Jungian analyst Robert Johnson created a four-step way to work on dreams in an effort to bring our conscious and unconscious selves together.
Step One: Associations
After choosing the images from your dream (these can be persons, objects, situations, colors, sounds or speech), write down every association you have with each image. For example, starting with the first image, think to yourself, “what feeling do I have about this image? What words or ideas come to mind when I think about it?” These associations will be anything (words, ideas, mental pictures, feelings or memories) you spontaneously connect with the image. Don’t try to decide which association is the correct one, just write them ALL down.
Always make sure that your association related directly to the image. Another thing to be aware of are the colloquialisms that the image might inspire. For example, with my image of pennies last week, colloquialisms might be: “pennies from heaven,” “worth every cent,” “a penny saved is a penny earned,” and so on.
To choose the association that fits best, use Jung’s “It clicks” Method. In other words, which association arouses the most energy in you? Which one seems just clicks with you?
Another way of finding associations with dream images is to use archetypal amplification, which is a process of gathering information about any archetypes in your dream by using sources such as myths, fairy tales and religious traditions. Each archetype will express itself in your dream with its own characteristic symbolism. Dreams with archetypes have a mythical quality: things are larger or smaller than real life, there are otherworldly animals or the figures may have an aura of royalty or divinity.
If you recognize one of the figures in your dream is an archetype, the next step is to go to the source: what memory does the archetype spark? A passage in the Bible? Something from the legends of King Arthur? The Greeks gods and goddesses? And so on. Go to that source and see what it might tell you about the archetype you have seen in your dream.
Every image in your dream will also have personal associations. For example, pennies are meaningful for me because I collect those I find on the ground and save them in a special bank. They are also a sign from God for me. Write down whatever personal associations you have with the images, as well.
Step Two: Dynamics
Now, connect each dream image to a specific dynamic in your inner life. For each image ask, “What part of me is that? Where have I seen it functioning in my life lately? Where do I see the same trait in my personality? Who is it inside me that feels like that, behaves like that?” Then write down each example. Always begin by applying your dream inwardly.
Sometimes, the urge to take the dream image (when it is another person) literally is overwhelming, especially if it’s someone or something we greatly desire or something or someone we are in conflict with. Don’t! Dream images are almost without fail about our inner selves.
The most practical way to connect an image to your self is to ask yourself what traits you have in common with the image or person: What are the main characteristics? If a person, how would you describe their character or personality? Where do you find those same traits in you?
Dreams often speak in extremes in an effort to grab our attention. Because we often repress the best parts of ourselves because we think of them as negative qualities, these parts can only take part in our lives by “stealing” our time by stealing our energy through compulsions or neuroses.
Our egos divide the world into good and bad, positive and negative. Most aspects of our shadows can become valuable strengths if we can become conscious of them. You will NEVER find anything in the unconscious that will not become useful and good once made conscious. And, only you will be able to say what part of you is represented by this shadow.
By thinking of each dream figure as an actual person living inside you, you can ask questions like: Where have I seen this person at work in my life lately? Where in my life have I seen her/him doing what she/he did in the dream? What part of me is it that feels like that, thinks like that, behaves like that?
Pay attention to where you are in the dream as it may give you clues as to whose influence you’re under. If you are in your grandmother’s house, for example, you might be under the influence of the Great Mother archetype. In my dream of the pennies, I was on a bridge: a symbol with obvious connotations. Animals may represent animal instinct or consciousness, something primordial, but like all images they have both negative and positive connotations.
Step Three: Interpretations
The interpretation ties together the meanings of all the images in your dream. Now you can ask yourself questions like: “What is the central, most important message that this dream is trying to communicate to me? What is it advising me to do? What is the overall meaning of the dream for my life?”
Don’t expect your dream interpretation to come out perfect on the first try; keep working at it until it makes sense and fits with the overall pattern of events in the dream. For example, my first impulse with the pennies dream was to attribute to it a need to be more “competitive” before realizing it actually meant “assertive.”
An adequate dream interpretation should be able to sum up your dream in a nutshell. It should supply a specific application of the dream’s message to your personal life, to what you are doing, to how you are going to live. So, write out your interpretations and once again, follow the energy, the interpretation that arouses the strongest feelings in you. Your dream, itself, should provide you with some small clue as to which interpretation is correct.
There are four principles for validating interpretations: 1) Choose an interpretation that tells you something you didn’t know; 2) Avoid the interpretation that is self-congratulatory or ego-inflating; 3) Avoid interpretations that shift the responsibility away from yourself because dreams are never about changing or finding fault in others; 4) Learn to live with dreams over time–fit them into the long-term flow of your life.
Step Four: Rituals
Once you have interpreted your dream, act consciously to honor it. This step requires a physical act (symbolic or practical) to affirm the message of your dream. The ritual neither has to be big or expensive as the most powerful rituals are the small, subtle ones.
Consciously seek to transform the ritual act into an active, dynamic symbol. Johnson says that each ritual must be custom-made out of the raw material of your inner self. And if you can’t think of anything, just do something, anything: Take a walk around your blog as you think about the dream, light a candle. Use your common sense, but don’t act out.
Next Week: Active Imagination