We all dream as we sleep, during discrete stages called REM (Rapid Eye Movement). Some dreams also occur in non-REM. Our longest REM phase is 1 1/2 hours for most people, shortly before they awake. This is why we so often have recall of a vivid dream when the alarm clock goes off. The difficulty is being able to recall dreams. These dreams contain immensely important information about how the psyche is operating.
One may think of a dream as a movie about the way we are living our lives, a commentary, often in a disjointed way, that tells us about our conscious world. Whenever possible, we should record and interpret our dreams. But why? There are a number of reasons : Dreams provide the most direct access to unconscious material, giving us access to the inner world of symbols or archetypal images. The contents of the unconscious compensate/complement our conscious attitudes and beliefs, giving us feedback on our lived experiences, by telling the situation of the psyche ‘as it is’. Dreams also may have a healing quality. Can you recall a time when a dream left you feeling peaceful and certain about a problem you were dealing with in your life?
Carl Jung saw dreams as ‘snapshots’ of our life as it is at that very moment. But how does one attempt a Jungian dream interpretation? Central to Jung’s approach was that the interpretation must fit the dreamer, so if someone helps you work through a dream, the final result must fit you and not someone else. Here are some key ideas that can help you achieve an interpretation. First keep a dream journal next to your bed. Use the journal only for writing down your dreams, and nothing else. When you recall a dream, write it down just as you remember it, don’t edit it, or change your grammar or spelling. Often we will have strange new words in dreams – write these down because they are valuable just as they are. Second, write down how you felt inside the dream – was I happy, anxious, sad or scared etc. Then write down how you feel now. Third -write a short paragraph on what your conscious life involved over the past few days, what attitudes you are using, what challenges you are facing, i. e. what is troubling you over the past few days. Fourth -Underline the figures and objects in the dream text and then write a few brief associations to these. Identify the objects/figures that have strong symbolic meaning to you. Amplify (or flesh out) these objects/figures using your own ideas. Fifth –work out the parts or the structure of the dream.
Like all movies, dreams often have beginnings, middles, and ends. Jung used specific names for the four parts of the dream : EXPOSITION : who is there, where did it happen? DEVELOPMENT : How does the dream progress? What happens to the figures/objects in the dream? CRISIS : What happens in the critical moment of the dream? LYSIS : How does the dream end? How is a solution presented?
Finally, ask yourself what is the dream speaking about and does this relate to a conscious attitude or issue. This is the last stage of the interpretation – when you know what the dream is commenting on (your conscious attitude) and know how you felt in the dream, and know what each of the dream symbols means to you, you can develop a sense of what the dream is saying about you, and may even be suggesting what you need to change.
John Betts is a Diploma Candidate at the International School of Analytical Psychology in Zurich, Switzerland. He has a Jungian Analysis practice in Victoria, B. C. , Canada and can be reached through http://www.jungian.ca