Jung’s Collective Works on Dreams
For someone who enjoys Jung and his work, I have never really taken the time to read any of his books thoroughly. I always relied on other people’s interpretations of his work and referenced Wikipedia articles. I have had to “read” his works in the past for my continuing education in psychology and consciousness but like all good grad students I mostly scanned through is work finding the most important parts and moving on. It wasn’t until I took the time to really (read *bold) some of Jung’s profound work that I could really start to understand what he was trying to express in his writing.
For the last month, I made it my goal each night to read a few pages out of Jung’s book, Dreams. It is a collective of Jung’s work comprising of volumes 4, 8, 12, 16. I made a promise to myself that I would read a section, take notes, underline some of the more important ideas or concepts as they applied to my life, and never move forward reading more until I fully grasped what I believed Jung was trying to convey. For me, I thought this would be difficult because in the past I always found it hard to read Jung’s writing. When I slowed down and started to focus on what he was saying rather than just trying to get to the end, I began to enjoy what he had to say, and grasp the concepts much easier than I thought was possible. I treated his book like an ancient manuscript exploring each idea as some hidden profound treasure that I desperately needed to understand. Reading his work in this way made it fun and pushed me to get into Jung’s work and connect to it on a deeper level than I have before.
Some challenges I found interesting arose in this process and as a result, I learned a lot about myself. I discovered that in a few specific pages I was unable to grasp what Jung was trying to say. Not because of the complexities of his writing, or that he didn’t make sense, but because my mind seemed to block out what was on the pages. No matter how hard I tried, I could not remember or grasp the concepts on those select few pages. It was as if some form of mental blockage was in place by my psyche that didn’t want me to see or understand what he was saying. Maybe I wasn’t ready for what I was reading. In the reflection of an article I wrote on to the physiology of consciousness, it seemed that this is some form of mental masking, where the mind’s unconscious is masking out information from our conscious awareness. In the case of Jung’s book, I would take breaks at the point where the memory block happened, or work even harder to reread the pages (sometimes twenty plus times) taking in each word and underlining as I moved forward until the concept was clear. Often these pages would reveal something compelling to me which thankfully for my extensive notes, I could go back and reflect on the words more. It made me see that when there is something that is hard for me to understand that this often means that there may be something in the information that is important for me to take the time to reflect on.
For anyone who has read Jung’s work, there is something drastically unique about his writing style. He is frank in his work and speaks from a matter of experience rather than opinion. When he addresses a concept that he doesn’t fully understand, he states so. He is an authority on the subjects he is writing about and speaks to the reader as though he is instructing the reader in a process. There isn’t any fluff in his work. He uses his words precisely which makes his writing powerful but also easy for someone to miss something profound.
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Another writing style that I found very close to Jung’s is not surprisingly his mentor, Sigmund Freud. It would seem that they shared more than just their ideas about psychology, as one can see their relationship expressed in their writing styles. Additionally, for all of Jung’s and Freud’s disagreements on the approaches to the interpretation of dreams, which there are plenty of, Jung keeps a professional distance from criticizing Freud, speaking his mind but in a respectful way, exploring the positives of Freud’s work, and expressing his views on where Freud may have gone astray. Jung’s approach to Freud’s work provided me with a greater degree of respect for Jung that continued to grow as I delved more into his work.
For those who are not interested in doing their own reading and analysis of Jung’s work on dreams, I would like to explore some of the aspects that I found relevant to me and some of my thoughts on the subject. As I express my views, it is essential to understand that as I interpret Jung’s writing, that you as a reader know that this is my interpretation and nothing more. Rather than Jung telling you what he perceives to be true, I am now telling you what I believe Jung meant to say, which is something different. If you want to know what Jung had to say, its best to go to the source and read it for yourself, not in my words, but his.
The Analysis of Dreams
The first section of this book Jung discusses some of the historical aspects of how dream analysis came to be. He gives credit where credit is due and first examines Freud’s exploration into this area and some of the ideas and concepts that Freud used to help his patients with underlying factors that caused them troubles.
