It started with my own dream, as so many things do in my world, a month or so before the 2016 presidential election:
A friend, who has worked with various celebrities as a personal assistant and a dresser called: He was leaving town, and needed me to cover for him. “Its easy!” he said, “you just have to stop by and feed him – I’ve left everything out with a note!” He gave me an address that leads to the top floor of a six floor walk up apartment building.
When I arrived, I unlocked the door, unsure of who or what I would be feeding. The door opened into a family/television room – the curtains drawn, a large TV blaring on the wall. On the glass coffee table sat a large metal dog bowl. A bag of kibble sat near the door. And on the sofa, Donald Trump, in a large adult diaper, sat sleeping with his chin on his chest. I filled the bowl with nuggets and slid it toward him on the table. As I looked at him sleeping, I was filled with disgust, and then flooded with pity. He is obviously sick. Disabled. Infantile and senile. Feeble. Something was profoundly wrong with him. He then woke and without acknowledging me in any way, began gobbling the food, chewing loudly with his mouth open.
I decide that it would be too cruel to let him just starve to death, but at least he was contained – as he could never be able to walk up or down all those stairs. I did the bare minimum for him, only what I would offer to any stranger, any human being. I got him a cheap pre-paid flip phone for emergencies only. All his previous handlers abandoned him, he seems a debilitated pawn, whose delusions, phobias and bigotries were being exploited. Yet somehow despite his incompetence he was still able to head an effective, angry, divisive, xenophobic campaign.
I woke, both disturbed and confused by the dream. It seemed to confront me with the ways that it was easier for me to think of Trump and Trumpism as “sick” and “not responsible” for his actions. I suspected it was a dream that compensated for the conscious anger and horror I felt as I watched and took what action I could to push back against xenophobic campaign rhetoric and negotiated the daily barrage of lies.
I also noted the dream’s warning that my wish to be a good kind person kept the campaign regularly “fed.” The belief that he was “contained” and “feeble” and should be treated with the same basic concern as “any human being” in distress – seemed to provide the movement a with a life-line, and offered just enough assistance to allow his campaign to flourish.
I thought about how difficult it is to discern “sick” from “bad” – that the course of normal empathy seems to lean towards offering deviant behavior the benefit of a doubt, assuming that it emerges out of illness and suffering – eliciting pity and making excuses for “bad” and immoral behavior. The dream pressed me to confront my own complicity, my desire to consciously view Trumpism and the resurgence of right wing extremism as something aging, feeble, and powerless – nothing to take seriously. A wish to relax out of my own assertive impulses left me with an inability to confront regressive, propagandist messages. My dream-ego confronted me with an image of myself as someone who could unwittingly feed a virulent movement.
It was a dream of complicity, of the bonds of empathy and common humanity exploited. It was also a dream that revealed a desire to let my guard down, and the potential consequences. And certainly I was not the only one experiencing this bind as we headed toward an election that no one I knew imagined he could ever win. The comfortable certainty surrounding me frightened me even more.
When he won, I was not surprised.
I am a psychotherapist. I’ve kept a dream journal for my entire adult life and explored the dreams of my clients for twenty-five years. I think and write about dreams, my own and others, a lot. Like, every day. And that is not as common as it used to be before insurers began to determine the shape and structure and cost-effectiveness of the psychotherapeutic process. Nowadays, most cognitive-behavioral and other contemporary psychotherapy models ignore dream work entirely, and the graduate programs that I am aware of rarely mention or teach on the subject at all – beyond a cursory review of Freudian thought in most Intro to Psych courses.
Association versus Amplification
Freud and those whose models branch off of his tree see the function of dreaming as primarily wish fulfillment, and the coded and symbolic language of dreaming exists so that our sleep is not disturbed – as repressed incestuous, sexual and murderous wishes would be too disruptive, and guilt provoking if we were to dream of their fulfillment directly.
Freud’s “association” methods of dream exploration seemingly always led back to this core-content: on early caretakers and repressed aggressive and sexual impulses.
Client: “I dreamed of an enormous tree, it frightened me for no reason”
Therapist: “What do trees make you think of?”
