Remembering One’s Dreams Upon Waking

Western psychology has been fixated on dreams and dream interpretation since the dream interpretation work of Sigmund Freud. C. G. Jung took the review of dreams deeper by exploring what he called the ‘collective unconscious’ and the archetypes and symbols that arise widely in dreams. Dreams have always had an outsized importance for people, and ancient cultures had shaman priests who were adept at interpreting dreams. Shakespeare attributed significance to dreams and used them as a way to move the story he was telling forward. The ancient Greeks went to an oracle to have dreams interpreted, and one can go back to the Old Testament of the Bible to find dream interpretation playing a prominent role in the rise of Joseph, son of Abraham, becoming a trusted advisor to the Pharaoh of Egypt.

Western science took up the study of sleep cycles and determined that a stage they identified as REM sleep (rapid eye movement) was the apparent time when dreaming occurs, and they determined that REM sleep reoccurs in cycles through the night, so that the individual will have multiple dream episodes. However, for most people they only seem to have a faint recollection of specific dreams if they are the last dream during which they woke up. In today’s world, with the prevalence of wakeup alarms, people are brought quickly to a waking state with no real transitional time to collect oneself and thereby recall the dreams.

There are of course many dreams which seem to be the firing of synaptic energy bringing through the chaotic events of the day, undigested activities, or issues one is carrying around with one. Other dreams however may take on a deeper significance and provide insight, teachings, or premonitions that must be taken seriously by the dreamer in order to understand and potentially avoid a disastrous event. Remembering dreams, and then understanding what type of dream it was, and the significance, if any, of the dream, is therefore something that may take on a real value, particularly given the amount of time in one’s life spent sleeping and dreaming. The question then arises, how does one accomplish the task of remembering dreams, and not just the final dream of the sleep cycle, but others usually hidden deeper in the time of sleep.

The Mother writes: “This [remembering one’s dreams] is not so necessary. It is useful if one wants to have a great control over his sleep. But this also one must know how to do. To remember one’s dreams — that’s in the morning … In the morning when you get up, you must not be in a hurry. That is, you must not wake up just at the moment when you must get out of bed; you must have some time in hand and must take good care, must make a formation before going to sleep, and take good care when waking up not to make any abrupt movement, because if you make an abrupt movement, automatically the memory of your dreams vanishes. You must remain with the head absolutely motionless on the pillow, without stirring, until you can quietly recall to yourself the consciousness which went out, and recall it as one pulls at something, very gently, without any knocking and without haste, in a state of attention and concentration. And then, as the consciousness comes back to you, the consciousness that went out, if you remain quite motionless, very quiet, and do not begin once again to think of all kinds of things, it will bring back first an impression and then the memory, sometimes a fragmentary memory. But if you remain in that same state of receptive immobility, then it can become more and more a conscious memory. But for this you must have time. If there is the least feeling that you have to hurry, it is finished, you can do nothing at all. You must not even ask yourself, when waking up, ‘What is the time?’ It is absolutely finished. If you do that, everything vanishes.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, General Methods and Principles, Sleep, pp. 11-17

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