Dreams: Symbolic Guidance from the Soul

by cari

caridreams1A curious acquaintance who knows I facilitate dreamwork groups in which I encourage dreamers to write down their dreams asked recently, “So what do you do with them once you write them down…I mean, what purpose do they serve?”  Not much more than “Wow, that’s interesting.” Unless you learn the symbolic language of your dreams.

Many do not understand the connection between dreamwork and the spiritual journey, although people seem amused and mildly intrigued about their dreams.  They often comment about how silly or crazy or terrifying they are. “Must have been something I ate before going to sleep!” Otherwise, why would anyone dream about flying or going to church naked or bumping around in dark and dank basements of strange or familiar houses, driving a car into the same dead end roads over and over again or off a cliff, or dreaming that a healthy loved one died?

Dreams come from the unconscious part of us, in our psyche, the place that contains all the complexes from our early childhood and way beyond that, from our ancestors, all the things we may have suppressed, parts and parcel of what we thought we discarded or tried to forgot.  This unconscious material is then influenced by what we may be reflecting upon in waking life, what we are engaged in and struggling with in our outer world. Our unconscious seems to have a mind of its own, if you will. It selects out symbols–people, places and things–and creates a unique language to communicate messages from the soul, presenting them in fragments and full blown Hollywood productions we call dreams. There are also archetypal symbols, from the collective unconscious that show up, but let’s keep it simple for now. Because they are messages from our souls, it is not a bad idea to listen to them, especially in the second half of life.  As Jungian analyst, Robert Johnson, says,

Isolation from the unconscious is isolation from our souls. We have within our unconscious a great energy system that reveals our conflicts, movements, developments and interactions. It is called dreaming. Dream images make no sense in ordinary terms, and we often dismiss them as meaningless. If we take the time to learn their language, we discover that every dream is a masterpiece of symbolic communication that comes always in the service of promoting our wholeness.

A man in his late forties related a dream to me in which his young son died. Having lost his first child when she was an infant, he was visibly shaken, feeling that this dream was prophetic, creating fear of losing another child. Knowing a little about the context–what was happening in his inner and outer life at the time–I suggested that the boy who died in the dream was a part of him, the dream was a message to him from his unconscious that it was time for that childhood part of HIM to die, that perhaps he needed to let go of anger and regrets about his imperfect childhood to free himself to live more fully into the adult he was becoming now. In other words, his son was a symbol of the part of him that was preventing him from growing up. It needed to die.

a_006It is rare that our dreams have a literal meaning.  Otherwise, I would have been quite concerned when one of my friends dreamt about a flat bed truck colliding with me as I smiled and waved to her and she witnessed my decapitation.  She also awakened terrified. As I told her: It’s not about me. I was merely a symbol that her unconscious chose to represent something about herself and present it to her in a story.  What part of her do I represent  in waking life? What do I symbolize?  Her answer was: spirituality, healthy aging and wisdom. Is this something she is striving for? What might be preventing her from achieving this? Is there balance between her head (logic) and heart (emotions), or is she out of balance because she is cutting something off?  What does she need to do to achieve more integration, more wholeness?

I studied with dream guru, Jeremy Taylor, at the Graduate Theological Union many years ago. He offers some simple guidelines about dreams, alerting us to be mindful that when others share dreams, they are sharing from the depths of their souls:

All dreams speak a universal language and come in the service of health and wholeness.

Only the dreamer can say with any certainty what meanings his/her dream may have – the “Aha!”

There is no such thing as a dream with one meaning.

No dream comes just to tell you what you already know.

When talking to others about their dreams, preface your remarks with “If it were my dream…”

When working in a group, agree to maintain anonymity and confidentiality.

Where and how do we do dreamwork? I like the group concept because it offers multiple perspectives as each member asks questions, amplifies, and “projects” her impression of the dreamer’s dream. I loosely facilitate two small groups, one includes 4 other women; the other is an online chat with two astute dream workers in Mexico. I also work dreams with my Jungian therapist and have participated in her very helpful  and well facilitated dream groups. I have another small group of 2 other women, both of whom are seasoned Jungian dreamworkers. I work dreams on an individual basis with spiritual companions from afar, like my friend, Jill, who is among other things, a transpersonal psychologist. The point is, get a book, find a group, a spiritual director, or a therapist from whom  you can learn the techniques and experience the benefits of dreamwork.

In our busyness and tiredness in a linear-thinking Western culture, we get spiritual amnesia. We forget about all the resources we have within. We isolate from our souls.  Instead of taking the self-care time and energy to know more about who we are and where we are called to go on our journeys to wholeness,  we can become jaded and dismiss dreams–and miracles–as mildly curious fairy tales from biblical yore. Yet both are happening amidst the high-tech, 21st century world of today. But, we must choose to delve into the bountiful resources of our own unconscious: the incredibly beautiful, paradoxically funny, divinely scary revelations and guidance that come in the form of our dreams.

Books on Dreams & Dream Symbols

Bosnak, Robert. A Litle Course in Dreams: A Basic Handbook of Jungian Dreamwork. Shambola,  Boston, 1988.

Cooper, J.C., ed. An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols.  Thames & Hudson. Reprinted 2001.

Johnson, Robert A.  Inner Work: Using Dreams & Active Imagination for Personal Growth.  HarperSanFrancisco, NY, 1986.

Jung, C.G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Vintage Books, NY, 1989.

Mellick, Jill.  The Art of Dreaming: Tools for Creative Dream Work.  Conari Press, Berkeley,  2001.

Taylor, Jeremy.  Dream Work: Techniques for Discovering the Creative Power in Dreams.  Paulist Press, NY, 1983.

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