Dreamwork and Self-Healing: Unfolding the Symbols of the Unconscious

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There have been many previous books on the physiology of dreaming, the history of dream interpretation, and the meaning of specific dream symbols. But there have been relatively few books exploring the moment-by-moment process of interpreting dreams. This book guides you through this interpretive process, and illustrates how dreamwork promotes emotional, relational, and spiritual transformation. It explores how working with dreams enhances our emotional life, deepens our capacity for relationship, and helps us gracefully navigate change and transitions.The author shows that dreamwork is a natural antidepressant, is effective in transforming anger, bereavement, couples conflicts and impasses, and aids the process of individuation. The book explores archetypal themes and complexes, synchronistic experiences and spiritual awakening in dreams, and representations of the body in dreams. The final chapter, "Taming Wild Horses", explores animal dream symbolism and its importance for enhancing our human sexuality. The book also describes the Dream Mandala, a method of self-transformation through the union of opposites - the charged polarities of the personality. Dreamwork and Self-Healing will interest all readers who wish to learn about dreams and their healing potential.

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CHAPTER ONE: Introduction

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Dreams are healing symbols of the unconscious. They make emotionally charged material accessible to consciousness quickly and safely, give focus to inner work and the therapeutic process, and provide clues about the origins of symptoms and core life issues. Dreams activate our capacity for intrapsychic and behavioural change. They have a unique capacity to promote healing from within.

Dreams are like icebergs rising out of the deep waters of the unconscious. Some are icebergs of the past, helping us understand early traumas and undigested memories, and thus are retrospective. Dreams are integrative when they enable us to perceive and reconcile our many conflicting feelings and subpersonalities. Dreams can also be prospective or anticipatory, harbingers of the future, depicting what is emerging, and what we have the potential to become. Looking backward and forward simultaneously, the dream's function is to expand the aperture of consciousness, the circumference of perception, the sphere of identity. The often humorous and paradoxical messages revealed by dreams jog loose new perceptions. Received reverently, each dream becomes a pearl from the depths of the ocean of the unconscious. Reflection on the dream's mystery oftenevokes a feeling approaching religious awe; we become filled with amazement at the psyche's capacity to portray its own condition.

 

CHAPTER TWO: Dreamwork and Psychotherapy

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Dreams are a potent force for change when we explore them in the context of psychotherapy—or when we explore our own dreams with a therapeutic attitude, seeking healing and emotional truth. Approached in a sacred manner, with an open mind and heart, our dreams begin to guide us, one step at a time, through the labyrinth of change. Dreams illuminate developmental tasks and stir up rich, juicy material for deep exploration. Dreams pinpoint what we need to revisit from the past, what we are feeling right now, and what new directions and possibilities are emerging. They move our lives forward with a powerfully healing influence.

Bob, a man in his mid-forties beginning a course of psychotherapy, had this dream:

I'm six years old. I'm with my mother and we're cleaning out the closets.

As Bob's therapist, I was immediately drawn to the emotional significance of events in the client's sixth year and the need to sortthrough whatever had been hidden in the closet. Many family secrets came out of hiding in subsequent therapy sessions. I learned about the domestic violence and alcoholism that were closely kept family secrets. Bob was currently in a deep depression after the break-up of a relationship. As he began to examine his anger, his tendency to act abusively toward women, his sadness, and his need to accept his solitude, he dreamed:

 

CHAPTER THREE: Dreamwork and Relationships

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Dreams provide a source of relational intelligence. As a marriage and family therapist, my work often involves working with clients experiencing stress and conflicts in their personal relationships. Dreams help us identify the origins of these conflicts, illuminate feelings and behaviours that we repeat in our interactions with others, and aid us in creating healthier relationships. Dreams also illuminate core issues and conflicts regarding sexuality, which I'll explore further in the case study in Chapter Thirteen.

Dreams provide healing insights about our relationships with spouses, children, parents, and friends. Abby, a woman whose teenage son was sick with cancer, dreamed:

I saw Chris's essential being, his Higher Self. It was luminous and unchanging.

This dream helped Abby find strength as she saw Chris through his chemotherapy treatments.

