The significance of dreams

Marie-Louise von Franz, one of the last of Carl Jung’s associates to write and teach, writes in her book Dreams that though humans have historically always sought self-understanding,

the source of self-knowledge has been very little taken into consideration, or in most cases not at all, and which today we regard as the most valuable treasury of information about ourselves: the unconscious, especially in its manifestation in dreams. Sigmund Freud, as we know, called the dream the via regia (“the royal road”) to the unconscious and used the dreams of his patients to help them become conscious of their repressed sexual strivings, the repression of which, according to his theory, determined the nature of all neurotic disturbances… Jung, on the other hand, did not accept Freud’s theory but retained the way of looking at dreams which he had adopted from his early studies of them, namely that they contain something essentially unknown which emerges creatively from the unconscious background and which must be examined anew, experimentally and objectively, in each individual case, as far as possible without preconceptions. (2)
She further explains that dreams are necessary and normal in all of the higher animals, that we dream sometimes to process the events of the preceding day and other times to express meanings from our unconscious. “One can understand every dream as a dream in which we ourselves are everything,” she says, “that is, the author, director, actors, and prompter, as well as spectators. If one tries to understand a dream in this way, the result is a startling realization for the dreamer of what is happening in him psychically” (4-5).

Not only is one understanding her unconscious mind through her dreams, one is also tapping into the collective unconscious, and becoming guided by a greater force than her own experience. In fact, this knowledge frequently has been seen with the symbol of an eye, a “widespread archetypal image,” Von Frantz notes. “Plato, and many Christian mystics as well, call it the eye of the soul” (8). Traditionally, receiving guidance from the collective unconscious was a gift as well as a responsibility.

Jung felt that through the unconscious, that is, through his dreams and waking fantasies, he had received a message which concerned not only him personally but many others as well. He understood that he should have a primal experience, then realize it in his work. He says, “It was then that I dedicated myself to service of the psyche. I loved it and hated it, but it was my greatest wealth. My delivering myself over to it, as it were, was the only way by which I could endure my existence and live it as fully as possible.” (32)

Even though it was a burden at times, he gifted the world with insights beyond compare. Even a few days before his death, “he had a dream which he was able to communicate: He saw a round stone above him in a high place – the Stone of the Wise – and on it were engraved the words ‘And this shall be a sign to you of Wholeness and Oneness'” (33).

Dreams will help us move to a place of wholeness and oneness if we will pay attention and follow their guidance. Robert Moss, renowned dream scholar, writes in his book Dreamgates that some of the “open secrets of the Dreamtime, insights shared by many dreaming traditions and indigenous peoples,” are available to us, modern-day mystics in the Western World. We are a culture, he says, that often “confuses the real with the physical,” so these secrets may help us as we move into our exploration of dreams. These open secrets are as follows:

1. Dreams are real experiences.
We must do more than interpret dreams; we must manifest their energy and insight in our waking lives.
2. Dreams are flights of the soul.
The open secret is that consciousness is never confined to the body and brain.
3. You have a dreambody as well as a physical body.
In my dreambody, I can know pleasure and pain just as vividly as in my physical body. I have more than one body, or vehicle of consciousness, and when I go into the dreamworld and other worlds, I go embodied.
4. Dreams may be memories of the future.
We dream things before they happen in waking life. If you work with your dreams and scan them for precognitive content, you can develop a superb personal radar system that will help you to navigate in waking life.
5. Dreaming, we choose the events that will be manifested in our waking lives.
I think it’s like this. If you do not remember your dreams, you are condemned to live them. (If you don’t know where you’re going, you will likely end up where you are headed.) If you remember some of your dreams and screen them for messages about the future, you will find yourself able to make wiser choices.
6. The path of the soul after death is the path of the soul in dreams.
You will find yourself, as you do each night in dreams, in a realm where thoughts are things, and where imagination, th great faculty of soul, can create whole worlds. You come from the dreaming, and you are released into the Dreaming when you drop your sack of meat and bones. (8-12)

Dreams are more than whimsical, dreams are our closest bridge to an understanding past the physical reality. The Rhine Research Center in Durham, NC, has the largest account of letters describing people’s psychic or psi experiences. From a study of these some fourteen thousand plus letters, they have concluded that 60% of psi experiences come from dreams. Clarissa Pinkola Estes says that indigenous groups call the Dreamtime the Riddle Mother. You can ask the Riddle Mother any question, she says, and you will always, always receive the answer, but the answer will come back in a riddle. Interpreting our dreams is deciphering the answer.

