Are you missing some of the most important messages of your life?
In almost every culture across time, there has been a place of value for the imaginal world, meaning that the invisible force behind all of this visible life has generally been considered animate. It is this force that surges through everything as existence itself – the raven, stars, you and me – and within it lies intelligence.
For the ancients, dreams were supernatural communications or a means of divination, god speaking to you through symbol, experience, and narrative inviting you to bring its message into consciousness. These messages guided kings, pharaohs, and commoners alike. Some societies had designated healers who only did “curings” prescribed by a medicinal dream. The stuff we consider woo woo and superstition was the most highly valued and regarded intelligence for our ancestors.
Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle of ancient Greece, rumored to be indigenous shamans from surrounding hill tribes, brought the notion of the unconscious to Western culture. In contemporary times, Freud infused modern psychology with the idea that the unconscious is the depository of inherited biological impulses or instincts. His protégé Jung suggested it also possesses our greatest unexpressed talents and gifts, and that it unifies us with a collective soul or unconscious that is an axis point for the unus mundus – Latin for “one world,” an underlying unified reality from which everything emerges and to which everything returns.
Dream analysis is central to psychoanalysis (Freud) and analytic psychology better known as Jungian analysis. Dreams reflect your inner life, an indication of what is trying to emerge into being, contents of your whole self. The unconscious is talking to you all the time through dreams and what Freud called “day residues” or daydreams. You can hear the unconscious when you engage the subtle body of your living, the senses, and your imagination.
The subtle body of your senses and imagination is the last place you go when navigating life or suffering in the modern world. Most of the time, you get by without acknowledging an inner life at all. Instead, you act as if you can live your full self-expression by fixating on the external material world. Your fixes come in the form of making more money, getting more power, starting a love affair, drinking more caffeine and wine, or “accomplishing something.” Inevitably, you discover that the inner world is a reality that you ultimately have to face.
Your neglect of your unconscious is synonymous with your neglect of your soul, the life of spirit. Ultimately, it will erupt into your world in the form of neurosis like anxiety and symptoms such as chronic fatigue that demand your attention.
If you ignore these unlived possibilities, they can also show up as emotional projections. You can get bitter and blame bad luck or other people for denying you the chance to be heroic, rich, or famous. Or you tell yourself horrible lies about your capacity and talents like “I’m not enough” (fill-in the blank) that keep you from taking necessary risks towards inhabiting greater degrees of yourself. Instead, you lament “what might or could have been…if only…”
The unconscious sends its messages to you in layers of complex symbols and images that not only activate your mind but also stimulate your senses into an experience of aliveness. When you smell a fragrance, hear the sounds of nature, witness an act of beauty, or move to great dance music, all of your senses can be depositories of contents from the unconscious. Imagination is not relegated to the mind for its expression; rather, it is a faculty of the whole body.
Activate your imagination while you are awake.
-Do guided imagery. It is one of the best ways to jumpstart the imagination. I used to listen to a meditation as I went for my evening run along the ocean cliffs of Santa Barbara when I was attending the university. I was guided to imagine my most fit, powerful, and strong self running just a few steps ahead of me. She became my running partner and the muse that propelled me to greater health in my body. I still run with her to this day.
-Get a guide, and put a face and voice on your god. If you had the power to conjure a spiritual guide, a benevolent presence on the etheric that watches over you, guides you, what would she or he or it look like? How does it feel to be in his/her presence? Make it up! This exercise forces your literal mind to take a break while the irrational, the nonsensical, takes the lead and tethers you to a super power.
This practice takes just minutes. Done on a daily basis, it can go a long way to re-establishing your ability to “hear” what the unconscious is trying to tell you.
- Close the door and turn your phone off. Sit in stillness without interruption. Clear your mind. Close your eyes and focus on slowing your breath.
- Ask simply and quietly, “I invite my spirit guide to reveal itself to me.” Just notice without judgment what shows up.
- Then ask, “What advice do you have for me today?” Your guide may tell you in words, show you in actions, or send an image that has special meaning to you. If you don’t fully understand, ask, “May the deeper meaning be revealed to me.”
- Record the information in your daytimer or journal. Pay attention. Watch for signs of this message to reveal itself in your life.
-Arts and crafts are good for the soul. Non-verbal, non-linear means of expression like drawing, painting, pottery, dance – anything using your hands (or body) and creative imagination greases the imaginal wheel. Instead of writing in a journal, I sketch pictures of my day, my feelings, a longed-for desire. When challenged by a project that is stretching me creatively, I dance to hard rock for 10 minutes to loosen up my senses. Choose your medium, and make it a weekly practice. If soul speaks through symbol, image, and the senses, capture her presence in your expressive arts or crafting.
Become a dream catcher at night.
Dream catching is the opposite of guided imagery where a voice is directing the content of the imagination. Instead, you will not guide or control but rather invite, explore, and discover what is spontaneously coming to the surface of your awareness.
- Start by sending an invitation. As you lay your head on the sleeping pillow, write a verbal letter to your unconscious: “Dear Dream Maker, Please send me a dream that I will recall in full detail.” In my limited experience, even a person who has never remembered a dream will eventually be visited by their dreams with this technique.
- Catch your dreams immediately upon waking. You can record them into your smartphone, write them down in your journal, or whatever other means you have for capturing the dream contents. Capture the dream vignette from start to finish even if it is just one or two frames.
- Carl Jung “amplified” the dream images. Take time to write out your associations with each image. A cat may have a universal cultural meaning that is relevant to you, but more importantly the image will have a unique meaning to you as a dreamer. Write it down. Every image in the dream is a reflection of the dreamer.
- Begin to dialogue with your dream figures. Ask, “Who are you and what is your message for me?” Talk to the dream figure as if it is real. Listen for its responses not just with your mind, but with your whole body. Capture words, phrases, sensations, or whole messages including what you feel is their significance to you.
Dreams are like riddles that require deep inquiry to unravel their message. The steps above outline a powerful and useful beginning to discovering that your suffering and your healing come from the same place, and learning how to listen is the key to living in harmony with the forces of your inner life.
In psyche and spirit,