Dream Tribes

Could it be possible that dreams contain a level of knowledge not available to our conscious awareness? Who then, is the dreamer, and what is the dream? How can we enter into the dream’s perspective with the demands of our busy, techno-crazed day world where our sense of self as a separate body, by necessity, dominates, taking precedence over the seemingly distant and elusive night-time experience of who we are?

Before Hillman, Jung, and Freud, there were the beginnings of what we might recognize today as modern dream researchers, but their ideas have been over-shadowed or ignored because they didn’t produce a school of followers, a program of therapy, or get much recognition from those who came after them.

Frederic William Henry Myers, born February 6, 1843 in England, was a classicist, philologist, and founder of the Society for Psychic Research. Much of his psychic research is questionable, but his essays on dreams and states of consciousness as quoted by Sonu Shamdasani below interests me. Perhaps the quote below is disturbing or ridiculous enough to some to not warrant much thought. Call me crazy, but this resonates deeply with me:

“One may even say that with the first touch of sleep the superficial unity of consciousness disappears, and that the dream world gives us a truer representation than the waking world of the real fractionation or multiplicity existing beneath that delusive simplicity which the glare of waking consciousness imposes upon the mental field of view.”

Sonu goes on to say that Myers believed that dreaming went on all the time, but our day world awareness, acting as a filter, narrows our sense of self to an illusory, unified whole that aligns more properly with the individual nature of our body. Could it be that the psyche is so fluid as to adapt to the circumstances of the life forms it inhabits? If so, this may help us to understand the group behavior of other species, such as ants, bees and birds, who clearly know at a distance their roles within the context of the needs of the group. Are we just different from them, or, have we lost the ability to dream, think and share a common, or public mind, as perhaps our ancestors once experienced.

In a very unusual statement to modern ears, Meyers gave credence to the possibility that he was more than his waking self, as dreams and other transpersonal states suggest:

“Our habitual or empirical consciousness may consist of a mere selection of thoughts and sensations, of which some at least are equally conscious with those we empirically know. I accord no primacy to my ordinary waking self, except that among my potential selves this one has shown itself the fittest to meet the needs of common life.”

He goes on to say:

“I hold that it has established no further claim, and that it is perfectly possible that other thoughts, feelings, and memories, either isolated or in continuous connection, may now be actively conscious, as we say, `within me’, – in some kind of coordination with my organism, and forming some part of my total individuality.”

Perhaps – or perhaps too, these vagaries suggest that there is communication going on between us and members of our group, or as Jungian Analyst Tess Castleman, in her book, Threads, Knots and Tapestries, How Tribal Connection is Revealed Through Dreams and Synchronicities, prefers to call it, our tribe. By tribe she means a group of people, known to each other or not, but part of a web of relationship which experiences an entanglement on a level below awareness, in her words, “the part of the human psyche where intersection lies within relationship.”

She believes, as did some preliterate cultures, that dreams not only carry personal meaning, but are given to an individual for the sake of the group, or tribe that one belongs to. The message of a dream is not only for you, but in response to your relationship within a group. As a modern though she does acknowledge that this public aspect of the dream does not suggest that we should run out into the street and tell the world our dream. As she so wonderfully puts it:

“Telling a dream is like undressing.”

Indeed.

Freedom of mobility and technology make bonding within a group difficult as people once did. She suggests that dream groups and other purposeful gatherings of people may become places where the telling of our dreams can once again find both shared meaning and a transformative process for each of the participants.

I recently heard about Tess’ work from a co-worker and look forward to participating in one of her dream groups in early December. Her book is quite good and puts a slightly different slant on the subject of dreams for me. I often feel that I am connecting with people through my dreams, whether they be people I know, deceased friends, relatives, or strangers, their otherness is compelling for its stark difference to my day world sensibilities.

Her book describes her experience with both analysands and dream groups. The many complexities of blending and sorting the smeary, or as she says, gooey aspects of interactions between the participants, often includes a bonding where synchronous and meaningful events become commonplace.

For skeptics, at the very least, it may be important to remember that if the dream world seems so foreign as to lack any meaning, or too ridiculous to warrant thinking about them, it is that very strangeness that may be inviting us to consider the mystery that lies within them.

