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RESOLUTION: “I Will Remember My Dreams (The Ones I Have at Night)"

EXPERT: Pohsuan Zaide (aka Wisegal)

Zzzz. It's undeniable there is something profoundly meaningful about what goes on in your sleepy times, even if no one other than you and maybe your best friend--who does a good job of feigning interest with a couple oohs and ahhs --care about what happened in your brain between 3am and 9am. Sometimes you just can't shake a weird, sad, ecstatic, or even uneventful dream--it can changes the vibe of your whole day or week. But what do they really mean? And how do we assess them?

Sleepy Psychologist (we mean that in the nicest way possible) "Wisegal" Pohsuan Zaide has over 20 years of experience as a counselor and therapist. When she's not writing articles about dreams, she's busy analyzing them as well as Carl Jung's works, Jungian Psychology, which she has spent 15 years deeply involved with. Pohsuan is so much of a dream specialist, before getting back to us with answers, she told us she needed to sleep on it.

Re-up your Jungian knowledge and get in touch with your sleepy side with our Help With 12 Resolutions for 2012: I Will Remember My Dreams, The Ones I Have at Night with Pohsuan Zaide below.

What is the importance of our nighttime dreams and understanding them?

Jung would say that daydreams are just as important as nighttime dreams—they are part of an imaginable, or interior life that is as important as our outer life. Consciousness, and everything that it contains, has origins in the unconscious; thus, dismissing content that comes out of the latter as “foolish” or “fictitious” cancels out everything that is both personally and collectively historical, and psychologically the sources of our very existence. We pay attention to dreams because they help us attain balanced psychological functioning; one renowned analyst, Marie Louise von Franz, said that dreams are like light beams shining on the blind spots in our psyche. To understand our dreams is to uncover the rich treasures in the archaeological strata of our unconscious.

While many of us have heard Carl Jung's name and bits and pieces about his work and insights on the unconscious, his perspectives on dreams are less known.

As an avenue into the unconscious, dreams constitute the psyche’s attempts to bring together the fragmented parts of personality—when we cannot accept aspects of ourselves or our lives, they are split off and pushed down into our unconscious. This leads to feelings of disintegration and fragmentation, and causes neurotic symptoms like anxiety and depression. Dreams bring messages from the unconscious that provide innovative and creative, compensatory perspectives that enlarge the conscious attitude. This is especially important when consciousness is one-sided and favors extreme positions that may prove consistently self-defeating. A dream can contain an exposition of a problem as well as hints to its solution. Jung posits that “we dream of our questions, our difficulties.”

How can an individual get started on the path to learning more about themselves through this method? How can we start to get value out of our dreams?

One can first cultivate an attitude of respect towards our interior life, acknowledging that it has vital things to contribute to our waking life. It is possible to learn about dream symbols from books, but that is never a substitute for developing one’s own system of dream symbolism through personal study over time. Record your dreams in a dream journal, reflect on them, get some guidance from a trusted source (like a dream therapist), and then try to figure out the dream messages in relation to your life at any one time, or over a period of time. Remember, though, that the agenda of unconscious may not align with that of our ego-mind—where the latter prefers comfort, agreement, harmony, the dream’s purpose is to correct a rigid or skewed conscious attitude, by any and all means. For example, someone who idolizes a parent (to the detriment of not paying attention to their own development) may dream of that parent as a drunken scoundrel, even though in real life they may not be so. The dream is trying to bring down the ascribed status of the parental figure so that the dreamer may focus on self-development. The language of dreams is symbol and metaphor, so we do not interpret dreams literally—rather, we ask what do the images stand for?

What do you recommend to those of us who tend to have dreamless sleeps?

Everyone dreams every night. Studies have shown that most dreams occur during REM sleep, which happens to be the most regenerative of the sleep stages. Many people do not remember their dreams when they wake up in the morning—this is because the psychic energy that carries the dream images and meanings is often too weak to consolidate into a strong memory. Waking up abruptly, for instance, is like throwing a stone at the fragile reflection on a pond’s surface—the memory of the dream is shattered. There are many techniques out there that purport to help dreamers remember dreams. I’ve tried quite a few, and most don’t work. It’s a good idea generally, though, to have good sleep hygiene and habits. There isn’t much I do except keep a pad and pencil by my bedside—when I awake from a dream, whether in the morning or middle of the night, I write down as many details as I can before I forget them. If I’m in a rush, or it’s 3 a.m. and I’m still sleepy, I write down in point-form the main ideas, then I fill in the details later.