A woman named Cassandra, who felt her boyfriend James was too physically clingy, dreamed:

A dog jumped on me and started biting me, and wouldn't let go.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Twenty Dreams of a Young Artist: A Case Study with Mythic Dimensions

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This chapter describes how a series of dreams guided a psychotherapy treatment lasting three and a half years. The dreams illustrate the intelligence of the unconscious in addressing issues of prolonged bereavement, depression, sexuality, love, creativity, and vocational goals. I'll demonstrate how dreams promote individuation through the emergence of a personal, spiritual symbolism. The series of dreams feature the father archetype, the anima, several animal figures, Duke Ellington, and the symbolism of archaic male initiation rites. I'll note the significance of several recurring symbols, and show how each dream allowed the client to work through specific issues, memories, and feelings. This chapter illustrates the catalytic role that dreams can play in psychotherapy, especially when a series of dreams are viewed as a cohesive set of images fostering emotional healing.

These dreams were like an underground stream that irrigated the therapeutic process—nourishing, providing focus, and adding emotional depth. Through these dreams we encounter the intelligence of psyche—the unconscious, that living, breathing, self-organizing medium that is the focus of the work, and the object of fascination, of depth psychologists.My client, Ken, began seeing me when he was twenty-eight years old, and I worked with him weekly for three and a half years. He was an artist, and the son of an artist. Ken had a college degree and was employed doing building maintenance for a large business firm.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: Archetypal Themes

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Dreams weave infinitely varied narratives, yet they're woven from the threads of recurring themes. In dreamwork, we not only access a wide range of feelings and personal memories, but we also access mythic, archetypal layers of the unconscious. The archetypal patterns of human transformation were brilliantly illuminated by the work of C.G. Jung, whose dynamic insights provide the basis for the chapters that follow.

In Jung's model of the psyche, the ego (seat of personal consciousness), and the personal unconscious (derived from forgotten or repressed biographical memories) both rest upon the deeper strata of the collective unconscious, a reservoir of timeless images derived from the universal experience of humanity, across cultures and historical eras. The collective unconscious is a matrix of archetypes, images of the typical experiences of humanity—primordial patterns of behaviour that are expressed in dreams, fantasy, free association, art, literature, and film. Archetypes form the deep structures of the psyche and the mythic background of our lives. We live, over and over again, the universal themes and primordial experiences —birth and death, mother and child, the hero's quest, the martyr, the king or queen. Jung wrote that “every individual life is at the same time the eternal life of the species … . [T]he archetype … reveals the hidden, unconscious ground-life of every individual” ( Jung, 1969 [1938/1940], par. 146). Elsewhere, Jung said:

 

CHAPTER SIX: Unfolding the Complexes in Dreams

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Dreams portray images of our central problems and conflicts, which Jung called complexes. Complexes are recurring feelings, thoughts, behaviours, memories, or patterns of relationship with others that become highly charged, points of maximum intensity, and “emotional preoccupations” (Storr, 1983, p. 33). A complex becomes a point of fixation and may be a source of repeated problems or suffering in our lives. When we repeatedly become angry and belligerent; when we practice and rehearse tasks but always fail to perform under pressure; when we're possessed by a need to criticize our loved ones mercilessly—we're in the grips of complexes.

Jung described a complex as “a conglomeration of psychic contents characterized by a peculiar or perhaps painful feeling-tone, something that is usually hidden from sight” (Jung, 1976 [1935], par. 99).

What then … is a “feeling toned complex”? It is the image of a certain psychic situation which is strongly accentuated emotionally and is, moreover, incompatible with the habitual attitude of consciousness. This image has a powerful inner coherence, it has its own wholeness and … a relatively high degree of autonomy, so that it is subject to the control of the conscious mind to only a limited extent. (Jung, (1969) [1934b], par. 201)

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: Persona and Shadow in Dreamwork

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Dreams perform three functions that are essential to our growth in consciousness. They help us evolve our social adaptation and self-presentation in the world, which Jung called the persona. They illuminate unconscious beliefs, behaviours, and feelings, which Jung termed the shadow. And they reveal the central tasks and challenges of our personal individuation, the process of actualizing our unique potentials and identities.

