Over the holidays, I read an introductory book on dreams by Bobbie Ann Pimm, titled Notes from a dreamer on dreaming. Pimm’s book may be meant for beginners, but even seasoned dreamers will get something out of this personal and practical book. What strikes me the most of Pimm’s book is her simple three-step advice for recording and interpreting dreams.

The first step, of course, is writing the dream down in the first place. The sooner the better.  Pimm cites dream researcher Robert Van de Castle’s advice for also giving the dream a title, as if the dream is a story. In fact, writing the dream down as if it has a beginning, a middle, and a resolution can help structure the narrative and bring insights (as long as you make sure you’re not washing over the memory of the dream with wishful thinking).

The second step is playing with the dream’s meaning. Dream interpretation is never done, but really is a snapshot of a process. Pimm offers several practical methods of working with dream imagery, such as freewriting, doing word associations, and retelling the dream to friends to see what comes out of your mouth.

But it’s really the third step of Pimm’s process that caught my attention: ACTION. This last step is about asking the question: How can I honor this dream in waking life? Pimm calls this the “action plan” and in her own personal dream journal, she always jots down the possible ways she can correct for an action or use the dream as inspiration for discovering new information about someone or something in waking life.

Truth is, many dreamers are not always action-oriented, myself included. It’s easy to get wrapped up in deep symbolic parallels and live within a cloud of potentiality and possibility. But many of us forget that potential energy can be focused into kinetic realities.

Here’s an example of an action plan. In early November 2010, I dreamed:

I’m walking down a sidewalk and I see a box turtle in its shell. “Look!” I tell my friends and I stop to look closer. I feel resistance from them to stop walking but I do anyway. The turtle is beautiful. I see its green head and bright intelligent eyes and as I look it comes out of its shell and I notice how vividly green it is. Suddenly, the turtle starts moving towards me briskly. I’m surprised and a little frightened and I wake up with a start.

This was a beautiful dream, but because I woke up from it, it’s technically a nightmare… maybe the cutest nightmare ever. But what was so scary about this turtle?  I played with the symbols of turtles, and could go on at length here about associations with slowness, introversion, self-sufficiency, living between two worlds, etc, as well as possible cross-cultural interpretations that link turtles to wisdom, the Earth’s life force and sacrifice.

There’s also some day residue, as in mid-October I carried a snapping turtle across a country highway to prevent it from certain death. That turtle was gnarly, covered in moss and dirt, and came close to biting me as its neck craned back when I shuttled it across the road. But in all my musings, I didn’t think about an action plan, or how to honor this dream in waking life.

But using Pimm’s action plan, I can easily come up with few actions that seem to honor the spirit of dream:

  • To let myself stop in reverie at beauty as it comes across my path, even if that means interrupting a social scene or other “inconvenience.”
  • To seek contact with non-human others in my daily life, and build a relationship with them.
  • To appreciate the “slowness” of my own nature and allow for the time it takes for beauty and vividness to emerge in everyday life.
  • To be ready for–and less startled by—unexpected contacts when I open myself to relationship with all beings, human and non-human.

What’s interesting to me about this process is that the action plan came naturally and really cut through all the confusion and multiplicity from thinking about the dream symbolically. Instead of wondering, which of the turtle’s attributes applies to my life, I was able to quickly apply many aspects of the dream to areas in my life that are already on my mind.

Action: I recommend it.  I’m thankful for Bobbie Ann Pimm’s reminder that a dream not honored in life is a dream not yet understood. And my own turtle nature also reminds me that it’s okay if deeper understanding takes a while.