C: “It made me think of fire wood”
T: “And what does fire wood bring to mind?
C: “A memory of chopping firewood with my father when I was little”
T: “Can you tell me more about that memory?”
C: “I was fearful of the axe, of how much bigger and stronger my father was, worried that I would never be as strong as he was when it was my turn and that I would harm myself or harm him somehow.”
In Freudian models, the associative chain of questions leads back to Oedipal castration anxieties and fantasies, a fearful jealous rivalry for parental love and attentions.
Jung diverged from Freud, suggesting that the trail of “associations” to any symbolic image at will likely always lead people to their childhood “complexes” injuries and anxieties around their primal attachments, their bodily integrity, and concerns around shame and sexuality.
With associative methods the dream symbol is simply the diving board that one leaps off of into the pool of our own conflicts and complexes. But Jung felt that Freud’s association method was incapable of leading clients to “anything new” or anything else other than a review of their most basic repressions and fixations.
For Jung, Freud’s method misses the richness and the value and healing potentials of symbolic dream content: A symbol is a symbol because it is complex, and cannot be reduced to a singular meaning, or even “boiled down” to categories as broad as either sex or aggression. Symbols, for Jung, always have a multiplicity of meanings.
Jung asserted a different method of exploring and expounding upon dream imagery that he called “amplification.” When working to “amplify” a dream image, the therapist doesn’t create a chain of “associative” questions that lead away from the symbol, but instead, the questions circle around the symbol itself to unpack its many potential meanings:
Client: “I dreamed of an enormous tree, it frightened me for no reason”
Therapist: “Can you tell me more about the tree?”
C: It made me think of firewood.
T: Was that a thought you had in the dream about the tree?
C: Maybe, yes, that it would be cut down at some point. Turned into something else.
T: Anything else about the tree?
C: The tree reminded me of one that I used to climb when I was a child.
T: What was similar about the dream tree?
C: It was an ash I think. Its leaves were just starting to turn yellow and a little red.
T: So it was autumn?
C: The leaves hadn’t started to fall yet; they were just starting to turn. Like summer had just ended.
T: Where were you in the dream? Were you in the tree… looking up at it…?
C: It was almost like I was watching a movie, I wasn’t near the tree, or in it. Its like I was watching a time-elapsed film about the seasons changing and the leaves turning.
T: Like watching the seasons shift from summer to fall in a time-elapsed way? Do you ever feel like that?
C: I get so caught up in the day to day I don’t always notice, I just keep putting one foot in front of the other – but yes, I think that was the upsetting thing – that I’m just letting life pass me by and I may be cut down one day.
T: Can you think of any stories or myths about trees that might shed light on the story of the tree in your dream? It reminded me a bit of The World Tree, Yggdrasil, from the Norse myths…
The dream is a natural attempt to redress a lack of balance, and it changes the conscious attitude to such an extent that a state of equilibrium is restored. ~ C. G. Jung, Techniques of Attitude Change Conducive to World Peace (Memorandum to UNESCO) , CW, para 1391 loc 251238
The function of dreams in Jung’s view is not merely wish fulfillment – these unconscious productions compensate for our conscious stance – and as such, dreams can help to “round out the picture” and expand the narrow focused lens of day-to-day consciousness, and offer up information from both the personal and the collective unconscious to reveal what we are missing, what we have ignored, what we have erased, what we have denied and repressed.
I have done dream work long enough to never discount the uncanny aspects of our unconscious capacities to predict patterns, anticipate problems, or surface latent content – but nor do I “believe” that dreams are “magic” or that our unconscious is all knowing or even all benevolent. Dreams are full of symbols, which feel numinous and can have different meanings in different contexts; sometime the same dream can offer many different interpretive and meaningful narratives over the course of a lifetime. This is because symbolic content is inherently ambiguous and carries multiple meanings, including all their opposites and the possibility of meaninglessness.
