The various lectures and writings by Carl Jung collected under the title Dreams share a common theme, but explore it in different ways. The opening chapters are by far the most accessible, treating the reader to a view of how Jung’s ideas evolved in regard to dreams, moving from respectful consideration of Freudian theory to eventual outright rejection of it as far too limiting for its fixations on sexuality, defense mechanisms, and personal liability. In the end Jung simply cannot be content to kowtow to his former mentor’s ideas. As a big fan of Jung, I cherished this glimpse into the early phases of his individuation process.
I also enjoyed how the collection further illuminates many of Jung’s most profound contributions to Psychology, while focusing on dreams as the primary subject. The book therefore invites the reader to consider the Collective Unconscious, Major Archetypes, Psychic Compensation, and Individuation as they pertain to dreaming. Throughout his career, Jung stated quite plainly that he regarded dreams the best investigative tool for the human psyche, because they operate outside the influence of the conscious mind and directly express the unconscious in full regalia. It is therefore no wonder a book dedicated to his work on dreams inevitably involves most of his key theories. It also reveals his pioneering commitment to the vital importance of Subjectivity as the most valid form of personal authority, while global calamities were dogging the flailing 20th century.
Then the second half of the book throws you farther into the deep end. Jung presents a sequence of roughly 50 dreams, derived from 300 by one dreamer, that illustrate the individuation process and its thematic use of mandala symbolism as the Archetype of perfection and wholeness. The fact that Jung chases out a full narrative of major inner growth and development in the dreamer by means of the dreams is deeply fascinating, and also challenging to follow. There is some risk of losing the forest for the trees as Jung goes to painstaking length to connect details from each dream with highly arcane historical parallels from ancient sources that get no easier for the reader as they come forward in time. In fact, the emphasis on the relatively recent medieval practice of alchemy may provide the hardest precedent to follow from the bunch. That said, the attempt to often rewarded me and then blew my mind on multiple levels.
Are you wondering how? The following story is the kind of thing that can happen when your heart, mind, and spirit open more to Jung, in my opinion. At first, as I was reading this book, I sensed that his ideas were making an even deeper impression on me than they had in the past. They seemed to be moving from intellectual resonance to something more pressing, as if imparting a felt-sense to me of a collective unconscious in which I had a real hereditary share. I started taking it very seriously that there is so much more to me than my ego consciousness and that the deeper parts are ancient, autonomous, and vastly intelligent. I began to feel something akin to transformation.
So this morning I took time to meditate for over an hour as a way of appreciating and nurturing the Unconscious, passively surrendering to it, my eyes closed, my body perfectly still in a sitting posture, my hands folded, my breathing slow and steady. I gently let go of my thinking process and simply rested. Unprocessed emotions came and went. Deeper relaxation set it. I was not expecting anything else. Nor needing it. It was enough to take and enjoy a good meditation. Ahhh….
In that state, an unsolicited synthesis percolated in me that while Jung was analyzing mandalas in the dream series, he had often pointed out that in many dreams the dreamer had typically crafted or found a protective space in the shape of a square in which to commune with Archetypal aspects of self. Inside each sacred square the dreamer encountered mandala symbolism of many kinds, but always spherical or circular like mandalas, symbolizing the wholeness that can result from integrating the Unconscious. This memory about the book then gave way to the sudden understanding that I too was sitting on a square meditation mat and directly beneath me was my round sitting pillow. Those items were my version of the dreamer’s sacred square with its inner mandala, while they were also a traditional spiritual commonplace that has always secretly corresponded to archetypal longings in the self. This sudden conflation of experiential and historical layers profoundly impacted me. At the end of the meditation I recognized the Collective Unconscious as a living truth.
Then I set out for the morning to tutor two students before doing sessions at a therapy clinic. After a thorough review of some homework difficulties, I asked the second student to look at our long list of Algebra goals and tell me which one he wanted to work on for the next 30 minutes. Without looking, he promptly replied, “It’s time to work on circles.” I showed him that—what do you know?—I already had a worksheet open for that topic, because it had come up with the prior student also. As I demonstrated for the second time that morning how to turn a jumbled binomial equation into the helpful standard formula for a circle, the name of the technique for this process hit me like a thunderbolt: completing the square! For two hours since my meditation epiphany, I had again been doing something pertaining to circles that called for surrounding them with “squares,” the math wording expressing the dream concept. This unlikely additional echo fired goosebumps all over my body and I lost the ability to speak for nearly 15 seconds, my hand in the air to reassure my student, who waited patiently. I have no doubt I owe my new sensitivity to these revelations to reading the dream book.