Saturday, March 09, 2013

Jung Over: Dreams the Morning After

I awoke this morning, disturbed by a dream in which a friend of mine dealt with his teenaged son by jerking him outside and slapping him.   His son hit him back.  Watching in anguish, I thought the father had made a mistake.  I followed the young man up to his room, where he curled up on his bed.

Now, pioneering psychologist Karl Jung took dreams seriously as helpful communications from our unconscious minds to our reasoning conscious minds.  The unconscious, he said, communicates not in words but in metaphor, using symbols and stories.  In his view, even when we dream of others, we're dreaming of an aspect of ourselves.  

Me and Mia
Awake in the dark, I wondered where my dream came from. 

Then I heard the breathing of my own teenager -- a puppy named Mia --  curled up in her bed.   Yesterday, she was more than usually aggressive towards other dogs in the park, and I'd been more forceful than usual pulling her aside and insisting that she sit and stay.  I'd been thinking, "I've handled this badly.  I've got to do something, but forcing her down isn't it.  I don't know what to do."  I'd been feeling remorse, affection, regret, yearning for re-connection to the dog. 

The thoughts and feelings I'd had during that event were exactly those that I shared with "my friend" in the dream. Jung was right:  My heart is telling me to pull back and not to confuse Mia with my mixed signals.  I surely don't want her to associate other dogs with my anger, or to think of my hands as instruments of pain.

This seems to be clear evidence that Jung was on to something real.  Where is he in discourse today? 

Psychology was as present in the first decades of my life as weather -- in cartoons, sitcoms, suspense movies, art, magazine racks, and speculative talk among adolescents (when I was one) -- so it's astonishing to me how Freud, Jung, and dream analysis have vanished from conversation.  The last time I heard anyone take any of that seriously was pre-Prozac, around 1990, Jung was ascendant, and Joseph Campbell had a bestselling book about world mythology and archetypes in our dreams and lives. 

At about that same time, The University of the South was developing Education for Ministry, an undergraduate theological course studied through local parishes.  A central feature of this program is a process of "Theological Reflection," by which participants analyze a real-life event for its concomitant thoughts and feelings.  After everyone recalls events in their lives when they shared the same thoughts and feelings, all use their imaginations to concoct a metaphor for those thoughts and feelings.

We are, in effect, inventing a dream that expresses the reality in the language of the unconcious.

The next step in the process is to cast about in culture and Scripture for another story or image that relates.

There you have Jung in a nutshell:   Our faith stories and our ancient myths speak to us universally as dreams speak to us individually.

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