A swimming pool is an apt image for the unconscious. Bodies of water, whether an ocean, lake, river, or swimming pool connote the depths of life and of soul. A swimming pool, more specifically, is a place for relaxation and for play. But there are also rules.
In a recent dream, my dream ego plays the part of a lifeguard. It makes some sense that I would be in this role. In my professional life, I am a therapist, a kind of guardian of souls. As a lifeguard in my teen years, one of the not-so-fun, but necessary, jobs was to maintain and to enforce the rules:
- No running
- No horseplay in the pool
- No food or drink in the pool area
- Always stay with your buddy
It’s the pool rules that actually ensure that everyone has a good time and stays safe. Breaking the rules and ignoring respect for the dangers of water can ruin what should be a wonderful experience.
In my dream, one little boy whom I have just disciplined, walks off defiantly. He refuses to sit out with others who broke the rules, and as he walks away, I warn him to never come back. Of course, psychologically, we know he will return, because that is the way repression works — the unconscious forgets nothing, and whatever is repressed is sure to return in one form or another. Bad habits, compulsive behaviors, uncomfortable feelings, unresolved childhood issues, and the like, have a habit of laying low temporarily, only to return when we least expect it.
“No running” is one of the best pool rules for the soul. Imaged by the Greeks as a “butterfly,” the soul is a beautiful, wistful, mysterious, and fragile thing. We approach the soul respectfully, honoring her need for tending. So, we slow down our hurried pace, take time to write in our dream journals, sit with images until they tell their tale, and share with dream friends our inner stirrings of the night. This way of working around and with the unconscious depths is what makes dreamwork so rewarding and useful.
“No horseplay” is another essential rule. Swimming pools are a source of enormous fun and relaxation. As a lifeguard, though, I recall the few times when I had to race to someone’s rescue. Playing too rough, splashing an unsuspecting swimmer with a mouthful of water, or diving off of the high dive without proper instruction or skill or assistance can result in disaster. Likewise, working with the unconscious deserves our respect. The source of nightmares, at times, dreams can either make us dread it’s nighttime visions, or with proper training and skills, nightmares can open us to opportunities for healing and wholeness. Carl Jung developed sensible and effective rules for working with dreams — rules that pay off when applied with diligence and sensitivity and knowledge.
“Always stay with your buddy,” is another essential rule for working with the unconscious. When we work with dreams in the context of an active dreamwork group, or with a friend or partner, a pastor sensitive to the individuation journey, or a skilled therapist, the riches of dreams become more readily apparent. Not that anyone else can tell us exactly what a dream means for us, but by listening to insights and reflections from others, the ego softens its tight hold, and we can better listen and see what our souls want and need.
Someday, I hope to reconnect with the defiant little boy who walked away — a shadow image part of me, no doubt — to see what he needs from me. For now, he has to obey the rules, just like everyone else. I know he will be back, and when he does, I’ll still be there to welcome him along with all the others swimming in the depths of my soul.