Dreams may potentially offer us content that helps us find the fluid and ever changing thread of meaning over the course of our lives. But they are not “magic” or concretely prophetic – even when they may be accurately postulating about an unnoticed underlying pattern or a potential outcome. The messages of dreams are not to be simply “obeyed” as “the real underlying issue” – but we may benefit from contemplating these images and integrating them into our decision-making – or we are in danger of living a life too controlled by consciousness, perceiving only what shores up our preferred narratives and repressing content, sometimes even very essential content, that we find unsettling or disruptive.
We can become too one-sidedly aligned with “ego” and consciousness, or too one-sidedly enthralled with our “unconscious” lives. Either way we are susceptible to developing symptoms. Dreams should not override the sober determinations of a healthy ego. But the information they offer can give us a fuller picture of ourselves and the environment, our pre-conscious awareness – details and “tells” that we may not have taken conscious note of in the moment, but are nevertheless stored and monitored by our unconscious perceptions.
As an example of what I mean by compensatory functions of a dream: a young adult shared a dream of a “hellish” or “demonic” version of his family with his therapist. Both the client and the therapist were initially baffled by the overtly negative dream, because in conscious life, the client’s attitude about their family was overtly, and “one-sidedly” positive although the young man struggled for independence from his family of origin. Dreams often attempt to round out such “one-sidedness” – and this dream was serving as a reminder that the client’s family had negative aspects, or that the client had some negative feelings about his family that were necessary for him to surface in order to set out on an independent life.
This is what I call the autonomy of the unconscious. The dream not only fails to obey our will but very often stands in flagrant opposition to our conscious intentions. The opposition need not always be so marked; sometimes the dream deviates only a little from the conscious attitude and introduces only slight modification, occasionally it may even coincide with conscious contents and tendencies. ~ C.G. Jung, On the Nature of Dreams, CW paragraph 545, loc 91414
In order to work constructively with dreams, we need some ability to tolerate uncertainty, ambiguity, ambivalence, and paradox, and to not allow archetypal images to “inflate” the dreamer (or the interpreter) into states of hubris and certainty.
In 1991 ago Wim Wenders directed a film called Until the End of the World, in which a team of researchers were able to record their dreams at night and watch them the next day on screen. The characters became so enamored of their dream lives, that they did nothing else, but sleep and spend the day lost in the recreation of their forgotten dreams until they were forcibly rescued. Similarly, we can become “too enamored” by our unconscious, too “trusting” too literal in our obedience to its perceived “messages” – it is not omniscient, or even inherently benevolent. It is simply the view of the backside of our psyche that we cannot “see” with consciousness, except in reflections. It is simply the view from the far end of the swinging pendulum. The other side of the coin.
Compensation on the other hand, as the term implies, means balancing and comparing different data of points of view so as to produce an adjustment or a rectification. ~ C.G. Jung, On the Nature of Dreams, CW paragraph 545, loc 91422
There are times when we can “discover” solutions to dilemmas, solve problems and have “eurekas” via our dreams, as when our psyche passes forward some missing piece from the puzzle we have been trying to solve. We may pay attention to our dream lives, when we have reached some impasse in our lives and don’t understand how to proceed. “Incubating” dreams, asking the unconscious, or “the back of the brain” to chime in, deciding to “sleep on it” and see what solution the night may offer up – is often a useful intervention in and of itself.
Therapists and others who listen to dreams may offer up some of their associations and amplifications or mirror back some of the themes and images that they hear – but the work of interpreting the dream itself is always the dreamer’s prerogative. I try never to interpret a client’s dream for them, or suggest that my interpretation is anything other than a playful, exploratory exchange of ideas. Of the multitudes of meanings that such symbolic content offers up, only the dreamer can decide which message feels most essential in the present moment.
One simple method to expand our sense of felt meaning in our dreams is to contemplate every symbol, every character, every image in the dream as aspect, or a reflection of some part of the dreamer’s identity. For example: a straight man once told me about a dream where he was “wrestling” and physically fighting with a man he described in the dream as “his enraged boyfriend” in the lobby at his workplace. Upon waking he found the dream mildly unsettling because of the homoerotic implications of the dream but the feelings in the dream itself were focused on the anxious effort of restraining this “enraged boyfriend” from acting out destructively at his workplace.
