Dreams and Interpretation
I'm leading an ongoing group for individuals interested in participating in a weekly Jungian Dream Group via Zoom. I'll lead discussions on Jung's four-part schema for dream interpretation and show how it applies to individual dreams of group members and a few of my own dreams. I will give an overview of the various functions of dreams. We'll approach dreams empirically without any preconceptions in order to see how they really function. I'll proceed from a simple principle that we understand nothing whatsoever about the dream. We don't know what the dream means, or preconceive any idea of what its meaning is beforehand. Penetrating into the core of meaning is the aim of doing Jungian Dream Work. Group members will learn to distinguish between free association and Jungian methods of personal and archetypal amplification, circumambulation, and the principle of synchronicity. ‣ Destiny Dreams ‣ Dreams from Childhood ‣ Compensatory Dreams ‣ Prospective or Teleological Dreams To view details about the dream group see my profile on Psychology Today's Website and look for groups at the link below.
Here is an edited version of A Talk Given to Psychiatry Grand Rounds at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center on May 2, 2022, from 12:00-1:30 PM.
Before we take a look at some ideas on Jungian dream interpretation, I will briefly review for you Jung’s four-part schema of dream interpretation from his 1936-1940 Seminar on Children’s Dreams.
1) Locale: Place, time, “dramatis personae.”
2) Exposition: Illustration of the problem.
3) Peripateia: Illustration of the transformation—which can also leave room for a catastrophe. 4) Lysis: Result of the dream. Meaningful closure. Compensating illustration of the action of the dream.
(Jung. C. G. Children’s Dreams: Notes from the Seminar Given in 1936–1940 by C. G. Jung. Princeton: Princeton University Press (Philemon Series), 2008, 30; Note: all subsequent page numbers indicated in parentheses in the presentation that follow are from the same publication above. The four seminars on children’s dreams are a series of lectures Jung gave as a professor of psychology at the ETH in Zürich during 1936, 1938, 1939, and 1940).
Destiny Dreams: Jung talks in the opening pages about very “early dreams in particular,” which he says “are of the utmost importance because they are dreamed out of the depths of the personality and, therefore, frequently represent an anticipation of the later destiny. Subsequent dreams of childhood become more and more unimportant, except when the dreamer is destined for a special fate” (1).
How many of you are able to remember any early dreams from childhood that pointed you to a future destiny? Can you relate their meaning to your vocation as a mental health practitioner, or some other calling? This may be difficult for some of you to do from a rational angle, with the aid of free association or other methods of dream recall; due to the symbolic language of dreams, however, we will explore some Jungian techniques to explore this question in-depth, with the aid of some irrational or non-verbal methods.
Now I will review some preliminary points about dreams from a Jungian point of view before I provide a practical examples for you to consider:
1) The dream is a natural phenomenon, an unintentional occurrence, just like everything occurring in nature. Dreams are not intentional. They are not premeditated. We can form an intention to remember our dreams, but we cannot control our dreams any more than we can control the weather patterns. They simply happen to us. They are not calculated beforehand. The most basic thing for psychotherapists to learn is how to catch them. In order to do this, it is best to start with ourselves, regardless of what our theoretical orientation might be (2). The dream arises from the self, whether we want to call it the little s self as in the Kohutian sense, or the big S Self as in a Jungian sense.
2) In working with dreams, moreover, it is best to be as unprejudiced as possible if a dream is to influence us, while recognizing at the same time that whatever formulation we may arrive at with a patient it is still our interpretation (2). We have to take into account therefore our subjective basis for interpretation, as well as the patient’s narrative associations.
3) The aim is to get a handle on dreams as a natural occurrence (3). Understanding them takes some careful deciphering, as well as a well-trained ear for affective attunements: how the patient feels about the sequence of their dream imagery during any of the four parts in the above schema.
4) Dreams are purposive. The development of the personality is determined by an unconscious purposiveness. Some “big” dreams are a product of the teleological function of the unconscious. So, in order to interpret dreams properly we need to observe the unconscious goal orientations of dream processes and know how to recognize them (4). “There are several possibilities of giving meaning to a dream.”
