Working on a Dream About Individuation


Someone recently asked me how I work on my dreams, so in this and the next two posts I’ll demonstrate my process using my latest dream as an example. I have only a vague idea what it could mean and frankly some of the symbolism worries me, but it feels important so I’ll begin by exploring my associations with the symbols. When I want more information about a symbol I’ll consult The Herder Symbol Dictionary or J.E. Cirlot’s A Dictionary of Symbols. Here goes…
Dream #4337I’m at a social gathering in a large square rooftop deck of an apartment building. I’m holding an empty clear plastic cup and want to fill it with water but there isn’t any here. A protective railing surrounds the platform. I step over the railing on the right side to get to the water.
Now I’m on a runway-like ramp (about 12 feet wide) that rises up and out far beyond the rooftop platform. It’s bordered on either side by silver metal railings. As I walk up I notice X (a waking-life acquaintance) sitting at a table against the right railing. She’s absorbed in some sort of creative work. She asks what I’m doing. I show her my cup and say I’ve come for water.  She says I shouldn’t go up there; it’s dangerous. I think she’s being silly. I feel bold, confident, and determined to continue on to the water fountain.
I look beyond her and see that the runway narrows and curves around a small, all-white bathroom at the end. The door is open and I see a white toilet to the left and a white sink against the back wall.  I wonder why I expected there to be a water fountain up there, then realize there’s a tap in the sink.  I wonder if the water is pure and safe to drink. I tell her I’m not afraid; there are railings on either side I can hang on to.  But as I look more closely I see that the left railing gets lower and lower and is only a foot high where it connects to the bathroom wall. Once inside I’d feel safe but there is little protection near the end. It could get windy and I could lose my balance and fall over the edge of the ramp. Should I continue?
Summary of  Paragraph I: I’m in a high place with four sides. I’m thirsty, but my cup is empty. I leave the group to search for water.  Following are my symbols and associations:
High place: being in my head; intellectual, psychological and spiritual aspirations and ideals.
Clear plastic cup: cups, like chalices, symbolize overflowing abundance when full and, in Christianity, the cup of salvation or fate and the draught of immortality. That I’m thirsty but my cup is empty suggests I’m feeling the need for more nourishment, self-understanding and meaning. That the cup is plastic and not made of a firmer, more natural material like crystal or metal suggests my soul’s container is somewhat fragile and needs strengthening.
Water: emotions; abundance of possibilities; the primal origin of all being; bodily, emotional, and spiritual cleansing and the power of renewal; spiritual fertility and spiritual life when associated with the fountain. “Psychoanalysis regards water primarily as a symbol of the feminine and of the powers of the unconscious.” (Herder)
Square platform: Jung saw the square as a symbol of matter, life, earthly reality, and because it has four sides, wholeness.  A platform is a man-made level rising above the earth.
Stepping over the railing and leaving the group: crossing a boundary from one place to another in search of nourishment; taking an individual psycho-spiritual journey.
To be continued. Meanwhile, feel free to comment with your own associations.

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0 Responses

  1. Hi Jean,
    Thank you for the invitation to add our comments about your dream. I feel a little silly though since I’ve never analyzed a dream before, let alone someone else’s, but here goes.
    Your dream is numbered 4337. If that stands for the number of dreams you’ve examined, then there is absolutely nothing to be worried about—your devotion to your dreams, your dedication to your soul and to her healthy advancement is wonderful and inspiring. You’ve lived through many a disturbing dream.
    Some social gatherings can be superficial, plastic events…luckily you had a railing and railings are there to shepherd us along. The plastic cup means it’s moldable and can become anything you wish.
    The fact that you stepped over the railing on the right side means all is well. You are an explorer of the soul and that means stepping across the boundaries that most people think should be left alone.
    The 12 feet wide is significant to me too—I think 12 apostles, 12 months, the 12 tribes of Israel. It is a complete and somehow comforting number. So your foundation is good. And the ramp rises, so you’re definitely moving onwards and upwards. Interestingly, a ramp is a kind of inclined plane—to it can also act as a slide if you decide to go back down. And I think the path does narrow as we go, but the view is grand.
    Then you find your friend (you’re both isolating, you looking for the Water of Life, she looking for the water of creativity). And since she isolated from the gathering before you did she thinks everything’s dangerous, except her own pursuits—she feels safer alone (which is OK, of course). And true, the spiritual way is wrought with dangers, and every one of them an adventure and a blessing, and ultimately there to lift you up.
    The fact that your destination narrows to a bathroom, I think means—and please forgive me, I am not making light of your dream—that you need to either find rest (rest-room) or get rid of some things that are wasteful perhaps. And since it’s all white in there, it’s all good and pure. No worries there either (provided there are good books in there :)). The main thing is you feel safe. You don’t need as much protection because you’ve been there many times. So even if it gets windy or you lose your balance, you’ll be OK. You are wise, capable, bold, and determined.
    And that’s my take. Thank you again for allowing us to comment. I like this dream exploring a lot. I’ve never done it (consciously) as I mentioned, but it sure can be fun and interesting. I look forward to the next installments.
    Sincerely, Joseph

