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Introduction/ Next Understanding Symbols/ Symbols and Metaphor/ The Unconscious/ Discovering the Inner Self
Interpreting the Dream/ Resources & Guides for the Dreamer

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The Importance of Dreams


What Are Dreams?

Dreams are mental activities occurring during sleep, primarily during REM {rapid eye movement} sleep which takes up about 25% of sleep time. The driving force responsible for the triggering of REM sleep and for controlling its duration is unknown. What is known is that during REM sleep there is increased brain activity. People dream during REM sleep, perhaps as a result of excited brain activity and the paralysis of major voluntary muscles. Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) was the first person to recognize rapid eye movement, or REM sleep, when he observed the movement of eyes beneath the eyelids during certain periods.

Everyone dreams, several times a night, every night. If we are deprived of sleep, REM sleep and dreaming, increases on subsequent nights. This fit's with Carl Jung's theory of compensation because it illustrates how the mind reconciles lost sleep with dreaming. The psyche compensates not only the physical body but the psychological mind as well.

The contents within the dream are psychological, having to do with the emotions. The act of dreaming itself is physiological, the mind is physically producing images, emotions and activities that are a product of the individuals unconscious mind. Most images (symbols) in dreams are personal representations of the individual (dealing with events and emotions in our waking lives), but also found within the dream are representations (symbols) that have nothing to do with the individuals personal knowledge. These are what Carl Jung called the ARCHETYPAL images, images that are from the collective knowledge of all mankind (actually predate mankind itself). These images are tendencies of the human mind that form representations of mythological motifs - representations that can vary a great deal without losing their basic patterns. An archetype is not a specific image or motif but variations of the images and motifs that are found in mythology. The archetype is a predisposition (previous inclinations) to an image, a common psychic structure that parallels the common human structure (patterns in life). The archetype itself cannot be experienced; all we can know of it is its effect on dreams, emotions, actions and other mental contents. We will discuss archetypes more in later chapters.

Perhaps the best word for the archetype is emotions, or more accurately emotional complexes. Dreams are stating the present condition (psychological, physical and spiritual) of the dreamer, at the time of a particular dream. The total condition of the dreamer is being played out within the dream and the images and motifs are a reference to those particular conditions. What is lacking in the unconscious state of mind (the dream) is the bias and prejudices found in the waking state of consciousness. It is like another person, one without preconceived ideas or prejudices about the dreamer, watching the dreamer and then giving a true account of what is happening in the dreamer's conscious life. This can be a physical event (with the emotional influences), a psychological condition, a metaphysical reference or, perhaps a combination of two or more of the dreamer's conditions. The dream is about the total human experience and most of the images and themes (motifs)are taken from the vast vault of experiences from the dreamer's life, but also has a reference to the archetypal motifs (universal themes). It is the emotions at play, seeking to inform the dreamer of what is really taking place in the dreamer's life. And even though it is the emotions that carry the greatest weight within the dream, it is also referencing to the physical and metaphysical (spiritual, creative) condition of the dreamer's life.

The metaphysical aspect within the dream is describing the subjects of creativity and/or the spiritual condition (not religious, which is a waking perceived bias). All humans possess a degree of creativity - whether it be in the arts, problem solving, writing, etc. The seat of creativity lies within the metaphysical condition, that which is beyond the normal known physical realm of being, and is seen in all the forms of creativity within our society. It is thought that the creative self is a condition of the collective unconscious (the whole knowledge of mankind), where the knowledge of the universal exceeds the personal knowledge and taps into the inner resources of nature. These resources, seen as images and motifs within the dream, are also found within the differing mythologies of the world and are expressed in the creativity of individuals. The characteristics of the human species is expressed from the unconscious nature of our being, which maps experience into grammar, art or other creative skills.

The other metaphysical aspect of dream is the relationship of the individual to the spiritual condition. Jung once said that those patients who had found a spiritual ground were cured of their psychological aliments. They were able to find a spiritual ground with the help of their dreams. Within the dream, perhaps all dreams, is found a reference to the spiritual self. The symbols of one's father in a dream can represent the actual father in waking life, but also can have a reference to the higher spiritual condition, what is thought of as God. The same holds true for the feminine images found in dream, a reference to the real mother or to the Goddess or Great Mother. An image of the earth is a good analogy that fits this motif. We all have a spiritual condition, whether we acknowledge it or not. Carl Jung, being a scientist, often was criticized for this belief but found within the dreams of his patients a reference that was undeniably metaphysical. And when fully explored the images gave a definite conclusion of healing within the dreamer's unbalanced condition.

Thus, we find in all dreams at least two interpretations of the images and motifs, even though one aspect may be given more emphasis than another. The dream is trying to inform the dreamer through the dream their total condition. Once that condition is understood then a healing process begins and balance is restored to the dreamer's waking life. The dream world is a microcosm of the whole of society, indeed the whole human race. When one aspect of the individual is out of balance, then it is a reflection of the society as a whole. The ills of the society, or the world, is dependent upon the individuals that inhabit the planet (the universal), and the conditions that plague our societies are found within the individual dream, having personal connotations as well as universal. One can change the world by changing themselves but the changes needed must be known. That is a purpose for the dream.

To Interpret Dreams as Literal or Symbolic Translations?

Most dream images are symbolic representations of the dreamer's life and life condition. There are instances where a literal interpretation of an image is warranted, such as a parent or sibling. The presence of a father or mother in a dream may be a straightforward of him/her, or the way you perceive them or remember them. They appear in the dream because of the part they play within the dream story, and the relationship you have/had with them in your waking life.
Actual traumatic waking experiences can be re-lived in dreams, as documented in the soldier's dreams of war. These would be literal images of past experiences and their interpretation could be straightforward and without symbology {nightmares}. But with that in mind we should also look for a symbolic meaning to the images. Fighting would not only represent an actual waking experience but could also symbolize a condition in the dreamer's life that causes imbalance due to attitudes the dreamer possesses, consciously or unconsciously. Those attitudes would be related to the actual life experiences and would represent what the dreamer needs to focus on to bring balance back into the life.

An example of misinterpreting a dream literally would be one in which someone dies. Dreams do not as a matter of principle predict the future. They compensate what you already know and use symbols to convey a message that has to do with the dreamer's life. Dying most often symbolize changes that are occurring, or need to occur in the dreamer's life. Death is an end to something but it is metaphorical of the dreamer and not a literal fact that will take place. Dreaming of a father dying does not mean that the father is actually going to die, but perhaps changes in the relationship with the father is taking place {or should take place} or, the father is symbolic of the dreamer's 'higher' condition, the wise, mature self.
Compensation is where the dreamer is either consciously or unconsciously aware of facts, and from those facts possibilities are derived and portrayed within the dream as symbolic death. Feed a computer enough facts and it will provide possibilities within limits that can come true. The human mind is that computer with the ability to deduce and project within the dream.

Contents Page
Introduction/ Understanding Symbols/ Symbols and Metaphor/ The Unconscious/ Discovering the Inner Self
Interpreting the Dream/ Resources & Guides for the Dreamer

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