Here are four possible definitions.
1) The dream is the unconscious reaction to a conscious situation (4).
2) The dream depicts a situation that originated in a conflict between consciousness and the unconscious.
3) The dream represents the tendency of the unconscious that aims at a change of the conscious attitude.
4) The dream depicts unconscious processes showing no relation to the conscious situation (5).
Here are some causes and conditions that can produce dreams:
1) They can stem from somatic sources.
2) They emerge from physical stimuli (8).
3) Psychical occurrences in the environment are perceived by the unconscious (13).
4) Past events can come into our dreams (15).
5) A final group of causes can be found in dreams that anticipate future psychical aspects in the development of the personality, which are not perceived as such in the present. These are future events not yet recognizable in the present (18).
In The Interpretation of Dreams Sigmund Freud delineated dreams as wish fulfillments (23, 24). Now some of you may have wondered, if you do not already know the answer to this question, what the difference was between Freud’s method of dream analysis and Jung’s method, and how their conflict originated in the first place? What theoretical subject in psychoanalysis led to their painful rupture in friendship? Some historians of psychoanalysis believe what caused them to split was their divergence in their views over the libido theory in 1911-1912. To be sure, this is partially correct. Yet was there also some earlier precursor? If so, what might that have been? I have developed some of my own thoughts about this: When Jung travelled with Freud to America at the age of thirty-four, he had not yet discovered his true purpose in life as an analyst, his original calling. The essential meaning of his existence had not emerged yet, what he later called his personal myth. He knew without doubt what his vocation was―a calling to natural science, medicine, and psychiatry. He’d already become internationally recognized for his theory of complexes in the treatment of schizophrenia under the direction of his mentor at the Bürgholzli psychiatric hospital, Eugen Bleuler, by 1903. Jung met with Freud for the first time in 1907. He’d read The Interpretation of Dreams before his meeting with Freud and was the master’s most brilliant “disciple” for a time. Jung says he began researching dreams by using Freud’s method of free association while working with his patient’s. He later came up with the following observation: “When you set a person the task of associating freely, you will uncover his [or her] complexes, but you will not know if these complexes were also contained in the point of departure, the dream.” What are complexes? Jung called them affect-toned, or emotionally-toned groupings of ideas or images. Much of the dream work Jungians do is focused on the analysis of the complexes. However, free association can only take a person so far in working with dreams. To circle around a complex with free association is not the same as circling around its nuclear core of meaning. Nature tries to lead us out of the endless circling around the complexes. Jung thus proceeded to move in his analyses concentrically towards the dream’s center, the nucleus of the dream. He conjectured that their nuclear cores of meaning are natural phenomena. They do not fabricate a conscious dream censor to disguise its meaning to the dreamer from what one truly wants. This, Jung believed, was Freud’s peculiar personal bias that was not based on sound principles of science. Jungian dream work amplifies existing images until their meaning becomes visible. This is what Jungians call the method amplification (26). When we amplify a dream image, we circumambulate around it, until its meaning begins to become clear. We might then begin to grasp what its hidden significance is with the dreamer.
This process of circling around a center of meaning is something I have written about in the Prologue to my book William James and C.G. Jung: Doorways to the Self, where I cite Jung's dream that gave him his theory of the collective unconscious and its archetypes as he was heading on the ship George Washington to America in 1909 with Freud and Ferenczi.
Jung’s dream on the George Washington took place in a two storied house. It was Jung’s house. He found himself in a styled salon in the upper story. After looking around, Jung’s dream-ego proceeded down some stairs to a ground floor, which dated from the fifteenth, or sixteenth century A.D. The furniture was medieval. Exploring it further Jung said: “I came upon a heavy door and opened it.” Jung passed through the door. Then he discovered a stone stairway that led down to a cellar. Descending again, he found himself in a vaulted room that looked exceedingly ancient. The room dated from Roman times. The floor was made of stone slabs. Jung found a ring on one of the slabs. When he pulled it, the stone lifted, and again, he saw a stairway of narrow stone steps leading downwards into the depths. Jung passed through this second doorway. He descended the lower steps and entered a low cave that had been cut into the rock. On the floor were some broken pottery shards and some scattered bones amidst the dust, like the remains of a primitive culture. Jung then discovered two very old and half disintegrated human skulls in the subsoil of the dusty cave, and then, he says, he awoke.
