‘Who looks outside, dreams;
Who looks inside, awakes’.
C. G. JUNG
One of the most prominent ideas of the well known psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung -that relates to the field of dreams too- is that life doesn’t just happen to us, life is a process that is unfolding, it goes somewhere and it has meaning. This is the idea of ‘telos’ that includes the notion of intention. This idea is very important not only in life – when we wonder for what reason something happened and what personal meaning holds for us- but also in the work we do with our dreams, which are almost always revelatory and they bring a message to the dreamer.
To begin with, one of the reasons why it is worth working with our dreams is that this is the easiest and fastest way to access our unconscious mind. In addition to this, dreams always say something that we don’t know consciously, something that is new to us and leads us somewhere that we hadn’t even imagined. Therefore, in this process it is important to wonder what the ‘telos’ of the dream is. What is that surprises us? What doesn’t fit in and what stands out? Jung himself admitted that upon listening to a dream he had no idea of what it might mean. Hence, before we start analyzing a dream, we must remind our self that the decoding of dreams is a time-consuming process. It also needs methodology; it needs freeing our fantasy and using our intuition. Dreams often compensate for a conscious behavior and by showing us what is missing they can bring a balance between different opinions. They ‘illuminate’ the dreamer’s condition bringing him in contact with memories, experiences and latent qualities of his character in order to help him grow and heal. That is why –as Jung said- ‘dreams are the way with which the Soul tries to self-regulate’ and this was his dominant idea in the area of dreams.
As far as their symbolism is concerned, the most important thing to know is that people that appear in our dreams are aspects of our own self. Animals symbolize our instincts and colors give the emotional tone. The dream images have a personal meaning for each one of us, so if we have difficulty in finding the associations, what helps is to give a short description which may spontaneously lead us somewhere else, eg. ‘What’s a sea horse?’, ‘The sea horse is a creature of the sea’.
Dreams usually divide in 4 phases, in the first the location is stated (this shows which part of the self we are talking about), the protagonists and more rarely time, in the second the plot is developing, in the third the adventure culminates or something changes completely and in the last there is the ‘solution’, that is the result of the dream. One of the most -if not the most- dominant element in dreams is the accompanying emotion, how we feel throughout the dream, because this helps us to better understand its content.
There follows a short dream of an anonymous woman and the attempt to interpret it.
‘I work in a factory. As I enter the big Iron Gate early in the morning to start work, I am thinking that I need to cut my hair short and dye it red. As I enter the factory everybody seems busy with the machines and one of the workers approaches me and gives me a bunch of photocopies. As I browse through them, I notice that they are full of mathematical formulas and symbols and that the symbol ‘λ’ repeatedly appears on them. I don’t catch a thing’.
To start with, the factory is a place where things are made, are manufactured. The Gate through which she enters symbolizes a transition, passing from one state of being into another. The dream ego (that is the person who is the protagonist) wants to cut her hair short and dye it red. Hair, (it could point to the myth of Athena who came out of Zeus’s head, symbol of the spirit) symbolize ideas but also metamorphosis -since when we want an outer change we start from changing our hair first- while the color red is the symbol of life itself, symbol of desire, urgency and potency. The fact that she wants to cut it could show that she may want to ‘trim or clean’ some of the ideas that don’t contribute to her growth anymore. The letter ‘λ’ is a symbol of the latent heat in Chemistry; it possibly alludes to a hidden but intense desire of the Soul. I believe that the dream delineates a transitional phase in which this woman is. Her Soul deeply desires to transform the current personality through changing her ideas or ‘philosophy’ and maturing, moving on to something new. The factory image operates as the ‘vessel’ that may contain this metamorphosis. The worker that gives the photocopies to the dream ego is the masculine side of the woman that is ready to take action towards the direction that the Soul points to.