In June 2018 my dream book came of age. During ‘our’ journey together over the last twenty-one years I have discovered a rich, individual and personal internal language of signs and symbols – from good-willed kingfishers to impossible Escheresque staircases leading to the summit of the world.
There is a humorous statement in traditional psychotherapy that says people in Freudian therapy have Freudian dreams and those in Jungian therapy have Jungian ones. While this brings a smile to my face it’s good to notice that Jung never claimed, as Freud did in 1895, that he had ‘discovered the secret of the dream’.* In fact Jung stated he wasn’t sure that his way of dealing with dreams should be called a method at all.**
Humankind has sought to understand dreams for many millennia – the psych professions are just one of the most recent to get involved. Dreams have been of interest throughout various civilisations including Indian, Chinese and ancient Egyptian cultures. Dreams were seen as important in Babylonian and Assyrian texts and, in early Mesopotamia, there where comprehensive and sophisticated explanations for dreams.
If we move away from the ancient or exalted views of dreams, what is left? A succession of internal pictures, feelings, sensations? Simple, individual stories that happen to us and us alone when we close our eyes? Or, perhaps a defence against our own awareness or fear of the aloneness at the centre of all human existence?
Neurobiology brings more concrete information about brains while dreaming. For instance, brain activity during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – when the majority of dreaming occurs – is most like waking brain activity. But, when science leads us towards a reductionist view, we don’t often gain much succour.
Over the twenty-one years I’ve been taking an interest in my own dream life I have come to realise there really is a personal exposition going on. When I ignore my dreams, I am switching off from a health-creating audit.
I used to cycle along a quiet riverbank, lined with trees, twice a week to get to my therapist’s office. Over the years I did this, I often noticed an amazing turquoise flash of feathers as a kingfisher worked the bank and stream. Over time I began to associate seeing the bird (or not) as a sign of what was to come in my session.
In a quite revelatory dream about a big decision I needed to make, the kingfisher began to show me the way along a very difficult route. He would temporarily perch and wait for me to reach him. Then, he dipped his head as if to acknowledge me and flew on. Repeating the process many times together we ascended a stony wooded rise. As we neared the end of the tree cover, he settled on an old stump and knocked his beak like a woodpecker. To my amazement the tree stirred into the form of a wise old Jewish man who ‘smiled’ but said nothing while radiating an exceptional and acceptable warmth.
I make no secret of the fact that depression first brought me into my own therapy. What I have rarely spoken about is the way that depression lifted. From the moment I realised that the kingfisher was an individual, personal symbol for my wellness, showing me the way forward, twenty years of depression began to lift.
During a long running series of dreams spanning almost two years, the kingfisher delivered me to a series of places where the old Jewish man could be found; very often the old man, in turn, led me to a shining pearl that I would pick, like a berry from a tree.
During the final dream of the series the bird delivered me to a complex house set over five storeys. On the top storey a wooden machine of cogs and levers was shown to me. Disappointed that I hadn’t found one of my pearls, I began to wind the wheels with the help of the Jewish man. As the light poured in through the opening roof it became darker in the attic. Once fully open I looked up into the now dark sky just at the moment that the aurora borealis began. Instantaneously I understood the symbol of the pearls. Since that dream I have never again experienced proper depression.
The kingfisher began to visit my dreams again recently. He tapped out in Morse code a German phrase, Du kennst die Antwort (You know the answer) … I expect that exciting times are just ahead.
* Freud, S. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Words of Sigmund Freud, Vol. IV, First part, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900).
** Jung, C.G. (trans. 1966) The Practice of Psychotherapy, from Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Vol. 16.
Duncan recommends …
… to reach your inner dream world and begin finding your own answers, you might like to read Carl G. Jung’s Man and His Symbols widely available online and in book stores.
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