I offered this question for consideration: “What do you think of the dream, if you consider that your angry boyfriend is actually an aspect of yourself?” – He was quickly able to identify all sorts of split off anger and frustration that he was worried he might destructively act out at work. We then talked about the ways that his angry inner “boy friend” was protective of him, not wanting to see the dreamer kicked around at work by disrespectful co-workers, and we began to explore ways in which the relationship between his conscious identity, and his unconscious self-protective anger could work together more explicitly and cooperatively.
As we become more accepting and aware of our unconscious “shadow selves” and the repressions that lurk and linger in our personal unconscious, our dreams often open up to deeper questions about our relationships and embeddedness within the world around us.
For a bigger more complex dream – a dream that seems very specifically focused on our relationships to family, community, or country – or for a very rich, or persistent dream: it can be helpful to break down the dreams components for amplification as Jung himself did:
Dramatis Personae: Identify and “amplify” the various characters and entities in the dream. In the example we used earlier – the characters were a large tree, and the dreamer.
Locale: Where is the dream set: in a desert? At sea? At work? In a bedroom? In a place from childhood? A crowed bus? – This provides information about the external environment that the dream might be responding to, or about the subjective experience of our inner landscape. The location of the dreamer in our example, was set at a distance from the tree – as if watching the life of a tree unfold on a screen. This speaks to some “overview” or possibly some alienation between the subject and the object of the dream – consciousness and the unconscious are not in the same place or looking at the problem from the same point of view.
Exposition/representation of the problem: A “movie” of a large tree through out the seasons, filmed in compressed time, fills the dreamer with a sense of unease.
Turning Point /the possibility of a catastrophe: The tree may be chopped down at some point. The leaves are starting to “turn” and will soon fall.
Conclusion/compensation or solution: The client watches remotely as the seasons of life unfold.
Mood tone: Anxious. Unsettled.
Dream ego: This is always an important component. Where is the dreamer’s POV? Sometimes in our dreams we are “not ourselves” but our perspective looks out of another character’s eyes: “I wasn’t myself in the dream, I was this dirty little homeless girl.” Where, in whom, is the dream-ego located? Who is the dream’s narrator? Someone caught up in the story seeing only once piece of the action who will be surprised by events? Or does the dream unfold with the dreamer watching from on high, an audience member, or a disembodied watcher? Does the dreamer need to integrate a wider perspective, or is there a specific self-state experience that has been overlooked? Has the dream has placed the dreamer in someone else’s shoes? A dream of standing by and watching two men wrestling in a lobby may offer the dreamer a very different perspective than a dream in which the dream-ego is embroiled directly in the wrestling match fighting for the upper hand.
Dreams about our relationships, dreams about family members and intimate connections and relationships that have penetrated our inner sphere may be simultaneously about our “personal unconscious” as well as a dream with some “collective” function for the family or the friendship or the community that they refer to:
Here is a quick example: I once had a dream, as my husband and I were facing some challenging and high-stakes decisions about our children’s educational environment. We sensed may be failing them, and we hoped to avert a larger problem down the road:
We were in Brooklyn looking out over the East River. I saw a storm approaching in the far distance, behind the Statue of Liberty. I pointed it out to my husband who agreed that it was a bad one, but was more willing to wait and see if it was heading in our direction a little longer before taking action. My instinct was to bolt immediately – grabbing my husband’s hand and pulling him along with me as I raced in the opposite direction from the storm, when suddenly I was yanked to a halt – I looked behind my and my husband had pulled into a giant shell, like a thousand pound tortoise and I could no longer pull him with me to safety.
This dream was hugely useful to me, as it showed me that my own sense of alarm and hyper-vigilance was actually likely to marshal my husbands “defenses” and cause him to “turtle in” – putting us in opposition to each other, even though consciously we were in agreement. I would need to tolerate assessing the situation a little longer than I felt comfortable with, and not “pull” my husband into my reaction. We were able to talk about the dream and negotiate a strategy that respected both of our instincts and work in concert together, with his assessing the “troubles” we were seeing on the horizon, while I did some reconnaissance and research about the school settings we might be able to “flee” to.
