Picture this: you’re running through a long hallway, the walls are plastered with images of you in various revealing positions and you’re being chased by three furious zebra’s shouting racial slurs when suddenly you wake up, covered in sweat, thinking ‘what the fuck was that?’ Let’s say that dreams are an ambiguous bunch. In the bible there have been many notions of dreams being able to predict the future (Matthew, Acts, Kings, to name a few bible books) denoting how some believe they hold prophetic power. I’ve heard people saying they’re only funny pictures you see in your sleep, to keep you entertained. What I will be talking about is how to analyse them through my understanding of C.G. Jung’s literature on dream analysis, and R.A. Johnson’s Inner Work. Dreams can tell you a whole lot more than your waking mind, because they result in “the fusion of subliminal elements and are thus a combination of all the perceptions, thoughts, and feelings which consciousness has not registered. In addition, dreams can rely on subliminal memory traces that are no longer able to influence consciousness effectively.” (Jung: Dreams, 42) According to Jung, dreams have the ability to combine everything your brain has registered – even things that your conscious mind has forgotten; explaining their striking power to reveal hidden truths about yourself. I’ve found dream analysis to be a paramount tool in self-discovery, one that – when used effectively – will reveal hidden parts of your psyche; parts you may dislike, that may frighten you and that you want to desperately shove under the rug again, yet it’s all a part of you. To explain this, I would like to use a scene portrayed in the comic books of Guust Flater; an office worker who likes to mess around with his co-workers, the office, and generally does however he pleases. His office holds a huge metal filing cabinet, and instead of organising it, he lays it on its side, shovels everything in, and places it upright again; meaning that upon opening everything’ll fall out – right on top of the poor soul that opens it. Dream analysis, and any journey of self- discovery for that matter tends to act the same, I’ve found. When you start diving into your inner world, there will be a myriad of monsters under the rug, that can only be vanquished by dragging them into the light. Those monsters may frighten you, but they will only be as scary as your mind is.

Chapter 1: Writing ‘em down

In my experience the more important dreams – those that intend to tell you important messages – are the most memorable. Personally, I only analyse those dreams. Their significance is marked by a deep emotional feeling, for example waking up frightened to the core; extremely aroused; furiously angry, either way any intense sensation. I recommend to write out dreams as soon as possible, preferably by hand, on paper, in words, because that makes it easier to come back to it and recognize certain elements. Whereas painting or drawing them is excellent for portraying how a dream makes you feel, writing them down – I’ve found – is ideal for analysing them. Don’t worry about the sorry state of your handwriting which hasn’t improved since kindergarten, just write – practice makes perfect, right? In this article, I will lead you through the analysis by examining a dream of my own:

I had found myself to be leaving some place, into a lengthy hallway with high concrete walls reaching up to the brightly illuminated sky. The hallway was instantly recognizable as an intensely familiar space – in the past I used to run a lot, and I had the sensation this was my original running route. Yet the place had fallen into disrepair. As I ran along the now crumbling, grey walls there was a huge mirror to my left, large enough to show my entire reflection to myself. After running on, it appeared to me that I had taken the wrong path, which gave me a huge jolt of anxiety inciting me to backtrack. In the next moment I realised I had taken the wrong route once more, but now I was in a place that seemed even more wrong. The attic was clearly visible, like a gaping wound in the ceiling that desperately needs healing. This room was rundown, an awful mess. After this realisation, I woke up.

I wrote it down because upon waking I felt an intense feeling of dread, and when doing this I spared no details. I remember a thorough sense of confusion about the meaning of this dream at first, but eventually, its meaning started to become more clear through analysis. Note how I mainly spoke of ‘I had the sensation’, as feeling comes easier than thinking when analysing dreams; speaking of a sensation, a feeling, an idea, instead of certainties, guarantees and clear knowledge is more akin to the language of dreams

Dreams have their own language, that can seem a wacky indecipherable mess lacking any coherence, yet there is a method to the madness: symbolism. At first my dream made no sense to me, all the meaning was hidden in symbols, and according to Jung that is simply the nature of dreams: “As a plant produces its flower, so the psyche creates its symbols. Every dream is evidence of this process.” (Man and His Symbols, 64) Dreams give their messages in symbolic format, and it is up to the dreamer to decipher its meaning for they are the sole person who can feel the correct interpretation. Imagine a silvery metal trolley cart, one you may find in a restaurant. What does that mean to you? What are you associating with that image? What are you thinking of when picturing the trolley cart? The answer to those questions is inherently personal, and when the image occurred to me in a dream it represented a person dear to me, but to you it could mean an infinite amount of things that are only known to you. When answering the previous questions, presumably numerous associations and

images are going to come up, but only one will click. (Johnson: Inner Work, 56) After recalling the trolley cart, I felt a lot of energy when thinking of that person; I had the numinous sensation that there was no other possibility: the association clicked like a puzzle piece. That is the one to analyse further, to delve deeper into.

Chapter 2: Symbol Analysis

When you’ve written down the entirety of your dream in as much detail as possible, it is time to analyse all symbols individually. Analyse everything that strikes you as important, that you can recall in some detail. In my dream for example, the running route struck me as prominent, so I wrote a list on everything I associated with ‘running route’: “Used to run tons, used to hate running, shoes, being healthy, constant repetition (same action, same place), Techno music (amazing when running), habits.” (I underlined the word ‘habits’, because this meaning clicked.) In this list I stopped after writing down ‘habits’, because it immediately clicked; there was no reason to continue. Sometimes you’ll feel what clicks while writing, and at other times this sensation comes up when going over the list again. Because of that, you should be as elaborate as you can when writing, since in my experience it may take a few re-readings before anything truly fits into the puzzle.

