My Native Language is Image

Recently, I have begun to keep a dream journal, again. As in the keeping of past dream journals, the very act of writing seems to stimulate the remembrance of more dreams, and I wonder if by attending to them, the door to the nightworld perspective widens, bringing with it richness and complexity, scrambling the sensibilities of the dayworld experience.

Flying foxes, or bats, sleep 18-20 hours a day.

In the nightworld’s stories and images I am no longer the master of my soul, but live as one among many. The rational order and structure that shape the dayworld no longer strictly apply; time and place shift suddenly, people, animals and situations seem unpredictable and often bizarre compared to the waking state. In dreams, animals and babies talk, we fly like birds, meet strange lovers who seem to know us, run in slow motion, breathe underwater, change sex, and talk to the dead. Here we live amongst archetypal or primary forces that find their way into psyche – for in sleep we cannot but give ourselves over to their world.

The dream world is perhaps a place where soul is shaped by psychic weather much as a tree is shaped by earth, wind, fire and rain. Perhaps dream states place us closer to the primary source or state of awareness. Animals evidently dream, if REM states are any indication and even fruit flies sleep. Maybe we should reverse our idea that we fall into sleep and reconsider whether we are not, rather, falling awake. If dreams are primary and their language is image, then as James Hillman suggested in his book The Dream and the Underworld, image is primary.

Living with this idea increasingly suggests to me, that we develop and use language to translate that primary state of the nightworld and its dream images. But the dayworld perspective filters our experience, by narrowing down the sense of ourselves and each other into separate, private beings; each masters of our own house. The more we live life through a dayworld translation, unaware of the depth of the source of our being and knowing, the smaller and more limited our dayworld perspective becomes. To ignore the depths of psyche, where Pluto’s riches are found, is to shrink our awareness by filtering all we know through the logic and reasoning of dayworld awareness alone, in time becoming increasingly dependent on how well we use language to translate to ourselves and to others the imagistic sense of the world’s impression upon us.

“It is this dayworld style of thinking—literal realities, natural comparisons, contrary opposites, processional steps—that must be set aside in order to pursue the dream into its home territory. There thinking moves in images, resemblances, correspondences. To go in this direction, we must sever the link with the dayworld, foregoing all ideas that originate there—translation, reclamation, compensation. We must go over the bridge and let it fall behind us, and if it will not fall, then let it burn.” James Hillman, The Dream and the Underworld

Albrecht Dürer, Abduction of Proserpine on a Unicorn (1516)

This is not to say that keeping a dream journal is necessary or would even change this situation. One’s relationship to the dreamworld is always in danger of contamination by dayworld perspectives with its need to be master and commander. Dreams then are at the risk of becoming our playthings rather than angels or messengers carrying across from that primal source something new, unexpected or forgotten. Attending to the nature of the relationship between dayworld and nightworld is then, perhaps our life’s work, whether we remember our dreams or not. To acknowledge the existence of an underworld perspective, allowing a place for mystery, and experiencing as Persephone did, the force of the god Pluto dragging us out of our dayworld hubris, stripping us of our innocence, relieving us from our duty of being master and commander, might free us to live mythically, storied lives and place ourselves more fully into the context of the time and place we live in.

If dreams and images are primary, the relationship between language, sense and image then is both vital and flexible. If we see the world through the lens of language without awareness of the lens that filters our vision, our perception will be limited to our ability to define in words the world around us. For some, and they will argue, that is all there is; cold, objective reality, everything black and white, either true or false, dead or alive, good or evil. Quantity then takes precedence over quality, measure over meaning. The talk of soul or dreams, angels, messengers, gods or archetypes is then a throw back to human superstition and ignorance.

The trouble with that perspective lies in its claims of superiority; as if to no longer be susceptible or influenced by any force other than one’s strength of will, education, and societal norms will rid us all of the ills of human existence. So, if we live in the hard facts of “reality,” we have somehow reached the pinnacle of human achievement where ignorance, disease and war will be driven out and reason will usher in peace and perhaps someday, ever-lasting life, even if only through the creation of robotic machinery that we deem to be just like us, or the perfected us, reflecting back an unobtainable quality of perfection and innocence forever out of our reach.