    1. Thank you for your kind words and helpful associations, Joseph. I think you may have a talent for this; you understand symbolism. Although different symbols mean different things to different people based on their own life experiences, the more associations a dreamer can come up with, the greater the possibility of stumbling on a valuable nugget.
      Working alone on our dreams is always difficult because we are so blind to our own unconscious assumptions that we easily miss alternative potential meanings. Jung said he never knew what his own dreams meant at first glance and it was far easier for him to find meaning in his clients’ dreams.
      After preparing three posts about this dream I thought I had it figured out; then I told it to my Jungian study group two days ago and they alterted me to other possibilities, so I’m still revising. Perhaps I’ll use some of your insights in my next posts. I still don’t know exactly what it means, but I don’t think that’s even possible. The unconscious is as vast as the outer universe and has many levels, each more mysterious than the next; moreover, dreams are living things that can visit many levels at the same time. All I can do is reflect, look for what resonates deeply, risk acting on my new awareness, then pay attention to what happens.
      Sweet dreams,

  2. Thank you for the step by step on this blog. Reminds me of our “group” analyses. I’m passing your blog on to others here in Mex whom I think, will find it as interesting as I do.

    1. You’re welcome, Que. As you know from our years of group dreamwork together, I dearly love doing this. For me, it feels like the most exciting treasure hunt ever! I so appreciate your passing it on to others who feel the same!
      With love and gratitude for your friendship,

  3. The power and depth of the symbolism inherent in our dreams is something that should be a source of profound wonder. Paracelsus once said ‘That which the dream shows is the shadow of such wisdom as exists in man, even if during his waking state he may know nothing about it….We do not know it because we are fooling away our time with outward and perishing things, and are asleep in regard to that which is real within oursellf.’
    Anyone who has explored their dreams for any length of time will come to a few astonishing conclusions that can be especially confronting to those with a scientific mindset.

    1. Thank you Icarus Phaethon! I love the quote from Paracelsus. I see by your handle that you’re as into mythology as I am. Its themes and symbols contain a rich storehouse of wisdom about the human psyche.
      Yes, left-brain Logos has a serious bias against right-brain Mythos and can be terrified when first forced to acknowledge the reality, autonomy and power of the unconscious self. But once this is accepted, the mist lifts and a whole new world of meaning is spread out before us, enough for several lifetimes of exploration and adventure.