“The questions dreams bring to consciousness, the curiosities and the imagination needed to receive them, opens a territory within oneself that enlivens and restores the modern soul.”

For me, the beauty of dreams is that they continue to open up my deficient day world perspective, night after night, faithfully presenting to me new images, places, people and events in strange settings beyond the limits of my waking self’s choosing.

As noted, quotes by:

Castleman, Tess (2004-08-01). Threads, Knots, Tapestries. Kindle Edition.

Sonu Shamdasani. Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology: The Dream of a Science. Kindle Edition.

Dreamland

“Myth is the dream of the people – the dream is the myth of the individual” Herbert Silberer

Whether my attraction to liminal states comes from a lifelong interest in dream states, or attention to dreams leads to an interest in liminal, non-ordinary states, or a mix of both, is unclear. Perhaps it’s the persuasive sense of something deeper and richer, the hidden treasures calling out as beauty does, that draws me more closely to both.

“The best thing about dreams is that fleeting moment, when you are between asleep and awake, when you don’t know the difference between reality and fantasy, when for just that one moment you feel with your entire soul that the dream is reality, and it really happened.”James Arthur Baldwin

A dream of mine is for a willingness to be changed by everyday communion with the world as it is; an edgeless movement between day and night. Perhaps then, an exchange between the mysterious states of dreaming with day world awareness of time and fate, can bridge the two more readily. Maybe when the day world sense of reality becomes less “me,” then the night world of dream figures and mysterious places becomes less “not me.” The waking dream of the day world blurs the edges into a more seamless connection of day into night, you into me and life into death.

The etymology of the word “dream” is itself evidently controversial, ambiguous and unclear, but surprisingly relates to “joy, mirth, musical sound.”

In his book, Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology, Sonu Shamdasani’s discusses Théodore Flournoy, and his influence on C.G. Jung:

Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology (häftad)“The dream could have a purposive and teleological role in developing latent faculties. It derived this from the special significance that Flournoy attached to the creative imagination. This faculty was “the foundation of our being.” It was stimulated by reality, to which it applied itself through acting to transform it. As a result, “the human soul is a machine to transform the real.”

Who remembers the day world or questions the reality of waking states while dreaming? Dreaming is perhaps a deeper immersion into a more passive state where something other than willed, intentional focus of the day world has its way with us. As the Greeks told of Persephone’s abduction into Hades’ Underworld, so are we immersed into a world not of our choosing.

We may wonder what dreams mean, but one of their gifts is that they do not so readily give up their meaning. While dreaming, who asks what does this mean? In some sense, their gift is the freedom to let the characters, plot and movement of the dream roll on, moving us into unknown territory with no need of anything other than participation.

“It is, indeed, good that no valid method [of dream interpretation] exists, for otherwise the meaning of the dreams would already be limited in advance and would lose precisely that virtue which makes them so especially valuable for psychological purposes – namely their ability to give a new point of view.” C.G. Jung

Although no precise meaning may be found in dreams, they may give us insight as if shuffling the deck of our day world experience and viewpoint. They allow us an experience that may not be available to us in waking states. Who knows where dreams are drawing from? There are many theories, and I suspect they each may contain some validity. I like that we cannot precisely know the dream’s function, purpose and meaning. Yet they can serve creativity by offering insights that bring us new ideas and new ways of seeing when we attend to their presence and messages.

Jung,1910 Prints & Photographs Division Library of Congress

Dreams allow us an alternate way to see ourselves, others and the world. If attended to, they can act as a bridge to the unknown, and in that sense have a creative function.

In a letter to one of his students, Jung says:

“In the deepest sense we all dream not out of ourselves but of what lies between us and the other.”

One of the gifts that Jung gave us is to reconsider the value of the dream world as a counter weight to a one-sided day world experience of both ourselves and others. Dream plots and characters may force us to see ourselves and others in ways that shock us or are entirely unrecognizable.

“The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach.” Carl Jung

I have found though, that by attending to dream images and movement, they do reveal to me a much-needed understanding, often through a highly charged emotional dream that upon waking, shows me something I was either unable or unwilling to see before the dream.

