Most Western approaches to dreams are constrained within a psychological paradigm – they are viewed as psychological responses, the processing of the mind. Dreams, in themselves, are seen as ''unreal'' – a subjectively distorted version of ''reality''. Jung's invaluable contribution to our understanding of dreams and the transpersonal field was his recognition of the presence of and inner archetypal realm in dreams, beyond the personal and emanating from a universal consciousness. We owe a great debt to Jung in widening the horizon of our dream world.
Everything we imagine or create already has an existence as an archetype or a mental template waiting to be discovered. Seen in this wider sense, dreams are real. Dreams are rich with symbols and signs, which are unique to us and also universal in their archetypal nature. Using a framework of symbols that we can recognise, they speak of, and take place within, another reality – the subtle (non-physical) realm – but their intensity can be as affecting as any experience in the physical world. What happens in our dreams has a reality beyond the mind. Something does die in our dream death; our dream tears do heal us; our dream spiritual experience actually connects us with an infinitely greater reality than the material and transforms us.
In the psychospiritual aproach, dreams are understood in all their dimensions – psychological, spiritual and physical. The transpersonal perspective, which recognises the whole person – body, mind, heart and spirit – and is, by nature, holistic or multidimensional allows us to do this. It sees the world and the people in it, not just as they appear, but looks into and beyond what is on the surface, beyond what is apparent. Recognising that things are not fixed and limited to their material form, the transpersonal allows for an openness to the possibility of change and transformation. It is essentially hopeful.
From a transpersonal perspective, our consciousness can be understood as having a reality at different levels or in different realms. There is the level of our cognition reality which relates to the physical world and is a reflection of our conscious ego. These are the thoughts we think, the opinions we hold and the personal constructs we have formed during our lifetime. Then there is our personal unconscious, containing the impressions made by our personal past, which makes itself known through many of our dreams. This is what Jung called the 'little self' (Jung, 1991).
Then there is the more subtle mind level where we are connected through our imagination with the totality and a wider human consciousness beyond our own personal limits – the realm of the collective unconscious. (Jung, 1970). Between the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious lies an interval, which we cross between waking and sleeping. When we dream, the little self is subsumed by the collective unconscious and a ''subtle self'' that is more fundamental to us than our identity or persona. In spiritual terms, this subtle self might be referred to as the soul.
Beyond this, and at the same time, infusing all levels of consciousness, is the transcendental realm of spirit - an essence which permeates and animates everything else. Jung called this the Self. As our consciousness expands from the cognitive in to the collective unconscious, the sense of self ''thins out''. It becomes more subtle and we experience our soul. This expanding and subtilising continues until we become aware only of pure spirit, free from any personal or little self. At this point, we are realising something of the greater Self.
In looking at dreams we can find the spiritual in the psychological and vice versa when we realise that our imagination, of which dreams are an expression, is a bridge between matter and spirit. What we call dreams are really a mixture of our worldly impressions and our individual spirit which is trying to speak to us through the metaphors and narrative of our dreams. In this way, the spiritual comes through the psychological dimension.
Dreams can show us something of who we are in more than one sense. We can see our character in dreams – that which has formed as a result of our experiences and life context – with it's strengths and weaknesses. Dreams can also show us who we are in our essential selves – that which has always been in us and is uniquely ours. Dreams are a window into our inner life and, ultimately, our soul or essence.
Lucid dreaming is a catalyst for the exploration and transformation of the human psyche – transforming our perceptions, our consciousness and, ultimately awakening us to a greater reality beyond dreaming. Once we are lucid we have the power to interact with the dream and go deeper and deeper. Starting to dream lucidly is an important element in spiritual awakening.
- Written by Dr Nigel Hamilton - Founder & Director of the Centre for Counselling & Psychotherapy Education, London, Director of the Dream Research Institute, London and the UK Representative of the Sufi Order International. (Excerpt from his book Awakening Through Dreams, A Journey Through The Inner Landscape)