The Active Dreamlife
Fishing for a Dream
The fish is an age old symbol and one which frequently appears within dreams. Within the dream the fish tends to represent that which is formed yet remains unconscious. To catch a fish is to pull content from out of the waters of the unconscious onto the dry land of one’s conscious mind. The fish and fishing can also represent the process of dreaming and dream analysis itself.
The golden fish of this Dream Analysis site highlights the value and importance of the dream.
Jung’s Rediscovery of the Dream
What is a Dream? We all dream. Every night – as we dim the light of consciousness – we enter the realm of the dream. In this dream state our imagination runs free with little or no interference from our conscious mind. In the morning, when we wake and return to consciousness, we may bring with us a recollection of the wanderings of our imagination – we remember the dream.
To dream is natural, it is a universal experience. All people of all cultures enter into this dream state when they sleep. As sleep research has shown even animals dream. How we regard the dream, however, varies from culture to culture and from person to person.
Unfortunately most of us remain unaware of our dreams. We fail to remember them. Even if we do remember a dream it is typically dismissed as meaningless and unimportant. For those of us who do place an importance on the dream it still remains a mystery. So what is a dream?
Dreams – God’s forgotten language Originally the dream was held to be the voice of God. Most indigenous cultures hold that the dream is sent by the Great Spirit and serves to offer advice and instruction. This idea of the divinity of the dream can also to be found in the ancient Egyptian and Greek cultures.
In the Old Testament Jacob interprets a dream for the Egyptian pharaoh. Jacob explains that God has spoken to the Pharaoh and warned of seven years of prosperity to be followed by seven years of famine.
In Egypt and Greece the dream was considered as a message from the gods. There existed temples where one would go to dream and receive healing or instruction from the gods. Homer’s Iliad (8th century BC) tells the story of Agamemnon who receives instruction from Zeus through a dream. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, used dreams as a diagnostic aid.
In the Christian tradition the dream was thought of as the word of God. St. John Chrysostom preached that God revealed himself through dreams while other church fathers, such as Martin Luther, viewed the dream as the work, not of God, but the devil. According to Luther the church, and only the church, was the conduit of God’s word. For Luther revelations given to people in dreams could only be diabolic.
In the Middle East the dream was considered to be a source of divine inspiration. Mohammed, the founding Prophet of Islam, is said to have received much of what is written in the Koran through his dreams.
The Rediscovery of the Dream In the Christian epoch the church and its scriptures supplanted the importance of the dream. The dominance of Christianity obscured the divinity of the dream. Later, the rise of rationalism and science further undermined the value of the dream. To this day scepticism toward the dream remains the predominant attitude.
In the early part of this century, however, the value of the dream was rediscovered by two great psychologists, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. For Freud the dream revealed what the dreamer would rather keep hidden. By exploring the dream one was forced to face what was suppressed and rejected within oneself.
Jung had another theory. Jung felt that the dream acted as a mirror for the ego – revealing that which was missing from the consciousness of the dreamer. For Jung the dream acted as a teacher and guide on the road toward wholeness. With the work of both Jung and Freud the dream regained its status as a source of wisdom and healing.
Dream Analysis , Healing & Wholeness In his work with both patients and clients, Dr. Jung witnessed the natural healing mechanism of dreams and dream analysis. The dream acted in such a way as to amend a lop sided or partial perspective on life. A series of dreams would develop, balance and refine the conscious awareness of the dreamer. Jung had rediscovered the age old wisdom of the dream and its capacity to heal and make whole.
In his patients Jung noticed that the dream served as a healing mechanism for the psyche. As the therapist all Jung needed to do was to help and encourage his patients to understand their dreams. For Jung it was the dreams, not the doctor, who was the healer.
Having solved their original problems many of Jung’s patients continued on with their psychotherapeutic work with Jung. For they did not stop dreaming. Instead the dreams seemed to focus on a whole new set of untouched problems and issues. No sooner had one difficulty been resolved when another, of even greater complexity and depth, would present itself. And again the dream would provide the healing and answers.
In this pattern of raising one issue after another Jung recognised more than a healing mechanism at work within the dream. Apart from healing, the dreams also seemed to be encouraging and actively participating in the growth and development of the personality. Jung termed this inherent drive of the psyche as the force of individuation, the force by which we become whole and indivisible.
Both in himself and in his clients Jung pursued the way of the dream and became a student to its teachings. It was in this way that Jung helped to usher in the new religious paradigm, which has come to be known as the idea of Self-development.
Individuation & the Creation of Consciousness First there was nothing and then there was light – so runs the creation myth of almost every culture. Even western science postulates the idea of a Big Bang – an explosion of light from out of the void. Light emerging from darkness is a universal theme.
Light emerged from out of the darkness. While we may never know the legitimacy of such a claim it does reflect the most basic of all psychological principles, that is, the known is born out of the unknown.
