Jung said: “A dream that is not understood is a mere occurrence; understood, it becomes living experience.” He also said, “The world hangs by a very thin thread. That is the Psyche. Can you imagine what would occur if something happened to the Psyche?”
During the current political hotbed of nominating our next U.S. president, we are witnessing not only the personae of the various candidates vying for this coveted position, but also their shadow aspects due to the bright lights of innumerable and instantaneous news reports. So how do dreams figure in this environment?
Each night, we enter into the darkness of our being through sleep. In fact, based on neurological and sleep research, it has been well-documented that we dream every night—several times a night! Part of the rhythm of our sleep pattern is a state called REM. We cycle in and out of REM phases throughout our nightly sleep. So all of us dream, but we do not often remember our dreams since this state is one of twilight state, meaning semi-conscious. That is, unless we have a nightmare or a dream of highly emotional content that we wake from. These are dreams that are truly wanting our attention! We tend to remember these dreams because of the strong feelings that are attached.
So we communicate with the larger area of our being through dreams. We then can record these dreams if we are lucky to remember them in the morning. And then what? That is the question of a lifetime! If Jung is correct, and based on my 27 years of working with my dreams as well as those of my clients, we expand our very being through dreamwork. This is what Jung called the Individuation process. And it is one of the best ways to discover those parts of ourselves that we may have cut off for various reasons or have remained undeveloped.
In “Democracy in America”, Alexis de Tocqueville writes:
“In times when passions are beginning to take charge of the conduct of human affairs, one should pay less attention to what men of experience and common sense are thinking than to what is preoccupying the imagination of dreamers."
Are any of our recent presidential candidates listening to their dreams? Would they ever present any in a public forum? Let’s look at a dream of a U.S. president that has had far-reaching effects upon our nation.
Abraham Lincoln held that every dream had value and meaning, and sought clues from his dreams. He believed that the best dream interpreters were the common people with their collective wisdom, whom he called ‘the children of nature’. In the second week of April, 1865, he told the following dream at a White House dinner to his wife and several guests. He had been waiting anxiously for dispatches from the Front as the Civil War was reaching its bloody ending. He was extremely weary and fell into a deep sleep.
He says, “I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a deathlike stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. It was light in all the rooms. Every object was familiar to me, but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break?
I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all of this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, some gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers. ‘The President,’ was his answer. ‘He was killed by an assassin!’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which awakened me from the dream. I slept no more that night and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.”
Less than a month later, on April 14, 1865, Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater by a terrorist, John Wilkes Booth who feared the loss of his way of life and that of his confederate separatists. Lincoln died early the following morning surrounded by his wife, family and the ‘people who were grieving as if their hearts would break’. His dream was prophetic but he had no way of knowing how to work with it; to determine how he might redirect his efforts to save his life—that is, if that was possible.
What our presidential candidates know is that to be president of the U.S. is to hold significant power and influence not only here in the U.S. but throughout the world. At the core of the power problem, fear smolders. The fear of the oppressed becoming the oppressors makes those in power feel justified in brutality, ruthlessness, torture, violence, destruction, and killing. This cruelty is evil.
The dark side of the American psyche is found in our obsession with bigness, loudness, outlandishness, and self-centeredness, while the bright side of our psyche is generosity, kindness, love, and compassion. It is passion for power that is poisoning politicians. Where is our hope? Is it in reason?
The prominent Italian Jungian analyst, Aldo Carotenuto wrote: “That the world can be dealt with in an exclusively rational manner is an illusion because, as we know, emotions, sensations and intuitions are more determinant than rational thought.
There is an entire area of psychic life that escapes the detached and rigid control of reason. We are immersed in the unconscious, and it determines our life. The great revolutionary contributions made by psychoanalyses is that it annexed that vast area and, even more importantly, provided the instruments necessary to carry on a dialogue with it.”
Here lies the necessity of dreams. Dream narratives can serve as corrective psychic lenses to sharpen our perception of moral and ethical issues. If one cannot tolerate uncertainty, self-questioning, and the opposite point of view, then dreams and dreamers are useless. They are, as Jung stated, ‘mere occurrences’. What would happen, I wonder, if one of the questions posed to our politicians was “Do you work with your dreams?”! What if our criteria for choosing a candidate included this vital question?
Jung identified two types of dreams. He described Big dreams as those that had an impact on the Collective or Outer world. He borrowed this idea from Native American tribes whose members shared their Big dreams with the entire tribe as they were considered to hold importance collectively. Small dreams were those that belonged solely to the dreamers and consisted of material that would help them compensate or correct some aspects of their lives.
Dreams are found to be transformative, healing, corrective, prophetic and initiative—those that may occur during life transitions such as birth, adolescence, marriage, mid-life, and death. Initiative dreams indicate the present situation of the dreamer and can point towards a solution to help the dreamer move into the next phase of life.
Becoming aware of unknown aspects of our being and re-membering them can lead to a deeper sense meaning and ultimately greater fulfillment. And they can serve to aid our leaders in effective leadership of moral conscience. Let us hope that the candidate we do choose is a dreamer. But more importantly, let us hope that he or she is aware of their dreams and knows how to work with them in order to provide not only corrective personal healing, but also to enable them to bring more effective guidance and constructive engagement to the problems of our nation and to the world.
As Shakespeare wrote: “To sleep; perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub.”