The Guiding Function of Dreams by Carmen Q. Reynal

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Dreams are a natural phenomenon of the psyche. It is a well established scientific fact that everybody dreams several times a night even though we may not recall them the next day. If we interfere with this natural process a person can develop psychic and/or somatic symptoms and disturbances. It appears that dreams have a biological as well as a psychologically restorative function.

Dreams have an effect on us even if we do not understand them. We may wake up happy and in a good mood after having a nice dream, or troubled and disturbed after a nightmare. Yet if we attend to the dreams and we try to find their meaning we reinforce the healing function of the dream.

For Jung dreams were exceedingly valuable because he felt they were spontaneous ‘impartial facts of nature … objective facts’ stemming from the unconscious psyche. Dreams are independent of our conscious will. We do not make, invent or influence dreams; if we want to dream about a certain problem it is impossible. We are always astonished and surprised at the images of dreams, at their ingenuity. St. Augustine wrote: ‘I thank Thee, Lord, that Thou didst not make me responsible for my dreams.’ Even a saint could not help having unusual, even terrible, dreams.

Dreams are essentially irrational. We cannot look to them for logic or rational thinking. Dreams use the language of symbols, myths and images which, to our rationally trained minds, are difficult to understand; this language takes much work and a long time to master. Yet dreams can point and help guide us in a unique way towards new insights and self knowledge, and may help us deal with conflicts or problems we are wrestling with. They are like the wind, which ‘blows where it will, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes’ (John: 3:8). They seem capricious and irrational but they are often highly meaningful.

Even though many people have heard of Freud and Jung and their theories about dreams, many remain sceptical or feel dreams are just nonsense. Some people are afraid of dreams and their meaning because they might compel us to look at some unpleasant or surprising fact about ourselves. I remember the case of a person who came to see me because she wanted to train as a therapist. In one of the first dreams she brought, she dreamt she was trying to hide from somebody who was taking a photograph of her. The dream showed her conflict. Even though she expressed her willingness to look and work on herself through analysis, there were unconscious resistances (hiding from the photographer) to seeing herself objectively (in the photograph). Acknowledging the dream helped the ego come closer to the position of her unconscious psyche, thus easing tension and anxiety she need to proceed slowly in her analytic work.

At a deeper level I have seen how dreams can help an individual at times of crises, for example, when the person is confronting a serious life threatening illness. At such a conjuncture in life, archetypal figures sometimes appear in dreams which guide the dreamer through the period of crises. The dreamer feels supported by these previously unknown inner figures which are experienced as a power beyond the individual. Such dreams are felt as numinous, even magical. They are what Jung referred to as ‘big’ dreams and their powerful effects remain for a long time with the dreamer. Archetypal healing and guiding dreams have been experienced by all cultures throughout the ages, from those who sought the help of Asklepios in ancient Greece, to Biblical times to the dreams of people today.

By paying attention to our dreams, whether big or normal, we can slowly connect and root ourselves to our inner landscape which not only guides but also enriches us in our conscious lives.

Dreams recorded by David at different points in his life:

March 21 1953
I am involved with others in an attempt to create the world. We are in the confused inert matter of which the world is to be made, and are working desperately to grasp it, to seize by some sudden lightening gesture of hand or imagination, the order of coherence which could make an understandable world out of it all. Every now and then it is about to come, and we heave a sigh of relief, then it collapses and disintegrates again. So we have to start again.Quote close

March 22 1960
The most confusing thing, which explains much of my present exhaustion and skin disease, is that in some people, in a part of me, hunger expresses itself as a desire to be ingested yourself, to be eaten, rather than to eat. Connected with this vision is the struggle between two opposed ways of understanding and controlling life: one is by trying to grasp, take a bite of, hold onto things: the other to be part of a stream and to try and guide the stream by being part of the stream to the fullest extent.Quote close

August 29 1982
1. Discontinuity between heights, on a vertical. Breathless: episodic, jerking, breathlessness, seeming to be all about the breathing element of my speech.

2. Without any reason, completely inconsequentially, I have walked out on a patient in the middle of a session, just left. (It was a child, about four, with its/his mother, and the woman friend who had given her my name; so, three of them.) I am in Bristol, haven’t a chance of getting back to session in time, before its ending. What can have got into me? Must realize that I am far iller than I had ever imagined. Banging my head on the ground: how could I have done anything so ire-sponsible, thoughtless, dissociated?Quote close

October 14, 1997
Some situation of teaching what ‘psychoanalysis’ is about. It involves showing people, teaching, how there is a range of foodstuffs, cooking, which goes from nice food into stuff that one would assume to be simply too disgusting to be eatable.Quote close

from Eventful Responsability (sic) —fifty years of dreaming remembered by David Holt, with a preface by Sonu Shamdasani, published by Validthod Press Oxford 1999