Friday, December 6, 2013

Don't have a dream? Make something up

Almost every day, I am asked for guidance by people who have been missing their dreams. "How can I improve my dream recall?" one man asked. "I feel I've been missing the movies?"
    There are many remedies for dream amnesia that are worth a try. They start with making more room for dreams in your life. This means giving yourself time to wake up naturally, and staying in bed for a bit to see what images from the night may come back to you.
    You may want to experiment with personal rituals for dream incubation, which may be as simple as placing an image that speaks of your intention close to your bed or even under your pillow: a postcard of Paris, a beach stone, a photo of a loved one, a written statement about what you would like to dream. And then being ready to record whatever is in your mind whenever you stir from sleep.
     Whether you are a prolific dreamer or a dream amnesiac, you need to be kind to fragments. Maybe all you remember from the night is a sense of color, or a funny word, or a tiny cameo, or the song playing in your head as you woke. Don't blow these fragments a way. Your associations around them may be very revealing. You may be able to use a wisp from an otherwise forgotten dream like the end of a line, to pull back something much bigger that hid from the light of day.
    It will be of great help to you to remember that dreaming is not fundamentally about what happens during sleep. It is about waking up. And you don't have to go to sleep in order to dream. Many of the most important visionary experiences of my life have taken place in the twilight zone of hypnagogia, in "the Place Between Sleep and Awake". Look for the images and adventures you have been missing there, too.
    The world around you will speak to you in the manner of dreams, through the play of synchronicity and pop-up symbols in everyday life, if you will pay attention. And when we make more room for the play of meaningful coincidence, we sometimes manage to renew our connection with the dream source on the other side of the obvious world.
    Persistent cases of dream amnesia are often a symptom of the condition that shamans call soul loss. We are missing our dreams because we have lost a vital part of our soul, a younger self who is the dreamer. In my book Dreaming the Soul Back Home, I offer guidance on how to locate and bring back those lost boys and girls, with all their joy and energy and imagination.
    Having at least one trusted person with whom you can share dreams and personal stories in the right way on any day is a great incentive for dream recall, especially when you make a regular date to meet, whether in person or on the phone or through the shared dream of the internet.
    Even when dreams have flown, needing to bring something like a dream to the breakfast table, the coffee shop - or the workshop - is a tremendous spur to story making.
    In my workshops, I give people a standard homeplay assignment: Set an intention for the night and bring us juicy fresh material in the morning. I will often add this instruction: If you don't remember a dream, bring us a story of some kind, from any part of your life. If necessary, make something up.
    It is wonderful how this works, and grows the practice of imagination, which is at the beating heart of my work, as teacher and as creator.    

   I have long been inspired by the example of Graham Greene, who became one of England's most prolific and engaging novelists. At sixteen, he had a complete nervous breakdown. He ran away from the posh boys school where his father was headmaster, potentially a dreadful scandal. His family packed him off to London to seek a cure by living in the home of one of the first practicing psychoanalysts in Britain.
    Fortunately this proto-shrink had a relaxed and eclectic attitude. For almost three month, the main assignment he gave young Greene was this: Come to my study at 11:00 o'clock every morning and tell me a dream. When Graham did this, he was not given any interpretation; he was merely encouraged to make a series of free-form associations.
    There were days when the adolescent Greene had no dream recall, or no dreams he was willing to tell. On those days, he would make up a story and tell it as a dream. In this way, he gave him imagination a regular workout, and laid the foundation for his long and almost incredible life as a maker and teller of stories.
    So, if you don't have a dream, make something up, and share that in some way, if "only" with your journal. I put he "only" in quotes because your journal may be the very most important place for this kind of sharing.
    Similarly, if you are stumped by any other life situation, make something up.
    I once asked a group of dreamers in a week-long adventure I was leading at the Esalen Institute in California to make a shamanic journey, powered by drumming, with the aim of finding and bringing back a power song. Some people came back with ancient chants in various language. One traveler came back with "Yellow Submarine". A woman from the Midwest came back with a fresh song that became a kind of hymn to the imagination for many of our subsequent groups:

Make it up as you go along
Make it up as you go along
Make it up
Make it up
The way will show the way.

Resources: I offer many games and tricks that will help you to break a dream drought in my book Active Dreaming. I tell the full story of dreaming in Greeneland in The Secret History of Dreaming. I lead many playshops around the world where the practice of imagination is the heart of what we do; please see the events calendar at my website.

Image: RenĂ© Magritte, "The Lovers"

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