Dreams are often opaque and slippery things unable to be fixed down to a clear unequivocal meaning. They can be viewed as important messages from the unconscious but equally as anxious, absurd or blissful nonsense that we desire to make too much sense of.
I do believe that dreams are far more than Freudian wish fulfilment. And that Jung’s inspiring concept of the collective unconscious, with its ideas about archetypes, within dreams and without, still matters. He speaks of the archetype as not merely a concept but as a ‘a piece of life, an image connected with the living individual by the bridge of emotion.’
There was a time in my life when I experienced very disturbing dreams. I’d just separated from my wife and two sons. I was a recent English Literature graduate, unable to find work and moving from one temporary bedsit to another in Brighton and Hove. I kept a dream journal to try to fathom out what to do with myself. Indeed I lived just in order to eat, drink and most of all sleep. My dream recording proved to be very negative. I couldn’t make sensible decisions. Dreaming became an addiction.
Jung wrote perceptibly about an over-reliance on dreams for solutions to problems.
‘Experience has shown me that a slight knowledge of dream psychology is apt to lead to an overrating of the unconscious which impairs the power of conscious decision. The unconscious functions satisfactorily only when the conscious mind fulfills its tasks to the very limit. A dream may perhaps supply what is lacking, or it may help us forward where our best conscious efforts have failed.’
Keeping a dream journal reached a point where the dreams were getting more chaotic and puzzling. Each time I fell asleep I hoped that the new dream would throw some light on the previous dream. That a dream pattern would emerge and eventually reveal the secret plan. Once I knew that then I could act. I couldn’t find answers on the streets of Brighton but only in the ambiguous alleyways of my unconscious.
Of course this was physically exhausting. By day I was, feverish, indolent and spaced out; eating and drinking very little, staring at the bedroom wall and constantly craving for more sleep. Thankfully I didn’t drink any alcohol, but few close friends were around and my next door neighbours were very noisy.
And then I had this dream.
‘I’m at a dinner party. Michael’s house (rich place, expensively dressed guests.) attracted by the superficial glitter. impatient to eat but first need to go to the toilet. this lies at the top of the house in a large attic room. Here is a long, medieval banqueting table. At either end are two plates of steaming hot food. A white mouse is running from one meal to another. Nibbling and retreating. I go to the toilet. Can only manage half a piss. Return to table feeling anxious. I accidentally spill a bottle of tomato ketchup over my dinner jacket. The startled mouse runs away. I begin to cry very intensely. Gradually I look up to see Carl Jung seated at the head of the table. Wearing an immaculate tweed jacket, carpet slippers and holding a pipe. Very much the benign Swiss patriarch. he looks deeply concerned. I begin to chant. Mickey Mouse hah hah hah! Mickey Mouse hah hah hah! Jung places a sympathetic arm over my shoulder and says, “For God’s sake stop recording your dreams. Wake up and accept your mouse!” I dry my eyes. Jung disappears. More plates of food are on the table. All have been half-eaten – then abandoned. Now I want to socialize with the guests downstairs.”
This was the dream that made me stop writing down more dreams. This was the dream that convinced me to see my doctor, refuse medication and persuade him to get me an appointment with an NHS psychiatrist. And this was the dream that was later published in an anthology of writers’ dreams, The Tiger Garden published by Serpents Tail.
After six sessions with the psychiatrist I felt much better, more human and able to figure out a conscious plan about what to do next. I moved to London, did volunteer social work, took up learning to play the flute, got myself a flat and a girlfriend.
I still have that old exercise book of scribbled down dreams. Occasionally I do take note of a dream and include it in my writings (Most vividly my Bali travel incident. I dreamt of Balinese dancers meshing with the mysterious masked stranger who came, with money, to Mozart’s door and said his master wished to commission a requiem mass. I panicked, kicked out in fear and woke up to discover that my foot (unhurt) had cracked the window. My real Balinese hotel manager gave me a very warm smile. I paid him £2 for a new window. And the dream lived on in a poem.)
I won’t, and can’t, make a comprehensive analysis of my Jung dream meeting. But will suggest that the unfinished food on the table was probably a sign of the banquet of life. That the mouse was my small and timid response to life. And that dear kindly old Carl was a bit like my mum shaking the bed of a lazy teenager and telling me to get up, or I’d be late for college. Except it was a lot more important. I had to accept a reality principle and get on with things. Well I have, but not quite.