In my experience, every dream contains information about the dreamer’s unconscious self. Which is exactly why it’s so difficult for us to figure out what our own dreams mean! Moreover, no matter what we may think we know about someone else, we have no idea what’s going on in their inner universe, and it’s not only inappropriate, but unhelpful to assume we do.
Yet there are ways we can help. Long-term dreamwork develops understanding of our psychological issues and heals our personal wounds. It also strengthens our intuitions and awareness of archetypal patterns, symbols and themes that hold similar meanings for every psyche. We can share this knowledge, knowing it is backed up by study and personal experience. We can also offer our associations to dream symbols, ask incisive questions, and suggest directions to pursue.
But then we need to leave the rest up to them. It is their job, not ours, to create understanding and meaning for their lives from their own experiences, practices, personal associations, gut feelings, rituals, and creative imagination. Engaging in this process is what Terry Pratchett meant when he wrote, “If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.”
Here’s an example from an acquaintance who has studied Jungian psychology and recorded dreams for years. This dream arrived after several evenings of asking the unconscious for a dream:
“I dreamt last night that I was looking through the windows of someone’s house at snow-capped mountains in the Pacific Northwest. The back of the house was all windows, about 4 or 5 separate windows, and the mountains were a coal gray and silver color. They were truly gorgeous. I saw this scene in a movie over the weekend, and it left an impression since I’ve always wanted to travel to the Pacific Northwest to see the mountains and ocean together.
In the dream, I was talking to whoever owned the house, and he was facing me from his seat at his desk as I looked past him to the mountain. I pointed to the snow-capped tip of the mountain and said, “That’s where I’d like to be, on the top of that mountain away from everyone and everything.”
These are the dreamer’s associations: “I used to always prefer to be by myself, and really thought I’d live alone most of my life. But, I’ve been in a serious relationship now for some years, and I’m starting to crave community–that’s the main reason we are moving. So, in the dream, I was a little surprised at my desire to want to be isolated at the tip of the mountain considering my conscious desire for community.”
Now here’s my response (edited here for clarity and brevity): If this were my dream, I’d see it as a metaphor for my psycho-spiritual aspirations. Jung’s research convinced him that mountains are symbols of the Self, and that wanting to get to the top suggests a desire for spiritual enlightenment and psychological wholeness. Naturally, this requires some solitude for soul-making practices like dreamwork, meditation, artistic expression, ritual, journaling, study, and/or other forms of inner work, but one can do all these things whether one lives alone or has a serious relationship.
The comment, “That’s where I’d like to be…away from everyone and everything,” could be based on my belief that utter solitude is the only way to attain the heights of spiritual union, consciousness and wisdom. Of course, there are people whose genuine calling is to be a monk or hermit. In my youth I toyed with the idea of becoming an anchorite like Mother Julian of Norwich, but I personally would no longer interpret my wish for solitude to mean that I literally want or need to be physically isolated from people all the time.
If I actually do crave more alone time to pursue my inner work, perhaps discussing this with my partner could facilitate that need; I can also look for other ways to carve out time for myself. But if I’m finding comfort and pleasure in my relationship, I personally see no need to sacrifice it or other human contact for the sake of my psycho-spiritual growth.
I would definitely take my craving for community seriously: to me, that sounds like my soul talking. Feminine Soul thrives on relationship, which is a primary way of getting in touch with one’s own femininity, not to mention the best way I know to acquire empathy and compassion. I was probably in my 50’s before I truly began to value my relationships as much as my inner and outer work. This was a major impetus for my continuing growth. I personally believe it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to become an authentic Spirit Person without intimate relationships. How else do I discover my shadow or learn compassion?
For me, my yearning see the the mountains (masculine spiritual heights) and ocean (feminine soulful depths) together suggests the hieros gamos, or Sacred Marriage of Alchemy: the union of my masculine Spirit and feminine Soul which are the two halves of the Self. Since enlightenment and self-knowledge go hand-in-hand, the individuation journey is not complete without both.
As you no-doubt know, Jung believed the goal of psychic development is to establish a conscious relationship with the Self. He spoke of the ego’s need to step aside so the Self can occupy its rightful place at the center the psyche, while creating an Ego-Self axis with which to maintain contact. Regular dreamwork and writing are my primary ways of keeping the lines of communication open between my ego and Self. Yours might be quite different. I hope this helps.
The Wilbur Award is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.