Of all thought problems we entertain, one consistently gums up both hemispheres time and again: Why do I dream? And subsequently, why should I care? And, who am I? To define the importance of the universal human faculty of dreaming is to define a worldview, an aim: to alchemize our human condition into one of bliss and fulfillment. Our answer evolves as the path we believed chosen, turned out to have chosen us, is shaping us, and day after day we perceive magical occurrences beyond rational explanation. Our answer bears its head only to retreat in shadow the minute you reach for an ear. The essence of an answer is just beginning to dwell in the fruitful space between the rational and the irrational — the space where the work happens.
A wealth of information designed to give our lives meaning is ever more accessible, but under-developed, echo-chambered, diluted once, twice, three times, gone! We know that to live “a life worth living” we are to work on ourselves, but don’t know what that means. We learn to love each other when our cup is empty, but how do we fill it up time and again? An early teacher of mine, Mr. Dice (our kind hearted kindergarten music man in Philadelphia, PA), wrote us a song that year that still plays in my head when I consider the dominant perpetual motion of this American life, the deadlocked egoic human:
“The mind is never satisfied,
It always wants for more.
Now wanting this, now wanting that
What are we fighting for?
A bigger house, a faster car, a horse with lightning speed,
These are things we have to have, what do we really need?
Just one drop, just one taste, just one drop of god’s sweet grace,
Just a little is more than enough, just one drop of god’s love.”
The ego is never satisfied, and as such, we live in a time where supposed “happiness” occurs through wish-fulfillment teamed with a concrete belief that the world of mind and matter can be mastered, figured out, hacked! You simply will never command the ego to servitude. You’ll grab at straws as in the fleeting feeling of HOME, that is SO real, but is never really there. The ego’s shadow moves in clever ways, undoing the knots you’ve tied in its path, or circumventing them all together. What are you trying to achieve, man? The moments whose essence truly last in our memory, that reveal truth, undeny pleasure, or welcome states of “flow,” are not the work of ego, but of the unconscious. Something larger than the Self, but flowing right through the juicy center of it.
Turns out, what you’re looking for is not a 24 karat ego, but as in the song, “just one drop of god’s love,” the unconscious, the other, that which can’t be seen, packaged and brought home with you. When we choose to entertain the unconscious, we seek to experience frequent, transcendent moments of connected, raw life energy. We begin to know what grace feels like, being nothing and everything at the same time, being here, now. There is a connection to make, and we have to know where to screw the lightbulb in the dark. Once the way is lit, the personal and collective unconscious begin to harmonize in one consciousness, manifesting moments of impossibility and magic, moments of transcendence.
The tradition that speaks most directly to working with dreams and the psyche to experience more of these moments, is Carl Jung’s theory of individuation. Defined somewhere as “a process of transformation whereby the personal and collective unconscious are brought into consciousness.” If asked to define, I’d say it’s the process of knowing your distinctness, your essential ISness, and its relation to the universal — an integration of opposites [within and without] dancing weightlessly in perfect paradox. I truly believe that while enjoying one’s pleasure machine, the individuation process serves as a road map to happiness, and more importantly, to develop a transcendental understanding of death before you must pass through its many gates. Prepare to live your life (and your subsequent lives) to the proverbial fullest. Full of experience.
An individuate[d] moment, symbolically, is the peak of an ephemeral life-spanning energetic triangle where birth and death lie at the base’s corners. Experiencing these moments more frequently involves tuning ourselves to the frequency of the unconscious.
Our experience in dreams is unique, as more often than in waking life, we encounter our other, the personal unconscious. All of the information and presence in an individual consciousness, not available for conscious recall. Think complexes, memories, individually “distinct,” yet tied to an ancestral path. While our ego seeks to rationalize dreams, make them about the illusory Self, or about the environment that we simmer in, we need to see that the messages are pertaining to a very timeless, ancestral path whose sunshine and shadow we are born into. With an understanding of the personal unconscious, we can begin to heal old wounds and grow new roots.
In passionate practice, we unpack the old luggage waiting in line, and as we do so, more of the collective unconscious comes into view. We gain an understanding of the collective through experience, observation, introspection and integration. Scenes of transcendence become more prevalent in dream life, and we work double-time towards realizing a complete life picture, with dreamtime contributing significantly to the perception of experience. An alignment, within and without, with the other. It’s a life’s work, entertaining dream practice, and individuation, that we believe an endlessly rewarding journey. Working with one’s own shadow is a war of the heart. Recognizing emotions and choosing to “respond,” in spite of the ego’s call to “react.” There is no work without, absent of work within.
While innumerable useful gadgets, masterful books, and days of music came to light in dream in the last several hundred years, the real story here is that in the course of all human evolution, we have maintained the faculty of dreaming to promote the evolution of the psyche, personally and collectively. The first light of “spirit” was likely sensed by a hominid, in a cave, watching a dancing picture show of images in a dream predicting where to find water in a time of drought. This premonition most definitely lifted his spirits, and perhaps saved his life. Dreams bring us joy. They are helpers on a path and answers to questions, a universal oracle. Ancient prophets were often presented wisdom in dreams, and the people of their time overwhelmingly believed them! The notion that dream experiences are meaningless is in direct correspondence to our reduction and rationalization of everything, the extermination of magic, and the crazed canter of the ego as the death of sacredness and the military industrial complex contest to nip it’s heels. This phenomenon ties humankind together, and on a collective level, dreams manifest analogous meaningful thoughts across all cultures, and yes, all ages.
In every spiritual tradition, a strong case is made for the continuity of consciousness after death. In this moment, the ego dies, and we may flash back along an unconscious thread through a holographic picture show of our life, our past lives, our loved ones and unconscious connections to the other. Dreams are a way to prepare for this moment, the beginning of a life after life. If preparing for death by connecting to the motif of your own afterlife is too morbid now, you might like to visualize these connections in terms of your lineage, your ancestors, the whole human race. You are energetically connected through the unconscious whether you like it or not, an unconscious actor. Choosing to better know your connection through dream is a common calling ground, one that will change the way you perceive reality, interact with others, and fall in love with life over and over and over again.