  4. Hi Jean,
    First let me thank you for the contributions you have provided to my education in dream psyche. Your book ‘Dream Theatres of the Soul’ was inspiration early in my formative years in Jungian psyche. You are one of the pioneers of the understanding of the dream world and your contributions deserve recognizition. Thank you for all you have contributed to the world of dreams.
    As always when I interpret a dream I propose possibilities and let the dreamer put the pieces together. Sometimes there is a recognition of something specific, and usually when that happens it has to do with the spiritual. Spiritual aspects in older adults seem to be easier to recognize. I also tend to focus personality traits within a dream and present those possibilities in my interpretations. As you know it is most difficult if not impossible to determine if a symbol ‘means exactly this’. Although there may not be an ability to pin point the exact meaning, there can be a recognition of the periphery aspects. If the dreamer can fit what is suggested with the waking life then that ‘comparing’ will help with the understanding by the dreamer to what the dream is trying to communicate. If I can achieve that much I believe the interpretation was a ‘good one’.
    Here is my impressions of your dream.
    Could this dream be focused on a particular ’emotional events’ that are in conflict? Possessing the knowledge we have of your dedicated life to the dream we can surmise the attention of the dream to the spiritual aspects. Could there also be aspects of the outer/ego involving the ‘plastic’ positioning in/of society that the dream is addressing? A need/desire to complete the whole self {square rooftop}, a part of you that is empty and needs fulfillment, that has to do with the outer world of society. The right side would be of ‘social duty’, opposite the ‘left hand path of adventure’, the hero/heroine path, the inner journey.
    I do get the sense the dream is, on one level*, speaking to a ‘position’ or positioning in life. The deck/platform would be an extension of your psyche and the protective railings would may suggest a ‘protection’ of that position. An apartment building, a symbol for the self/you, suggests the various aspects of the psyche and the one issue that is prominent is this ‘protection of your position in life’. There is a conscious recognition of this ‘right side position {clear plastic cup}, the opposite of the left hand path of the spiritual journey as your path in life {creativity being an aspect of the spiritual}. There may be a knowledge f this positioning, or perhaps it is the dream announcing a need for such knowledge to be made known to the conscious ‘mind’ {rooftop}, becoming consciously aware of the social position that is ’empty’ and a need for filling {feelings}. This of course would have to do with emotions {water}, as are all aspects of our dreams, their purpose to reconcile the emotional conflicts in life.
    The known aspect of your journey is the creative/spiritual. Your life is dedicated to a life beyond the ‘platform’ of this ‘social aspect’ . As always, to achieve/retain wholeness there needs to be a ‘ramp’ between the various aspects, connecting all the parts. This other part, while opposite the true self, is important to the whole but it is ‘dangerous’ to let it have a ‘platform’ that the true self.
    This creative aspects is represented by X {shared aspects the two of you possess}. But this other part of you has more to do with the emotional, the outer self. There is a questioning this other self. The true self is ‘against’ the ‘right side’, the inner knowledge {gnosis} that the outer ego is the lesser aspect compared to the ‘higher’ creative being. This outer aspect in question needs to be confident and bold if it is to fit with and fulfill the emotional needs of this social being.
    There is a ‘narrowing’ of these vital connections of ‘all the parts’. Looking beyond the creative aspects there is the ‘curvature’ of the psychological {Parabola}, the outer fulfillment of the emotional self. There is the ‘thought’ the outer self will fill a void {the empty plastic glass}. Bathrooms are usually symbolic of a need for cleansing or elimination. This is a small, ‘all white’ bathroom which may suggest a cleansing of the psyche but not a need of a total elimination of this outer aspect {there has to be an ‘annihilation’ of the ego, and a rebirth to the spiritual, but there will always be a personality}. The white toilet would represent a ‘release’ of emotions {sink} but in a controlled manner {tap}. Recognition of this other self can be frighten since it is ‘foreign’ to the ‘individuated’ self. It is the ‘individuated’ Self that provides support when encountering the outer aspects of self. As long as you don’t hang on to this ‘social’ aspect you need not fear it. This allows this lower aspects to be integrated as a part of the whole and allows you to safely participate in this social endeavor. With all social aspects the threat of emotional forces can affect balance. This fact cause you to question where to continue to let this lesser outer ego aspect to have a place in your life.
    In this ‘new age’ of technology we have become so intertwined with communicating through various forms of social media. Twitter is one form for such communications. Could this dream be addressing the issues that go with these instruments of social communication? The use of these media devices can become too ego influenced it threatens the fabric of someone like yourself who is ‘spiritual to the bone’. It can be a great outlet for expression but when dealing with the release of emotions {by others} there is always a danger. I sense the dream is focused on these issues. I also sense from the last part of the dream it is something you can control. There will always be challenges to the spiritual self when participating in a world full of ego. This new media does provide an outlet for expression in a forms not thought possible even a few years ago. The question whether to continue is one of necessity to the need for expression. Just as with my life and my expression through my web site and Dream Forum the answer is yes. It is just too great a way to ‘get out the message’, to share what we have learned so others discover a path to wholeness.
    *Abiding by the Jungian theory that all dreams have more than one meaning.
    twat twam asi,
    Jerry Gifford

    1. Dear Jerry,
      I am moved beyond measure by your thoughtful attention to my dream and the deep well of wisdom from which your words spring. Your sentence about how the ego influence of social media “threatens the fabric of someone like yourself who is ‘spiritual to the bone’ ” resonated profoundly. It is rare in my experience for my soul to be seen this clearly by another soul. Thank you for this gift.
      I have, indeed, been struggling recently with the need to express what I have learned vs. the difficulties, indeed, dangers of increased exposure to unhealthy emotional influences from others. As you write, “With all social aspects the threat of emotional forces can affect balance.” This comment helped me tie the dream to two specific experiences I had a week or two before in which the “release of emotions” by two others who found me on twitter did shake me up a bit. Thus far, my answer to the question, “Should I continue?” has been yes for the same reason you express, plus an additional one: Had I not made this foray into social media I never would have met you and several other new friends who are so affirming to my work and enriching to my life.
      Again, a sincere thank you for your extremely helpful observations.

  5. Very interesting. I dream heavily every night, and sometimes I don’t want to get up so I can “finish” my dream. There’s usually something familiar and logical in the dream, along with many things that make no sense in reality, but it always invokes emotion in me as I wake up.

    1. Hi Donna,
      I’ve had the same experience of wanting to linger in the dream instead of waking up. It’s lovely, isn’t it? Especially when you have the luxury to linger!

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