“Mythical metaphors are perspectives toward events which shift the experience of events. They are likenesses to happenings, making them intelligible, but they do not themselves happen… We are those stories, and we illustrate them with our lives (Re-visioning Psychology, pp. 101-2).” James Hillman

An excellent essay on Hillman’s ideas here:

41 thoughts on “My Native Language is Image

  1. Pingback: Animafire.Com

  2. willowmarie

    I really enjoyed this! thank you. Made me think of a religious anthropology paper I wrote once. I was/ am (so) sure image and movement came before language and the written word. Not sure if I wholly convinced my professor, but it was a joy to research and write! Hadn’t thought of it in years- wonderful to recall it again. Perfect way to start the wk. end.


  3. Dreaming on the fly, but enjoying a minute to catch up here. Excellent. I LOVE sleeping 🙂 as much for the mental movies generated as for the rest.

    Just a little heads up, it looks as if there will be a few of the writers who post on WP here gathering in PDX around the weekend of Sept 13/14. NO firm plan of anything, but if it gels, would you like to join us for tea? Let me know and I can keep you posted. -xo.M


    1. Hi M,

      Yes, sleeping is fab!

      Sure, I will consider joining you for a Portland gathering. Let me know details as we get closer. Thanks so much for the invite!


  4. Hillman has helped us to imagine the ‘underworld’ of dreaming as a parallel reality with its own significances embodied by archetypal forms and perspectives. Yet each outer perspective on this rich realm is only as good as it remains open to subjective perception and interpretation. To limit this reality by avoiding terms like Soul, Spirit, etcetera limits as much as those ‘words’ do. Words are containers that serve to frame images. Hey have validity depending on the perceiver’s conceptions yet we must remain open to the notion that words , though containers, do not adequately or fully “contain” an image or experience. Mentors are good, but as Jung himself once observed, noone–not even Jung or Hillman–have a monopoloy on truth. They only share from their own construal of their own experience, bounded by theoretical postulates and academic formulations. Perhaps that is why Jung embarked on the active imagination journey depicted in THe REd Book. He encourages us all to compose such a log or journal of our inner experiences. You are the best interpreter, potentially, of your own dreams. But it requires attention, observation, reflection –a subjective awareness or a subjective science.
    Thanks for the nce reflections on “image” viz. ‘dreaming’.


    1. Thanks much for your great observations!

      I whole-heartedly agree that it is our experience which gives us direct knowledge. All the classes, books, and studies, although contributors to our understanding and use of language, cannot substitute for direct experience, as you say, through attention, reflection and I would say, being receptive to the senses, bodily and emotional senses.



      1. Thanks Debra. Ideas and perceptions are such phantasmagoria anyway; enough for one (me) to “worry about my own beliefs”; which is what I woke to from dreaming this AM!


  5. Great post Debra! I do agree that attending to one’s dreams are a life work, and that they are always at risk of contamination by our ‘day’ filters….hence the problem with dream dictionaries etc. In my experience the very effort to try and remember and write them down is like a signal to the deep psyche that you are interested in listening…which in itself seems to stimulate more dream memory. I also find that you can become aware of a felt-sense in the body as you sit with a dream or even an image from the dream. Often as you gently explore that felt sense in the body, other relevant associations will reveal themselves. Happy dreaming!


    1. Hi Margaret,
      I do remember looking up dreams in those dream dictionaries. Oh if it were only as easy as that 🙂

      “I also find that you can become aware of a felt-sense in the body as you sit with a dream or even an image from the dream.”

      I like this. I hadn’t thought of it quite like that, but yes, there is more of an embodiment of the dream sense with some quiet and gentle attention to the dream.

      Thanks for sharing your insights here!


