Saturday, February 6, 2010

Dreams and Campbell and Jung

I've kept a dream journal for most of the past decade and make it a daily habit to chronicle my dreams upon first waking, trying to capture the wisdom and messages delivered by my subconscious. Over the years, I've noticed that some of the dreams--the BIG ones--involve a journey to an unfamiliar place where I encounter a teacher (sometimes human, sometimes animal) who instructs me in a lesson that usually relates to something I'm struggling with in my waking life. Sometimes the dream lesson feels active, as in I wake feeling the need to act NOW. Sometimes the lesson is passive, as if some aspect of the universe has brought me into the dream to record a truth which may not be mine.

The more I think about these dream patterns, the more I realize they follow the hero's journey as laid out in Joseph Campbell's "The Hero with a Thousand Faces." There are three main phases:

1. Departure -- the hero heeds the call to adventure after some refusal; a guide appears and the first threshold is crossed.

2. Initiation -- the hero encounters some trials and/or tests along the way; meets the goddess and father figure and is tested again; encounters a period of reflection before receiving a boon.

3. Return -- the hero refuses to return but does; he often requires help along the journey; guides and helpers appear to aide him; the hero returns but now must find a way to integrate the new wisdom with his homeland and others past it; learns to live in the moment.

Please click here for the full summary of the steps.

These steps reminded me much of the journey we take each night into the dreamworld. I think Jung would agree. He argued that dreams come from two places: 1. from our own psyches; 2. from the collective unconscious which comprises society, culture and humankind. Sometimes when I have disturbances in my dreams, I take time to reflect if it's something going on within me or if I'm just picking up some larger disturbance in the world. I look to see if the dialogue or dream symbols match anything in my waking life or waking world. I know, I know. This sounds very "Star Wars" with Obi-Wan telling Luke the exact same thing.

Let me give an example. On 27 March 2000, I had a dream I called "Empire State Building." I had watched the Oscars before going to bed so it's easy to recognize when those symbols appear:

I am at the Oscars but it was held at the Empire State Building. And I see two buildings right next to each other. One of them filled with water and the other got very smoky or steamy. I'm suddenly in the smoky/steamy building and I feel suffocated. I can't breathe. Finally, the water got out of the building and I could breathe again but I wasn't wet. In the other building, the water let out too but the people there are many floors below me. The other building had a line across it that said "AZ/CO" as if you had crossed into another state for being so many floors below. I am telling an older man that I wanted to go over to that building and try to get in. I see people and I think I know some of them...they're waving at me. The man tells me to go over and visit them but I'm afraid because I am so high up and they're so far below me and I worry that I won't have enough air. The man doesn't think I will and encourages me to stay. The windows fall out of the other building and the building falls down. All this freezing air pours in to my building. I feel as if I'm going to fall. I am afraid.

The dream didn't make any sense then but it certainly gives me the chills now. I don't know if it was a dream of precognition but whenever I have disaster dreams, I usually scroll the news for weeks after.

Linda Hogan in "The Woman Who Watches Over the World" writes:

"Dreaming articulates the terrain of night, the range of a human soul, the geography of the holy, and draws a path to the divine. It is a map of sorts, one unknown to us by day. Dreaming is the point at which we begin to know. We are the dreamed, as well as the dreamers.

When writer Katherine McNamara interviewed Alaska native philosopher and writer Peter Kalifornski, he said that it isn't so much that people travel in dreams, but that the world speaks to people in dreams. What Kalifornski meant, I think, is that the sleeper is connected with the world. We are not solitary in our dreams. The human meets with the rest of nature, plant, animal, and the spirit world. This is why the location of the prey is dreamed by dwellers in the far north. As our elders say when in that state of meeting, that presence, "Something is there, something is about'" (p. 136).
My point is that the dream world is very powerful and it makes sense to pay attention to what we are given there. Not everything may have a meaning but wisdom certainly resides there.


Anonymous said...

要友誼長存,我們必須原諒彼此的小缺點。 ..................................................

Pat Tillett said...

Hi there,
You writing is very interesting.

I also kept a dream journal for quite a while, a long time ago. I became afraid that somebody would read it and I'd be committed or I tossed it on the fire.
I like what you've written, so I think I'll follow along for while

A Walk in the World said...

Hi, Pat.

Hey, thanks for that and thanks for dropping by. Yeah, I suppose there *is* a bit of danger in keeping a dream journal. Some of mine are pretty out there too!

Maybe that's why Jung kept his Red Book secret for so many years and why his family was so reticent to finally publish it.

I notice in your own blog that you write a lot on Vietnam. Did you serve there?

Pat Tillett said...

Hi there, I did serve in Vietnam. I have a couple more poems in me about it, then it's done...Just had to get it out before I forgot.

My blog isn't realy about VN, it's primarily about my life. My mom was crazy and we were dirt poor. For some reason, if I was involved in something, all kinds of crazy usually broke out... I like those entries much better. You have to go back aways in my blog to find them.
I'm looking forward to reading more of your posts.

A Walk in the World said...


I'll look forward to reading those poems--you really have a lovely honest voice--and will dig for those entries you mentioned.

I'm so glad to have you along and look forward to traveling with you for a bit, too.