Dream Gates

Dream Gates

How to break a dream drought

As I embark on a new round of media interviews, lectures and bookstore events associated with the launch of my new book, Active Dreaming, I am being asked again and again:

Why don’t I remember my dreams?

In our society, many people are suffering from a protracted dream drought. This is a serious condition, because our dreams offer essential guidance, energy, connection with meaning and purpose – and fun – that is essential to being fully human.


I see that it’s time to re-post the basic guidance on breaking a dream drought that I presented in this space in June 2010:

Here are some fun and easy ways to renew and refresh your relationship with your dreams:

1.Set an intention for the night

Before sleep, write down an intention for the hours of dream and twilight that lie ahead. This can be a travel plan (“I would like to go to Hawaii” or “I would like to visit my girlfriend/boyfriend”). It might be a specific request for guidance (“I want to know what will happen if I change my job”).

It could be a more general setting of direction (“I ask for healing” or “I open myself to my creative

You might simply say, “I want to have fun in my dreams and remember.”


Make sure your intention has some juice. Don’t make dream recall one more chore to fit in with all the others.

If you like, you can make a little ritual of dream incubation, a simple version of what ancient seekers did when they traveled to temples of dream healing like those of Asklepios in hopes of a night encounter with a sacred guide. You can take a special bath or shower, play a recording of the sounds of nature or running water, and meditate for a while on an object or picture that relates to your intention.You might want to avoid eating heavily or drinking alcohol within a couple of hours of sleep. You could get yourself a little mugwort pillow – in folk tradition, mugwort is an excellent dreambringer – and place it under or near your regular pillow.


2. Be ready to receive

Having set your intention, make sure you have the means to honor it. Keep pen and paper (or a voice recorder) next to your bed so you are ready to record when you wake up. Record something whenever you wake up, even if it’s at 3 a.m. If you have to go to the bathroom, take your notebook with you and practice doing two things at once. Sometimes the dreams we most need to hear come visiting at rather anti-social hours, from the viewpoint of the little everyday mind.

3. Be kind to fragments.

Don’t give up on fragments from your night dreams. The wispiest trace of a dream can be exciting to play with, and as you play with it you may find you are pulling back more of the previously forgotten dream.The odd word or phrase left over from a dream may be an intriguing clue, if you are willing to do a little detective work.


Suppose you wake with nothing more than the sense of a certain color. It could be quite interesting to notice that today is a Red Day, or  a Green Day, to dress accordingly, to allow the energy of that color to travel with you, and to meditate on the qualities of red or green and see what life memories that evokes..

4. Still no dream recall? No worries.

If you don’t remember a dream when you first wake up, laze in bed for a few minutes and see if something comes back. Wiggle around in the bed. Sometimes returning to the body posture we were in earlier in the night helps to bring back what we were dreaming when our bodies were arranged that way.

If you still don’t have a dream, write something down anyway: whatever is in your awareness,
including feelings and physical sensations. You are catching the residue of a dream even if the dream itself is gone. As you do this, you are saying to the source of your dreams, “I’m listening. Talk to me.”
You may find that, though your dreams have flown, you have a sense of clarity and direction that is the legacy of the night. We solve problems in our sleep even when we don’t remember the problem-solving process that went on in our dreaming minds.


5, Remember you don’t need to go to sleep in order to dream.

The incidents of everyday life will speak to us like dream symbols if we will are willing to pay attention. Keep a lookout for the first unusual or striking thing that enters your field of perception in the course of the day and ask whether there could be a message there. Sometimes it’s in your face, as happened to a woman I know who was mourning the end of a romance but had to laugh when she noticed that the bumper sticker of the red convertible in front of her said, “I use ex-lovers as speed bumps.”

When we make it our game to pay attention to coincidence and symbolic pop-ups in everyday life, we oil the dream gates so they let more through from the night.
Waterfall photo by Don Dimock

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Johann_von_Tritheim

    Terrific tips! This tip #3 saved my dream life. I used to feel negative and disappointed about tenuous fragments left over from the night (“I can’t remember my dreams”) but after writing down something every morning, wow! did things ever pick up and get exciting.

    Also now I have a ritual about the #2 tip about writing down a wish every night before bed. It always works, though very often not what I wish exactly but something even more interesting and valuable.

    These tips are life savers!

    • Robert Moss

      Thanks, Johann. Keep dreaming!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Katie

    keeping the fragments is so important i’ve been amazed by how much I can get from them.

    • Robert Moss

      Katie – You bet. And sometimes when we retain just a “fragment” we are guided to go something essential without needing to spend time on a profusion of detail.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Colleen

    I am reading The Secret History of Dreaming, lent to me by a Hollyhock friend of yours, and I am delighted at how it has catalyzed my dreaming process! I read the part about parallel dreaming, and last night dreamed so vividly about having a healing conversation with someone I’ve been at odds with. I woke up with such gratitude. I also had an encounter with a shining white stallion in my dream. Exhilarating! Thank you for writing in such a lively way!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Anna

    Regarding not having to sleep in order to dream, my father in law has frontal-lobe dementia, and as it progresses, he has more and more hallucinations. As his waking reality diminishes, his dream reality has become very active. My husband, who sometimes spends the night, says that, while his father moves slowly in the day and is barely audible, at night it’s like he is in the middle of a 70’s cocktail party in full swing.

    We eventually realized that his “hallucinations” are really dreams bleeding into his waking life. They give us a very clear picture of how he feels about certain events and anything that may be troubling him. As his dream life begins to dominate, he has more trouble with his body responding to him; we wonder if it could be sleep paralysis, or whether the actions of his dream self (reaching for a hot dog at a stadium, for instance) could be at odds with what his physical body is being asked to do (“move your leg to the left”). The idea of hallucinations can seem scary and unpredictable, but recognizing dream reality that bleeds into waking life makes it easier to talk to my father in law and respond to his concerns. Have there been studies done relating dream states to so-called hallucinations?

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