Analyzing Our Dreams
by William Bezanson
ABSTRACT: This article gives a personal view of experience with a Jungian approach to dream analysis, based on the author’s analysis of many of his own dreams. The main Jungian archetypes are briefly explained, and a process for understanding dreams is presented. Doing our own dreamwork can be rewarding and inspiring.
Dreamwork has been a central part of my spiritual life for more than fifty years. In this article, I want to share some tips that I have found helpful in understanding my dreams.
I have recorded over 450 dreams over the years and analyzed most of them. Sometimes my documentation of a dream may be only a sentence or two, but mostly I try to write one or more pages, structured around the following topics:
The most important thing to use is your intuition, choosing the first impulse that you have for what your dream means. Proceeding deeper may need some psychological theory.
The overall theoretical framework for my own analysis has been Jungian psychology and how it applies to dreamwork. My understanding of the theories of the two most important practitioners, Freud and Jung, convinces me that Jung’s model, which evolved from Freud’s, is the superior one.
Some aspects of Jungian psychology that may be useful in interpreting the symbols in dreams include the anima and animus (the contra-sexual people in dreams—a woman in a man’s dreams, and vice versa—representing our gateway to the soul); the shadow (representing the hidden or suppressed parts of our psyches, often appearing in dreams as a same-sex, dark, perhaps evil-looking man in a man’s dreams and a woman in a woman’s dreams; the self (representing the combined, integrated blending of the conscious and unconscious psyche, often appearing in dreams as a circle or a mandala); and the persona (representing how we present ourselves to the world, and appearing in our dreams in various forms, such as a wise old man or woman, a trickster, a witch, or many other forms). For all of these symbols and archetypes, it is important to understand the context of their appearance in dreams. For example, one must try to understand why this symbol appeared in that specific form, or along with other symbols, or in which relative position, such as physically higher or lower than oneself. One can read about these and other archetypes in any good book on the Jungian world view, or on the WWW under “Jungian Archetypes”, and related sites. Of course, even more important than the above symbology is one’s own intuitive insights to the meaning of the various dream symbols.
An especially interesting type of dream is one that recurs regularly. For example, I had a series of dreams in which I would encounter some obstacle, and I would always go around the obstacle by taking the left-hand side of it, and immediately stumble or fall. Eventually, I decided that perhaps the “dream maker” was trying to tell me to stop taking the left hand path and to try the right hand one. Perhaps I was being advised to stop using my left brain (the analytical, logical side), and to start using my right brain (the synthesizing, intuitive side). The wonderful outcome was that, once I formulated this model, that type of dream stopped. And, most significantly, in my waking life I learned to value my right-brained decision making as much as my left-brained one, and that change ushered in a new phase of creativity.
You might want to maintain a journal that is structured along the lines of my bulleted list, above. One key ingredient is to respect and honour your dreams, treating them as precious gifts to you from your psyche. Other ingredients include patience and willingness to engage in a lot of difficult but rewarding work in researching one’s dreams, and being open-minded and curious about one’s inner life.
A word of caution: the unconscious often contains information that may be alarming or frightening. If you get an intuitive urge not to continue analyzing a specific dream, then stop immediately.
If you do decide to take up regular dreamwork you will have a lifetime hobby of self-discovery.
William Bezanson is a retired electrical engineer who now writes on spirituality and world stewardship. His most recent book is I Believe: A Rosicrucian Looks at Christianity and Spirituality. He lives with his wife in Ottawa, Canada. His website is www3.sympatico.ca/bezanson1.