Dreams and Consciousness
I took this photo in Calgary, not because of any historical significance though there is a lot of historical significance for the Canadian prairies, but because it made me think of a fantasy world filled with hobbits, elves, trolls and other magical beings created by Tolkien. When I taught the book, The Hobbit, many years ago to grade ten English students, I found that talking about the story in terms of its dream-like quality allowed the reluctant students to begin to make some connection to the story. Of course, the story was too linear for being a dream story, but the conceptualization of darkness and light as well as characters that defied our notions of intelligent life was definitely the stuff of dreams.
Dream work is a vital part of my process here in Calgary. I have a fairly deep history with dreams and dream work, the first formal venturing into dream work happening about twenty-five years ago at the University of Saskatchewan. This initial training with dream work was focused on a Gestalt approach and was based on working within a group, more of a psycho-dynamic approach rather than a psychoanalytical approach. Of course I had worked with my own dreams much longer than this, not for a psychoanalytic reason, but simply because the dreams had imposed themselves upon me and gave me no peace until I addressed them.
Today, recording my dreams has become an automatic response. Recording the dream allows me to re-enter the dream later, even feel the presence and the weight of the dream while still being able to objectively observe the feeling tones as well as the content and flow of the dream. I want to bring some of G.G. Jung’s words here as he talked about dreams so that perhaps you will get a better sense of what it is about dreams that is vital for the process of getting to better know oneself.
“Dreams have a psychic structure which is unlike that of other contents of consciousness because, so far as we can judge from their form and meaning, they do not show the continuity of development typical of conscious contents. They do not appear, as a rule, to be integral components of our conscious psychic life, but seem rather to be extraneous, apparently accidental occurrences. The reason for this exceptional position of dreams lies in their particular mode of origin: they do not arise, like other conscious contents, from any clearly discernible, logical and emotional continuity of experience, but are remnants of a peculiar psychic activity taking place during sleep. Their mode of origin is sufficient in itself to isolate dreams from the other contents of consciousness, and this still further increased by the content of the dreams themselves, which contrasts strikingly with our conscious thinking.” (Jung, Collected Works – Volume 8, par. 443)
Necessarily one has to understand that consciousness is about becoming aware of, that something becomes “known” in some way. Being aware of something does not mean that one understands that something or that one is correct in what one understands about it. For example, I can be aware of a person’s existence without in the least having any knowledge of who that person is or anything about the character of that person. Just because I don’t know anything more than the fact that I “saw” this person does not mean that person is a figment of my imagination. I am aware of his or her existence because one or more of my senses tell me this. I accept this as proof enough. But of course, this is all in my mind and we do learn as we move through life that our mind isn’t always the most reliable of ways of knowing something. Our minds do play tricks on us. That said, our mind tells us and we become aware. So it is with dreams, our minds tell us and so we become aware of something else which emerges out of the darkness and into the light of awareness. It then is up to us to do something with what has emerged into our consciousness.