In the course of personality development, certain aspects of the personality are banished from awareness as we attempt to conform to social conventions. We adopt the norms and values of our families and social group, and develop a socially acceptable presentation of self to the world—a persona, a social mask. It's important to develop an appropriate persona so that we can adapt to our environment; otherwise, we may feel rejected or ostracized. Edward Whitmont (1969) calls the persona “the adaptation archetype,” and he notes that the persona often appears in the images of “clothes, uniforms, and masks” (p. 156). The common dream images of being naked or unclothed, or wearing dirty or inappropriate clothing, suggest “the refusal of the col-lective”—not enough persona adaptation (p. 158). Ted, a man whose new job in business management involved increased responsibilities and required that he dress up a bit, had this dream:

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: Anima and Animus in Dreams

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The approach to dreamwork I'm presenting in this book could be summarized as the practice of creating consciousness by recognizing the coexistence of opposites within the personality. This process includes the urge to unite the gendered poles of our experience represented by the anima and animus, archetypes that have varied and elusive meanings. First, they signify our realization of the maleness and femaleness within all of us, the fact that both men and women possess, to some degree, characteristics of both genders. The classical Jungian formulation depicted anima as the carrier of a man's unconscious Eros, his capacity for feeling and relatedness. The animus was portrayed as a woman's unconscious logos, her capacity for logic and intellectual certitude.

[A]nima/us is a psychic structure that is complementary to the persona and links the ego to the deepest layer of the psyche, namely to the image and experience of the self … . [T]he persona is the habitual attitude that an ego adopts to meet the world. It is a public personality and facilitates adaptation to the demands of physical and … social reality … . The anima/us is … concerned with adaptation to the inner world … . [T]he anima/us allows the ego to enter into and to experience the depths of the psyche. (Stein, 1998, pp. 128, 130)

 

CHAPTER NINE: Dreamwork and Individuation

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Dreamwork aids us in the process of integrating the shadow, our core traumas and suppressed emotions, our sexuality and anger, so that we gradually become more unified individuals. We experience ourselves as a totality comprising many parts, many complexes and mythic personalities. The symbols of dreams aid us in individuation, the process of realizing our individuality and uniqueness, and fully living the truth of who we are. Aniella Jaffe wrote:

Like the alchemical opus, individuation is a wearisome procedure to be accomplished in stages: by consciously collaborating with the unconscious, the individuant performs a work of self-redemption that makes him a whole and undivided personality, an “individual” (Jaffe, 1984, p. 65)

To understand individuation, consider the principle of the seed: Each of us is born like an acorn with particular traits and potentialities that are apparent from early in our lives. We unfold the kind of tree that we are. We sink deep roots and draw nourishment from the past, our history and ancestors. We grow slowly, reaching upward,aspiring, flowering, and releasing the fruits that grow within our bodies. Like a tree, we pass through seasons of falling leaves, winter dormancy, and fresh new beginnings. Marie-Louise von Franz (1964) noted that the goal of individuation is the realization of the uniqueness of the individual man or woman, so that our “inborn possibility” becomes conscious and we act to bring this into reality (p. 163). It's like a pine cone, which “contains the whole future tree in a latent form,” finding its way to the soil in a particular place and climate. “Thus the individual pine tree comes into existence, constituting the fulfilment of its totality, its emergence into the realm of reality” (p. 163).

 

CHAPTER TEN: The Dream Mandala

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In this chapter, I'll describe the technique I call the Dream Mandala, which can assist us in the process of achieving wholeness through dreamwork. You've already encountered dream mandalas in several chapters. This method is particularly helpful in integrating the complex imagery of our dreams.