We sometimes interpret and dismiss dreams without too much exploration based simply on the emotion in the dream, or the emotion they had upon waking from the dream: But many dreams feel “frightening” upon waking for no obvious reason, except perhaps to call our attention to them and to wake us up sufficiently to remember them. Often when you distinguish between the feeling in the dream itself and the feeling upon waking, the prevalent emotional tone of the dream is very different.
We may dismiss dreams as “just anxiety dreams” or as “random” when we feel a little emotionally flooded by the dream, and it prevents us from hearing the dream’s “narrative.” A client recently shared what they first described as “a typical anxiety dream, nothing interesting” – but when I pressed them to discuss the details – its imagery proved very useful: The dreamer was in a math class, trying to copy and solve problems on the board which were quickly erased, too quickly erased for the dreamer to solve the problem in the way that they knew how. This mirrored a series of emotional decisions the client faced, that they had been unable to make based on lists of cognitively comparing and contrasting the decision’s “plusses and minuses” This was a decision that needed to factor in the client’s “irrational” emotional wishes and desires – maybe even requiring them to shout out their best guesses and hunches – the dilemma was impossible for the dreamer to solve in the “usual” way.
In September of 2001 I enrolled in a post-graduate psychoanalytic program (with special permissions as a non-matriculated student) in my first class on Jungian thought.
Through my graduate and post-graduate studies I had immersed myself in Freud, Klein, Winnicott, Fairbairn, Rogers, Mahler, Kohut, Bion, Lacan, Sullivan, Searles and their interpreters and followers and apostates. Ego psychology, object-relations, self-psychology. The modern group analysis theorists, some of the existentialists and logotherapists, the contemporary relational analysts, and the intersubjectivists.
Due, perhaps to my contrarian and introverted nature and my hunger for independent study, I identify with many therapeutic tribes and belong to none. (And likewise there is no theoretical “school” of thought that would claim me as one of their own.) I realized, at some point along the way – that all of my teachers and training had assiduously avoided Jung. As usual, I developed a particular interest in what had been omitted.
I’d read some Jung on my own, but in incoherent patches, and I had no clear overview of his general organizing themes. I arrived on the morning of August 28th, eager to dig in – and promptly ordered all the books on the syllabus and got started on our initial assignment: Keeping a daily dream journal of all of our own dreams, and the dreams of our clients.
The next week we read aloud from our journals: Strangely, there were many dreams within dreams: of kamikaze jets flying down the streets of the city, of giant tornadoes coming “from the east” which destroyed tall buildings killing hundreds of people, dreams of four bombs dropped from the sky – the fourth one failing to detonate. Our personal and clinical journals contained surprisingly similar themes and images: lost pilots, building explosions and collapses, one dream of turning over the Tower card from the tarot deck.
The third week of class wasn’t merely cancelled – all thoughts of it were obliterated by the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.
Perhaps any random sample of dreams reported at any given time would contain similar imagery. And in the weeks that followed we monitored our own dreams and the dreams of our clients as we recovered from shock and fear and grief and found ourselves living in a new and previously unimaginable reality.
I don’t deny the statistical realities of probability or chance. But I haven’t been privy to a similar thematic thread of since. And I would brace myself if I was. I don’t claim that this is science. Nor do I believe it to be magic. I remain agnostic as to the ultimate causes or explanations for such synchronistic and unconscious experiences.
But, to the degree that the function of dreaming remains mysterious, and unknown, perhaps we can only approach such mysteries with faith in our capacity to seek out and create meaning in the face of chaos. And to learn how our dream lives, whatever their origin or function, can serve to deepen our connections to each other and the world around us.
