Right now, the first thing I do when I wake up is try to remember my dreams! Do you remember your dreams? 60% of people say they don’t dream at all, which isn’t actually true, and of the people who admit that they dream they forget 95-99% of those dreams within the first ten minutes of being awake.
Remembering my dreams is so important to me, that I’ve just started a 100 day public art project where I’m painting my dreams every morning and posting a photo on Instagram. I actually just posted my first dream this morning!
I have this strange sense that remembering our dreams is really, really important. Dreams seem to hold all these clues and insights about what’s really going on. And there have been all of these people throughout time who have learned from their dreams. Did you know Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein because she dreamed it? And the tune for the song “Yesterday” by Paul McCartney was something he heard in a dream? The psychologist Carl Jung studied and shared his dreams with Sigmund Freud and now you can even buy this incredible book called The Book of Symbols based on the work of mythologist Joseph Campbell that chronicles dreams and symbols.
One of the most effective way I’ve found to capture my dreams is to use the voice recorder on my iPhone.
While still somewhere between awake and asleep, I recount my dreams out loud, recording them. One of the things I try to do in addition to actually describing the dream is to give commentary on how the dream is making me feel. For example, I once had a dream where this massive cobra snake appeared in front of me. Now, typically, I’d think that a snake might be a scary symbol to see in a dream, but as I was recounting this, I took careful attention to note that this snake was majestic, that it was powerful and beautiful and that I was not afraid. I think it was Carl Jung who said that the most important aspect of our dreams is what the dreams mean to us, how we interpret them. It’s not about what a dream dictionary says a symbol means or what a friend thinks, it’s how we interpret them in that moment. I like that.
After I capture (and now paint) my dreams, Tilly, my cocker spaniel pup, and I go for a leisurely morning walk. We dilly dally together, stopping a lot and looking at things.
Next up is coffee. I used to drink a couple cups of coffee a day, but one day my neighbor made me a cup of coffee so delicious — I’m talking so totally experientially awesome — that one cup was all I needed. Just like that, I went from being a multi-cupper to a single-cupper.
I remember that morning watching my friend Michael smell the beans in the bag with his eyes closed. He then walked over to me, held the bag up to my nose, and asked me, “What do you smell?” Cherries and roses! I had never taken the time to smell my coffee like that. He showed me to how be present to the entire experience—from boiling the water to enjoying the first sip. I learned a lot from watching him that day, and since then, making a warm cup of coffee in the morning has taken on a very special place in my day.
After coffee, I usually tend to the altar in my studio. This altar is the spiritual heartbeat of the space. When I tend to it, I feel like I am being reconnected to Bali, where I found it, and the women who, daily, create ceremonies around the altars. If you’ve ever been to Bali, you know first-hand that the country is riddled with altars. They’re everywhere! And they’re colorful and covered in fresh flowers and incense. The entire island smells of jasmine and sandalwood and fresh delicate flowers. What an experience!
I spend a good amount of time in Bali working with women batik artists for a textile project I run called The Bulan Project. When I’m there, mornings are a magical time of the day — you can hear the roosters singing and the ducks searching for breakfast in the rice patties. Wearing their ceremonial sarongs, the women are these gorgeous slices of color moving amidst palm trees and rice patties. They carry towering trays of hand-made offerings made from meticulously braided palm leaves, fresh flowers, and packages of fresh mints and cookies. They must spend hours making these offerings daily — they’re incredible.
And as these women tend to the altars, they look like they’re floating. They radiate. And in the morning, if you’re not awake yet (perhaps you’re still laying in bed remembering your dreams), you’ll wake up to the smell of their trays passing outside of your window. It is so magical, that smell and their dedication to ceremony.
One day, I found an altar and brought it back to San Francisco. I hung it right in my kitchen and tend to it in the morning. When I light the incense, the smell transports me through time and space. Has that ever happened to you? Smell is powerful, and tending to this altar is a very sacred part of my morning routine.
After the altar, I sit down and do morning pages. This is an exercise I learned about from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Basically, it’s three pages of long-hand writing. I think she once called it “brain drain,” and that’s a really wonderful description of how it feels. It only takes about fifteen minutes, and through the daily ritual of writing, you move mental clutter out of your mind and onto the page. Anything and everything can go onto the page because it’s just for you, and even then, Cameron advises waiting six weeks to read what you write. The practice of morning pages is like sweeping the floors — you just feel better afterwards.
The final part of my morning routine is reading and writing. Beginning this year, I committed to reading every day for forty-five minutes and responding to that reading for fifteen minutes. I document my writing on notecards (everything is on notecards), and I hang the cards up in my bathroom and around the studio so I see them all the time. Sometimes I talk to them or imagine they’re at a dinner party and seat some cards next to others, and then new ideas come up. It’s very fun. By the end of the year, I’ll have 365 notecards.