  6. I relate deeply to this : “perhaps a place where soul is shaped by psychic weather much as a tree is shaped by earth, wind, fire and rain.” Thank you for such a thought -provoking piece.


  7. I have visited your post 3 times in the last 2 days to read in chunks as time allows. So timely, Debra, as my friend is doing lots of dream work and sharing with me as she goes. She has 4 to 6 vivid dreams a night, connecting to what you say about our attention. Her attention in this arena is yielding fascinating results. I also enjoy that there is no pinning down, no wrestled metaphors, but open and curious attention to what is flowing in the sleep state world. So many layers! I love the mystery of this – and see such overlap of day and night realities – like Deepak Chopra says, one day we will wake from the dream of this life with wild stories to tell of our imagined waking life. So grateful for the connections embedded in your sharing. xo! marga


    1. Hi Marga,
      I love the coincidence of several friends who are keeping dream journals lately. It really is a rewarding practice, if you can get past the struggle to write them down as soon as you wake up!

      There is something faraway and exotic about the dream world. I often wonder if we truly do travel to the place of the dead in our dreams. There is something about the dream state that feels like another world, or mode of being. Yes layers as you say! I think that is why I enjoy Hillman’s Or anyone else’s) respectful approach as it doesn’t assume we know much about dreams.

      Thank you for reading and leaving a note too!


  8. A wonderful post and I have kept a Dream journal at various times throughout my life.. Often I would scribble down before I forgot, then forget about it.. When I would go back to the journal it was amazing to see how often it later made much sense.. Though at the time of writing it made no sense..

    Great post and I enjoyed reading it … I came via Amanda’s reblog..
    Blessings and Sweet Dreams


    1. Hi Sue,
      Thank you so much for reading and leaving a note.

      It’s so true isn’t it, that reading back what we’ve written sheds so much light on the dream, especially the metaphors.

      Blessings to you!


  9. I. LOVE. THIS. POST. definitely reblogging on dreamrly, Debra!

    So many rich thoughts here. I have recently discovered my favorite way of working with dreams is to sit with the energy they produce; it was be really overwhelming. I find if you do your best to approach your dreams in a state of witness-consciousness, instead of turning them into “play-things” as you so wisely warn against, the energy of the image emerges with a power I would never have imagined. If you tune into your body as you reread or honor a dream, the experience becomes very personal, and very powerful, very quick. Ah, so many ways to let the dream speak to you! This is what I admire so much about Jung, he was adamant that “[We] should in every case be ready to construct a totally new theory of dreams” as they are so powerful and ever-evolving.

    “If dreams and images are primary, the relationship between language, sense and image then is both vital and flexible.” Great point, Debra. I have also noticed that as I make a practice of honoring the images in my dreams in silence and body-awareness, my connection with my imagination seems more active throughout the day, creating a heightened experience of being “awake.” but hey, that may just be all the sunshine and life of spring though, who knows!!!

    Thank you for such a thought-provoking post, Debra!! Lucid and enlightening as always.


    1. Hi Amanda,
      Thank you so much for your kind words and for reblogging!

      I was thinking of you and our prior conversations while writing this post because we do both share a huge interest in what we do with our dreams. I am thrilled that the post speaks to you.

      It is amazing how different the dream world becomes when we let it speak for itself, yes?

      Thank you again!


  10. Don

    Dreams have always been of immense importance to me, Debra. Your post is wonderful and I can certainly connect with what you say. I have also always marked in red in my dream journal those dreams that have been profoundly significant in my life. Strange, just the other day I was going through a dream I had about eight years ago and realized what a profound shift it initiated in the whole area of my understanding of spirituality. The symbols were incredibly primitive and rather frightening, but as I worked with them personally and also with someone I value and trust, they invoked in me a major change in my consciousness and set me on a path so different from the one I was on.

    I absolutely warm to your paragraph, “To ignore the depths of psyche, where Pluto’s riches are found, is to shrink our awareness…” There is so much truth in what you go on to say. Thank you again for a marvellous post.