C.G. Jung developed the method of drawing and painting mandalas during a personal crisis, the period of his confrontation with the collective unconscious. During this time of confusion and upheaval, Jung began painting circular mandalas, which he believed represented the current state of the psyche. He observed changes in symbolism over time, and how this reflected stages of individuation. Jung also used this method with his patients. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung wrote:

Only gradually did I discover what the mandala really is: “Formation, Transformation, Eternal Mind's eternal recreation.” And that is the self, the wholeness of the personality … . [T]he mandala is the center … . It is the path to the centre, to individuation … . There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the self. (Jung, 1961, pp. 195–196)

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Synchronicity and Dreams

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The path of individuation is often marked by synchronicities, meaningful coincidences of events that occur in dreams or waking life. Synchronicities are those moments when waking life is most dreamlike. For example, a synchronicity occurred involving the unexpected reappearance of one of my teachers, a mystic from Venezuela named Andrés Takra. I apprenticed with Andrés in 1980, then never saw him again. I spoke to him once by phone in 1989. He never replied to my letters after that. I had no idea what had happened to him. One night in 2005 a friend was visiting me, and I showed him a book that Takra had written. My friend was looking at the book, and we were talking about Andrés. I said, “I don't know what happened to him.” For a moment I casually checked my email, and my jaw dropped when at that exact moment a message from Andrés Takra appeared on my screen. It read, “Never too late to say hello to an old friend.” This experience felt like a dream.

Soon thereafter, a synchronistic event occurred the same week I was teaching a book called Synchronicity, Science, and Soul-Making, by Victor Mansfield (1995). My friend Kaleo came to my house to hold a ladder for me while I did some outdoor painting. Kaleo surprised me by bringing over a blueberry pie. Two days later, I was speaking on the phone with a second friend named Tem. We were discussing an astrological progression I was experiencing: progressed Venus was conjunct my midheaven. And Tem, purely in jest, said “Venus conjunct midheaven. I predict that within three days someone will bring you a blueberry pie.” I couldn't believe it! I felt that Tem had contacted the timeless space of the universal mind where all events intersect.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: Spirit and the Body in Dreams

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Dreams are spiritual phenomena that awaken us. They are waves of spirit, ripples though the ocean of consciousness that disturb our complacent viewpoints and expand our awareness. Jung's writings showed the value of attending to the spiritual dimensions of the psyche, and taught that healing of the person results from contacting something within the unconscious that transcends and transforms the individual. This emphasis distinguishes Jungian dreamwork from approaches that look at dreams solely as expressions of personal, biographical contents such as memories and fantasies. Dreams are expressions and communications of spirit, the God within us, the Self, the wholeness that encompasses the ego. Their captivating images evoke in us a mood of contemplation, and become focal points for spiritual life, regardless of whether we adhere to any specific religious doctrine or tradition.

In this chapter, we adopt the attitude that Corbett (1996) called the religious approach to the psyche, which

tries to approach the divine (or transcendent levels of reality) by locating it directly and deeply within ourselves … . [T]he spirit can present to us something new and personal which cannot be found in existing teachings but which is nevertheless needed by the individual. (Corbett, 1996, pp. 8, 55)

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Taming Wild Horses: A Study of Animal Symbolism and Male Sexuality

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To conclude this volume I've selected a final example that illustrates the principles of therapeutic dreamwork and self-healing. In this chapter I explore relationship themes that emerged in my dreamwork with David, a gay man in his late forties. David was in a long-term, long-distance relationship with a man named George, and he was grappling with a recurring pattern of having affairs during periods when he and George were separated. He had a series of dreams that were catalysts for therapy exploring his fear of commitment, a conflicted relationship with his father, and his tendency to engage in sexually compulsive behaviour. David encountered five animal dream symbols—horse, camel, snake, alligator, and buffalo—representing different facets of his sexuality. These dreams had a profoundly healing effect and became an active guiding factor. We'll note how an animal dream image—in this case, a horse—can evolve and transform over a series of dreams, reflecting the individual's growth in consciousness. This is a story of a person who developed more emotional maturity in the course of working with his dreams. One dream depicted a man wrestling with an enormous snake, an image depicting the eternal hero myth,heralding a process of transformation and emotional rebirth. David's story illustrates the clinical usefulness of working with dreams and archetypal symbolism—in this case aiding the resolution of Oedipal conflict, which had previously inhibited satisfaction of central life aims. This study contributes to our understanding of human sexuality from the perspective of Jungian depth psychology.

 

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