Do I have to Explore My Dreams?

Over a beer recently a friend of mine surprised me the comment, ‘I think you will be disappointed in me.” I asked him why he would possibly think that. His response fascinated me. “After I attended your dream workshop, I decided that I had absolutely no interest in going more deeply into my dreams. I am quite happy with them the way they are.”

After a reflective sip of pale ale, I reminded him of a hypothesis I had encountered that on some levels dreams are a powerful inner mechanism for change and healing without any attention being paid to them at all.

Rosalind Cartwright, Ph.D., a leading sleep and dream researcher at Chicago’s Rush Medical Center and author of The Twenty-four Hour Mind: The Role of Sleep and Dreaming in Our Emotional Lives,” did tests in a sleep clinic on depressive patients. She would wake them every dream cycle (about six a night) and ask them what they were dreaming about and then allow them to go to sleep.

She observed that the type and nature of dreams influenced their mood the next day. In fact some went to bed mildly unhappy, and during the night if their dreams shifted from a similar state at the beginning to a happier state by the end of the night, they would wake in a better mood than when they went to bed.

We do not control our dreams (unless we practice lucid dreaming) but nature generally doesn’t create without reason it seems a logical conclusion to assume that they have a reason for being. This deduction in and of itself does not require us to consciously explore dreams. Many people consider them to be an adjustment process where we unload clutter from the busy mind.

Some dreams simply seem to be a compensatory entertainment for lives that have become too distracted, busy and out of balance. Some are anxiety bleeding from the unconscious yet I am convinced that many dreams have value for guidance and growth if we choose to explore them. Dreams that have a lot of emotion, with strong and distinctive personalities from our lives, as well repetition are normally meaningful from a symbolic level

I reassured my friend that of course I was not disappointed in him. We must all follow our own inner compass and trust that our unfolding lives will show us the way. I have no choice. My dreams are a window into my unconscious and my Soul, if I disregard them I may miss out on the wonder of the inner journey.

Dreams and Exploring Unconscious Feelings

Carl Jung observed that whoever discovers the power of the unconscious knows that he is forever not the master of his own house while eminent Jungian analyst and author James Hollis says, “ask me what I know to be in the unconscious and I will reply absolutely nothing.” That is why it is called the personal unconscious.

So are we forever condemned to be subject to inner unconscious scripts that control our reactions and responses time after time? The answer of course can become one’s life work as we begin to unfold layer by layer the many stories that run our lives. The theme of Hollis’s most recent book Hauntings is all about the invisible presences that govern our lives.

Dreams can provide a window to the unconscious in many different ways. Most recently I had a series of dreams that clearly were telling me something but I had no idea what. The dreams were challenging, not pleasant and were hard to look in the face. The “me” in the dream was not someone I really cared for. In part they seemed in conflict with the psychological and spiritual work I have been doing. My dream personality was short tempered, irritable, judgmental, irrational and felt aggrieved towards women. After I awoke I felt like a failure.

One of the first things I teach about working with dreams is that the most unreliable witness is the waking persona. It is at the moment of waking that the ego assumes control at the expense of the unconscious. It is not to be trusted. It will frequently dismiss the dream as irrelevant, stupid and psychic trash to be deposited in the garbage.

By now I know these reactions are a clear sign that the dream has value and must be explored.

I had a series of three dreams – a series is always in itself an important sign. The dreams were also full of emotion yet another key indicator of meaning. In addition they contained symbols that dream lore would rate as significant – cars, water, journeying, and individuals who had archetypal significance.

In the first dream I am at an event a long way from home, I am driving a large group back. We are cleaning up in preparation for leaving, some women are loading the car. I go to check the car and they have done an insane job of packing. They have even loaded in two large flower pots. There is no way we will fit in. I walk away in resignation. My friend Dennis is beside me saying “I tried to tell them.” Another woman wants me to go two hours out of my way to take someone home. I am abrupt with her. I feel pressured both energetically and emotionally. It is pouring with rain, a woman grabs me to ask if I am not going to say goodbye to someone. I began to react negatively then feel a sense of shame about the way I am acting. I wake up not liking myself in the dream.

The second dream was getting very angry with a friend for turning off the TV just as I had found the right channel.

My third dream was at a major event organized by my most important client from the advertising business. A woman who works for me decides not to stay for the main event. I am very angry with her as I feel it is disrespectful to the client. As I remonstrate with her she drives off.

Three dreams, each with a persona that seems inconsistent with my current self so obviously my unconscious has something to reveal. The question is what? First I looked at the surface level of the dream. Am I repressing any anger toward the people in the dream? This was easy to dismiss as I live such a peaceful, harmonious life and am not aware of being angry or having anyone angry at me.

Secondly I asked myself a question about unconscious dissonance – that inside I was angry but not feeling it. It was then I had the “ah-hah” moment. In the first and third dream I was angry with woman – if I considered the archetype the feminine represented – intuition, feeling, the state of being rather than doing – then perhaps the masculine archetype was angry about the lack of focus in my life. My friend Dennis resents the active masculine – the doer in my dreams. In the second dream I was angry at a male friend who has showed up in previous dreams as the archetype for betrayal.

The pieces of the puzzle clicked into place. I have a lack of balance between the masculine and feminine energies. My unconscious is bringing this to my attention through my dreams cleverly expressing the dissatisfaction and sense of betrayal of the masculine at the way things have been going.

For many months I have lived very much in the feminine: no to-do lists, no particular objectives, and waiting on the “will of heaven”. I have wondered about the sense of inertia that has developed but decided that patience was required (another feminine trait). I was spending lots of time in meditation, contemplation and walking, reciting poetry.

The dreams suggest it is time to bring more masculine – “doing energy” – into my life.

I responded creating a to do list of twenty-one items and introduced more focus and order in my life. It feels good, even minor accomplishments bring a sense of satisfaction and after three “angry” dreams in one week – they have stopped. Perhaps for now balance is restored.