“Memories, Dreams, Reflections”

It’s not an autobiography, even though the first chapters are entitled “First Years”, “School Years”, and so on. It’s not really a description of his developing thought, either; “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” (1961) is more a glimpse of the inner working of Carl Jung’s mind. As he wrote in the Prologue:

“My life is a story of the self-realisation of the unconscious… In the end the only events in my life worth telling are those when the imperishable world irrupted into this transitory one. That is why I speak chiefly of inner experiences, amongst which I include my dreams and visions. These form the prima materia of my scientific work. They were the fiery magma out of which the stone that had to be worked was crystallized.”

Humans have interpreted their dreams since time immemorial. In the early twentieth century, Sigmund Freud and Jung were the pioneers in psychology theories about the meaning and purpose of dreams.

No more violins

For Freud, dreams were motivated by wish-fulfillment. Even anxiety dreams and nightmares were triggered by the ego’s awareness of repressed wishes. Maybe the author of this homework was a repressed viola player who couldn’t help the spelling mistake! Dreams often arose out of the previous day’s events, and the dreamer had a natural tendency to make sense, or a story, out of the recollected content.

Jung didn’t entirely reject Freud’s theories, but thought them limited. He thought the scope of dream interpretation larger than the obvious associations with recent events or known people. For Jung, dreams were a window on the unconscious, enabling the dreamer to communicate with and come to know the unconscious, and tap into it as a source of creativity. Jung also postulated the ‘collective unconscious’, the structures of the unconscious mind which we share.

Interpretation of dreams could then guide the waking self to achieve wholeness, and perhaps offer a solution to a problem being faced by the dreamer in their waking life. Another sense of dreams into reality, enhancing reality.

So alongside the objective approach to interpretation, eg mother in dream represents mother in waking life, Jung proposed a subjective approach, ie the mother in the dream could symbolise an aspect of the dreamer, who (depending on the dream content) might need to care better for themselves. Other characters in the dream might be from the collective unconscious: fairy story style archetypes such as an old woman offering wisdom. Then there might be inanimate objects with symbolic meaning. Cars appear often in modern times. If the dreamer is at the wheel of the car driving safely, they might be in control of their life. If they are in the passenger seat, and someone else is at the wheel, then maybe some changes need to be made in waking life! But all interpretation varies according to the personal situation of the dreamer, who needs to learn the language of their dreams.

In 1912, Jung and Freud had a parting of the ways. Then during 1913-17, Jung spent several years confronting his unconscious. It makes for a fascinating chapter in “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”, freighted with symbol. At the end, he describes a final dream he had set in Liverpool, the ‘pool of life’, and how the whole period provided him with the material for a lifetime’s work:

The dream depicted the climax of the whole process of development of consciousness. It satisfied me completely, for it gave a total picture of my situation… Without such a vision I might perhaps have lost my orientation and been compelled to abandon my undertaking. But here the meaning had been made clear. When I parted from Freud, I knew that I was plunging into the unknown. Beyond Freud, after all, I knew nothing; but I had taken the step into darkness. When that happens, and then such a dream comes, one feels it as an act of grace. It has taken me virtually forty-five years to distill within the vessel of my scientific work the things I experienced and wrote down at that time… The years when I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life — in them everything essential was decided. It all began then; the later details are only supplements and clarifications of the material that burst forth from the unconscious, and at first swamped me.

I’m firmly in the Jung camp. There have been times when I have tried to remember and interpret my dreams. It really is true that writing them down makes remembering easier. I suppose there are times when it is immensely helpful to pay attention, and times when their wisdom is less immediately needed. But there are still occasions when a particularly memorable dream irrupts into my consciousness, and brings some enlightenment.