Dream Journals

by Joan Mazza

The mishmash of images, feelings, and memories that come to us in dreams often seems like nonsense. Before we make associations and meanings of these disparate pieces, we are likely to dismiss them as silly. We will see the value of dreams and speed up the process of dreamwork when we write down our dreams in our daily journals. If you’re like most people, you use your journal to write about your worries and concerns, what ticked you off the previous day, and your plans and hopes. You write about what is in foreground. That is, you write what is uppermost in your consciousness.

What is in foreground is exactly the subject matter of our daily dreams. And our dreams offer the added benefit that we have told ourselves these stories to find solutions to today’s problems and concerns. Even when dreams appear to be about people that we knew many years ago, the real issues they address are current–in the hours before we had the dream.

If I’m feeling troubled over exchanging some sharp words with a close friend, then I will replay the mental tape of that conversation as I try to sort it out in my waking hours. What did I say? What did she say? Who’s right? Maybe we’re both right. How can we resolve our differences and show respect for each other?

In the same way, my sleeping mind will continue to work to smooth this rough edge between us. I may not dream of this friend. In my dream, another character might play her part, perhaps someone with whom I had a similar conflict in my past. She might show up as one of my deceased parents, my ex, a sibling, or former co-worker. My attempt to solve the conflict may come out in the dream symbolically, such as the image of tumbling rocks until they are smooth and shiny, or trying to find a nail file for a bothersome hangnail.

If, like so many of us, I’ve had an exhausting day filled with demanding tasks and chores, traffic and frustrations, my dream will capture all that anxiety and stress. I may have nightmares with tidal waves and tornadoes, or dream of a fear of falling asleep at the wheel of my car–expressing both the sense of responsibility and my fear of being too tired to keep up. These daytime concerns match the script of the night movies I write for myself.

At first, the memory of last night’s dream may seem unrelated to the issues of the previous day’s events. But a dream is always more than a weird collection of mental debris. Recording our dreams side by side with our journal entry, we begin to make meaningful connections. We make a bridge to waking life.

Journal entries are most likely to move us toward resolving our troubled feelings when we write about our deepest emotions and concerns. James Pennebaker, in his bookOpening Up, shows how writing can move us toward emotional and physical health if we write what has been most difficult or too painful to talk about. Writing only about the surface content of our lives–what we did today, what clothing we wore, how much we spent, or how many miles we drove–doesn’t move us toward resolution or insight.

Similarly, by recording those issues that we continue to roll over in our waking minds with their emotional truth right along with the dreams that tell the same story, we find our way to the bridge that links these waking issues to the content and meaning of our dreams.

If, instead, you record your dreams as separate from your waking life, you might be compartmentalizing them, closing them off from the bridge. Sometimes, I hear people tell dreams as if they were telling the plot of a movie or novel that has nothing to do with them. Keeping your waking life separate from your dream life will mean you will have to find another way to discover your dream meanings.

You can record your dreams first or your journal entry first–whatever works for you. Of course, you may forget your dream or run out of energy or time to write it if you postpone recording it until after you write your regular entry. I recommend catching the dream in writing as soon as you recall it.

The key to meaning is to place both the dream and the journal entry, with their authentic emotions, in front of you at the same time. Knowing they are nearly always related will help you make meaningful associations and hear meanings without having to try very hard. By writing daily issues and daily dreams together, the links come automatically–before you begin the formal work of dreamwork by following the twenty steps I suggest in my book Dreaming Your Real Self.

In my ongoing dreamgroup, we open with a check-in. This is like a verbal journal entry of what’s on our minds and how we are feeling in that moment. We say briefly what’s happened in our lives since we last met. Then, when we tell our dreams, the emotions and metaphors of our descriptions often match the content of our dreams. The bridges are right there for us all to see.

For me, journaling and dreamwork complement each other. They weave the warp and woof of the same fabric. I write in my journal every morning when I get up. At that time, I also record my dreams of the night before–when I have dreams that I remember. Even when I don’t remember a dream, the act of journaling my concerns, worries, and hopes often triggers the memory of a dream. This is the first step toward making meaning.

Our daydreams, daytime thinking, nightmares, and dreams all come from the same place and are all joined by the emotions and language we use to express them.

By recording your dreams with your daily journal entry, you will appreciate how well it prepares you to understand the messages and value of your dreams.

Joan Mazza is a licensed psychotherapist, certified sex therapist, writing coach, national seminar leader, and the author of six books: Dreaming Your Real Self: A Personal Approach to Dream Interpretation (Perigee), Who’s Crazy, Anyway?(iUniverse), Dream Back Your Life: Transforming Dream Messages into Life Action-A Practical Guide to Dreams, Daydreams, and Fantasies (Perigee), and three guided journals from Walking Stick Press/Writer’s Digest: From Dreams to DiscoveryThings That Tick Me Off, and Exploring Your Sexual Self. Her articles, fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in many magazines, including MöbiusPermafrostPotomac ReviewWriter’s DigestPlaygirl, Loving More, The Writer, and Writer’s Journal. She is available for telephone consultations on dreams, writing, and getting published. For contact information, go to https://www.joanmazza.com .


Applying Joan Mazza’s Suggestions to LifeJournal

by Ruth Folit, written December 2003
Joan Mazza strongly suggests in the previous article that you integrate your dreams into your regular journal. I can recommend two good ways of doing that within LifeJournal: You can record your dreams within Daily Journal Entries, or since LifeJournal offers a Dream Journal entry that is separate from Daily Journal entries, you could record your dreams in the Dream Journal Entries.

What are the benefits of each method? If you choose the first approach, you would more closely follow Mazza’s advice about integrating your dreams into your regular journal. You could highlight the text about the dream and assign the topic “dream” to it. That way, you’ll be able to extract the record of dreams from within the journal entry, if you chose to, by using the “search” function. (Go to search, select the topic “Dream” from within the Topic list and check the option “Retrieve Highlighted Passages Only.” All the text that you have assigned to the topic “dream” will appear under a heading of the title and date of the journal entry. If you click on the heading, it will open the full journal entry.)

If you follow the second strategy, when re-reading your journal to make sense of the dream, you will be able to open both the dream journal entry and daily journal entry simultaneously. With the related entries juxtaposed, you can begin to compare the two, finding common threads, and building the bridge between waking and dreaming life. Even though you are not following Mazza’s advice explicitly, you might find that LifeJournal is really one journal with separate parts that can easily be integrated.

In either case, carefully assigning topics to journal entries about dreaming and waking life may help you see the connections between the two.