Dreams have mystified and haunted people for generations, spanning eons, and just as they challenged all those who came before with their messages, they do the same for us today. Despite our increasingly complex world, life has provided us with tools to work through the difficulties we face: our dreams. Learning to understand them can be of great benefit.
Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, spent a large portion of his professional life studying dreams. An important foundation of his work with clients, exploring dreams helped to diagnose and address underlying issues people had buried deep within their psyches.
Jung was mentored by Sigmund Freud, but their conclusions on dreams were different. Whereas Freud felt dreams existed to show us our base animal and sensual sides, Jung interpreted dreams as providing a glimpse into the inner workings of the unconscious mind. He believed dreams existed to help a person achieve wholeness through the balance of waking life and the dream state.
“The unconscious is not just evil by nature, it is also the source of the highest good: not only dark but also light, not only bestial, semihuman, and demonic but superhuman, spiritual, and, in the classical sense of the word, ‘divine.’”
Carl Jung, The Practice of Psychotherapy
Jungian perspective acknowledges the baser elements that are shown in the dream state and which may manifest in our physical experience. It allows us to see how the pieces fit amidst the larger framework of the holistic human experience. Learning about the inner workings and their meanings create an opportunity to transcend those flaws and connect what appears separate.
Which is true outside of dreams. Listen to the news, follow politics, or watch coverage of wars overseas, and it doesn’t take an unconscious mind or a dream to paint a fragmented picture. We are flawed and we have things to work out.
But despite the fractured seams of our collective unconscious spilling across the globe, there are universal symbols, feelings, events, and experiences that exist to connect and bridge us.
For mythologist Joseph Campbell, dreams were simply stories told by the subconscious mind. Campbell took the teachings of Jung and used it in his own work in the field of comparative mythology because of the metaphorical insight into life they both provided the reader/dreamer.
“Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth--penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”
Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
Through a lifetime of researching myths (and ultimately spending his last years in Hawai‘i), Campbell was able to find themes that existed in each story. He argued that everyone is on what he called, “The Hero’s Journey,” or the monomyth: a set of universal experiences/circumstances appearing in every story and can be found in their extremes within our dreams and the lessons of which are translated throughout our lives.
According to Campbell, archetypical characters found in dreams are like any other you would encounter in a book, film, graphic novel, video game--and your life, or “waking dream.”
Dreams have evolved from the original creation myths and the stories told throughout cultures around the world since. The stories that dreams tell are rooted in the elements of our daily experiences that are stored in both the individual and the collective human consciousness. Generalizations can be made about characters and themes of dreams, but it’s important for the interpreter of a dream to identity symbols and what they mean.
Take a New England Patriots Football Club logo, for example. This simple image surely holds a different meaning for people who identify as a Patriots fan versus that of rival Jets fan, any other club fan, or a non-football guy (like our editor).
Identifying with something evolves as life events enter the collective experience and may clash with personal values. Considering the Patriots example, a fan of the team might considering the recent “Deflategate” controversy as cheating (when the New England Patriots used dubiously underinflated footballs in a championship game in early 2015), and might associate some degree of shame or feel conflict due to loyalties to the team, and therefore the brand and symbolism. Then again, a fan who believes that one must win at all costs might feel a degree of pride or just not care.
The symbol, in dreams as in real life, can be interpreted in vastly different ways depending on who’s telling the story, how, where, and under what context. Things have meaning, whether you’re asleep or awake. So where does that leave you?
No worries, my dreamers! Here are some tips to figuring out your (dream) life:
-Record your dream, whether it’s through a journal, illustration, or otherwise. Leave a pen/pencil and notebook/journal near the head of your bed and write down your dreams as soon as you wake up. Try to record as many details as possible. In time, you’ll be able to remember more about the dreams.
Writing also allows you to disconnect from judgment of the dream. They’re not all 50s-style family comedies; they can be dark and twisted, but writing them down allows you to see them outside of yourself and to read the situation differently.
-Examine dream characters. The folks you see in a dream are key to figuring out what the dream is trying to tell you.
Some universal character archetypes to keep an eye out for include the Dreamer (the conscious mind represented by the self), the Inner Child (a reflection of the dreamer’s own childlike energy in the form of him or herself as a child, or child the person knows, such as a son, daughter, niece, etc), characters representing Anima and Animus (feminine or masculine energy, respectively), Inner Father or Mother characters (representing parental images), God or Devil characters (good and evil), and so on.
Oftentimes, there can be a common sense correlation to places and objects in dreams. Does it take place within a jail cell or locked room? Perhaps the dreamer feels trapped by work or social obligation. Ever imagine teeth being loose or falling out? Perhaps the dreamer feels a sense of powerlessness or vulnerability.
These archetypes are generalizations; many can be vast and individual. Explore additional resources for more options to get information about dream examples, myths, storytelling, and more. Imagine a whole new reason for being asleep to be one of the highlights of your day!
For more information, explore ‘Man and His Symbols,’ by C.G. Jung, ‘The Power of Myth,’ by Joseph Campbell, www.DreamMoods.com for common dream images and symbols, and also look to nature; observing the natural world can go a long way towards helping to understand myths, dreams, and the way life flows.