Dreams: Guides for Recovering and Recreating Ourselves

From my blog “A Plague of Disengagement” (5/5/15), I received responses that helped me realize how many of us are still yearning for a sense of connectedness to our own selves and to others, and for an experiential sense of soul and spirit – the “bread and wine” of Life – in order to be fully engaged in our lives.

Jung and others saw the need to awaken the world from its dim sleep, and to some extent they have succeeded. But awakening can be a slow struggle, and instead of awakening, we can find ourselves aroused to face a frightening, demanding world that is moving too fast. It seems as if this world we face has a powerful undertow of loneliness, anxiety, and discouragement.

And yet, if we pay attention to our dreams, they will remind us that we can become reconnected to the unseen powers and forces that can support our lives, as well as help us direct and feel at home with them. I devote a chapter in my book, Sacred Selfishness, to “Befriending our Dreams.” I read this chapter over and over again, periodically, to keep me in touch with how I must approach the mysterious depths within myself, with a sense of appreciation and wonder. I would like to share with you a short 2+ minute video that I made for a seminar to share the spirit and meaning of this chapter.

Often I encounter moments in my life where a dream is a turning point for me. In my latest book, Cracking Open: A Memoir of Struggling, Passages, and Transformations, I share about the time in 1994 when I was looking at reflections from my journal and their activation of a very personal story from my past. Then I share how I found myself facing the decision as to whether to share these writings with others or not. These reflections were especially personal and represented experiences that deeply shaped my life and that became expressions of my soul. I felt very shy about exposing these journal entries to the eyes and voices of others, even though I knew they may be helpful. On page 16 of Cracking Open, I write:

…but as you can see, I have decided to share my work, and I made that decision before going to sleep that night. In fact, I recall wondering how my unconscious would respond to my decision.

Shortly after midnight, I awoke from a deeply experienced dream that was filled with symbols of inner tranquility, wisdom, and wholeness. As I sat in the dark, I saw the lake in front of the house where I grew up. There was no wind, and the surface of the lake was still. The image was beautiful and, in a strange way, it seemed to span almost my entire life. At the center of the lake – where the water was deepest and where beneath its surface, springs fed its depth – was an ancient rowboat. Strong and heavy, the boat was made of a dark wood that had weathered many storms. Standing in the boat, as if rooted in it, was an immense monk. His cowl was pushed back, exposing silver hair above serene blue eyes. His countenance, at once, expressed the experience of age, great vitality, and peace. He stood calmly fishing in the deep water.

Physically, the monk resembled me, though my eyes are not blue, and his other facial features were not clear. But certainly he is a part of me, perhaps an image from my own depths, endorsing the closure of my writing project and the decision to share it. Thus ended my internal debate. However, because my work is so personal, it has taken me twenty years to carry out the decision.

As a Jungian analyst, I could have been tempted to interpret the image of the monk as a shadow figure, or perhaps as a symbol of the Self. But I donʼt think that way, because that would have been to objectify it as a symbol – of depth, purpose, or meaning in my life, and thereby I would have become disengaged with it. I wanted him to become something that lived and breathed inside of me, whose presence could be supportive, teaching, challenging, and guiding. So I met him in the dialogues of “active imagination” – a process that I explain in Sacred Selfishness. In the Epilogue of Cracking Open, I share: “He has been and is my companion. I feel he will continue to be with me in this world and beyond. He brings me comfort and direction. He keeps me in touch with the spirituality of the flesh and blood part of myself. And while he honors the thinking side of myself, he keeps that aspect in the back seat, as we travel.”

Our dreams contain the wisdom of the past, and the image and events in our history that need to be healed and redeemed. If we pursue the path of this work, we will also discover our energy for the future and a vision of its meaning and purpose. Our dreams often tell us about our unlived lives, how our psyche is living our lives, and how our shadows are alive, unknown within, yet affecting us. Dreams tell us how our inner story is developing and how our Self wants us to become conscious of the story we are living, or that may be living us.

I always like to wonder: ”Who lives in me? What do my inner landscapes remind me of? What keeps coming back, looking for my attention? What are the animals, places, and concerns that are showing themselves, and wanting to be recognized, accepted, cared for, or confronted and understood?” The final dream in my book, Cracking Open, came after completing part of my personal story with Dr. John Mattern, an analyst conducting my first admission interview at the C. G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland. It begins on page 117:

I returned to my room emotionally exhausted and quickly fell asleep. Naively, I hoped my dreams would simplify the layers of meaning I had struggled through and arrange them in some sort of helpful order but this wasn’t the case. Or at least I didn’t initially see the dream I had that night as fulfilling this particular hope.

I awoke suddenly with the final scene of the dream still before my eyes. In it, I was lying on a bed, peering through the darkness at a doorway. My sister was standing just beyond the door as flames consumed her. My blood ran cold as my eyes lingered on this apparition. She was speaking to me, saying, ʻDonʼt be afraid. It’s too late to stop now.ʼ

I swung my feet to the floor, flicked on my lamp, and reached for pen and paper. Questions rushed to mind as I fought to retrieve the images of the dream in order to put them together and write them down. Any questions I had would have to wait. I had to write out the dream and relieve myself by giving it birth into the light of consciousness.

I recalled how, in my dream, I was running across sandy soil from one clump of tropical foliage to another. Japanese soldiers, helmets on and bayonets fixed, were pursuing me. As I saw them, I sunk lower in the foliage. Clearly they didn’t know where I was and were searching through the jungle looking for me. Sweat rolled off me. I dashed from one hiding place to another, stopping each time to see if I had been spotted. It must have been during the second World War. The soil was brown and sandy, the foliage a rich green, and the sun was blistering down through humid air. I passed a dirty stream and a murky pond. The soldiers were out of sight; I must have been getting away.

The scene of my dream changed, and I was safely in a small cabin on an island, standing next to my bed. The sun had set and the room flickered in the glow of a kerosene lantern. I heard a small rustle and as I turned toward the door, I saw a beautiful, sultry woman smiling provocatively at me. She was just beyond my bedroom door in the dark house. Raven hair surged over her shoulders, glowing darkly in the flickering light. Slowly, as my eyes devoured her, I realized that her legs seemed to flow in the form of a large snake. Terrified, I flung the lantern at her and stumbled, falling back on my bed. She was doused with kerosene, which burst into orange-blue flames, now the only light in the dark house. She stood there, raven hair ablaze. Suddenly she turned into my sister and was saying, ʻDon’t be afraid. It is too late to stop now.ʼ The flames soared, but she didn’t seem to burn; she simply seemed to melt. I awoke.

The stories I had been telling John represented a remarkable passage in my life. As I pondered the image in my dream, I had the premonition that another passage had begun. In the story of my 1972 journey, I had been compelled to search for something, and, as you will see, I found it. But with this dream, I began to feel that something was searching for me, not a woman (even though this assumption also turned out to be questionable), not an intuition or an idea, but something else that I would later learn that my soul was lacking.

That beautiful, flowing image of a woman was of Melusina – a mythological figure, a nixie, a fairy temptress, and the feminine counterpart of Mercurius. And what a future of creativity she has led me into… Our dreams, as you can see, can lead us into a heightened awareness of the life force and our mysterious nature, that can bring new meaning, determination, and richness into our lives.

Categories: Articles by Drs. Bud and Massimilla Harris, Videos

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