Sunday, October 13, 2002


Recently on National Public Radio I heard a writer talking about the importance of St. Augustine’s CONFESSIONS. He said this book represents the first time anyone took himself so seriously, looked so deeply into his own thoughts and experiences, and attempted to share what he found. The CONFESSIONS marked a new dimension in the human project, a new way of human understanding of the project of being human. If the New Testament represents a shift in and a redefinition of the covenant between God and the human person, Augustine’s work is a refinement of and an elaboration of the human side of the covenant. August discovered a new way of reflecting on himself.

Why is self-reflection so critically important to our development, not just important to understand who we are now but also to understand something of that person we are on the way to becoming? I think the answer lies in the role of self-reflection in our ability to assign meaning. Developing a capacity for finding/assigning meaning is crucial:

“. . . this means that the process of interpretation is not complete until the student has produced an interpretive text of his or her own. This is perhaps the place where psychoanalysis has the most to teach literary pedagogy. Both Freud and Lacan stress the importance of the patient’s ‘putting into words of the event’ (Jacques Lacan, THE LANGUAGE OF THE SELF, [Baltimore, 1968] p. 16) in order for any therapeutic effect to be obtained. It is never enough simply to tell the patient what must have happened, to raise his consciousness, so to speak. The patient must verbalize for himself. … . I am not suggesting that psychoanalysis and literary interpretation are the same thing, or even that they are highly analogous processes—only that psychoanalysis has demonstrated consistently for over three-quarters of a century that there is a significant difference between the states of consciousness involved in receiving a text and producing one. Specifically, the text we produce is ours in a deeper and more essential way than any text we receive from outside. When we read we do not possess the text we read in any permanent way. But when we make an interpretation we do add to our store of knowledge—and what we add is not the text itself but our own interpretation of it. In literary interpretation we possess only what we create.” (Robert Scholes, Semiotics and interpretation, [New Haven, 1982] p. 4).

All of us assign meaning to ideas, events, and experiences. Most of us are, more or less, in the dark, i.e., unconscious of the process by which we arrive at meaning. Since the fundamental purpose of Jungian Psychology is to render somewhat conscious that which is largely unconscious in our lives, an exploration of the process itself is in order. There are several possibilities for the ways in which we add an outside content to our consciousness and assign meaning to it:

1. We can adapt something from an outside source and accept it at face value. We do this when we accept dogma as our truth or when we follow the laws of the land because we hold an assumption that our doing so is for the common good. A good deal of early childhood education holds with this way as a methodology even though there is ample evidence that children learn not what they are taught but rather what they see modeled in the behavior of significant others. Rejection or acceptance of dogma or law can be flip sides of the same coin. In either case, it is the dogma or the law that determines the individual’s behavior because the dogma or the law has taken up residence in consciousness.

2. We can achieve a modicum of distance from an idea, an event, or an experience, put it through some kind of consciousness-sorting process and accept/reject some or all, more or less thoughtfully. In this process, our own consciousness is the final arbiter of meaning and value. A potential problem with this process is that whatever is put through a particular state of consciousness is, at least to some degree, shaped and determined by that state, so that meaning and value can arise more from the consciousness than from the content itself. If the content is odious or contrary to the state of consciousness, considerable refraction of the content may take place so that the content loses its value for adding something new/different to the existing consciousness. One way of picturing this process is to consider two extremes of consciousness for approaching a written text:

Author is Authority------------------------------------Reader is Authority


Meaning/value determined by author---Meaning/value determined by reader

All of us approach any text somewhere along this continuum, and our approach is by no means a trivial choice. For the fundamentalist Christian, a Biblical text is understood literally, and its meaning and value is determined by the author whom they believe to be God. For a reader on the other end of the continuum who finds meaning and value in translating Biblical story and understanding patterns of behavior described in the Bible as having application to the patterns of his/her life, the reader determines for him/herself meaning and value. At least for these two extremes, the text is held in common. Think how much more extreme the positions can become when even the texts dictated by God are different and are understood as law, as in the Bible and the Koran.

Another example of the importance of method of interpretation is the U.S. Constitution. Is the Constitution a static document whose meaning was fixed by the framers and is to be understood that way? Or is the Constitution a living document that needs new interpretation and adaptation to changed circumstances, and that is the meaning intended by the framers? People fight wars over the meaning and value they assign to ideas without an ounce of understanding of the process by which they came to hold that meaning and value.