So, perhaps it is that our conscious, waking, day world self, finds its deepest roots in the mystery of whatever source dreams and life itself may come from. Maybe, in some way we may never fully understand, we carry with us the origins of the universe and all subsequent traces in a blend of physical and psychological experience that serves to further articulate the mystery of being.

Dreamland by the artist Joni Mitchell

“We’re going to lay down someplace shady
With dreamland coming on” Joni Mitchell

Except as noted, all quotes from Sonu Shamdasani. Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology: The Dream of a Science. Kindle Edition.

The Red Book – Library of Congress Symposium

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about James Hillman and Sonu Shamdasani’s book, Lament of the Dead, Psychology after Jung’s Red Book, I want to share a video I found on youtube of a symposium featuring several speakers and a panel discussion from 2010 that included Hillman, Shamdasani and other Jungians. It is very insightful for anyone interested in Jung’s Red Book  and particularly the disagreement that later arose between Hillman and the later Jungians.

Sonu is the first speaker and he recalls in detail his work as editor of Jung’s Red Book and the challenges he faced while working on the manuscripts. Sonu is followed by Hillman who offers his thoughts and insights on both the Red Book and a few personal stories about Jung, whom he knew dating back to the 50’s until Jung’s death in 1961.

The symposium took place in spring of 2010, roughly a year and a half before Hillman died. He is feisty and brilliant as ever arguing that the experiences Jung recorded in the Red Book are the heart and soul of the man as Hillman understood him. He believes that Jung’s experience was so raw that he would devote much of his work in psychology to developing a conceptual language that would enable others to enter into their own experience. An experience of being directly in touch with personified powers that Jung engaged while practicing what he called Active Imagination. But Hillman believes that the concepts took precedence over the raw experience they pointed to.

Perhaps Hillman felt vindicated by Jung’s descriptions of these encounters described in the Red Book. I have read elsewhere that Hillman had some fierce disagreements with many of the later Jungians who latched onto Jung’s concepts, leaving behind the importance of the rawness of Jung’s experience in favor of adhering to Jung’s concepts for use in therapy – concepts that often left the movement of the psyche or soul out of the consulting room.

Hillman believed that a reliance on the concepts of ego, shadow, types, individuation, etc., take one away from the face to face encounter with the personified powers one meets in active imagination. An engagement that move these powers away from the notion of being only inside our heads. For that is what Hillman believed Jung did; meet these personifications in their world, the soul of the world, or as Plato called it, Anima Mundi.

Anyway, it is a very engaging conversation that starts off with Sonu, then Hillman followed by the panel discussion. And, there is a Part II, but I have not listened to it yet…

 

Lament of the Dead

The mystery of life begins in death, for if death did not exist, think of all of the things that we would not struggle with and all of the questions we would not have much reason to ask. Imagine too the security and peace we might know without sickness, murder, pain and suffering that comes from both disease and the knowledge of our own death. What would be the reason for curiosity, for love, for needing each other if life was so easy that we could not err or cause harm?

It may well be that an existence that excluded death would be better, more peaceful and ideal. But that is not the world we live in. Perhaps the reason for things to be as they are is because the dayworld of the living that we know is necessary to create something greater than can be seen here. Maybe our purpose here is to use the seemingly separate and mortal lives we each live to bridge a gap between the dayworld of mortality and a world of eternity that we also belong to. Admittedly this is all very speculative.

Anna R. SmithBut doesn’t death need to be wondered about? Isn’t it the primary and essential problem of life? Does not death cause us to err, to struggle and live in fear? Doesn’t it also serve as the weapon of power for those that can garner the most security through technology, political and religious structures, serving as an insulation for an elite group of people who no longer share our common fears? Do not some people use death to threaten weaker beings?

And if that is not convincing enough and you are still reading this, how do we reconcile the angst and guilt we share and witness in the killing necessary for life to sustain itself? But don’t we also sense that there is more to life than what we know and perhaps the mystery of our existence can somehow be reconciled, and so every culture has carried on the search for that reconciliation.

These are some of the thoughts I have about death, along with the question not only of is there life after, or beyond death, but what would the nature of that afterlife be like, how does it relate to this life? Does the reconciliation between birth and death come from knowing that the nature of life is eternal, but through birth we, as Greek, Hindu and other mythologies tell us, forget about the eternal world?

