“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.” Carl Jung
People often ask, “are dreams important? Should I write them down? How can I understand them?” My recommendation is “Yes” for the first two. The third answer is more complicated. I have been blessed with an active dream life since childhood, which became even more rich and intriguing when I was 21 years old. I was in my third year of college, a friend told me about a book called Man and his Symbols by C. G. Jung, and she lent me the book. Until that point I was like most people, sometimes noticing that my dreams were interesting or weird or scary, but knowing how to appreciate and understand them. That situation for me was about to change.
I began reading the book and had a variety of reactions, from confusion to fascination. The explanations for the importance of dreams were complicated because, as the book states, dreams are symbolic rather than literal. The book explains that when you dream of your father or mother or sister or an old friend, you are not dreaming about those people. You are dreaming about a part of yourself that is like those people: you are dreaming about the part of you that is like your mother, your father, your child, or whoever appears in the dream. Jung’s concept of dream imagery indicates that everything in the dream represents some aspect of you, the dreamer. This allows you to focus completely on yourself, discovering aspects of yourself that you do not acknowledge and do not know the significance of. And bringing a dream to your counselor or therapist can reveal solutions to your issues and problems that you only vaguely understand.
When Sigmund Freud began his research on the meaning of dreams, he came to the conclusion that dreams express wish fulfillment. Freud’s famous quote still echoes down the ages that the interpretation of dreams “is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.” Although Freud had a rather narrow view of the meaning of dreams, he did bring the practice of dream interpretation to a wider audience in what we think of as the modern world. He did not invent dream analysis. Every culture in ancient times had its own understanding of the meaning of dreams and had their own version of psychotherapists and medical practitioners who practiced dream interpretation. And traditional cultures today all have their own system for interpretating dreams.
Depending on the ancient culture and the practitioner, dreams were thought of as divinely inspired, foretelling of the future, and were used as diagnostic tools with regard to illness. There is a significant tradition of dream interpretation in the Hebrew Bible. One of the most popular stories is that of Joseph, who went from being a prisoner in Egypt to becoming close advisor to the Egyptian pharaoh because of his skill in understanding these seemingly strange and wonderful visions of sleep. The tradition of dream work was revived by Freud, but the deeply intuitive and spiritual practice of understanding dreams was brought into the modern world by Carl Jung.
If you are interested in this deeply historical, psychological and multicultural phenomenon of dream interpretation, here are some links to explore:
By Terry McMaster, LMSW, EAP Counselor