Dream Diaries and Mental Health
I don’t believe there is a single human who has not in some point in their life been fascinated by a dream. Especially as a child when our imaginations are running more freely I can recall some truly wild one – including several where I recognized myself as dreaming, otherwise known as lucid dreaming, a term coined by Dutch Psychiatrist and writer Frederik van Eeden in the late 1800s.
Freud and Jung believed that the ability to interpret one’s dreams could play a crucial role in mental health and even the cure of some mental illnesses. Although both disagreed on how an individual’s dreams should be psychoanalyzed, each would probably show no objection to one keeping a dream diary in order to record their experiences.
Modern day science on dreams has shown some success. The field is called oneirology. One leader in the field, psychophysiologist Stephen LaBerge, is well-known for his research on dreams and the development of Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreaming (MILD), a technique designed to achieve a state of lucid dreaming (click the link for a free guide on how to do it).
Dream diaries can also play a major role in more easily achieving a state of lucid dreaming because they enhance our dream recall and make us more likely to recognize a dream state when we are in one. This kind of lucid dream would be called a dream-initiated lucid dream (DILD), which is when an individual is in a normal dream state but eventually concludes that he or she is dreaming (this is what happened to me as a child).
Have you ever had a really emotionally-intense dream? Maybe you were frightened or incredibly happy? And as the dream unfolds it all feels so real at the time. You wake up, you realize you were just dreaming, but the dream stays with you throughout the day because it left such an impact on your psyche. When I have these kinds of dreams I am always tempted to tell a friend about them. But isn’t it funny that after we tell our friend about the dream they don’t seem nearly as impressed as we were?
Perhaps this sheds some light on the relatively inexplicably and personal nature of dreams to the dreamer. I believe Carl Jung touched on this too. The individual is the only person that can most accurately interpret their own dreams. If the mind is a symbol-manipulator, which I believe it is, than it is very likely that our dreams have a meaningful nature to them. Jung believed the psyche, much like our biological bodies, was a homeostatic system. Meaning, it always seeks a balance – and whatever may be lacking (or insufficient) in our external world may be trying to manifest itself in our internal dreams. Jung called these archetypes.
It is well-known throughout fields of cognitive psychology and neuroscience that the brain is not simply a passive receiver of information, it is also a machine that generates information, predicts and anticipates, and I would also argue: it has a certain sense of creativity, meaning and understanding that it seeks from our natural world.
One theory proposed by the American psychologist and psychoanalyst Mark Blechner, is called Oneiric Darwinism which furthers the idea that the function of dreams is to a series of spontaneous “thought mutations” – some of which can be interpreted by the mind as useful while others can be discarded. I think this brings up an important point. It is not scientific to say that all dreams serve some major purpose of the psyche – many of them may be just random neural firings. However, nothing is to say these “random neural firings” can’t have a significant impact on our perceptions and attitude. Dreams therefore can still be interpreted as manifestations of our subconscious – or a series of representations and symbols that we interpret as meaningful and purposeful – in the same way we can find meaning in everyday events, the clouds in the sky, or inkblots.
In other words, how we interpret our dreams also is revealing of our underlying beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions – not just the dreams themselves. With this in mind, keeping a daily dream diary is a great method to help us work through ideas, thoughts, feelings, and emotions in our psyche. This undoubtedly can lead to a healthier mind. It is a way to become more at peace with our internal world and self. Learning how to interpret our dreams can even help us to become better problem solvers.
How to Start A Dream Diary
1. Start and stay consistent
If you want to start a dream diary then do it now. Find a way to remind yourself in the morning to record whatever it is you remember. Maybe leave a note on your alarm clock, by your bed, or in front of your computer to remind you to write in your dream diary each morning.
2. Can’t remember your dreams? Record yourself anyway!
There are going to be mornings when you wake up and don’t remember any dreaming from the previous night. Record something in your dream diary anyway, even if it just how you are feeling in the morning or any thoughts you might have. You may even find that once you start reflecting on your state you’ll recall a dream you had. Whatever it is, try to record in your diary everyday. It is a good way to stay consistent and it will help you to eventually become better at recollecting dreams.
3. Upon awaking, stay in bed and reflect for a short period of time.
This may be bad advice if you have a tendency to fall back asleep, but if you can: after waking up just continue laying in your bed and reflecting on your dreams. This is the best opportunity to recollect because they are the most fresh in your mind. If you wake up and get out of bed too quickly you may start losing some of the details of your dreams. Our memory system can be very fragile sometimes (especially with dreams).
4. Write about the earliest and most meaningful dream you can remember.
Your dream diary doesn’t just have to be about current dreams. Record some from your childhood, ones that have left an impact on you, and ones that you have obviously found worth remembering. It is actually a really fun and informative experience to reflect on really old dreams and to try and recollect as many details as you can. This will help your future dream recall as well.
5. Describe your dreams in as much detail as possible.
Be as factual and descriptive as you can about your dream experiences. Also record what you think the dream may mean (if anything), and how you can use this information for personal development. Maybe you even learned something that is applicable to a real life situation?
6. Be open to the idea of analyzing dreams as a healing process of the psyche.
Often dream analysis can be thrown in as a mystical teaching, but I think it is more simple and practical than that. For this reason I suggest that everyone gives their dream diary a fair chance. At least try it out for 3 solid weeks before deciding whether or not it is worth continuing. This is just a recommendation. Most scientific research is now dedicated towards neuroscience and the biochemical origins of dreams, but the implications that dreams can serve someone in their own personal development could probably be traced back all the way to the Buddha and it is still prevalent today in modern forms of analytical psychology and hypnotherapy.
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