3. We can seek a larger context in the outer world for both our consciousness and an idea/event/experience so that our consciousness is not alone or is not the final arbiter for judgment of meaning and value. This is, of course, a tricky business because it demands a great deal of trust and faith. We are willing to yield to a higher authority (i.e., someone who can author) because we believe the higher authority has information, experience, or judgment that we lack. Sometimes the issue (idea/event/experience) is so troubling that we are relieved, even happy, to give it over to someone else. People may come into therapy with the happy expectation that the therapist will tell him/her what to do. Personal responsibility for the state of one’s own consciousness can be a heavy burden. I think we are seeing some abdication of personal responsibility and authority among the general population as we collectively try to deal with this phenomenon of terrorism. The public, even the Congress, is piling more and more authority upon Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft. There are, of course, collective issues that must be dealt with by collective decision and action, and this too is a matter for important discernment.

4. We can seek a larger context in the inner world for both our consciousness and an idea/event/experience. If you accept one of the basic tenets of Jungian Theory, i.e., that the ego and ego consciousness are one part in a larger entity, the Self, there is existent in the inner world a context that can be extremely helpful in the discernment of meaning and value. Whether the Self is a help or a hindrance depends entirely upon the relationship between the ego and the Self—as is the case in any other interdependent relationship. If the ego is at odds with the Self and is pursuing meaning and value contrary to the intentionality of the Self, it may happen that the Self will hasten the destruction of an unhealthy facet of ego consciousness. [Assigning intentionality to the Self may be an anthropomorphism. A more accurate way of stating the situation might be to say, "It is as ifthe intention of the Self is counter to that of the ego." We are probably on firm ground in our statement since frequently the Self personifies itself in dreams.]

Let’s take a specific example to illustrate the possibility outlined in No. 4 above. This example also shows one of the archetypal patterns of human behavior portrayed in the Bible that we have seen lived out in recent events. In the Spring of 2001 a Pakistani official traveled to Kandahar, Afghanistan, on a mission to save the two 1,700 year-old statues of Buddha that the Taliban were threatening to destroy in their religious fervor. Mullah Omar, “Commander of the Faithful” and head of the Taliban, told the official a dream: A mountain was falling down on him (Omar). Before it hit him, Allah appeared and asked Omar why he had done nothing to get rid of false idols.” (Robert Marquand, The Christian Science Monitor,, October 10, 2001) Omar, a person who took guidance from his dreams, proceeded with the destruction of the ancient Buddha carvings.

There is a close parallel between Omar’s dream and that of King Nebuchadnezzar as told in the fourth chapter of the Book of Daniel. At the peak of his power, Nebuchadnezzar, full of his own might and glory, had a warning dream: “I saw a tree of great height at the center of the world. It was large and strong, with its top touching the heavens, and it could be seen to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, providing food for all. Under it the wild beasts found shade, in its branches the birds of the air nested; all men ate of it. In the vision I saw while in bed, a holy sentinel came down from heaven, and cried out: ‘Cut down the tree and lop off its branches. But leave in the earth its stump and roots, fettered with iron and bronze, in the grass of the field. Let him be bathed with the dew of heaven; his lot be to eat, among beasts, the grass of the earth. Let his mind be changed from the human; let him be given the sense of a beast, till seven years pass over him.” (New American Bible, Daniel 4:7-14) A year passes. Nebuchadnezzar has gone on in his arrogant way as before and then “was cast out from among men, he ate grass like an ox, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle, and his nails like the claws of a bird.” (NAB, Daniel 4: 30)

Had Mullah Omar been willing to look inward at the “false idols” within his own consciousness, he might have changed his behaviors, and events of the past year and one-half would have unfolded very differently. Had he known the archetypal story of Nebuchadnezzar, Omar might have interpreted his dream as an invitation to self-reflection and self-correction. It could have helped him with his mental hygiene. However, he interpreted the dream as a confirmation of his plan, and thus you could say the Self acted to destroy an unyielding and contrary ego structure. As he was warned in the dream, so it came to pass—a mountain fell on him.

