Dreamwork is the practice of tending to our relationship with our dreams. We’re dreaming every night, but many of us barely remember our dreams, or if we do, don’t spend much time thinking about them or working with them.
(How often have you dismissed a dream as, “oh, it was just a dream?”)
But dreams can have a lot to teach us and offer us when we enter into deeper relationship with them. The dreamworld is rich with feelings, desires, needs, and possibilities. Our understanding of what the dreamworld evokes and presents can support our physical lives and our connections to ourselves.
In this blog post, I’ll share a bit about how to start a dreamwork practice of your own.
First, I’d like to share my dreamwork lineage. What I know about dreamwork comes from the work of these folks in particular, as well as my own intuition and my ancestors:
These are wonderful people to go deeper into dreamwork with if you feel so called.
1. Support Dream Recall + Sleep
The simplest of ways to begin supporting your dreaming is supporting sleep and dream recall. It’s difficult to consciously work with our dreams if we’re not sleeping well or can’t remember our dreams when we wake up.
Everyone is different, but here are some things you might like to explore to support your sleep:
- Set screen time boundaries for a certain amount of time before bed
- Drink a tea to support your sleep, like chamomile (always do your own research and check with a professional before ingesting herbs)
- Create your own sleep ritual that helps you shift into rest mode
- Meditate and/or do a gentle, restorative yoga practice
- Take a few minutes to journal brain-dump style to help clear your mind.
To support your dream recall, there are a few things I find helpful:
- Set an intention to dream and to remember your dream(s) before you go to sleep (you can write this down, say it out loud, or just tell it to yourself silently)
- Take a few minutes in bed in the morning before you get out of bed (or look at your phone) to give yourself space to remember your dream.
- Create a dream altar and meditate at it before bed to welcome your dreams to come
- Pay attention to the dreams you do receive by tending them (more on that below!)
2. Start a Dream Journal
This is probably the number one tip anyone you ask about dreamwork will give you, and with good reason! A dream journal creates a container for tending your dreams, helps solidify your intention to connect with your dreams, and helps you understand your dreams.
I recommend choosing a dedicated journal for your dreamwork and placing it on your dream altar when you’re not using it if you have one. As soon as you wake up (definitely before you look at any devices), put pen to paper and record your dream. Try recording your dreams in the present tense to honor its aliveness (for example, instead of “I was walking by a river,” try “I’m walking by a river).
If it feels available to you, you might like to marinate in the dream in bed for a few minutes before actually getting up and reaching for your journal to record.
3. Explore Dream Feelings & Textures
After you record your dream, there are many ways to work with it more deeply and explore messages it might have for you.
I like to explore the dream textures: what are the textures, sights, smells, tastes, sounds of the dream? What do those senses mean for you and evoke for you? How do they make you feel? How does the dream, in general, make you feel?
4. Understand Dream Associations
As you work with the dream you’ve recorded, notice what stands out to you. Maybe your red dress feels particularly alive, or the hawk sparks something for you, or you feel curious about a figure in your dream.
Whatever you feel curious about, do a bit of freewriting about it. List out: what does this thing make you think of? How does it make you feel?
For example, some associations that come up with hawks for me:
- Hawk feather
- Maggie Smith’s poetry book Good Bones
- Protecting your children
Notice how I’m not so focused on the hawk itself, but I follow the threads of what each thing is associated with! Now I have something interesting to work with and can ask myself questions like, “what’s my relationship with play right now?”
Some of the associations you make might really surprise you and can offer deeper insight into your dream.
5. Assign Dream Correspondences
As you continue to work with your dreams, you start to develop some personal symbols and correspondences.
Like you saw above in my example with the hawk, I could make a section in my journal where I note that hawk led me to mothers and children and play. When I see a hawk again in my dream, I have that reference and can ask myself if/how it applies to this dream.
Over time, you can deepen your understanding of your own personal dream symbols and correspondences. I love this practice so much because, to me, it’s not about what a certain symbol means but about what it means to you, how it feels in your body, how it resonates with your ancestry. That’s what feels potent and powerful!
Dreams Aren’t Your Personal Vending Machine
It feels important to state that working with dreams isn’t just asking a question and receiving an answer. Generally, it’s not a simple or linear way of working. There isn’t one true or hidden meaning that we need to uncover.
In my eyes, dreams and the dreamworld are alive. So it truly is a practice of engaging in relationship with, of exploring. You might like to ask yourself, “how can I be in equal exchange with my dreams?” How can I honor the dream world and not just extract from it?
Dreams have such potential to expand us out of binary thinking and into visionary possibilities, especially if we acknowledge that power and allow them to take us there!
Going Deeper with Your Dreams
Another way to explore dream tending and go a bit deeper is by asking for a dream. I share how to do this in the dreamwork ritual I shared for Pisces season, which you can find here.
Let us know in the comments: how is your dream practice going? How is your relationship with your dreams evolving?
About Eryn Johnson
Eryn Johnson is a breathwork facilitator, tarot reader, and Reiki Master based in Fishtown, Philadelphia. She is also the host of the Living Open podcast for mystics and seekers, a storytelling tool here to help facilitate soul evolution. The foundation of her work is energetic and based on the belief that there's nothing wrong with you- we are simply programmed from a young age to forget the truth of who we are. She uses energy work, storytelling, and breathwork to guide you back to you - your heart, your power, your magic. Find her work at www.living-open.com and @erynj_ on Instagram.