It happened again for me this morning. When I opened my eyes, my memory of the night was blank. I lost my dreams, I sighed, because writing my dreams in my journal and then walking with them for a while - seeing how the world illuminates them and how they illuminate the world - is my favorite way to start the day.
I closed my eyes and lingered in bed. It didn't take more than two minutes before the dreams I thought I had lost came streaming back. There's nothing major going on in the dream travelogue I was able to record, but I had fun writing it down and reflecting on the behavior of my dream self and certain recurring themes that I recognized.
I am sometimes in awe of my dream self. He has skills I haven't developed, he speaks languages I don't know, he jumps across time and between worlds with utter assurance, while fully conscious that he is operating in several realities simultaneously. Dream Robert last night, was no superhero. He gets lost trying to find the room where he is leading a workshop. His confusion grows as the city around him shifts from New York - specifically, Columbia University - to Paris and back again. One moment, he is asking French gendarmes for directions to "La Grande Salle des Conférences"; the next, he approaches a man in Manhattan for similar help and accepts an invitation to go up to a strange apartment where television interviews in Arabic are about to be recorded.
Last night's Dream Robert has supernormal powers but does not seem to recognize that he can do something useful with them. Walking down a city street, he starts to levitate. The feeling - I now remember it so vividly - is of being carried up by rapidly rising floodwaters. However, there is no water on the street. Other people on the sidewalk are not affected and appear not to notice that my dream double is floating thirty feet above their heads. He decides that he doesn't want to float away like a balloon so he wills himself to come down slowly - and finds himself squatting on a ledge fifteen feet above a high terrace. It does not occur to him that he can fly and he can't imagine any other way to get down than to risk the jump. He lets himself drop from the ledge. The different physics of his reality allow him to slide gently down, back against the wall, to make a safe and soft landing.
I am drawn to compare the attitudes and behavior of my dream self with my waking self. Certainly, I can be lost and confused and torn between different places and situations. My dream self doesn't wake up to the fact that he is dreaming, in the sense that he could use his supernormal powers more consciously and effectively; he could fly (for example) to the venue he is trying to locate. My waking self sometimes fails to remember that waking life is also a dream and that reality may be far more malleable than most people allow for.
Since I know that in dreams we travel into the possible future, scouting challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, I will hold certain elements - Columbia University, that splendid conference building in Paris, the Arabic television interviews - in mind as possible previews, and use them for navigation if they begin to manifest in ordinary reality.
Let me pursue my main theme: the pause that refreshes.
On another recent morning I woke up suddenly at 5:00 a.m. without dream recall. I moved gently around in the bed, possibly resuming sleep postures from the night, no less suddenly, that I had five vivid scenes from the dreams that had previously eluded me..
I got up to write them down. I found I needed to pay close attention to the scene shifts. Sometimes we are too hasty in turning a series of dream experiences into a linear narrative. Transitions we can't explain may reflect that fact that we have moved from one reality to another. There are many levels of dreaming, and they may correspond to different orders of reality as well as different levels of consciousness.
I wrote up the five scenes and gave them titles. I noted that they did not play out in a simple linear sequence. There were at least three distinct event tracks, converging and diverging, and that in my dream awareness I was sometimes in three different places at once.
Satisfied with my journaling, I went to take a shower. As I reached for the shampoo, I recalled a further scene - number 6 - from the dreams that I thought were gone when I first woke that day. In this scene, I decided to wash my hair because it felt gritty when I ran my hand through it under the shower. In the dream, my hair was black and curly, cut fairly short.
In regular life, my hair has never been black and curly. It has been white for many years and before that it was brown. I seemed to be fully at home, in the dream, in the well-muscled body of the man with black curly hair. I wonder whether Curly has been thinking about dreams of his own in which he is in the body of an older guy with longish white hair. It's possible that I have been in Curly’s body and situation over many years, in what for me are dreams but for him is ordinary reality.
These notes lead me to make a few suggestions about improving dream recall and coming awake to the many levels of dreaming that may be relevant to you:
1. Make time for the pause that refreshes
If you think you have no dream recall, wait a bit. Maybe moving your body into positions it was in during sleep will bring back dreams you thought were gone. Dreams may come back in the shower, or the course of the day. Allowing for a pause before recall is especially important if you have awakened suddenly.
2. Pay attention to scene shifts in your dream reports
Don’t be too quick to turn a series of scenes into a linear narrative, especially when you don’t know how you got from one place to another. You may have stepped from one dream into another, which is to say, you may have changed worlds. In last night's dream (at least as I remember it) my dream self was blurry about scene shifts. More often, he is quite alert to their possible significance. When he is transported from one scene to another in an inexplicable way, he sometimes asks, "How did I get here?"
3. Be ready to ask "Who am I in this dream?"
You can find yourself in the situation and seemingly the body of another person, in your dreams. The reasons are varied. Maybe you have been drawn to share something of another person's experience and perspective, which can expand your humanity. Maybe you have entered the adventures of a parallel self or a counterpart personality in another time or another world. Whatever is going on, it's worth remembering to ask "Who am I in this dream?" and "Whose body am I in?"
4. Reach for the shampoo
Yesterday, as I stepped under the shower and reached for the shampoo, another dream I had lost came back. I saw again, clearly, the face of a younger man with fine wavy hair cut in a distinctive fashion, fairly short up to the top of his ears, long and luxuriant above, fluttering in the breeze. He was in a fairly good three-piece suit, cut in the style of an earlier era, perhaps Edwardian. He had the style of a poet, but also of a member of the landed gentry. I think I can travel through that mental portrait, if so inclined, and meet him again, perhaps in the Ireland of an earlier time than mine.
Perhaps I can call this kind of thing alluvial dream recall. Alluvial gold comes from sifting through sediment left by rivers and streams. There is pure gold in the dreams that may come when you turn on the water, reach for the shampoo and sift through your hair.