Freud interpreted the two skulls in Jung's dream to be a death wish for him. Jung objected. I will provide you with a second example. On the morning of April twenty-first, 2022, as I was finishing my PowerPoint presentation for this talk:
I dreamt I was in a seminar room, in a modern institution, in a very deep meditative state. I was attempting to teach a woman in mid-life, a very rational type, how to do Jungian dream work. She was taking copious notes and wanted me to explain the concept of circumambulation through the constructive or method of analysis. So, I drew her a spiral on a white piece of art paper and attempted to show her how it is done in a visual way. She was locked in her directed thinking mode and wanted me to spell it out for her, in exact terms, to clarify the technique in an intellectual way. I was still in a still twilight state and with very slow speech, I said specifically, while looking at her: “I am not trying to define the spiral, I am trying to lead you into the spiral, if you will follow me.” That woke her up. She stopped thinking. I added at the end: “I am trying to get you out of your head and take you into the spiral with me.
Now I will go through Jung's four-part schema of dream interpretation for you point by point to see how we work.
1) The Locale, or time and place was a contemporary seminar room in the Bay Area, the dramatis personae were my dream-ego and a rational-type female, who is both a rational part of myself and a rational figure in any one of you that wants to grasp the meaning of circumambulation intellectually, through what Jung called directed thinking, and then there was an audience of people in the background.
2) The Exposition, or illustration of the problem was how to teach the constructive or synthetic method of analysis to an overly rational part of myself and a woman in the Alta Bates Summit Medical Group.
3) The Peripateia, or illustration of the transformation that takes place is that I invite this feminine figure to let me lead her into the spiral I have drawn on a piece of white art paper and she changes her attitude when she stops asking me to answer her questions; while I am engaged in a meditative state that closer to what Jung called fantasy-thinking.
4) The Lysis, or meaningful closure representing the compensating illustration of the final action of the dream is expressed in my final statement: "I am trying to get you out of your head and take you into the spiral with me."
Jung taught us to approach dreams empirically without any preconceptions in order to see how they really function (25). We proceed from a simple principle that we understand nothing whatsoever about the dream. We do not know what the dream means. We do not preconceive any idea of how the dream is embedded in the patient’s mind, or what its meaning is beforehand. Another principle, which Jungian dream workers take notice of in our study of dreams is that the unconscious can perceive things in the future that do not exist yet. We are interested in the question of what is going on in dreams with the notion of time (9). Dreams can arise in a consecutive temporal order. Moreover, “Because dreams enter into consciousness one after the other there are dream sequels.” Jung drew a diagram of a circle with eight lines, with arrow tips pointing outwards from the circumference, radiating in a geometric order. In this view the “actual arrangement of dreams is a radial one: the dreams radiate from a center, and are only later subjected to the influence of our time. In the final analysis, they are arranged around a center of meaning” (10). Penetrating into the core of meaning at the center is the aim of Jungian analysis. We also make a distinction between personal amplification of a dream image and its mythological, collective, or archetypal amplification, for which Jung used an ethno-psychological method (27, 28).
What are some good methods for catching dreams and recording them? Preferably it is best to catch them in the morning when the dream images and emotions are still vivid and fresh on our minds. What are some techniques for keeping a dream journal? Can being in a Jungian dream group be of some help in acquiring a daily practice of recalling and recording and interpretating dreams? Some of you may have been or are currently in Jungian psychotherapy or analysis or are practicing psychotherapists or analysts yourselves who have some experience working with patient’s dreams. I welcome your thoughts and questions.