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There’s a common saying among those who study dreams: that the mind is like an iceberg; the conscious (and unconscious) mind being just that which is viewable “above water” while the subconscious mind expands far deeper into the dark recesses of the ocean depths.
When it comes to the realm of human experience, much extends beyond the reach of the conscious mind that rules over our day to day interactions or even the forgotten unconscious mind that ensures our heart and other organs function without us needing to constantly regulate it.
The subconscious realm touted as an impossibly vast structure; an avenue in which we can encounter another more transient side of human experience; is the link through which we can experience the “reality” of dreams. Many believe that dreams offer a very valuable lens of insight and that by studying them, we can begin to dig deeper and glean a far greater knowing of ourselves.
The most well known figure in psychology, Sigmund Freud, asserted the notion of a personal subconscious element of the mind that acted as a storehouse of repressed wishes and forgotten content. Carl Jung, a contemporary of Freud, broke rank from Freud’s ideology and in doing so provided a more expansive classical framework to approaching dream study. One of Jung’s major contribution to psychology and dreamwork was in introducing the notion of a “collective unconscious”. He states:
The collective unconscious - so far as we can say anything about it at all - appears to consist of mythological motifs or primordial images, for which reason the myths of all nations are its real exponents. In fact, the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious... We can therefore study the collective unconscious in two ways, either in mythology or in the analysis of the individual. (From The Structure of the Psyche, CW 8, par. 325.).Jung thought as humans, that we are all directly linked to a central interrelated, latticework of images, symbols, and archetypes that have shown up across all ancient cultures and exist onwards into our present day. He describes many common archetypes as primal, universally understood patterns of personalities e.g. The Mother, The Trickster, The Warrior, The Scapegoat, The Hero, The Outcast, The Lover, The Rebel, The Wise Old Man, etc. as existing and interacting in infinite variations within our dreams. Each of these archetypes can also include various journeys that have played out countless times as stories, myths, and experiences in both the “real world” and the realm of dreams.
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On an even more profound level, Jung connected the idea of archetypes to the notion of a universal “Self” or soul that allows the “Ego” or conscious mind, to have some sort of relative autonomous functioning in order to function in the natural world. It is the Ego that will gravitate towards projecting a “Persona” or personality mask that we develop that can resemble various archetypes in response to the roles we feel we must play in the world and the expectations of the society we live in. Likewise, Jung supports the idea that there is a “Shadow” self, a collection of the repressed elements of oneself; essentially our dark side.
In our dreams we meet all of these elements and more in a cluster of at times seemingly wild fantasies and during others, experiences that felt incredibly realistic and leave us breathless and in a cold sweat when we awake. At times one may even encounter a glimpse of the Self in a dream or experience a guide or very powerful figure that we connect with in our dreams. These Jung referred to as “Anima” and “Animus” with the former being a feminine element in the male subconscious and the latter term being a masculine energy in the female subconscious. For the male dreamer, the Anima may present itself as a wise older woman that is loving and nurturing to our needs. For the female dreamer, the Animus, could appear as a determined, aggressive, and dominating male figure in her dream world.
All in all, Jung provides us with a variety of terms and concepts in which to understand the many facets of the collective unconscious. With this basic toolkit of terminology we can begin to dig deeper into the notion of understanding our dreams as carriers of meaning and significance and to perhaps look at each of them as sacred encounters with our higher Self and the many facets of our being that we may not ever experience in our waking day.
About the Author:
Christopher is a Maryland native, a yoga teacher, and a graduate student at Sofia University pursuing a M.A. in Transpersonal Psychology. His current research interest revolves around psychosomatic healing, esoteric anatomy, dreamwork, and psychedelics. In his spare time he enjoys doing yoga, writing poetry, and performing music.
Jung, C.G. The Collected Works, Volume 9 Part 1, the Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Bollingen Foundation Inc. New York, NY. 1959
Jung, C.G. The Structure of the Psyche, Collected Works Volume 8. Princeton University Press. 1970.
Eckert, L. How Does It Mean? Hennemann. 2006.
Campbell, J. Hero with a Thousand Faces. New World Library. 2008.