As I commuted to work on the train, I remembered my dream of Trumpism before the election, and recorded a new one I had the night before. In the intervening year between Trump dreams, I had been in treatment for a uniquely rare cancer which had left my sense of priority and purpose in disarray, and had left me feeling unsure how I could live in service to my values with a chronic cancer:
I am campaigning against Donald Trump- and I am not afraid of him in the slightest. I see him for what he is and can name that out loud. He leaves me taunting phone messages which seem stupid and childish to me. I will be speaking out tomorrow against him and plan to annihilate him with the truth. I am not scared about what he might do to me because I have nothing to lose.
Are we even responsible for the opinions our dreams hold? Are they our “true” opinions or merely an unconscious one? Are we full of real or fake news? Can dreams puff us up and fill us with grandiosity? Might our dreams be call or a warning from something real in our psyches that we have not yet faced? I knew that I was not the only one who had dreamed of this president and the forces he represents in the American psyche over the past year. I thought of the dreams of clients’ that I had listened to since 2016, and in the harrowing year that followed, the dreams of family members and friends. I thought of the themes and patterns that I had born witness to before and after 9/11, and Jung’s writing on similar notions:
As far back as 1918 I published a paper in which I called the attention of my contemporaries to astounding development in the German edition of the collective unconscious. I had caught hold of certain collective dreams of Germans which convinced me that they portrayed the beginning of a national regression analogous to the regression of a frightened and helpless individual, becoming first infantile and then primitive or archaic. I saw Nietzsche’s “blond beast” looming up with all that it implies” ~ C.G. Jung, Psychology and National Problems, CW, loc 250564
I remembered a book – one I had only heard tell of in post-graduate classes – with a chapter by the (in)famous child analyst Bruno Bettelheim, about the collected dreams of German’s in the years before World War 2. I took out my phone and googled, learning quickly that Bettelheim had only written the “afterward” – the book, and the collection itself – The Third Reich of Dreams: Nightmares of a Nation 1933 – 1939, was the work of a Jewish woman, a journalist named Charlotte Beradt, who had started the project to contexualize her own nightmares of a mounting fascist movement, collecting over three hundred dreams of Jews and resistors and those who were silenced by terror and surveillance and those who would succumb and become Nazis and converted collaborators.
I felt, suddenly and certainly that I needed to start actively collecting dreams. Before my train pulled into Penn Station I had opened a blog and started a Twitter account to gather dreams for what I was calling The 45 Dreams Project.
The first blog post read as follows:
Can we not see how a whole nation is reviving an archaic symbol, yes even archaic religious forms, and how this mass emotion is influencing and revolutionizing the life of the individual in a catastrophic manner?
~ C. G. Jung, The Concept of the Collective Unconscious
“I am a writer and a psychotherapist interested in gathering, organizing, archiving – and eventually writing about – our collective dreams about the current political era.
What guidance does our psyche offer?
How does the individual and collective unconscious respond to the strain of this moment in history?
If you would like to share your dream in a unpublished comment please do. All dreams will then be stripped of identifying information before they are published.
Let’s listen in and see if we can hear the wisdom of the collective unconscious:”
I got client permissions for the dreams that I heard over the past year and posted them anonymously at the blog. I began searching Twitter using the terms: “dreamed Trump,” and “had a dream Trump” and retweeting them at the @45dreamsproject twitter feed.
Within the week I was contacted by an online new outlet called “The Outline” who published an article titled: “The World’s Worst Dream Journal” and aired a podcast interview with me about the patterns that were already emerging and my goals for the project. This certainly helped spread the word, and soon people were tagging me, emailing, and communicating through the blog about dreams they had featuring the 45th president of the United States. Some heard of the project from friends and social media contacts, some were told by their therapists after sharing their dreams in therapy.
I ordered myself an expensive out of print copy of Beradt’s book and began reading. I was as struck by the similarities of the dreams I was finding, as I was by the divergences between our era and the rise of the Third Reich.
And daily, via Twitter, people were publicly posting fistfuls of dreams about Donald Trump, to collect and retweet. I collected dreams from December 2017 through May 2018 as the collection reached over 3,000 dreams. There was no reason to stop at this number other than it felt to me to be just about as much as I could bear without becoming completely overwhelmed.
