Dreams are the best show in town. Here’s why you should write them down | Health
For years, my dream was to host Saturday Night Live. Literally. I have had this dream over and over again, going back decades.
I’ve traveled into space, back in time and become a superhero. I have been close friends with many famous people. I have made new memories with friends and family, some deceased. I have committed terrible crimes. And I have saved the day time and time again.
Our sleeping mind is a private theater where you are the director and usually the star, and there is no limit to the production budget. Yes, some of them are boring (most of mine are about work), but many are fun, vivid, and occasionally problem-solving. That’s why you should turn a blank notebook into your first dream notebook.
There is little scientific research on the benefits of dream journaling, but those who put it into practice find it useful or enlightening at best, and at least interesting.
The first potential benefit of dream journaling is that it may lead to a creative breakthrough. Your subconscious dreamer mind is inherently more creative. Your dreams jump in time, make leaps in logic, contain contradictions, and sometimes make no sense to our conventional conscious mind.
William Dement, founder of the Sleep Research Center at Stanford University, once said, “Dreams allow each of us to go quietly and safely crazy every night of our lives.”
There are many stories of creative and innovative people who are inspired by dreams and nightmares. James Cameron famously envisioned a “Terminator” robot crawling after a woman. A dream that sparked a massive film franchise. EB White introduced the character of Stuart Little in the dream. As Mary Shelley of her monster in “Frankenstein”. Computer scientist Larry Page dreamed of downloading the entire Internet and indexing only links before he did it with his startup, Google.
Paul McCartney was inspired to write “Let It Be” after his mother said the phrase to him in a dream. The melody of “Yesterday” also came to him in his sleep. “I’m a big believer in dreams,” McCartney said in an interview with The New York Times Magazine. “I am perfect Memory maker of dreams.”
In centuries past, people believed that dreams were messages from the dead that contained clues to what the living should do. The pharaohs of Egypt believed that the gods send us messages in our dreams. They called them Omina, which is the origin of the word divination. And the major religions today include stories in their scriptures in which dreams are important puzzles whose meaning must be solved.
A more common theory about why we dream is that it helps sort, organize, and process all the stimuli in our waking life, like clearing a cobweb. But sometimes silk is made of threads, when the answer to a problem you can’t solve in your waking life is found in your more creative daydreaming.
In a Guided Dreaming magazine published by National Geographic, Dr. Alan Peterkin has the advantage that dream solutions work “without the constraints of time, logic, space, or other real-world rules.” Peterkin is a professor of psychiatry and family medicine at the University of Toronto.
There are also historical examples of solving the dream problem. According to the New England Historical Society, Elias Howe designed the modern sewing machine needle from a dream he had about cannibals waving spears. Jack Nicklaus dreamed of a new golf club that would improve his game. Albert Einstein even traced the roots of his theory of relativity to a dream he had as a teenager about traveling at the speed of light.
Sigmund Freud, who wrote the first scientific study of dream interpretation, thought that they primarily reveal secrets and embarrassing moments from our past. But his rival-turned-mentor Carl Jung thought dreams tap into universal archetypes and contain clues from our unconscious lives to help us find happiness and answers to problems.
Another theory is that dreams act like a dress rehearsal for real life, a way to safely test alternatives. This seems like a likely explanation for nightmares. Peterkin explained that scary dreams originate in your brain’s amygdala, where strong negative emotions like anger and fear are located. They’re helpful, researchers say, because they can help train your brain to prepare for challenges and fears in waking life.
Anyway, the word nightmare comes from an image that looks like a nightmare: the Old English word for evil female spirits (maeres) who are believed to sit on your chest and strangle you.
Dreams are portals to your deepest self. Staring into a fun, cracked house mirror of reality will change your perspective. And by writing them down and considering their meaning, you travel along the “Royal Road,” as Freud called it, leading to unconscious knowledge of your mind.
“The effort to understand your dreams can become an important part of understanding yourself, your relationships, and your world, both internally and externally,” writes Peterkin.
Ellen DeGeneres went public after dreaming of a bird flying out of its cage and freeing itself. In a recent interview with GQ, Brad Pitt said that by studying his nightmares of being chased, trapped and stabbed, he was able to understand and work on “deep wounds” from childhood.
“No dream comes to tell us what we already know. It invites us to go the past Jeremy Taylor, author and former president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, says what we know.
Another benefit of recounting and recording your dreams is simple escapism. And who doesn’t need a vacation from life every now and then? In your dreams you can visit the past or the future, go anywhere in the world or beyond and fly there with or without a plane.
As Khalil Gibran put it more poetically, “Allow us to sleep, and perhaps the beautiful bride of dreams will take our souls to a world purer than this.”
The word dream comes from the Old English word meaning “joy, noise or music”. And there is joy in recording music or decoding noise.
An old Italian proverb says: “The bed is a poor man’s opera”. And there is a new performance daily. Dreams can be “an incredible virtual reality model of the world,” Peterkin wrote, updated several times every night with new and fascinating content.
In some of my wildest dreams, I married Nicole Kidman, joined Lord Hamilton’s surf crew, beat LL Cool J in a rap battle, and drove a Mach 5 speed racer. In others, Sarah Silverman was my therapist, Ellie Sheedy and I. When we were doing a movie together in the ’80s, I was very upset, and I played Han Solo in a version of Hamlet, using a script from Crocker Graham. I went to high school with Hulk Hogan in the 1800s and attended General Robert E. Lee’s funeral at that time. And I was Batman
I can remember these dreams and hundreds of others because I’ve been writing them down since high school. It is the simple act of recording dreams that prevents them from evaporating in the sunlight.
Of the many dream-themed films, two of my favorites are Christopher Nolan’s Inception and Wim Wenders’ lesser-known 1991 film Till the End of the World starring William Hurt, Sam Neill and Max von Sydow. As a subplot in “Until” the main characters find a way to videotape their dreams and subsequently become addicted to watching them (to the point of insanity).
“Now you look at the soul of man and sing to himself. To his own God!” Von Sydow’s character says. As cool as it sounds, today’s technology hasn’t advanced us enough to DVR our dreams (yet). The closest thing is to write them down.
You need little to get started. Find a dream journal app or designate a notebook to keep by your bed. And the next time you remember a dream, even a vague, half-remembered one, write it down. Even if it’s boring and doesn’t seem worth remembering, write it down. The more you practice recording them, the better your recall will be.
I also leave a piece of paper out to jot down some key words and elements in the middle of the night. Even a detail can make the memory of a dream come alive. Telling someone about your dream right after you wake up can also help you retain it until you write it down.
My dream journals have evolved over the years to include headlines, tracking themes, people and places, as well as noting how many were “good” “bad” or “neutral/in between”. I do this to look for trends, but don’t set the bar too high for yourself, especially when you’re starting out.
I also, on occasion, write a note at the end of the dream if I feel I have some insight into its meaning. I may recognize right away that, for example, a dream about being lost in a city is really about losing a business case.
Dream dictionaries collect mythology, psychology, and cultural symbols, and it can be interesting to look for recurring themes in them, even if little scientific information is known about them except in Jung’s collective, unconscious way.
Just remember to always interpret a dream through your personal experience. For example, a dream dictionary may indicate that a dog in a dream means loyalty. But if you’re afraid of dogs, it’s probably an indication of something else you’re afraid of. Or if your mother owns five dogs, your dream dog may stand for her.
As the great mythologist Joseph Campbell says, “Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.”
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