For 25 years, my spiritual practice has been dreamwork.
Dreams aren’t commonly thought of as spiritual aids but they absolutely are. Carl Jung demonstrated this in The Red Book, in which he recorded what he learned about himself from visions and dreams over a three year period. This formed the basis for his ground-breaking insights into the true nature of the psyche, and for his belief that acquiring self-knowledge and becoming who we truly are is our spiritual task and the privilege of a lifetime.
I wish I had understood this during the middle of my life. Throughout the 1980’s I functioned well in the outer world, juggling a home and family with college teaching. But inside I was struggling through a “dark night of the soul” crisis in which I was increasingly dissatisfied with my religion, my work and myself.
Near the end of that decade I joined a Jungian study group. When I learned that dreams show us unknown aspects of ourselves in a visual, metaphorical, symbolic language, I began to record and work with mine. By the time I had this Big dream, I knew that taking my nocturnal dramas seriously was vital to my well being.
Dream #155: ”Going Against the Current.”
I’m walking downstream in a rushing river beside a rocky bank. People are shooting by on rafts and I wonder how they keep from bashing themselves against the rocks. I turn around and walk back upstream in water up to my chin. The bottom is rough and rocky. I reach up and hold onto some thin, flimsy branches sticking out over the water. This helps, but soon there are no more and I have to go on unaided.
At the last turn I come up against thousands of people heading downstream. Friendly people press in on every side as I struggle against the current toward the place I’m supposed to be—my base camp. Sometimes I touch a head or shoulder to propel myself forward. When I reach the mouth of the river I put my palms together and gently part the people; this reminds them of Moses parting the Red Sea and they smile indulgently.
Then I’m far out in the ocean in deep water, tired and afraid. Will I make it? A younger, blond-haired woman appears, only her head showing above the water. “That was smart of you,” she says. I know she’s strong and rested and will support me if I need to float for a while. Together we head slowly to my base, a place I’ve never been but know to be my destination.
In exquisitely beautiful imagery, this dream told the story of my psycho-spiritual development. It said that when I began my journey (walking) through the unconscious (water) I was still aligned with the collective (going with the flow downstream).
But I had become aware of the passing of time (river) and the danger of continuing to rush mindlessly along on the path of least resistance (downstream) while ignoring my dissatisfaction and unfulfilled yearnings.
Redirecting my focus to my inner world where I hoped to find my true purpose in life had made my journey more difficult (going upstream). The form of spiritual support (branches) I had always clung to—the heavenly spirituality of the Sky god that requires conformity to dogma—was of no further help to me (the branches disappear) and I had to continue alone.
Like the children of Israel when they crossed the Red Sea, I was leaving my slavish allegiance to the collective (crowd of people) behind, and entering the unknown: my frightening and dangerous (deep water) unconscious self (the sea).
There I caught a glimpse of my Soul (the blond woman), the feminine half of the Sacred Self which, in Jungian language, is our central archetype, our God-image. The message of this dream was that trusting my own soul would bring me to my life’s purpose (base camp).
For nine uncomfortable years, none of my ego’s thoughts, no books or scriptures, no left-brained verbal, logical language, no psychological expert or religious authority—nothing in my life had any transforming power for me. But this dream from my own inner authority did!
Its assurance that I was doing the right thing replaced my indecision with a profound knowing: I was known and loved by a benevolent something far beyond the puny power of my ego. This knowledge emboldened me to leave teaching to follow my passions for writing and self-knowledge. That choice has made all the difference.
Contrary to popular belief, self-discovery, not belief in dogma, is the authentic spiritual journey, and dreams are spiritual guides with the power to lead us to health and maturity. Everything in a dream—emotions, people, animal, images and events—is a clue to the mystery of who we are.
Following these clues connects us with our Source and blesses us with the privilege of fulfilling our life’s purpose.
What did you dream last night?
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Assist Ed: Renée Picard