I have gathered no personal data about any of these dreamers. I know nothing about their age, race, gender, political affiliations, location or personal histories. On Twitter, people often post publicly with handles that often do not include their names, behind avatars which obscure any identifying details. There is no way for me to say for certain who these dreamers are – and I have done no further investigation – beyond the self-identifications contained in the dreams themselves. The twitter handles for dreams collected from twitter will be found in the end notes of each chapter. The dreams shared with me in other forms or sent to the blog will be credited only to “Anonymous”
There is also no way to verify if these dreams are real or not, or written for effect or for a laugh. There is no way to know how these dreams have been edited or shaped consciously or unconsciously by the dreamer. Whether these are images shaped by the unconscious processes of dreaming or the unconscious aspects of fabrication, daydream, fantasy, storytelling, myth-making or art, I accept them and consider them as consciously edited unconscious productions (our dream recall and reporting is shaped and edited by conscious choices as well)
I have removed dreams from the “collection” that used racial epithets, including the “N-word (ending either with “–er”, or “–a”) or that used any extreme derogatory language toward any group of people. For the purposes of this writing, I have edited these dreams lightly – removing out extraneous information such as “Today I had a dream that I hit Trump with a trout [and then I met Amy for Chinese food]” I have removed personal names and twitter handles of others that the dreamer may have referred to or tagged unless they are celebrities or public personas who serve a symbolic function in the dream. I have also “unrolled” twitter threads of multiple 280 character tweets into cohesive paragraphs. All of the twitter dreams are available in their original form for anyone to peruse at the twitter account.
The dreams at the blog are all posted and available as well. There are a few dreams – that were communicated to me verbally that I put directly into the collection, as well as my own dreams and dreams of my family members.
This is not a formal research study, there are no statistical regressions or calculations other than simply counting the number of dreams and sorting them by theme. I have used no research technology other than social media and a calculator.
I archived the @45dreamsproject twitter feed, copied and pasted all the dreams from twitter and from the blog into a Word document – and started sorting:
This is a collection. And I have sorted it as a collector does, somewhat arbitrarily and idiosyncratically: by type, by mood, by theme, by function. All the Aliens together. The Mother’s over here. The Resistors in this pile. The Admirers over there. A stack of Broken Taboos. A heap of Nuclear Holocaust.
It took many months of reading and re-reading these dreams, long and sleepy work, confusing work – work that made my head spin as I wandered through the strange images and distortions of the night-symbol-scape of our unconscious politics.
Big Dreams and Collective Dreams
Jung talks about “big dreams” and “little dreams” – little dreams being those of the moment and of temporal and primarily individual meaning. Like the small, instinctive adjustments in the tiller and the sails that keep our boat on course, many “little” dreams serve their compensatory function so effectively, making micro-adjustments in our personal moods and perspectives while we are sleeping that there is no need to even recall them, sometimes they are forgotten even when we are making a concerted attempt to remember.
Large dramatic changes in the course of life or shifts in our immediate or larger environment require that we consciously prepare and change tack – and mobilize ourselves to make major adjustments. Our dream life often senses the changing winds before consciousness does: Like a boat captain who yells out “Ready about!” to warn the crew to negotiate the dangers of a swinging boom and a snapping sail.
“Big dreams” are dreams that “feel meaningful” and important. We may experience them during big changes of life, or big external or “transpersonal” events and crises. They often contain mythic themes and primordial images – which Jung calls “archetypes” common to all of humanity, or to our specific culture or community. Such dreams are often filled with images we recognize from popular culture, from metaphors in common use, or from fairytale or scriptures. Big dreams seem to address our shared problems with themes drawn from our shared stories. Sometimes such big dreams are about our individual relationship to the larger community, or the service that is required of us to fulfill our sensed obligation the “collective” and larger society.
The dream uses collective figures because it has to express an eternal human problem that repeats itself endlessly, not just a disturbance of personal balance. ~ C. G. Jung, On the Nature of Dreams, CW, para 556
Sometimes the bee is consumed by the risks and challenges of its individualized task. Sometimes the bee is preoccupied by the challenges facing the hive. When the hive is in crisis each bee within it is in crises too. One of the ways we might recognize such big dreams that are from and for “the hive” is that we often feel compelled to share them.
