is a medium where you record your dreams and your thoughts about them.
I believe writing is one of the best ways to keep a dream journal because there’s a special relationship between our subconscious and the act of writing by hand
(And if you apply some of the principles I’ll present, you’ll find that your hand will guide you more than your mind!)
How to organize your dream journal?
There are plenty of ways to create a useful layout.
It could be as simple as a one page where you document what you experience. Or, an elaborate, multi-layered notebook where you express yourself creatively with drawings, poems, and stories.
I invite you to check out my process and maybe borrow a few ideas.
1. Rule of One
This is the section where you pen down the most important theme or narrative of your dream. That one idea you subconscious communicated.
As you know, dreams can be chaotic but if you pay attention there’s a method to the madness.
Instead of focusing on the visual aspects, try to express the emotions you experienced.
Angry, sad, anxious, nervous, hopeful, happy?
Whatever it is, explore the “how and why” it was manifested the way it did. That brings us to:
2. Distill the Essence
Now that you organized the raw data, it’s time to give them meaning.
- Why are you receiving this dream?
- How it relates to what’s going on in your life?
- Does it answer a question that has been simmering in your mind?
There’s no right or wrong meaning but most importantly, there’s no definitive interpretation.
The utility of your dream journal is that you can revisit these dreams after weeks and months and analyze them with fresh eyes.
3. Focal Points
The most important characters. The people you interacted with or those who play a protagonistic role in your dream.
They can be people you know, strangers or familiar faces.
Writing down their personality traits and how they relate to you or to the people you know in real life.
It’s useful to think in terms of archetypes. Often-time, there are specific clusters of characteristics that form different roles these characters assume. Recognize them; you might be witnessing parts of your suppressed, shadow self.
The old "A picture is worth a thousand words” adage applies here as well.
It’s not always possible to express dreams using plain words. But letting the rest of the sense do the heavy lifting can often lead to breakthroughs.
- Drawing the most important characters
- Sketching the surrounding
- Doodling weird symbols
- Playing or just listening to music that feels fitting
- Re-enacting scenes
- Creating full-blown stories
- Simply use your imagination
By engaging with your creativity, you’re shutting down the analytical side that might want to focus on the meta-context of your dream and not the experience.
In the beginning, all of the above might feel goofy. My only advice is to trust the process, embrace the awkwardness.
I can tell you that if you look back after a few days, you won’t recognize a lot of the things you drew or said. Something else was guiding you at that time.
5. Stream of Consciousness
Speaking of letting go of control, one of the most practical ways of doing that is stream of consciousness writing.
It’s a process of active engagement with your subconscious.
You sit down, each morning, and you write 3 pages (750 words) of whatever comes to your mind.
In the beginning, this mindful mindless will fill up the pages with ramblings and seemingly random notes. But as you practice, your hand becomes free from your demands and gets a soul of each own, untangling your mind.
It’s best if you set aside a few pages in your dream journal for that specific purpose since it’s preferable to use pen and paper!
This is what Julia Cameron, who coined the alternative term “Morning Pages”, said:
“Pages must be done longhand. The computer is fast—too fast for our purposes. Writing by computer gets you speed but not depth. Writing by computer is like driving a car at 85 mph. Everything is a blur. “Oh, my God, was that my exit?” Writing by hand is like going 35 mph. “Oh, look, here comes my exit. And look, it has a Sonoco station and a convenience store.”
How to keep a dream journal
If you read the above, you already have a good idea of what you should start doing tonight. But still, it can be a bit overwhelming in the beginning, trying to do everything at once.
So, I’ve outlined a very simple routine you can follow to ensure that dream journaling becomes a healthy habit.
Dream Journal Routine
(These aren’t rules set in stone. They’re simple suggestions, there’s no right or wrong way to go about this)
1. Get a good notebook
It doesn’t have to be expensive. But it’s important that it feels “special” in a way.
This can intensify the ritualistic aspect of dream journaling.
You can decorate it, add photos, drawings, little poems here and there. Make it yours.
2. Set it by your bed
Nothing I’ve said so far matters if you don’t document your dreams every night.
Your objective for the first few weeks is to write down every dream you’re having, even if it’s just two sentences or a couple of words describing how you were feeling.
3. Set your intention
Use your dream journal in a mindful way.
Before hitting the bed, at the top of the page, write your intention for the night. Maybe a little mantra, exclaiming your desire to find answers tonight.
When you wake up, you can check if you were heard.
Each week, skim through your notes.
What patterns are you noticing? Common themes and symbolism? Emotions that jump out?
Devote a page to a recap.
“Why Should I Keep a Dream Journal?
This is perhaps the very first question that will pop-up right now.
It seems that keeping a dream journal is so much work. Is it worth it in the end?
This is subjective, of course. It depends on your goals and overall attitude to dreams.
And I’m not the one who will give you a definite answer.
But before I let you go, someone else might have some useful insight:
Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.
- Carl Jung