If we accept the premise that the ego is the exponent for the Self in the world, a solid working alliance between them is essential, for the only way the Self can manifest or incarnate is through the conduit of a more or less willing ego consciousness. In the cases of Nebuchadnezzar and Mullah Omar, we could say that the ego became so inflated with its own view and importance that it could no longer accept critical input from the Self.

Saturday, October 12, 2002

When you work with your dreams, "it's amazing the information you get that is different from your everyday perception, information that gives you a different way of walking through life. You don't have to go on in the same old way any more. I used to go strictly with my feelings that were raging around, would get stuck in them. Now I find that if I cann go over them, process them those feelings don't hang around for days. I am unstuck then. It's that old thing--the truth will set you free. So my perception is not always the truth of me or of my situation. I don't have to be stuck in my perception." [Cheryl]

"It is always as if we were observing through a slit so that we only see a particular moment; all the rest is dark and we are not aware of it at that moment. The area of the unconscious is enormous and always continuous, while the area of consciousness is a restricted field of momentary vision." [C.G. Jung, ANALYTICAL PSYCHOLOGY: ITS THEORY AND PRACTICE, p. 8]


Almost everyone has, at one time in his/her life, had an impressive dream that stays in the memory. Whether you declare the dream meaningless or not, the memory lingers and is evoked by particular peoples, places, and experiences. The mere fact that the dream continues to occupy psychic space is an indicator that it has some kind of effect and that the effect is a lasting one even if it is limited to an occasional thought or emotion.

A dream of this nature brings up an important question: Do dreams, in and of themselves, have meaning, or does the dreamer, by reflecting upon the dream and its images assign meaning to it? If the answer to the first part of the question is yes, the discovery of a dream's meaning could be important in that the dreamer will add a valuable content to his/her conscious understanding. Depending upon the impact and weight of the dream, the added value could be considerable. If, on the other hand, the answer to the second part of the question is yes, the dreamer may assume a certain responsibility to create or assign meaning, in which case the result will be the same--a more or less important content is created in the conscious life of the dreamer.

It seems to me that the mystery of the dream presents us with a peculiar and important decision. We can ignore the dream(s) and explain it away as caused by something we ate, saw, heard--a fragment not related to anything important about us or our lives. Or we can take a more empirical approach in which we consider the hypothesis that dreams have, or could have, important meaning, then set out to test our hypothesis by looking deeply into our own experience of dreaming. By adopting the second approach, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose--even if our decision proves to be wrong--for the simple reason that any reflection on experience can provide for enrichment of our consciousness.

The Jungian approach is, of course, the latter. There is no doubt that dreams have been an important factor in the development of peoples throughout history. Until more recent times, dreams have generally been understood to bring messages, warn, enrich, frighten, correct, and enoble the human person. The Bible assigns considerable importance to dreams and their function in the developing relationships of God with God's people. It may even be the case that in the developing/growing covenant between God and the individual, the dream is one of the tools of communication and negotiation.

In working with dreams over the years, I have developed a set of working hypotheses/assumptions for approaching the dream. Fundamentally, I believe every single dream has two purposes: to heal in some way and/or to cast light on the personal situation of the dreamer.

Following are some additional assumptions about dreams that might prove helpful in exploring the dream as helpful counsellor for waking reality and for increasing consciousness because finding/making meaning is one of the primary needs of the human person:

1. Through patient attention to your dreams, you can make contact with and enter into a meaningful dialogue with the unconscious. [By unconscious, I simply mean the source of those factors that influence and impact our lives in unknown ways.]

2. The unconscious is Janus-faced; i.e., it turns to us the face we turn to it.

3. Every dream is given to us for the purpose of healing past hurts, enlarging our perspective, or integrating portions of our personality.

4. The dreams brings new information to compensate or complement our waking attitudes.

5. Our life energy, or ibido is personified in dreams as if the psyche, or the unconscious, wants to draw us into a living relationship.

6. Relationships with inner figures can be as important, enriching, and rewarding as relationships with people in our outer lives.

7. Our inner and outer lives are in some way mirrors of each other. Work with dreams can provide for a more harmonious balance between the two.

8. The psyche has a teleological aspect, i.e., is working toward a goal or purpose. Further, it seeks our participation and cooperation.