Wherever collective material prevails under normal conditions it produces important dreams… You find the same thing in the Greek and Roman civilizations, where such dreams were reported to the Areopagus or to the Senate ~ C. G. Jung, On the Psychogenesis of Schizophrenia, CW paragraph 525 loc 29793
In Charlotte Beradt’s perspective, such dreams about our collective social and political circumstances are as recognizable as any other image of cartoon or stereotype:
These dreams adopt forms and guises which are no more complicated than the ones used in caricature or political satire and the masks they assume are just as transparent as those worn at carnivals. ~ C. Beradt, The Third Reich of Dreams, p. 16
How to Understand This Project
I would not dare to interpret any of these dreams, even for the dreamers that reached out to me specifically asking for “interpretations.” Just as I try to never tell a client what their dreams mean, but to help them find their own way through the many layers of meaning that their dream provides.
So difficult is it to understand a dream that for a long time I have made it a rule, when someone tell me a dream and asks for my opinion, to say first of all to myself: “I have no idea what this dream means.” After that I can begin to examine the dream. ~ C. G Jung, On the Nature of Dreams, CW loc. 91329
Don’t read the subsequent chapters in this project looking for concrete interpretations, for directive advice, or for answers. I can say absolutely nothing about the layers of deeply personal idiosyncratic, individual meaning that are embedded in each of these dreams. I know nothing of these dreamer’s personal lives, and the personal truths wound through these dreams are for the dreamer alone to unlock.
No interpretation can be undertaken without the dreamer. The words composing a dream-narrative have not just one meaning, but many meanings. ~ C. G Jung, On the Nature of Dreams, CW para 538 loc. 91364
But these are not only individual dreams. They are dreams shared with the community, for the community’s sake. I can only hope to open the conversation up with deeper questions, as I do in the therapy office. My intention is to give these dreams space to amplify each other, and to point out archetypal amplifications as I see them. Dreams do not define us, individually or as a group they merely show us what is hard for us to see about ourselves. There is nothing definitive here.
I hope readers will read these dreams and keep a few questions at the back of mind:
- What might dreams like this balance out in our waking political life?
- If this dream were the readers’ dream, what might it mean?
- If we are each all the characters in the dream, the heroic ones, the cowardly ones, the villains, what might the dream tell us about our internal and external conflicts as a nation?
- Does this dream anger, amuse, frighten, reassure or disturb? Why?
- What might the environment of the dream indicate about our political environment?
- What effect does it have to see these dreams clustered by theme?
- What are the messages in these dreams that we need to integrate into our collective, conscious life?
- What archetypal amplifications and themes from myth, fairy tale, scripture, turns of phrase, pop-culture narratives – come to mind?
These are obviously the questions that I sat with as I worked on this project – but these are in no way “my” dreams – they have all been given over to a public space to be contemplated in community.
Mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot defined fractals as they occur in nature in the following way: “A fractal is a shape made of parts similar to the whole in some way.” I encourage the reader to consider these dreams as fractals, mirroring a whole that they are just a small piece of. These are big dreams. These are our dreams. We are all the heroes and villains of these dreams.
We must all open our eyes to the shadow who looms behind contemporary man. We have no need to hold up the devils’ mask before the Germans. The facts speak a plainer language and anyone who does not understand it is simply beyond help. As to what should be done about this terrifying apparition, everyone must work this out for himself. It is indeed no small matter to know of one’s own guilt, and one’s own evil, and there is certainly nothing to be gained from losing sight of ones’ shadow. ~ C. G. Jung, Vol. 10, Civilization in Transition, para 440, loc 129705
Just as each of us holds a fiercely glorious individual lens on our lives – we may only see our way through our collective fate when we hold all of our individual pieces up together, to assemble each piece of our partial truth into a larger picture. What might these dreams tell us about all of us and each of us?
If the whole is to change, the individual must change himself.
~ C. G Jung, On Marginalia on Contemporary Events, CW para 1378 loc. 271107