"The dream is a natural occurrence. There is no earthly reason to assume it is a crafty device to lead us astray. " – C. G. Jung
I have been most fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with dreams and dreaming for many years as a psychotherapist. When I reflect on all the remarkable ways that our dreams help us in our lives, one feature stands out: that is the propensity of our dreams to create tension between our waking life and our often unlived potential. My clients have taught me that this dream-inspired tension is a landscape filled with potential, and that we can learn how to “hold” this space in-between until a creative third something begins to emerge. All this begs the question, who or what is the creative spirit in the human spirit? Who is our “Creator?”
In the fourth century, B. C. , the Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu dreamt that he was a very happy butterfly who was quite pleased about himself. He suddenly awoke and pondered the question of whether he was a man dreaming he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was a man. Maybe Chuang Tzu is both, the butterfly and the dream, or perhaps his butterfly represents one who knows how to navigate—fly—in the space in-between heaven and earth, in-between the solid ground of tradition, free of the gravity of convention. Perhaps the butterfly in his dream is his life, his “very happy” dance of philosophy, an image of his Authentic Self who has indeed helped him be true to himself.
In his autobiography, “Memories, Dreams and Reflections, " Carl Jung described a similar dream that turned his traditional sense of reality upside down. His dream appears to threaten death and his interpretation shows how easy it is for any of us to slip into literal interpretations. Here’s his dream:
"I was on a hiking trip. I was walking along a little road through a hilly landscape; the sun was shining and I had a wide view in all directions. Then I came to a small wayside chapel. The door was ajar, and I went in. To my surprise there was no image of the Virgin on the altar, and no crucifix either, but only a wonderful flower arrangement. But then I saw that on the floor in front of the altar, facing me, sat a yogi—in lotus posture, in deep meditation. When I looked at him more closely, I realized that he had my face. I started in profound fright, and awoke with the thought: ‘Aha, so he is the one who is meditating me. He has a dream and I am it. ’ I knew that when he awakened, I would no longer be. "
It’s as though Jung meets his “maker, ” an enigmatic aspect of his original Self, and this yogi has his own face. Most of us look at reality as anchored in the exterior world, in concrete forms, objects we can touch, see, hear, or smell. The biggest part of life seems to be shaped and molded by exterior forces and experiences. Jung’s dream creates a “profound fright” for his dreaming ego (a mirror image of his waking ego or personality), the supposed creator and master of reality, who runs smack into the real source of his “life. ”
In his dream, Jung is outside, in the natural world. He comes upon a “chapel, ” a place of worship where we go to find out about God, where we encounter earthly representations of God—a ritual space symbolizing a meeting of heaven and earth—another allusion to our space-in-between. But this dream chapel does not contain the usual religious icons. Instead it holds a “wonderful flower arrangement” and a yogi “in lotus posture, in deep meditation. ” The flower “arrangement, ” which we can imagine as a one-of-a-kind design, a choreographed dance in-between nature and the individual soul, becomes an exquisite metaphor for a unique life—a blossoming, the aesthetic arrangement of a distinctive, authentic life.
Since the yogi is Jung (he has Jung’s face), we need to ask, what is the yogi (Jung) actually doing? What does he represent? The dream shows Jung that it is his meditative, self-reflecting, inward looking nature (the Yogi)that is, in reality, creating his life. And if he (Jung) were to put an end to his inner exploration, he would no longer exist; his Authentic Self would be silenced—a silence that would effectively kill his life as a psychologist, writer, and philosopher. The beautiful flower arrangement would wither and die, no longer connected to its source of insight and creativity. We could say that Jung was practicing the yoga of psychology, uniting two worlds: inner and outer, heaven and earth.
When we begin to really pay attention to our inner life, we will discover that we all have an incredible key for exploring the unconscious and our often yet-to-be-created life: dreams. Our dreams are pathways into the uncharted, tension-filled territory of our own creative spirit.
John Goldhammer, Ph. D. , is a psychologist, dream researcher, and author of three books. “Dreams and Creativity: Meeting the Creator" is adapted from his most recent book: “Radical Dreaming: Use Your Dreams to Change Your Life" (Kensington Publishing / Citadel Press). He lives in Seattle, Washington. Internet: http://www.radicaldreaming.com