“Our psyche is part of nature, and its enigma is as limitless.”
– Carl Jung, from “Approaching the Unconscious”
No one fully understands the workings of the human brain. In fact, next to questions like whether or not god exists and what happens to us after we die, the greatest human mystery is that of the mind. Neurologists describe the connections forged by synapses and neurons that enable us to remember things like state capitols and how to ride a bicycle, sure, but science can only begin to explain how the brain truly functions. How we remember certain things and not others, what the mind’s relationship is to personality, the extent of our thoughts and emotions’ effects on our bodies and many other details about the psyche remain, as Swiss psychiatrist and dream analyst Carl Jung wrote, an enigma. Perhaps most fascinating – or at least most often debated and discussed in modern culture – is the question, why do we dream?
Some people disregard their dreams or think of them only as the jumbled creation of the subconscious mind, without any real meaning or significance. Others believe (as people have for millennia), that dreams are powerful messages sent by an all-knowing subconscious, and that paying attention to what we see when we sleep is one way to improve life and create a better future. Carl Jung, of course, was one of the believers.
He writes of a collective unconscious or “bush mind,” an instinctual, all-knowing consciousness – the result of a long history of human evolution. Everyone is born with it. The collective unconscious lies deepest within our psyche, followed by the subconscious mind and then the conscious mind.
If we all share a collective unconscious then it makes sense that people have similar types of dreams. A dream that has been recorded in many cultures is the experience of a great weight, often described as a creature, sitting on the sleeper’s chest, preventing him or her from moving or breathing. This dream has been depicted similarly in paintings and drawings from disparate parts of the world as a ghoul or old hag sitting on the sleeper’s chest.
Of course, most dreams are highly personal and are unlikely to be experienced by more than one person. Jung described our ability to dream as symbol making. He believed that dreams should be regarded seriously and treated as fact, and that dreams are the “specific expression of the unconscious.” Through our dreams, we have direct access to the deeper levels of our psyche called the subconscious or unconscious – that all-knowing part of our mind.
This analogy is imperfect at best, but one way to better understand the concept of the conscious and subconscious mind is to think of the mind as a computer. Let’s say the program running is a web browser. This browser is your conscious mind. Every so often you have to empty its cache. The cache is kind of like the subconscious mind. It records every web page you have ever visited, every experience you have ever had. Each night, it needs to sort itself out and empties a few things into your dreams.
Every day we go through a multitude of experiences. It would be impossible for our conscious minds to keep track of everything. Through our process of development, the conscious mind has become a master of selection, choosing only what is necessary to focus on at a specific time. And yet we are taking in much more than we think. Information and impressions are constantly being stored by our subconscious mind. A difficult interaction with someone might suddenly trigger memories of a parent you had long not thought of or had perhaps never thought of till that moment. These memories were there all along, stored away in your subconscious, wielding an influence over how you experienced the world around you. By analyzing dreams, the message-symbols of the subconscious, we can learn a great deal about ourselves and find new ways to improve our lives. As they say, with knowledge comes power. Here are a few great ways to gain insight into your dreams.
Record your dreams
Keep a dream diary or a use a recording device. The best time to record a dream is right after it happens. If a dream is powerful enough to wake you up, more reason to record its details immediately. Recording dreams first thing in the morning, while they’re still fresh, is another technique. Include events, who or what was present in the dream, and the emotions and sensations felt. For ease of interpretation, you might want to make a short list all of the important objects, symbols, feelings and emotions that were part of the dream.
Work with friends
Working with a supportive group of friends is another effective way of gaining insight into dreams. In this situation, one would describe the dream in detail to give friends a clear image of the dream picture. Friends should listen attentively and ask questions when confused, but never ask questions that might be leading or influence your retelling of the dream. Questions should be for clarification only. The retelling should be done as objectively as possible. Sometimes, retelling the dream in this way helps one to remember details and relationships within the dream that were previously forgotten.
Consult a dream dictionary to supplement your own dream interpretation
Although it never hurts to do a little reading and research, most people are well equipped to analyze their own dreams. By practicing some of the techniques described above and following your intuition, dreams can provide a wealth of information. You might also want to consult a dream dictionary of which there are many. Dream dictionaries can offer greater insight into common dreams and symbols based on dream research, psychology and spirituality.
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