Freud identified dreams as one way that the individual could tap into their unconscious and understand the underlying desires of the individual. Jung mentions that “Freud applied to the dream the same principle that we always instinctively use when inquiring into the cause of human actions. He asks himself, quite simply: Why does this particular person dream this particular thing.” This inquiry into the overall importance of dreams shows logically that dreams provide us more than simple random images being dumped by the mind. Freud goes on to say, “He must have his specific reasons; otherwise there would be a breakdown in the law of causality.” I may look back and think Freud’s view on dreams make sense and is, of course true, yet no one before Freud had thought of this idea. The idea is that dreams must come from something or there would be no dream. Freud’s comments on dreams also imply that dreams are not just random messages from the mind, they have content and in that content, we can find important messages from the unconscious. Furthermore, Freud implied that understanding where or why the dream presents itself in such a way will result in us understanding their purpose. He also continues to explore deeper by stimulating the idea that people have different dreams and because of that dreams in themselves must independently be telling the dreamer something different.
In a reflection of my personal dreams I have noticed that very few times do I dream the same thing and as a result, those dreams that I dream repetitively also have a stronger meaning than those I dream of once. If I had dreamed of the same thing each night or even dreamed of a mess of scrambled images or random ideas, then it would be apparent that dreams are meaningless and a way for the brain to get rid of excess data – essentially the trashcan of the psyche. Many psychologists still believe today that dreams are meaningless, but I find that idea completely incorrect. Dreams being regarded as worthless is simply not the case thanks to Freud and his work. Dreams do come from somewhere, have a purpose to them and very accurately can describe underlying issues that trouble our unconscious mind.
Where Freud thought that dreams represented the wish fulfillment of repressed desires, Jung takes a stance on the value of dreams by expressing the importance of emotions in the dream space. He says in reference to dreams, “…the events which do not awaken any strong emotions have little influence on our thoughts or actions, whereas those who provoke strong emotional reactions are of great importance for our subsequent psychological development.” Essentially he is saying that those experiences, even past dreams, which provide us with the most emotional turmoil are the most important to reflect on because they contain lessons for emotional and psychological growth.
Most of us know that dreams have importance and that information can be obtained from them but how do understand or learn from these otherworldly messages? Dreams in themselves are very cryptic and hide their meaning in symbology that is often hard to understand. Dreams mask their true desires as though hiding behind a psychic wall. Jung found himself pondering this same question of how to get past the manifest content of the dream to examine the secret thought behind it. Jung developed his own brand of free association to combat this issue called amplification.
To create his dream analysis technique, Jung interviewed thousands of patients and discussed their dreams with them and found that he could find ways into understanding their ailments through dream analysis. Through this process, he would hear about the individual’s dreams, asking them questions about the dream and rely more on the dreamer for the answers than himself. When starting his analysis, Jung would go as far as to make sure to clear any assumptions that he could understand the dream from his perspective making the clear focus on the dreamer expressing the meaning through a collaborative interpretation of the analysis and the dreamer. Through this process, Jung would remark on specific areas of the dream which he found may have some importance and wait for the dreamer to have resistance to explore some of those areas. He remarked that when the dreamer produced inhibition to explore those areas, he was on the right path to understanding the true desires of the dream. I found this interesting as I have reflected on my dreams like this before, and have seen that mental inhibition in my own experience meant there is something essential to discover in that area, especially where forgetfulness is experienced. Oddly, I found this forgetfulness not only to be tied to me forgetting specific areas of my dreams, but also a mental blockage being in place when reading some of the concepts in Jung’s book. Though this seemed as natural as forgetting a part of my dream, Jung would see this as my unconscious repressing something from my consciousness and would most likely expand on that to find the truth.
Jung’s book continues to explore the aspect of symbols in dreams through his work in the analysis of numbers in dreams. This area was not only hard for me to grasp, but it is also the one area of his work that I, unfortunately, had skipped over. I did this because I found it too confusing to understand how Jung came to the conclusions he did about how the numbers in the dreams manifested themselves and how these numbers impacted the dreamer. I did, however, see the importance of numbers in my dreams as I continually have the repeating number 4 show up in many dreams that I have today. In a later part of his book where Jung dives into the individual dream symbolism concerning alchemy, Jung talks about the number 4 and its importance in esoteric work. Jung’s explanation on this number sparked my interest in the symbolic representation of numbers and revisited some of his concepts of numbers. The overall theme with numbers, words, images, and sounds in a dream is that each aspect of the dream itself is a symbolic representation of the psyche expressing itself in some way. Jung went as far as to say that every dream a person might have may represent, “theoretically the whole of a person’s previous life-experience…” Jung’s views bring a whole new meaning to me about what is contained inside of the dream and the amount of energy it takes to manifest a dream experience.
