Unwanted Dreams and the Freedom of the Soul

In a recent dream, I was in the act of taking black and white snapshots of my father (long deceased) who was behind bars. He looked forlorn there, standing in a tiny jail cell where apparently he had been sentenced for an unknown crime.

I don’t like these kind of dreams. They’re disturbing and depressing. Though my father and I were never close, I still would never want him to be jailed. But I also know that in my dream my father’s image is actually a stand-in for a part of me. So what’s up with that? What part of me is feeling sentenced?

I have a new appreciation of late for people who suffer with chronic pain. When my orthopedist, who has already replaced my right hip with an artificial joint, looked with me at an X-ray of my arthritic left hip, it made perfect sense why I had been having lots of pain and lots of difficulty walking. Bone on bone! A cortisone shot would help to tide me over for a few months, but a second hip operation is definitely in my future.

Pain does things to the mind. It makes me feel old at 65. Even though I work out, try to eat right, stay active, work five days a week, and basically have a very positive outlook on life, I have been feeling much more “mortal” recently. I’m quite unhappy about what I refer to as “design flaws” in the human anatomy — those much too human vulnerabilities that seem to rear their heads more and more among almost every friend I know.

When friends and colleagues are stricken by illness, I automatically assume that I am immune from such things because I take such good care of myself. Wrong though this thinking is, I hold onto it like a cherished possession, creating a neat image of immortality and invulnerability….And, apparently, setting myself up for this other dream-image of being sentenced behind bars.

But as I worked with this dream and after sharing it with my therapist, I realized that actually I am not sentenced. I have choices: a great surgeon whom I trust, a wonderful job that I find fulfilling and doesn’t require a lot of physical strength, and retirement savings that I can use to get me through a time of rehabilitation after surgery. I am blessed with caring friends, a loving and supportive relationship, and a wonderful family. So with a new hip, if all goes as well as the first hip replacement, I should be pain free again. But obviously, I am entering a phase in my life when I will need to alter my delusional expectations of invincibility as I make some adjustments to my level of activity.

Growing old gracefully is not necessarily for the weak of heart. But it seems now to be a better challenge than kicking and screaming against reality. I won’t, obviously, live forever; but neither am I sentenced to the jail of my own making.

THE SYMBOLIC LIFE: HOW I GOT INTO DREAMWORK

Jacobs Ladder - Chagall  Before beginning group dreamwork, I had a dream. I had heard Joyce Hudson speak at the Summer Dream Conference at Kanuga, and when I came home, I began to wonder how I could develop a dreamwork community in my hometown. So, here’s my dream:

I am in a bookstore in an old two-story house, and I’m upstairs on the second floor. There are tables of books throughout the room, and an elderly gentleman, dressed in a grey suit and white shirt is standing behind me. I turn and ask him: “Do you know where I might find a book called ‘The Symbolic Life’?” He points to the table beside of me and says, “Sure, it’s right there.” I look, and there on the table is a large volume with the title, ‘The Symbolic Life.” I wake up from my dream.

When I awoke, I felt as if I had received an important message, but I had never heard of a book called “The Symbolic Life.” I had a few minutes before seeing my first client for the day, so I decided, “What the heck! I’ll glance through the titles on my bookshelf to see what I might find.” So, there on the shelf where I keep a number of Carl Jung’s volumes from his collected works, I found a book with the title, The Symbolic Life (Jung, 1939/1950, [CW 18, pra.638]). I attached no real significance to this discovery. But I was certainly curious, so I opened the book. There, in the table of contents, was a chapter entitled, “The Symbolic Life.” Now I was excited. What had my dream done?

Later that day, I took time to read this chapter. It was a presentation that Jung gave in 1939 to a group of Catholic and Protestant clergy in London. In it, Jung outlines his basic approach to the psychology of the unconscious, but it’s the ending of his talk that hooked me. Jung tells these clergy that Christianity must stop looking to Jesus to save us from our sins. Instead, Jung went on, the faithful must be as courageous as Jesus was so that they might “take up their own crosses.” This idea is Jung’s basic view of individuation. But Jung goes on to say that the path of individuation leads straight through “the least of these” Jung says, “What if ‘the least’ of these is actually in me?” What if what is most valuable and most essential to my own path of individuation is what I consciously or unconsciously reject or dismiss?

To say that a lightbulb went on for me is an understatement. In reading Jung’s words, I knew what it meant for me to do group dreamwork. I would equip others with the tools they need in order to connect with their own shadows – the “least of these” in me and in them, so that we, too, might live courageously and live with a sense of meaning and purpose, just as Jesus teaches us to do.

So soon after my discovery, I invited people in my church and community to a public presentation on “Dreams as a Spiritual Path.” I put together a PowerPoint presentation, and about 50 people attended. Afterwards, 10 people signed up to study Joyce Hudson’s book, Natural Spirituality (2000), and we agreed to meet every other week for two hours to learn about Jungian psychology and to practice dreamwork by using the projective method taught by Joyce Hudson.

Over the ensuing years, enough people took the course that I offered, that I started two dreamwork groups. I later moved to Charlotte, losing touch with the dreamwork community for a while. But since then, I was invited back to Davidson to join a dreamwork group made up of some of my original group members plus some new folks. This has been an amazing journey and a wonderful coming full circle for me. I continue to be in awe at the ways in which our dreams guide us and serve us in the life and work of the soul.

_________________________________________

Hudson, J. (2000). Natural spirituality: recovering the wisdom tradition in Christianity.                 Danielsville, GA: JRH Publications.

 

Jung, C. G. (1950). The symbolic life. In R.F.C. Hull (Trans.), The collected works of C.G.                 Jung (Vol. 18, pp. 267-290).

John Rowe is a psychotherapist and spiritual director in private practice in Charlotte, NC. John is also an ordained United Methodist clergy (since 1978) and received his Ph.D. in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2007. He has participated in several Summer Dream and Spirituality Conferences and he completed the Spiritual Direction training through the Haden Institute in 2016. John now serves on the board of the newly formed Haden Foundation which raises funds to provide scholarships for those who wish to receive dream leader or spiritual direction training through the Haden Institute.

CALLING ALL DREAMERS

Images