Dream Incubation: Keeping a Dream Journal and Mapping Your Dreams

Dream Incubation: Keeping a Dream Journal and Mapping Your Dreams

I know this might sound outrageous to some of you, but if there is a problem you have on your mind, you can ask yourself or a higher power to dream a solution. Here's how it works: first you write out your problem, formulated as a question. In this note, you should ask for a dream with a solution in symbols you can understand. For example, if your problem is deciding whether or not to sell your home, your note might look like this:

Is this the right time to sell the house? Do I really feel right about selling? Am I comfortable moving on to a new space? Am I ready? Tonight I will have a dream that gives me the answer to these questions.

You might use similar kinds of questions about a relationship you are in or a job that you're thinking about changing.

It also helps to sit for a few minutes and conjure up the mood you have when you think about your problem. For example, while writing out my questions about whether to sell my house, I closed my eyes and let the feeling of confusion, dashed with a fear of the unknown, surround me.

Read the note before you go to sleep each night and spend a few minutes bringing that feeling forward. Glance at the note during the day. Then write down or record every dream you have afterwards. You will find that many of your dreams during this period deal specifically with your question.

As far back as 2,000 years ago, the Kabbalah described these steps to what we now call dream incubation. If you dream about a problem, your dream will also suggest an answer. Many dream workers ask you to evaluate if the answer makes common sense once it has been interpreted.

Keep a Dream Journal

Keeping a dream journal is a terrific way to track your emotional progress. If you are passing through a crisis or life transition, if you are trying to change a relationship, or if you just want to keep track of who you were and who you've become, your dream journal will give you new perspectives on your life's path. And you'll find that after a while, writing in your dream journal turns into a fun and relaxing occasion rather than a chore. In fact, I know from experience that it's possible to get too involved with your dream journal.


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Many people find it more pleasant to keep a journal when they have a special, beautiful book to write in. I love stationery stores, so picking a dream journal is always an enjoyable experience for me. My daughters know I love blank writing books, and they often buy me one for Mother's Day or my birthday.

You can buy a lined book if you prefer to simply write out your dreams, or you can draw your dreams in an art book. You can do both. Some people write out the dream with drawings to illustrate different scenes or objects. Feel free to record your dream, with its feelings and symbols, using any kinds of illustrations or graphics you like.

Include the date on the morning of a dream. Patricia Garfield suggests that before you turn out the lights at night, "...jot down what you have done and felt during the day. This paragraph of 'facts' needn't be long but should include the salient events and emotions you experienced. This may hardly seem necessary but two months or two years from now you will find it invaluable. Be sure to include the pleasurable flavors of your day, however small, as well as the dregs."

Computerized Dream Journal

I know someone who keeps a dream journal in his computer. He takes advantage of different fonts and spacing and includes plenty of colorful graphics. The result is a beautiful document several hundred pages long. Keeping a journal in your computer also gives you the advantage of very easily looking up what certain images mean to you. You can create your own personal dictionary. By hitting "find" on the keyboard, you can see where and how a certain metaphor or symbol was used.

Take me, for example. I have always used the symbol "freight elevator" in my dreams to express feeling uncomfortable, insecure, and unsupported. For one thing, I'm uncomfortable in high places and the up-and-down movement of the elevator makes me dizzy. I also feel insecure because the space is too big, and the ground shakes under my feet. I don't feel like I "have my ground," as some people would say.

A few years ago, in 1997, this image appeared to me in a dream. I had recently started my Dream Interpretation Center and hoped to add a French division. As I am not fluent or confident in French, it took great effort for me to teach a training group. I felt very uncomfortable and unsure of my footing doing this in a foreign language. I was trying to handle everything all by myself, and I felt like I was losing control of the situation. In addition, three possible leaders changed their minds about the job at the last minute. I realized I would be forced to go with a smaller group, or change my direction and begin interviewing again.

Around that time I dreamed I was in New York City with my daughter Chelsea. The dream reads,

"We stayed in a hotel that was so tall that at a certain level, we got into a tremendous freight elevator to take us to the top." My journal goes on to say, "I forgot I had booked a lunch with an accountant/controller I know in Ottawa. We were supposed to be flying home, but I had to change the reservation at the last minute, to land in Ottawa. Chelsea was not happy about this. I had to hurry her into the large elevator which took us down some floors to the hotel reception desk."

When I look back at the dream journal, I find next to the "tremendous freight elevator" the description, "We were so small and there was so much space around us." It also says, "tinny floor, unsure footing, and so high up." Finally, I wrote next to the last part that "Chelsea and I are both going through changes. The up and down motion (elevator), like change, is difficult."

Finding Patterns and Repetitious Imagery

At the time, I decided to look through my dream journal to see where else the freight elevator popped up. One of the earliest moments was in July 1973, a few months after I had placed Tina in an institution. One day I realized I couldn't stand to go another minute without seeing her. I resolved to wake up early the next morning, without telling anyone (not even Murray), get into the car, and go.

That night I dreamed I was in a freight elevator at a construction site. I was coming down from a high floor to the ground. It was "quite a shaky ride." I had written that "the space was too big" and "the floor was wobbly." There was nothing to hold on to, and I was alone.

If we look at both these dreams, the freight elevator links to a scenario where I am trying to do the best I can in the face of a situation I can't control. Both are also situations where I have to change my game plan as I go. In both situations too, I am alone. The benefit of being able to compare these dreams about freight elevators lies in my ability to predict what this symbol will probably mean in future dreams.

Next time a freight elevator appears, I can ask myself,

"What is currently happening to make me feel insecure, unsupported, alone, and ungrounded in the face of change? Am I in a situation where I feel uncomfortable about my lack of control? Do I have to be alone?"

