Carl Jung said we have five instincts: nurturance, activity, sex, reflection, and creativity. Sometimes our dreams contain images and activities suggesting how we feel about them or how well-developed they are in us.
In dreams, instincts are often symbolized by animals. The instinct for creativity might appear as a spider, which creates its own fibers for weaving marvelous webs, or some other animal noted for the marvelous things it creates, like a beaver or a silkworm. It might also appear as a special animal that has important significance to the dreamer, or as a fabulous or unique animal with a creative combination of characteristics that give it unusual power.
Dreams of real or mythical people known for their creativity, like artists, writers, or musicians, can also be about this instinct. In Greek mythology, Hephaestus was the God of fire, the forge, craftsmen, sculptors and artisans. One of Apollo’s symbols was the lyre, and Athena, noted for her wisdom, was also known for her inventions and skill at weaving.
When a certain instinct is not well-developed in us we can remain so unconscious of its potential, or so afraid of it, that we find it extremely difficult to recognize dream references to it. Here’s a dream I had about my instinct for creativity 22 years ago, shortly after beginning dreamwork. It was a complete mystery to me.
Dream #42: “The Horse and the Desk” I’m terrified of a powerful, dark, beautiful horse that’s chasing me. I slam a door on him, leaving him in a room with my beloved dusty desk which I don’t need any more. I’m worried he’ll hurt the desk. Carefully I open the top of the dutch door to see what he’s doing. Then he sadly says to me, “Why are you trembling? Are you afraid of me? Did you think I would hurt you?” Suddenly I feel foolish because I know he’s always been my friend and would never hurt me; nevertheless I was afraid and had to get away from him.
When I had this dream I had just written a book that was a dry and scholarly outgrowth of my doctoral dissertation and was so tired of the subject that only a fierce determination to finish what I had started had kept me going. Moreover, I was ambitious, and I knew the chances of finding success as a writer were slim to none. Added to this was my fear of writing about my true interests: my spiritual nature, my quest for psychological awareness and wholeness, and feminine issues. Writing about things for which I had no formal training could derail my progress in the academic world where I had achieved a certain amount of success. So despite the fact that I had always loved to write, I was considering giving it up to focus on teaching.
What did the dusty desk mean? Although I always wrote at a desk, I ignored that fact and associated it with teaching. In essence, I was trying to talk myself out of writing—to shut the beautiful horse out of my life—because I was afraid my creative instincts might damage my career aspirations. The dream’s lysis (last image) said I should trust my creative instinct, that it wouldn’t hurt me. But I didn’t understand this then. Even if I had, I doubt I would have acted on it. I simply didn’t know, trust, or like myself enough to take the risk, and it took another year of dreamwork before I did. Next time I’ll share a later dream that confirmed the meaning of this one and brought closure to the whole issue.
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It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure. The very cave