Although we moderns don’t seem to easily discuss the nature of death, I believe its inevitability shades our life – remaining a constant unseen companion we fear if we do not acknowledge that we walk on our own graves. Even though the dead may depart from our dayworld they continue to haunt us when their questions, their sufferings go unacknowledged as belonging to all of us throughout history, our shared past. We live in the shadow of their unanswered questions when they’re connection to us is forgotten.

Many cultures have had a practice of ancestor worship, a way to keep a thread of continuity from those who came before us to those who will carry on after us.

In Lament of the Dead, Psychology after Jung’s Red Book, James Hillman teams up with Sonu Shamdasani, editor of C.G. Jung’s Red Book, for a series of conversations about the book in which Jung chronicles a psychotic period of his life from 1913-17. During that time he experienced visions and a flood of images that became the foundation for most of the ideas he is known for; archetypes, active imagination, typology, theories of the unconscious, individuation and wholeness.

I have not read the Red Book yet, but from reading Hillman and Shamdasani’s dialogue now feel compelled to. The dialogue revolves around Jung’s experience of encountering figures through active imagination and grappling with their questions.

Sonu says:

“What Jung hits upon is a stream of images and he encounters collective memory and fantasy. It’s not personal memory. There is a mnemonic dimension there, but he finds that what is animated, what is critical there, is collective memory. He finds himself having to address debates such as that between the Christian and the pagan and to see then how that reframes his own life. It’s not that his life is subtracted out of it, but the realia, the personalia of his life, isn’t the fundament. It’s the images that frame him.”

Jung came to believe that the figures he engaged in active imagination were not just inside him, but part of the ongoing dialogue taking place in the history of humankind. Sonu suggests:

“A shift occurs immediately when you stop thinking of Jung’s work in terms of the imperative to come to terms with the collective unconscious. If you shift from that language to the confrontation with the dead, accepting the lament of the dead, one’s understanding changes dramatically in that one enters a world and the problems one takes up and is confronted with are not one’s own.

And the issue then is how one adapts oneself, how one situates oneself, to these challenges. One is not dealing simply with an abstraction, the collective unconscious. One is dealing quite specifically with the dead of human history.”

The conversation moves on to the need for cosmology in our lives. Hillman is speaking here:

“Psychology may give you modes of understanding and you think you’re understanding yourself and others. But if you want to understand the world, you have to have a cosmology, you have to have a sense that things fit, that they belong, that there’s a need, a place to be given to it, and that there’s more and more to grasp. It’s the cosmos, and the Greek cosmos was an ordered and aesthetic realm.”

Cosmology moves us beyond our personal lives, although it also includes them, and it also includes the ancestors, their cares and concerns acknowledging the work they did carrying forward our understanding of life and the world we share. It invites us all to share in the continuance and importance of that quest.

When we can find a satisfying way to reconcile the mystery of our living with our dying; a cosmology that gives us enough meaning and sense that perhaps gives us a willingness to endure suffering, by knowing the true nature of ourselves, we may find a way to live in peace with a feeling that we belong here.

I’ll leave you with one more quote from Hillman, who laments as I do, the problem we moderns have:

“We’re a very strange culture, our modern, secular Western culture, in which our conversation, yours and mine, is set. We don’t have any ancestor worship, we don’t have any true cult of the dead. Different pieces of the culture do pieces of things, but even the use of the phrase “the dead” is hounded with frightening things— it belongs on the other side. There’s a radical separation in our modern culture between the living and the dead. All the medical work is life against death, to hold off death and prolong life, and at the expense of death, I would say.

So when we talk about the lament of the dead, or anything to do with the dead, we have to realize where we are situated, with its deep, historical prejudices against what has been and what is buried, and what we have done to create a realm of the dead, because it’s not merely those who went before us and died. It’s all the depository of the accumulation of human psychic history, the history of the soul. Somehow, since Jung talks about a lament of the dead, they must feel or have felt abused or neglected or something. The first step would be listening to them, which he did in the Seven Sermons of 1916, this sort of inspired religious document. But what is their lament?”

Hillman, James; Shamdasani, Sonu (2013-08-26). Lament of the Dead: Psychology After Jung’s Red Book (Kindle Locations 2237-2238). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.