Five Steps to Bringing Dreams to Waking Life

Below is a piece I wrote initially in 2010. Since then, I’ve found myself using my dreams a lot, and, in the spirit of what I recently heard Thomas Moore speak — “Some see the night time as a time to prepare for the real work of the day. However, the day is often what prepares us for the real work of the night that shows itself in our dreams.”



In about 2009, I started paying attention to my dreams. I wasn’t a person who regularly received epic, vivid dreams. Not even regular little dreams. I just had an ever-sharpening awareness that it was important for me to pay attention.

I read a little on lucid dreaming. And on out-of-body travel. I had and have those desires. But in search of simple first next steps, I just started writing my dreams. On my laptop. In my notebook. In the middle of the night. In the morning. I was advised that if I wrote them, they would come more commonly. They did.

To be transparent, I have many beliefs about catching dreams. Don’t we all. I don’t tend to take my dreams as literal — though some can be. Yes, I know that dreams are influenced by life experiences. Everything from last night’s lasagna to past-life trauma. I don’t feel obligated to interpret my dreams through universal meanings of symbols — though I welcome that also. I like the response that my friend Roq offered when I shared one of my dreams and asked what he thought. “If that were my dream, this is what would catch my attention.” I loved his pointing to the subjective. And I believe more deeply, the pointing to the symbols in dreams as receiving vessels on which to project meaning.

In “just writing” I came up with a pattern of five steps that I now follow all of the time. I find them helpful. Surprising also. Even the seemingly silliest of dreams, or the smallest fragments of a dream, open insights that I find helpful. My assumption is that dreams are a way for the “wholeness of the world” (or perhaps a collective consciousness) to be in partnership with us. To be in communication with us. Tuning to that communication is a practice. Messages come through dreams that our minds can’t hear or see. Dreams open up other forms of knowing and communication.

The process I use is below. It is one of noticing what is emerging. Try it out.

1) Write your dream. Don’t edit. Just write. Open to whatever is showing up through words. It may be a paragraph. It may be several pages. It may be a fragment of a dream. These often open up other dimensions of recall. Just write.

2) Highlight key symbols, words, or images from your writing. If the image of the pink towel was strong in your dream, highlight it, whether you think you should or not. If on my computer, I highlight by giving them a different color. If in my notebook, I just circle them. I look for what seemed particularly clear. Again, no sense-making here. Just highlight the parts that you experienced as key, strong, memorable, or poignant. Sometimes I choose as few as 2-3. Usually 7-8. Sometimes more.

3) With each symbol, free associate. Write a couple of words or phrases about what that symbol means to you. If pink towels make you think of Grandma, write that. What you write may be sparked from the context of your dream. It may be more generic. Begin to watch for a stronger meaning to arrive to you as you free associate. I often find it’s the second or third free association that stays with me intuitively.

4) From this associating, name the general story. The one that feels important. Was it a transformation dream? A seeking dream? A letting go dream? Don’t name what you think it should be. Look for what is arising.

5)  Name a couple of questions, insights, or assignments for your waking life. A few key areas of focus that you can carry with you into the day or the next week. I often reframe an association into a question. I don’t force it. It just feels like an invitation. How might I be different today if I think of my grandma?

One further insight on this dream learning process. It feels equally helpful in the dream that is waking life. I often follow the same steps above to make sense of some real life, waking dream, experiences. It helps me to see and respond in very different ways.