Artwork by Sharon Cummings
I want to try to explain to you that dreams are meaningful. So I feel the need to explain how some smart people, who devoted their lives to studying human psychology, came to the conclusion that dreams are meaningful. But it has dawned on me that you don’t need to be convinced. You aren’t a professor I’m trying to impress or a colleague I’m trying to persuade, you’re my sister and you trust me.
I’m going to introduce Carl Jung and a few of his ideas with the hope that it will give you a framework that’ll help you understand. Communicate with me anything that doesn’t make sense.
“Dreams are compensations for the conscious attitude.” – Jung
Carl Jung lives on in my mind. When you read someone’s books, you start to recreate them in your brain. Reading revives dead writers. These posts are going to be alive with the energy Carl Jung has put out into the world, as remixed through my ego.
Jung was a psychiatrist. He interpreted over 40,000 dreams. He was an acclaimed and highly respected scientist. He is a good source of knowledge and he believed dreams were meaningful. I think they are too. I hope to convince you of this too. At the very least, consider this practice using the scientific method.
Jung offered a handful of essential ideas. The one most important concerning dreams is his assertion that dreams are an expression of nature that has been built into our psyche to help balance our conscious living. Dreams are a natural guiding program built into our brain.
Instincts and Archetypes
Humans are animals. We share over 98% of our genetic code with chimps and bonobos. For millions of years our ancestors survived without ego consciousness. They survived on instincts. Humans are bundles of instincts. Instincts are to our body what electricity is to a computer.
I don’t know of a definitive list of instincts. We may not know exactly how many there are or what exactly they are, but just like your body can use the food you eat without you needing to know the complex biochemistry, you can benefit from listening to your instincts without having to understand them. One way your instincts will speak to you through your dreams.
This is a complicated subject that you don’t need to understand completely yet, I don’t. What is helpful here is to understand that dreams are the language our instincts use to communicate with our ego consciousness. While we are awake, our egos do a very good job suppressing our instincts so we can live by the rules our culture and parents and teachers press on us.
Rules, culture, and our parents aren’t evil. They don’t do this suppressing on purpose. All of them were born into this just as we are. They were molded by the environment too. It is beneficial to the stability of our culture that we suppress a great deal of our animal instincts. Regardless of why, the suppression of our instincts leaves us wandering through a forest at night, without a guiding light.
Our dreams are essentially an attempt at homeostasis. They are a kind of flashlight we can use in the dark forest. When our instincts and conditioned behavior conflict too severely, our dreams will step in and send a flash of light. These posts are a beginner’s guide to start practicing how to listen to your dreams, and to start understanding the language dreams speak.
The goal is that if you learn to listen to your dreams, you will receive flashes of light every night which will help you move through the dark forest with a grace most people will see as superhuman.
Psyche is the word Jung used to explain the entirety of the human psychological structure. The part of you that is reading this, the part of you that thinks it is named Kelly Godsey, is what Jung called the Ego. The Ego is like the human skin. The psyche is like the entire body. Thinking the Ego is the entire psyche is like thinking the skin is the entire body.
There is a famous saying that you’ll see often, and it is “Know Thyself.” Where many people stumble is thinking that learning about their ego is the same as knowing “thyself.” Thyself is the psyche, the ego is only a small part of this vast psychic building.
Dreams arise from a place in the psyche that the Ego cannot access. Dreams are a kind of message in a bottle. The thinking mind is stranded on the island of the Ego. Every morning, if we look, we can find a few bizarre messages from an unknown place beyond the oceanic horizon. If we learn to read these, we’ll start to find instructions on how to build a fire, purify water, fish, and one day, we’ll get the instructions on how to build a boat. The entire time, through all your stress and trials, there is a wise guardian watching you, helping you, and it is you.
Dreams can be thought of like your psychic immune system. As your physical immune system will create a rash or a blemish on your skin, it is not to punish you, it is to send you a message. Something is out of balance. It is a language most of us don’t understand how to speak. Its goal in attempting to communicate is to restore balance. We’re going to learn how to listen.
Conscious and Unconscious
Jung divides the psyche into two fundamental parts; the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. The conscious mind mainly consists of your ego. It is also the part of your mind that has all your personal memories. Anything that ever was conscious to you, is swimming somewhere in your conscious mind. You can think of the conscious mind as a beautiful ship floating at sea.
Your unconscious is the part of your psyche that you can never know. It is the ocean that supports your ship. Your ego is cute and useful, but your unconscious is of a size and power that your ego can not comprehend.
Jung believed the unconscious was where all the Instincts dwell. Your instinct to protect yourself from danger lives there. Your instinct to pass on your genetic code is in there. Your instinct to be curious lives there. The instincts are the massive, interested wales that swim beneath your ship. They will stir the waters or bump the ship. This may scare the crew, but the purpose is to help and guide. Learn to listen.
Another angle is to think of the conscious mind as a growing oak tree. The unconscious is the guiding and protecting energy pulsating within the little seed that will do its best to guide the seed through time and into its fully developed form, the grand oak tree.
If there is a fungus that starts to attack the tree, the unconscious starts producing chemicals to fight the fungus. It knows how to convert light to food, it knows how to defend against bacteria and bugs. Similarly, your unconscious knows how to metabolize your food, keep your lungs and heart working, and what hormones to produce to help you grow.
Dreams as Regulating Function
Humans are different from all other life on earth. We have the Ego. The Ego gives us a sliver of freedom. This freedom is a great gift but comes at a cost. We are free to ignore our unconscious and make choices that impede our growth.
I don’t know why we have an Ego but we do. Dreams are a way we can reconnect with the guiding growth energy in our unconscious. Your dreams will offer you advice and commentary on your daily choices and challenges.
Life is challenging Kelly. Don’t wish it to be easier. Adapt and meet life’s challenges with courage, humor, and love. I truly believe that learning how to listen to your dreams is a key habit in helping you do this.