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The value of dreams
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Pass it on
I'm reading
The value of dreams
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
The value of dreams
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
5 October 2015

The value of dreams

We need to ditch the generic dream dictionaries if we want to find self-knowledge in our sleep.

Written by Liz Evans

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

Feature image by Emily Dickinson. Source: Flickr.

There are many ways of considering our dreams.

We may see them as mere byproducts of the day, or consequences of watching late-night TV. We might be curious about the science of dream studies, and the relationship between nocturnal brain activity and daily waking states. Perhaps we resonate with Freud’s interpretation, that dreams are all forms of wish fulfilment.

Or maybe, like Carl Jung, we find our dreams valuable and fascinating in themselves, choosing to reflect on the symbols and emotional atmosphere they carry for us, receiving them as keys to greater self-awareness. According to Jung, dreams are the gateway to our unconscious minds—they are “invariably seeking to express something that the ego does not know and does not understand,” he said, back in 1946.

Jung never underestimated the need for a strong ego, but saw this centre of consciousness as belonging to a much wider system that encompassed the unconscious aspects of psyche. He believed that self-knowledge was limited, and that true self-understanding relies on the integration of unconscious material arising from our dreams, fantasies and projections.

So how do we gain more self-understanding through our dreams? Well, to start with, Jung suggested that we see dreams in terms of their potential, rather than as finished products with clear-cut messages. Dreams, said Jung, are more like first drafts, preliminary sketches, or rough guides that need conscious processing if they are to be of any real use to us.

So we need to ditch the generic dream dictionaries—and bear in mind the conscious context of our lives, as well as other dreams we have experienced—if we are to find meaning in them. As Jung said, “An obscure dream, taken in isolation, can hardly ever be interpreted with any certainty.”

Dream images may resonate with both personal and archetypal significance, but once we allow them to speak for themselves, we can see what responses arise in us by way of association, memory and experience. What do we know about this image? What do we feel personally about it? How is it held in a wider regard, within our society or our culture? What happens in our body when we sit with it? Once we’ve sifted through this process, we can then begin to see where such thoughts, feelings and experiences dwell in us. This can sometimes be challenging, but it can also be extremely illuminating.

Let’s say I dream about someone who I experience as being critical and undermining in daily waking life. In my dream, I meet this individual in the share house where I live. They are telling me that I can’t stay here because someone else has rented my room. As I listen to them laying down the law, I start to panic and wonder where I’m going to live, but before long I begin to realise that, in actual fact, this person is renting a room from me, and that I own the house.

So, what does my dream hold for me? First, I need to distill all the things this character represents for me. Then I can sum them up, and begin to relate to them as a symbol rather than the person I know them to be in real life. Here, I can begin to see the dream critic as a symbol of negative judgment. Now the dream begins to be less about my associate, and more about me.

What about the other image in the dream—the house? Among other things, a house is a home, a containing place where we reside and relax. In our example, the negative judge says they have ownership over my part of the house, when in fact I am the landlord. So perhaps my dream is telling me that I have allowed my internalised negative judgment to take precedence, but this internal disposition is only persisting because I am giving it power and space. In fact, I have far more choice than I am aware of. Now I have a sense of this, I can begin to consciously address my judgmental tendencies towards myself, and also towards others.

As I said, there are many ways to contemplate our dreams, but I prefer the Jungian approach because it honours the dream and privileges the dreamer. Unlike some of the more inflated, self-appointed dream ‘experts’ crowding the internet today, Jung was often baffled and mystified by his dreams. He believed in viewing them with an open attitude, and without preconceptions, remaining open to what the unconscious was willing to show.

“The dream shows the inner truth and reality of the patient as it really is,” he said, “not as I conjecture it to be and not as he or she would like it to be, but as it is.”

Liz Evans

Liz Evans is a Jungian psychotherapist and writer based in Hobart.

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