“The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens into that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was a conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach.”
- C. G. Jung
We’ve all had the experience of doing something unconsciously or blurting out a strong opinion we didn’t realize we had; or finding a quiet strength and inner resources we didn’t know we had; or show a generosity or understanding we didn’t know we were capable of. There are often qualities, both positive and negative, that we can become aware of momentarily that may surprise us.
When you say to yourself “I’m not being myself right now”, it’s because “myself” includes both our conscious and our unconscious. An iceberg can serve as a simple metaphor for the mind. Only a small percentage of the iceberg is visible above water. Our conscious mind is analogous to the tip of the iceberg, while the largest and most powerful part of the iceberg is below the surface, like the unconscious (or subconscious). Memories, dreams and thoughts that we are not consciously aware of reside in our unconscious. Our conscious mind, like the tip of the iceberg, is only a small part of our entire being.
As we become more sensitive to these parts of ourselves we can ask, “what part of me feels that”? Many of our parts are hidden from our conscious mind. That is the point of “inner work” - to bring into awareness those parts of us that may be unconscious and move towards a more balanced and awake being.
Despite all of our efforts at self knowledge, only a small portion of our unconscious can be incorporated into the conscious mind. When we find the unknown parts of ourselves we need to be willing to find acceptance and understanding.
There are several pathways available for bridging the gap between the conscious and unconscious mind and dreams are one of them.
Jung saw dreams as the psyche’s attempt to communicate to the individual things that may be important in their development. He suggested that it is where we feel most frightened and most in pain that the greatest opportunity for personal growth lies. Often our dreams can be a window into our unconscious and the more we become familiar with our dreamworld, the better we can interpret them, understand them, and incorporate their meaning into our daily lives.
This begins with keeping a dream journal next to your bed. As soon as you wake up, without moving or opening your eyes, try to remember as much of your dream as you can. Then immediately role over and write it down. If you’re too sleepy, just jot down main points or words. Then, after you’ve used the bathroom and grabbed a cup of coffee, you can use that as a guide to add more details. Most dreams fade from our awareness very quickly and if we don’t pull it up quickly, we’ll lose it. Of course, there are some dreams that are so important and so powerful, we can remember them for years.
In the book Inner Work, Robert Johnson gives a four-step process for Jungian dream interpretation.
1. Make associations related to the dream’s symbolism.
Write down each image of the dream and make associations. For example, a deep, blue lake - the color blue might make you think of calm or serene. A lake might make one person feel and think things that are completely different from someone else. This is why symbols don’t mean the same thing for everyone in a dream. It’s important to make the association for yourself.
Of particular importance is encountering an archetype in a dream. Johnson describes this as follows:
The dream that contains an archetype often has a mythical quality. Instead of scenes that seem like the everyday world, the dream takes you to a place that feels ancient, from another time, or like a fairy tale. . . . Another sign is that things are bigger than life or smaller than life. Archetypes may also present themselves as otherworldly animals: talking lions, griffins, dragons, flying horses (61).
It’s not enough to just recognize an archetype and the meaning it has in mythology. You must see what personal meaning it has to you.
2.. Connect the images of the dream to inner aspects of the self - this is an important step.
In Jungian dream interpretation, the dream is viewed as an inward journey, not an outer one. This means that people and places in your dreams may represent parts of yourself. Johnson notes, the unconscious has the habit of borrowing images from the external situation and using those images to symbolize something that is going on inside the dreamer (68).
A place in a dream may refer to a state of mind. For example, a common theme in my dreams is wandering around a very large house with hidden doors and passageways. I have interpreted the house to represent my life. I’m typically looking for somewhere to go and often, somewhere to hide.
Another theme that will sometimes occur is being chased. This probably represents a shadow aspect of myself that I don’t want to see or admit to myself.
3. Decide the correct interpretation of the dream
Ask yourself questions like, “What was the theme of this dream?” “What were the feelings or emotions I experienced in this dream - Curiosity? Excitement? Fear? Confusion?”
It can be difficult to decide what symbols and meanings to give to our dreams. Johnson gives four principles for validating a dream interpretation:
4. Cement the new knowledge with a ritual
This can be something small and easy, but can be helpful in integrating what you’ve learned into your daily life. A ritual is symbolic behavior that is consciously performed. Examples of this are: lighting a candle with an intention, writing a note to yourself and posting it somewhere, or drawing a picture.
“Dreams are impartial, spontaneous products of the unconscious psyche, outside the control of the will. They are pure nature; they show us the unvarnished, natural truth, and are therefore fitted, as nothing else is, to give us back an attitude that accords with our basic human nature when our consciousness has strayed too far from its foundations and run into an impasse.”
- C. G. Jung
I write about human behavior, meditation, body awareness, and a variety of other things that pique my interest.