You see, when Tina was four months old, I certainly had the power to ask for support, yet did not. Likewise, twenty-four years later, I could have asked for support in leading the French-speaking group. While some elements of each situation were not in my control, I could have made things easier on myself by asking for help. I would have felt less alone, maybe more grounded. Here would be a possible solution to a current issue should I dream today about a freight elevator.

Entering the images from our dreams into a computer program seems very fitting to me. Our unconscious mind links data entries just like a computer, as well illustrated by this example.

How to Map Your Dream

Once you've jotted down your dream with all the detail you can remember, the next step is to create a dream map. This map will be the basis for interpretation, because it allows you to classify all the different elements in the dream and see what's going on. You can map your dream right after you have written it. Well, get a cup of coffee first. It may take a few minutes.

1. The first step is not to judge your dream. Accept it as it is. Do not think it is weird or perverse.

2. Write the dream down, double spaced. Leave room on the left side of the page.

3. Isolate your feelings during the dream. Write the feelings you had in the dream down the left side of the page. Try to group or attach different feelings to certain sections of the dream to see if there is a progression of moods. Inquire, "How did I feel at the beginning of the dream? And how did I feel in this part of the dream? Was there any change in my mood as the dream progressed?" If you are mapping someone else's dream, make sure to write down the person's exact words in answering these questions. Write the different mood changes beside the places where they changed.

4. Isolate and circle each symbol. A symbol might be a cat, a bear, a wall, a road, a ghost, a picnic, or even a person you know, to name a few. When I map a dream, I write a description of the symbol outside each circle. Ask yourself (or your partner) to say a few things that come to mind about the symbol. Describe the image as if to a child or to a person who has never seen the thing before. Ask yourself exactly what it is and what is its function. Gayle Delaney says to speak (or write) as if you are explaining the meaning to a person from another galaxy.

If the symbol is a person, ask yourself for two or three things that come to mind when you think about that person. Is he straightforward? Is she shy? Is this person especially kind or generous? Greedy or selfish? Is he acting in the dream the same way you would expect him to react in waking life? Sometimes a person doesn't necessarily bring to mind an adjective, but rather an incident. For example, when I think of Gary (a boy I went to camp with as a little girl), what comes to mind is that he was my first boyfriend and gave me my first kiss under an apple tree. The thought of Gary brings up certain feelings in me, not personality traits in him.

If you are mapping someone else's dream, it is very important to write down the dreamer's answers verbatim, because the key to the dream might lie in the dreamer's precise words or way of speaking. In this way, you know you are not putting your own perceptions in place of the dreamer's thoughts. And if it is your own dream you are recording, speak the questions and answers out loud and write down exactly what you have just said. Don't leave words out.

5. Look at the dreamscape. Where does the dream take place? What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of that location? What is the second? Write these down.

6. Put a square around each action or lack of it in the dream. For example, "I started running" or "I felt stuck and couldn't move" or "I opened my mouth to say something but I couldn't speak!"

What is the dreamer doing in the dream? Is the dreamer in the action, or outside the action, observing? What are other dream-characters doing?

7. Look for repetition. You can see it in repeated thoughts, feelings, actions, symbols, or characters. For example, if I am feeling scared about something, one night I might dream about a ghost. When I check my definition or feelings associated with a ghost, I find myself saying, "I feel scared."

Later in the same dream, or in another dream of the same night, I may find myself standing on the abyss of a cliff. And what does it mean? It means, "I am scared." Still later in the same dream, my grade five teacher appears. And what does it mean? It means, "I feel scared!"

An example of a repeated action (or lack of action, in this case) might be if you feel stuck in the first part of your dream because you can't escape from your enemy, and later on you find you can't speak up to defend yourself and you feel stuck again. A repeating symbol might be the same object that shows up more than once, or it might be two different objects that remind you of the same thing.

As you can see from these examples, the repetition and connections in the dream often show up during the mapping process, when you ask questions about what things mean to you. When I identify thoughts and themes that I feel go together or repeat themselves, I write them outside the circles and squares. I also draw lines to connect repeating thoughts or associations. I even number repeated thoughts or symbols.

Your unconscious uses repetition to prod you into acknowledging something you don't want to admit to yourself. Hence, the main function of a recurring dream or nightmare: to grab your attention!

8. See if you notice any polarities in the dream. Do any complete opposites present themselves? For example, a wolf and a sheep? A screaming person and another who is silent? Someone who makes you happy and someone else who makes you sad? In dreams we create polarities, opposites, and extremes, in order to measure and re-evaluate our positions on people and events. Sometimes the union of these opposites can reveal the solution to the dream problem.

The details of the map itself -- the circles, squares, and lines -- are not so important. Some people like to draw a line under each symbol, or put a squiggle under each feeling. You can map the dream in whatever way suits your fancy. The important thing is to ask the questions and write down the answers in a nonjudgmental way, using the precise words the dreamer has used.

Once you have caught a dream or two, the rhythm of how it happens feels more comfortable. You will start to know what to look for and what to expect. The more you practice, the easier it becomes.

Article Source:

Dreams Do Come True by Layne DalfenDreams Do Come True: Decoding Your Dreams to Discover Your Full Potential
by Layne Dalfen.


Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Adams Media. ©2002. www.adamsmedia.com

Click here for more info and/or to order this book

About the Author

Layne DalfenLAYNE DALFEN is a member of the Association for the Study of Dreams (ASD) and the C.G. Jung Society. In 1997, she opened Canada's full-time Dream Interpretation Center, where she offers individual appointments, telephone consultations, and lectures, as well as a thriving Internet site where dreamers from all over the world contact her. She appears regularly on numerous radio and television shows across the United States and Canada. Ms. Dalfen lives in Montreal, Quebec. Visit her website at www.dreamsdocometrue.ca.

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