I need to note that you should steer away from chain associations; “each time you make a connection, be sure to return to the original dream image. Make a new association from the original image. Always go back to the dream image and start over again from there.” (Inner Work, 54) Avoid them, because they distract too much from the original image and don’t have anything to do with your dream most of the time. I will exemplify how easily you’re led astray with something my ADHD brain concocts: ‘Running route; Shoes; tying shoelaces is boring; reading isn’t boring; Nestel; Phineas and Ferb; Trees.’ Evidently, this swiftly removes me far from the original dream image without being useful. Stick to the dream image, and make associations from there. To avoid chain associations, I recommend using a mindmap: place the symbol in the middle of a page, encircle it, and let everything you associate with it sprout from the centre like a tree’s branches.

After you’ve crafted a detailed list of everything you associate with the identified symbols, and found out which ones click for you, it is time to take a deeper dive into those symbols. For every association that clicked, jot down why it clicked; elaborate on the feelings and emotions that arise when considering the association. In order to illustrate what I’m saying, I will share my journal again:

Habit: The idea of constantly doing the same thing, day in and day out. I love that on one hand, but on the other I despise it. A part of me wants everything to be known, and safe. Whereas the other part craves novelty, never doing the same thing. This part loves the chaos and unpredictability of life, which I would love to embrace, yet it frightens me.

When elaborating on why it clicked, I learned of my divided nature; the desire for safe havens clashing with that of chaotic unpredictability. In my experience dreams are usually like that; ambiguous or downright nonsensical in what they say at first, yet crystal clear when dissected. You may notice that I only discussed my internal state, my inner world, instead of my external surroundings, which I did purposely, because in most cases – the numerous analyses of Jung’s clients – dreams talk about what is going on within you. “Our culture teaches us to focus on the external world, so we jump to the conclusion that our dreams are talking about something on the outside.” (Inner Work, 67) When dissecting dreams you should first and foremost look where the meaning lies within yourself. Best practice is to start with looking inward, and when it turns out the meaning truly is external, adjust accordingly. There is no need whatsoever to worry about being wrong, for you will know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – as long as you can accept whatever it is saying, and stay truthful to yourself.

Adding on to that, you should remember that dreams prefer symbolism, even when giving images that appear clear at first. Remember how the restaurant trolley represented a person for me? This can also be the opposite, when you come across familiar people in your dreams – when you come across your mother or childhood friend in a dream – that does not have to instantly mean they are speaking directly to you, you’re solely meeting your inner representation of them. (Inner Work, 69) Those inner people are primarily a symbolic representation of your inner world, and in most cases looking at them literally will not help your analysis. Although if it turns out that the meaning truly is external: adjust accordingly.

Chapter 3: Putting it together

When you’ve written down every symbol, gone through the different associations and elaborated on the one that clicked, you will have a fairly decent grasp of what the dream is attempting to convey. According to Johnson, the primary question you should be asking yourself at this point is: “What is the single most important insight that the dream is trying to get across to me?” (Inner work, 86) Let me answer the question by returning to my dream:

“I was running through a familiar place which represented old habits that had fallen into disrepair. I had fallen off the bandwagon of healthy habits I esteemed so highly. My healthy habits were not as good as they were, which was a grave mistake – evidenced by going the wrong way on two occasions.”

I described the attic as ‘a gaping wound in the ceiling that desperately needs healing,’ denoting how dire the situation had gotten at that point. After the analysis, I was able to answer Johnson’s question: ‘I need to return to my routines, for they’ve been thoroughly neglected.’ In hindsight the dream made sense to me, what previously appeared a wacky indecipherable mess lacking any coherence was now a clear message. I now understand why I dreamt that, because at the time I had been severely slacking off: not eating as healthy, exercising less than I intended, running away from my academic responsibilities and so on. My subconscious was signalling that it was high time to pick up the pace, and I listened.

Chapter 4: What Now?

After you’ve analysed the dream and learned what your subconscious wants to tell you, I would recommend finalising its meaning through incorporating the message into your daily life, because it will cement its meaning. That does not mean you should book a one-way ticket to Tibet and start a new life as a monk, incorporating the dream is simply a process of finding some ritual that you believe fits the dream. In the case of my dream, the ritual was simple: return to those healthy habits. But there are more creative rituals to partake in. Johnson gave an example I quite liked: A client of his – who lived an extremely unhealthy lifestyle – came to the conclusion, after a dream analysis, that this lifestyle was not sustainable and believed the meaning of his dream was captured in the phrase ‘junk food’. “He went to a hamburger stand and bought the biggest deluxe cheeseburger and an order of french fries. He got a shovel and took the junk food to his backyard. He dug a hole and buried the cheeseburger and fries with high, solemn ceremony.” (Inner Work, 98) This ritual cured him of seeking “nourishment where it could not be found.” After the ceremony, the meaning of the dream had been finalised. It’s important to find a ritual that is in accordance with you and your dream. Do not be silly in this, use some common sense. It can be anything, from as simple as walking around the block to, as complicated as burying junk food, ‘with high solemn ceremony.’

Chapter 5: The End (?)

This is the end of the article, and hopefully for you the beginning of many personal dream analyses. Let’s summarise everything; start with writing the dream down as soon as possible, while it’s still fresh, be as elaborate as you can and spare no detail. Then list down every symbol you’ve come across, go through all the associations attached to them, and figure out which ones click; elaborate on why those specific ones clicked, once again as detailed as possible. Put everything together, and ask yourself what the dream wants to tell you. If you so choose, cement its meaning with a ritual close to the dream – be as creative as you want to within the confines of the law and your financial situation. And, if you have been entirely honest with yourself, haven’t left out any details, and faced all the demons; chances are that you now know what your dream wanted to tell you all along.

By Jonathan

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