Dreaming is a universal experience; everyone dreams although sometimes we don’t remember our dreams. For Jung, dreams revealed the larger reality of the psyche as well as the depths of the human experience, so Jungian analysis gives tremendous value to the healing potential of dreams.
Jung viewed dreams as impartial, unadulterated pictures of the state of our psyche, undistorted by ego defenses, and offering rich opportunities for psychological expansion. If the complexes are the “architects” of our dreams then the dream images give us a way to see our complexes more clearly. Further, Jung determined that the dream compensates, or balances our conscious view of our world, particularly when it becomes too one-sided or out of balance. Dream work requires us to lower our consciousness and soften our awareness so we can enter into a state of contemplation, play or exploration, knowing that the answer may not be immediate. Using a “beginners mind” allows us to hear the particular language of dreams.
“…when someone tells me a dream … [I have made a rule] to say first of all to myself ‘I have no idea what this dream means’ then I can begin.”
– C.G. Jung
Listening to and recording our dreams can, with practice, become a contemplative practice, one of attending to the wisdom of the material from the unconscious while remaining open to the unknown and the possibilities. We may be forced to humble ourselves in the face of the most ugly, frightening, numinous, and potentially uncertain images. At the same time, we are surrendering ourselves to the great purposeful or teleological nature of our individuation journey.
Jung also viewed the symbols in dreams as “transformers of energy” that opened new paths in the psyche, creating shifts in consciousness and furthered one’s individuation. Today, we know that when we actively use our imagination we can actually have an impact and even shift the neural pathways in our brain.
How do I remember my dreams? It is helpful to keep a pen/pencil and pad of paper by the bed with the idea that the next day we will journal or record our dreams in some way. Some people use a tape recorder. Typing and printing the dreams prior to analysis is a great way to make use of our time together because we can go straight to bringing the dream into the room by reading it aloud. This way our psyche can quiet down and begin to open up to the possibilities. After the analytic hour, it is important to track how psyche responds to our work together.
We may dismiss our dream material as “nothing” but a single word or image can hold powerful information; never underestimate a dream and its content. Those images, words, or feelings are also useful the next morning to help flush out the rest of the dream. They can be the “bate” to pull up additional parts of the dream. So, dreamwork is like fishing—dreams are often slippery and get away easily if we are not determined, attentive and conscious about our dream practice. The more we work our dreams the more we begin to understand the language of the unconscious.