How can we seek out symbols and meanings in our dreams? What should we look for?

Archetypes are psychological representations--inherited possibilities of ideas. Jung has referred to archetypes as “instinctual images.” They are patterns in our conscious perception of the multitude of human experiences, devices if you will, for making sense and meaning. Symbols are spontaneous, non-rational, contextual metaphors that carry energy and meaning.  They cannot be decisively or absolutely deciphered, only relatively and contextually understood. In other words, don’t peg them down to singular meanings. For example, the archetype of “mother” may be represented by the image of a woman, or a tree, or a circle. Symbols are the bridge from the unconscious to consciousness. In dreams, symbols are those images or ideas that the unconscious utilizes to convey possibilities and meanings to consciousness—we look for those have the highest emotional or affective charge, and then amplify them in the context of personal history/experience, as well as collective/mythological stories. In a real sense, we do not seek symbols—rather, they seek us.

What about recurring dreams?

Recurring dreams may indicate an ongoing unresolved problem or unattended issue in one’s life. They could indicate a thread or theme that is significant but not yet integrated into consciousness, and the dreams are like follow-up memos reminding consciousness of unfinished business of some sort. Remember that the psyche (or soul) is inclined towards psychological equilibrium (a state of reduced tension), just as our physical bodies are towards homeostasis, which is a state of optimal functioning. So the dream is psyche’s device towards achieving this state of integrated functioning. You look for the thread or theme in recurring dreams, and try to decipher what the message is.

...and nightmares?

Jung says that nightmares are the psyche’s way of amplifying the message, kind of like giving the dreamer a knock on the head if his or her attitude is too flippant. While some dreams have a prospective element to them, we cannot say definitively that they are “prophetic” until, of course, after the fact. So we can try to interpret the dream images or symbols metaphorically, and look for the intended message behind the troubling or scary images or events. For example, “death” or “dismemberment” may be looked at as the symbolic disengagement or letting go of an aspect of ourselves or our lives. “Falling” may indicate a lowering or a humbling of one’s attitude. Generally speaking, only with reference to the dreamer’s worldview, attitudes, and personal history can a dream be most accurately and usefully interpreted. And even then, there may be, as I’ve said, objections from the dreamer’s ego as to what it is ready to assimilate. Dreams are “not just” dreams—they carry functions vital to psychic health.

What are some of the benefits of becoming, in Jung's words, "individuated"?

Individuation is Jung’s concept of achieving psychic wholeness or health. It is a dynamic process of integrating the fragmented and fragmenting parts of personality; therefore, it is never completed, as differentiation and separation are so basic to the integrity of our western psychological make-up. Paradoxically, the organism leans towards unity or integration; in fact, this tension between splitting and uniting is what constitutes our life energies—the movement of psychic energy, or life energies (Jung’s broader concept of libido, as opposed to Freud’s narrower definition of sexual energy alone) is what creates consciousness. An individuating personality benefits from enlarged consciousness, spiritual maturity, and psychological wholeness. The state of tension between interior and exterior life is properly balanced through collaboration between conscious and unconscious, and one experiences optimal psychological health.

Read our previous resolutions here–Resolution #1: “I Will Dress Myself Better,” Resolution #2 “I Will Learn More About Wine,” Resolution #3 “I Will Travel More,“ Resolution #4 “I Will Be More Comfortable Nudie,” Resolution #5 “I Will Be More in Tune With My Aura” and Resolution #6 “I Will Feng Shui” and Resolution #7: "I Will Help My Friend Who Has A Kid"

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  1. […] Shui,” Resolution #7: “I Will Help My Friend Who Has A Kid” and Resolution #8: “I Will Write down my Dreams, The Ones I Have At Night.” […]

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