    1. Hi Don,
      Thank you for your kind words!

      These are great reasons indeed to keep the dream journal. Looking back at dreams and seeing their influence or correspondence to our journey and the impact they have has always been fruitful for me too.

      Your thoughts about your dream remind me of a dream that I had years ago that really frightened me at the time, but in recent years has come to make sense. I am so happy to have kept the dream journals.

      I’ve also noticed that in reading a dream back they seem to say something to me that just the remembering of them doesn’t. It’s as if the metaphors come jumping out at you.

      It’s so wonderful to know that others too value the rich treasures from dreams!


      1. Don

        Debra, your words about remembering and metaphor are so true to my experience also. It’s almost as if there’s a reactivation of the dream itself and extended meaning leaps out at you. Thank you for sharing this. Appreciate it.


  11. Happy to hear you have resumed your dream journaling. I wonder if the dream state is closer to the soul’s natural non physical home with all the flying, astral travel, telepathy,communion with spirits, instant manifestation by thought, etc, without the distortions and limitations of our brain and unique psyche? I would not go as far to say that they are indentical, just closer to Source.


    1. You bring up a good point Linda. The nonphysical state of being would be less constrained, yes?
      With no way to prove it, it seems that the body acts as a filter.
      See you in Dreamtime!


  12. Debra, what do you think of the idea that somehow the dayworld and the nightworld have the potential to merge? Or, at least perhaps, to be far more deeply correlated, and for the dayworld to be freshly experienced as possessing, in point of fact, a greater fluidity than was previously thought or known?

    It is clear to me that dogs dream. I often wonder about bears during hibernation. What dreams they must be having!



    1. Hi Michael,
      It’s to imagine the two worlds merging, but I do think a correspondence between the two does happen and the more so when we attend to each with respect for the other and the difference in their perspectives.
      The greatest take-away I received from reading Jung and Hillman on dreams is to respect that we can not be sure of specific meanings but if we can, as Hillman often said, stick to the image and let it speak to us, rather than inflict our dayworld bias onto them, we me gain some insight into the beauty and majesty of what lies beyond what we can call our own.
      Sometimes I envy the bears and their long winter sleep! Seems like an appropriate response to the cold, dark days.

      Thank you for the note!


  13. I love the flying foxes—oddly I really like all kinds of bats and have always thought they were cute in that odd little way—just like I think possums are cute 🙂
    Hugs to you and happy dreams—-


  14. I like this: “The dream world is perhaps a place where soul is shaped by psychic weather much as a tree is shaped by earth, wind, fire and rain. ”
    My deep conviction is that we never leave Dreamtime but it is in dreams that we realize it because the ego and conscious mind shut down and let us perceive the true nature of reality.
    Always happy to read on these topics!


    1. Hi Monika,

      Love and share your conviction about Dreamtime. In researching the question of “do animals dream?,” I was not surprised to read that dreaming and particularly sleeping is a very common occurence in even so-called primitive forms of life.

      What a completely different view of life and its meanings it is to view the dream world and its images as preceding our waking life.



  15. Anonymous

    I like this: “The dream world is perhaps a place where soul is shaped by psychic weather much as a tree is shaped by earth, wind, fire and rain. ”
    My deep conviction is that we never leave Dreamtime but it is in dreams that we realize it because the ego and conscious mind shut down and let us perceive the true nature of reality.
    Always happy to read on these topics!


  16. I sure remembered my dreams better when I kept a journey beside my bed. I don’t know why I stopped, but I recently put another notebook and pen on my night stand. My dreams are just so cool. The symbology amazes me and changes this waking “reality,” which I also see as symbology.


    1. Yes, I feel the same. There’s part of me that wants to savor them in the journal, for future treasure hunting, and a part of me that just needs to let them be; perfectly enjoyable as the experiences they are.

      But yes, the pen and notebook remain by my bed too!

      Thanks for the note David!



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