The Conflict in Dreams
Through reading Jung’s works, I found myself asking why dreams have to hide their message in some complex and often distorted symbology. Jung answers this question with his perspective on the relationship between the unconscious and conscious self. In a sense, these aspects of the human being are in opposition to each other. They are like the Jin and Yang of our consciousness where the unconscious is the feministic, creative, symbolic, aspect of the human Self. Consciousness is the masculine, analytical, literal power that drives our waking life. Both are competing for control over the true Self, and because of that, are in opposition.
The message expressed in dreams is the unconscious dragging its desires up from below so that it can manifest itself. Jung described this process as a type of hijacking of the consciousness with the 4th aspect of the unconscious which allows the unconscious to contaminate our consciousness. A graphical representation of this process can be seen in religious artwork depicting heaven and hell, where heaven (the consciousness) has angels (extensions of awareness that can travel past the realm of heaven) onto the earth or the meeting area of the two aspects of the human experience. In opposition to heaven, hell (the unconscious) contains the devil who can use his demons to transport his desires to the earth. Jung would say that this is in an inaccurate depiction as the unconscious can very well travel into “heaven” and influence our waking life. I would go as far to say that lucid dreaming (where a dreamer becomes consciously aware that they are dreaming) is an example where conscious awareness can travel to the underworld of the unconscious and “influence” its desires. The opposite of lucid dreaming, where the unconscious takes control over the conscious mind would be what we call psychosis. Both aspects of expression in our views can be dangerous in the sense that it alters the person in dramatic ways often in opposition to the natural order of life. In the more natural order of things, the conscious self observes the dream as a “satellite” playing a less important role as we sleep while the unconscious plays out its stories through interactive symbology. The unconscious while waking would do the same, expressing itself only when great opposition occurs much like what happens when an individual who is dreaming is faced with a devastating emotional experience and suddenly becomes “aware.”
Though these opposing forces of the unconscious and conscious are continual and never-ending in our consciousness, the desire to form a unity of these forces is also ongoing and equally as strong. Jung discusses this in great detail in this collective works by describing the process of unification calling it the individuation process. The individuation process is the process of finding the true Self by unifying the unconscious with the conscious into a unified voice. This process is expressed in religious artwork all over the world making it a unique cross-cultural universal desire of humans. Earth as I earlier described, in the example of heaven and hell, is symbolically a representation of the meeting place between the consciousness and the unconscious. The middle path in Buddhism is also the desired path of unity between the two aspects of the mind. Oddly though this still gets mixed up in some traditions as in Hindu traditions, the Earth could be an expression of the unconscious energy of the psyche.
Though groups of individuals have devoted their lives to the individuation process, there are few examples today of individuals who have achieved such a feat. The lack of examples left me with the unsettling question, is the unification process actually attainable? The symbol that represents this process in my mind is a spiraling line which continually closer and closer to the center which never ends, much like how pi in mathematics is a transcendental number that never ends. The individuation process according to Jung is a never-ending desire to unification which cannot exist without the two opposing forces. It is in this way something that only exists because of itself, much like how consciousness itself exists according to Dr. Nader which I wrote about in an earlier blog post.
As I continue to explore more and more of Jung’s work I find more illumination to this confusing map which is the human experience. I also find in that map treasure which is still vaguely apparent to me but knowing that it exists now gives me a direction to head. For those who are seeking their own map to understanding consciousness and its relationship to the unconscious, I highly recommend you start by exploring this excellent book.
Lee Adams is a Ph.D. candidate in Jungian Psychology and Archetypal Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute and host of Cosmic Echo, a lucid dreaming podcast, and creator of taileaters.com, an online community of lucid dreamers and psychonauts. Lee has been actively researching, practicing, and teaching lucid dreaming for over twenty years.
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Finally got around to reading this in full. Great article! Reading this book helped encourage me to take consistent notes on my dreams and observe them with great interest. It also gave me a new lens to look through when trying to understand my dreams. While I can’t be sure if my interpretations are ever “right” or “wrong”, I always gain unique insights in the process.
Thank you for the comments and I appreciate the feedback 🙂