I have very vivid dreams and usually remember a great deal from them. Until yesterday, however, I don't think I'd ever really read much about dreaming. The book I picked up at the library and couldn't put down is The Universal Dream Key: The 12 Most Common Dream Themes Around the World, by Patricia Garfield, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who has kept her own personal dream journal since she was 14 years old (over 50 years now). Her first book, Creative Dreaming (1974) was a best seller when it came out, has been translated into 13 different languages, is still in print, and is now considered a classic. She and five colleagues founded the Association for the Study of Dreams. She is a dream collector. She is working toward creating a complete classification of dreams, but acknowledges that this may be several lifetimes away. She compares this effort, both in scope and importance, to mapping the stars, or the human genome, and sees it as a key to understanding the operation of the human mind.
Garfield used four main sources to come up with what she believes are the 12 most common universal dream themes: her own 50+ years' worth of dream journals; the literature on dreaming; the dreams of people which she has been collecting for more than 35 years; and the 500+ dreams that people around the world have submitted to her website. The twelve themes are all negative/ nightmarish--she says these are more common than positive dreams because they are more useful in helping us identify and solve problems--but she gives the positive version of each theme as well. So, are you ready to hear what the 12 themes are? These are listed in order from most to least common, with the positive version of the theme in parenthesis:
1. Being chased or attacked (being embraced or loved)
2. Falling or drowning (flying, swimming, or dancing joyfully)
3. Being lost or trapped (discovering new spaces)
4. Being naked or inappropriately dressed in public (being well dressed)
5. Being accidentally injured, ill, or dying (being healed, born, or reborn)
6. Being in a natural or man-made disaster (natural beauty, miracles, or rituals)
7. Having trouble taking a test or other poor performance (fine performance)
8. Having trouble with a car or other transport (vehicular pleasure)
9. Missing a boat or some other transportation (pleasant travel)
10. Having a house or property lost or damaged (house or property improvement)
11. Having trouble operating a telephone or machine (smooth operation)
12. Being menaced by a spirit (being guided by a spirit)
She addresses each of these themes in its own chapter, going into great detail about the specific motifs you might see. For instance, within the theme of natural or man-made disaster, the most common motifs are earthquakes, tidal waves or floods, fires, hurricanes, blizzards or cold, et cetera. If this is at all interesting to you, I recommend you check this book out and do some more in-depth reading on the themes that you recognize. She explains techniques to help you move from the negative to the positive versions of your dream themes.
I feel inspired by her plea that we all make a personal dream journal and start recording our dreams each morning. I actually have a dream journal that I began keeping in high school or college, but it does not have very many entries and I haven't written in it for a long time. She gives directions for keeping your journal, including the interesting observation that you will be more able to remember your dreams upon waking if you keep your eyes closed and try to stay in the same position you were in when you awoke. With your eyes still closed, after you have recorded what you can (writing with your eyes closed, or using a voice recorder), she recommends that you gently roll your body into another of your favorite sleeping positions, at which point you may recall even more dreams. She says that our sleeping position appears to have an impact on the kinds of dreams we have (!)
If you are wondering, why bother recording my dreams? I'll tell you. You can learn a lot of cool stuff about yourself from your dreams. If that isn't a good enough reason, try this: reading your old dreams is extremely entertaining. And if neither of these is compelling, I will simply remind you that Stephanie Meyer's inspiration for Bella and Edward came from a vivid dream that she recorded and then started writing from. You, too, could make millions and become famous, just by keeping a record of your sleeping stories. And with that, I bid you not sweet, but lucrative dreams.