The psyche is made up of two distinct fields – the conscious and the unconscious mind. The conscious mind is also referred to as the ego (from the Latin meaning ‘I’).
The ego, or conscious mind, represents our awareness and capacity for thought and self-reflection, while the unconscious houses our instinctive wisdom and patterns of behaviour.
Just as light was born of the darkness the ego has formed from out of the matrix of the unconscious. This creation of consciousness is re-enacted with every new life. One need only witness the development of a young child to see this miracle take place.
The creation of consciousness is ongoing. If you look back upon yourself you will find that you are more aware now than you were say a year ago. You are not different, just more fully who you’ve always been.
Active within the unconscious is a creative force which seeks consciousness – the unconscious seeks to be made known. This drive toward consciousness is the force of individuation – the force by which we come to realise our greater potential.
The birth of the ego was only the start. Now we have reached a point where the collective ego, that is, the conscious awareness common to us all, is well developed – simply look at our culture, our technology and our history. Yet, despite our achievements, the latent potential of the unconscious is in no way exhausted. There is still plenty of darkness which seeks the light.
Meeting the Unconscious The activity of the unconscious may be found within all aspects of our lives. It is there in our relationships, in our aspirations, our difficulties, health and the fate we attract. As Jung would often say, “called or uncalled God is always present”.
The ego cannot escape its destined encounter with the unconscious. Take for example the problem of love and hate. What we fail to see in ourselves we often find attractive in other. What we deny within, we battle outwardly. So too, the circumstances of our life are often designed to teach us exactly what it is that we need to learn. Illness often conceals a hidden wisdom. The ego cannot escape the unconscious just as we cannot escape our own birth.
The ego’s encounter with the unconscious need not be negative. In failing to open to the unconscious then it will force itself upon one. With a willing attitude such force is not required. The question becomes ‘how does one open to the unconscious?’ Its like asking someone to find their way in the dark.
The dream serves as a bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind. For the dream belongs to the twilight zone of consciousness – where the ego and the unconscious meet.
The conscious element of the dream lies in its remembrance, the unconscious element lies in its mystery and perplexity. Half conscious, half unconscious, the dream unites the known and the unknown.
To listen to the dream is to listen to the unconscious. Through doing so one relieves the need for the unconscious to force itself.
Take for example Peter, a stock market analyst, who suffered a depression and tendency to black moods. Several years back he found himself hopelessly attracted to a woman whom he noted for her softness and sensitivity. He entered into relationship with this woman but somehow it went horribly wrong. In the relationship he was happy but she was not. She left him saying he was too hard and callous and that he would never change. Broken hearted he went from one relationship to another, each one more problematic than the first. The common theme of each relationship was the perceived sensitivity of his partner. After a while he lost faith in relationships and fell into periodic depressions. These depressions caused him to take an easier job and to spend time alone, away from the rat race as he called it. It was during one of these depressions that he decided to come in for a dream analysis session and reported what had been a repetitive dream for the last several years – a dream whose nuances had first appeared as his first true relationship began to crumble.
The dream ran as follows:
I am in the city, but it is a sort of wasteland where nothing ever happens. In this city there are an endless number of high rise concrete apartments. In one apartment there is a girl. She is caught in the apartment because it is so run down that the lifts no longer work. All around are thousands of mangy stray cats.
The dream reflected Peter’s relationship to his own inner feminine. In the dream the young girl is trapped in a hard and hostile environment. Here nothing ever happens and nothing ever changes. Cats (which Peter hates) are symbolic of the feminine and in the dream they are starved and uncared for. The mood and atmosphere of the place was reminiscent of Peter’s own moods and depression. The dream presented a static situation which seemed to have no resolution.
Yet, through studying the dream, Peter finally recognised his own hard and callous nature as it was reflected in the cityscape of his dream. While he had been criticised along these lines many times he had ever really taken such criticism to heart. It took the extreme images of the dream to set Peter thinking. Working on the dream released a watershed of remorse. “How right she had been, if only I’d listened.”
Peter approached the unconscious the hard way. His attraction to sensitive women highlighted the need to develop his own sensitivity. Instead Peter sought relationship where the partner would carry his own unlived sensitivity and feeling life. The depressions and black moods which Peter suffered where simply an unconscious means of making Peter listen to and honour his own feelings. This approach, instigated within the unconscious, worked – Peter’s depressions forced him to back away from the harshness of the world. And from there he was able to listen to himself and his dreams for the first time.
Through working on his dreams Peter’s depressions soon cleared. He entered into a new relationship, lost what he called his hard edge and took a new job as a financial adviser – a move away from the cut throat nature of his previous role as a market analyst.
The way of the dream avoids a forced and problematic encounter with the unconscious. Dreams put us in touch with our selves and smooth our passage throughout life.