Dreams are a renewable resource of creativity, the hidden springs of our unconscious. We return to this mysterious place night after night where we meet the detritus of our daily lives, all tossed together in senseless mix, like a strange salad. It’s up to us whether to use them or not, but if we do, we tap into a well of insight, because dreams, being disconnected from and non-regulated by our egos, are the ultimate scoop. It’s like getting to eavesdrop on your own life—you see and find out things you weren’t looking for, but you end up being really glad you know about them.
When Linda Pace wrote Dreaming Red, she described how her dreams guided her to make important decisions in her life. Much of her art, as well as her legacies, Artpace and the Linda Pace Foundation’s planned Ruby City, originated from dreams. Pace also dreamed of a crab that came to sit in the back seat of her car. This was just before her diagnosis of the cancer that took her life (a crab is the symbol of Cancer).
Since dreams are set loose from the leash of consciousness, they can also be terrifying, baring the angry teeth of life. They show us things we don’t want to see. Sometimes, the terror we don’t want to see may belong to the future. Dreams reveal to us how we are being carried away by the silent undercurrent of time, and, depending on our lives, we may be far off track, or we may be near a life-changing transition. The dream brings us this information through images that are personal to each of us. Jungian dream analysis draws from archetypal symbols, but more importantly, understanding dreams requires being in touch with the part of yourself that you don’t always want to listen to.
In Hauntings: Dispelling the Ghosts That Run Our Lives, James Hollis reveals the Jungian process of dream analysis. Hollis’ concept of haunting points to the unconscious, shadowy parts of our lives and how, when we continue to repress these parts, they haunt us. His book offers many examples of how people have used their dreams, including Hollis himself, who describes the dream that compelled him to write the book. Hollis, who spent the first 26 years of his life teaching humanities, became a highly lauded Jungian analyst who has written 14 books. A few of his lectures can be found here.
Hollis describes how dreams can be gifts, for example, the case of the Hauntings book. He wasn’t in the mood to write another book; he was in retirement mode with his wife, feeling like he had done enough. But he had the dream that told him he wasn’t finished, and, thanks to that, he wrote this book, which is the most thorough explanation of this complex, subtle, intangible work that I have ever found.
Hollis provides the essential historical context surrounding psychology. He also summarizes fundamental questions that we ask ourselves about the meaning of life.
“Life brings two gifts: a moment in time, and the consciousness of its brevity,” writes Hollis. “We owe life two things in return: a life fully lived, and the gift surrendered at the end.” I think that “gift surrendered in the end” is an important detail—what it means is, we must do the work of knowing how to die, and this means to do it while we are alive.
Hollis writes, “How we view this journey is profoundly influenced by the lens through which we see the world….We are ineluctably driven to the necessity of psychology…the recognition that all we experience is flushed through our subjective apparatus….psychology is tasked with the troubling paradox that its chief summons is to bring clarity to how we experience the world, and how we distort it from the very moment of experiencing it.”
Hollis traces how we got to psychology in the first place, through important Western philosophers and thinkers:
Immanual Kant (1724-1804) explained that “we never know the thing in itself but only our subjective experience of it….our highly eccentric experiences interact with that presumptive external reality and alter it profoundly.”
Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976) gave us “the principle of indeterminacy, which asserts that our experience of the world is a highly interactive, dialectically changing engagement of the ‘world’ and ‘experience of world’ in which each is altered by the other.
Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), who I know for his phenomenological perspective: “we are obliged to study the experience of the world without presuming we know or understand the world…each of us operates within a received lebenwelt or frame of cultural experience, which has ground the lens, and construes the world anew as well.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) writes about how “we fall into bewitchment by our own contrived language games and think we are speaking of reality when we convert verbs into nouns like nature or God or meaning. …if we really understood how we grow enchanted and imprisoned by the very tools we have evolved to help us navigate the world, we would need to just shut up for a while…. (‘whereof one cannot speak, one should remain silent.’)”
“A life fully lived:” As I mourn the death of my father and watch my daughters grow up and go to college, this idea is foremost on my mind. What does it mean to fully live a life? How can I explain to them how important this is? Hollis sums it up by listing the “four questions that never go away:”
- Why are we here, in service to what, and toward what end? (the cosmological question)
- How are we as animal forms, empowered with spirit, to live in harmony with our natural environment? (the ecological question)
- Who are my people, what is my duty to others, and what are the rights, duties, privileges, and expectations of my tribe? (the sociological question)
- Who am I, how am I different from others, what is my life about, and how am I to find my way through the difficulties of life? (the psychological question)
It’s rare that we stop and ask ourselves these questions, but Hollis explains that they are always being asked in our unconscious. I like how he narrows down from large to small–cosmology, ecology, sociology and psychology–from the infinite expanse of the universe to the endless bounds of our own psyches.
The difference between Jungian work and the science of psychology is that Jungian work involves the idea of a soul (the Greek meaning of psyche is soul). This adds another dimension to it, keeping it from being analytical and empirical. While some may consider it a pseudoscience, for me, it’s another way of seeing things, maybe not the ultimate one, but something that adds a richness to my life.