Chuang Chou, a renowned philosopher who lived in China 300 BC and the successor of Confucius, has an oft-quoted description of an insight he received from a dream:

I, Chuang Chou, once dreamed that I was a butterfly flitting about (6.80). 95 I did whatever I wished! I knew nothing about any Chuang Chou. Then I suddenly awakened a Chuang Chou with all his normal trappings. Now I don’t know whether Chuang Chou dreamed he was a butterfly, or a butterfly is dreaming that he is Chuang Chou. There must be a difference between Chuang Chou and the butterfly, and that is what is meant when we say that things undergo transformation. (Ware 28)

Though less frequently quoted, just before this he says:

A man may enjoy wine in his dreams, but weep with the dawn; he may weep in his dreams, but enjoy the hunt with the dawn. During the dream he does not know that he is dreaming and he interprets what he is dreaming. Only after awaking does he know that he has been dreaming. So, he who is fully awake understands that all this world is just a big dream, but the stupid think that they are awake now. Basing their knowledge on petty calculation, they are sure that they can differentiate between lords and shepherds! But Confucius and you both are a dream, and my telling you so is also a dream. This sort of talk is called highly bizarre, but ten thousand generations from now a sage will be met who will know how to interpret my words, and it will be like meeting somebody between dawn and evening. (Ware 27)

Who is to say which is the dream and which is the dreamer? I find this line of thought interesting!

I encourage you to work with your dreams. Have a notebook and a pen by your bed and immediately upon waking jot down any words and images from your dreams. Many say that giving the dream a title will help you remember it. Just write everything that you can from the dream, and draw pictures if there were any distinct images in the dream. It helps if, just before falling asleep the night before, you state the intention, “tonight I will remember my dreams.” You could also say, “please guide me through my dreams.” Once you are in the habit of writing down anything you remember immediately upon waking, then it will become easier. It helps if you do not have to set an alarm. Even if you have an alarm set, the Riddle Mother may wake you moments before so that you are able to remember your dreams.

Working in a dream group is a powerful and close experience. I’ll write more about forming dream groups in a future post, but let me leave you with the best and simplest guidance I have ever seen on this matter from Jeremy Taylor, author of Dream work: techniques for discovering the creative power in dreams.

Because dreams always merge many levels of meaning into a single metaphor of dream experience, it is almost always productive to share dreams with people you care about and ask them about their dreams. When the multiple intelligences and intuitions of several people are brought to bear on a dream or series of dreams, it is much more likely that the dreamer will be exposed to a fuller range of the dream’s possible meaning…This kind of collective, group dream work is most beneficial to the life of the imagination and can nurture a community of creativity.
When you share dreams with other people and begin to listen to their dreams, it is most important ot remember the two basic truths about dream work: (1) only the dreamer can know what his or her dream means; (2) there is no such thing as a dream with only one meaning…When there is no “tingle” on the part of the dreamer, it simply doesn’t matter whether the insight or suggestion that is being offered is true or relevant of not. (76-77)

Go to it, dreamers and mystics! We have much to learn.

You will have moments of clarity, and other perspectives may help.

Taylor, Jeremy. Dream Work: Techniques for Discovering the Creative Power in Dreams. NJ: Paulist Press, 1983. Google Books.
von Frantz, Marie-Louise. Dreams. Boston and London: Shambhala, 1998.
Ware, James. The Sayings of Chuang Chou. NY: Mentor Classics, 1963.

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