Electric Dreams

Jung, the Self, and Dreamwork

Richard Catlett Wilkerson 

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Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2001 March). Jung, the Self, and Dreamwork. Electric Dreams 8(3). Retrieved December 30, 2001 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams  

"Those who are willing, the Fates will lead, the rest shall be dragged"

The guiding assumption in most all of Jung's ideas is that there is a something behind all psychological events that guides and directs us in the path of wholeness. We develop the persona, we fight with the shadow, we get into fits around the Anima/Animus, but really behind all this is a much larger complete sense of human wholeness. This entity is called the "Self" , spelled with a capital "S". This entity is both always transcendent and yet still subjective. It is the center of * both* the conscious and the unconscious. The Self brings together and integrates the many layers of psyche, and yet is considered to be beyond the psyche.

The Jungian Self is a large and profound topic encompassing all layers of psyche and human development, and at the same time a small and initiate relationship in which the person finds his or her own uniqueness. Here I want to look at two aspects of the Self that are most often mentioned by Jung; 1. The Guiding Center and 2. The Transcendent Function.

1. The Guiding Center

"Imagine a circle whose center is everywhere and whose periphery is nowhere"

"The (S)elf is not only the centre, but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is the centre of the conscious mind" Jung CW 12 para 444

"Inasmuch as the ego is only the centrum of my field of consciousness, it is not identical with the totality of my psyche, being merely a complex among other complexes. Hence I discriminate between the ego and the Self, since the ego is only the subject of my consciousness, while the Self is the subject of my totality; hence it also includes the unconscious psyche. In this sense the Self would be an (ideal) factor which embraces and includes the ego. In unconscious fantasy the Self often appears as a superordinated or ideal personality." Jung _Psychological

Types_, pg 540

The Self may manifest in a single dream as a divine child, a mandala, an image of Fourness, or in mystic and ecstatic identification. But for most of us the Self is seen as an ideal personality, a Wise Man or Woman or is seen over a series of dreams and over a lifetime of attention. At a distance these manifestations may be seen as moving us around an unseen center, but a close encounter will seem more like divine intervention. Robert Johnson mentions in the book _He_, that most men experience the Self in mystic identification once or more in childhood. Many women I've talked to say they have experienced the same event. It's that perfect moment that just occurs to us where all of a sudden everything is as it should be. Though everything is not perfect, it is, as Alan Watts says, "perfectly imperfect". But that moment of perfection leaves and the longing, the wound, that lasts a lifetime. And this is often how experiences of the Self leave the unprepared ego; wounded, depressed, longing again for a moment of wholeness. Handled properly, this wound may guide the individual to a wider and larger life, handled improperly the wound can lead to the person seeking to bridge the wound or gap with substance abuse or neurotic and destructive behavior. Thus early Self manifestations are both a blessing and a curse.

Close encounters with the Self are rarely appreciated in the moment. While we like to talk about coming into relationship with the Higher Self, an actual close encounter leaves a person dramatically changed and his/her life altered forever. We might say later or from a distance that the change was for the better, but at the time it feels like a complete defeat for the individual. The exception to this are planned ceremonies like primitive initiation rights, or events where one's life is so wretched that death seems attractive. My feeling is that the transformative power in Near Death experiences is that it activates the centering power of the Self and thus leaves the person fundamentally altered. Thus there is a kind of Dark Side to the Self . While the Self restructures, it also de-structures.

EXERCISE: A. The Light Side of the Self: Recall a dream where there was a mystical experience or one where everything seemed quite perfect. What happened in the dream? What might you do in your dayworld to bring about a connection with the feelings of centeredness and oneness with the universe? If possible, bring a piece of the dream into your life. If the dream was something abstract like "The afternoon sky was dark and full of beautiful stars" maybe you can draw this and carry the picture with you for a day. If the dream was a visit from a Wise person, who do you know that you might visit and talk to who is like this? B. The Dark Side of the Self: Recall a dream or nightmare where you were offered two horrible choices and not choosing was just as ugly. If you can't do this, perhaps you can recall a movie where this happened. I often think of the moment in _Sophie's Choice_ where the Nazi officer made her choose to give up her son or daughter, threatening to take both if she didn't choose. Now shift your attention to the feeling of the internal struggle, tying not to choose one option or the other but knowing you must choose something. This may somewhat capture the image of the dark ambiguities of the Self and what it promises to eventually bring together and solve in a way that we as individuals cannot. Our role, it seems, is to stay conscious and participatory as possible through the process.

How then, do we participate in this Self project and our own individuation? As mentioned, for Jung, it is always trying to happen on its own. By consciously trying to pick up the clues and move with these clues, we help ourselves to walk down the path. Otherwise the Self is going to *drag* us. Its often said that the Self *compensates* the ego. When the ego goes too far in one direction the Self begins to pull it back across the center in the opposite direction. But be careful here not to be logical and literal about Center. If I'm very active in life, my compensation may not turn out to be the literal opposite - inactivity - , but perhaps valuing my feelings more. Each individual has his and her own relationship to the Self and it is unique, undeterminable by anyone else.

EXERCISE: What happens to the dream when we read it for compensatory moves?
a. Look at the dream as if it were suggesting a route of action in life that is just the opposite of what you would normally do. Or ask yourself about a dream, "If this dream is suggesting a particular direction in life, how is that different than what I now am following?"

Note: Determining how the Self is speaking in dream and acting on this is *not* just literally following what the dream might be suggesting. This requires the careful consideration of *several * parts of oneself, a mix of common sense, a high degree of self-reflection and recognition of the risks involved. The Self can sometimes appear as quite childish and as of us things we cannot possibly do. When this happens, it's often best to put out clearly to oneself why this course of action would not be prudent and ask for other options, perhaps via new dreams.

b. Look at a dream and try to determine the center. Not the literal center, but were the center of meaning is held. Sometimes this is the literal center, like a building around which activity takes place or a sacred fountain in the center of a courtyard. But for the most dreams, the center is the indescribable thread that keeps us saying its one dream and not several. What holds the dream together? What produces the structure in the dream, the plot, the feelings of the dream ego, an odd building or city? Then look at how the action and plots build around this center. What is everyone's relationship to the center? Do people seem to harp on the center, or continually wander off? Is the center a peaceful outing to the beach or is the center a storm or boat in trouble? In what directions is the dream ego (you) pulled by the action and events?

Note: What we are looking at here might better be described as a "complex" than a manifestation of the Self. A Complex is a group of images and ideas clustered around a center with a similar feeling tone. But at the center of every complex is an organizing principle that may be explored in terms of Self organization. In other worlds, the dream may be coming from my mother complex and be all about nurturance issues, being loved and abandoned and taboo eroticism. But the Self will be behind the core guiding the mother complex itself. Thus in experimenting with how various complexes in dream organize the dream, we can begin to get a sense of more subtle Self organizational moves.

2. The Transcendent Function

While direct encounters with the Self can't be planned, we participate in this process by becoming aware of our parts; persona, ego, shadow, animus/anima. Each of these creates a polar tension. For example, I can neither become my Shadow, nor deny it. Both paths would give me some immediate satisfaction, but cause either staleness or destruction over time. I can't solve the problem that I want to live forever and yet can't live forever. Instead, we can come to know the tension created by these unreconcilable opposites and learn how to bear the tension. Eventually a third and unexpected solution will arise from the unconscious. Jung called this the Transcendent Function of the Self. It is the ability of the Self to unite opposites in a new form, and to unite them in ways that we as individuals cannot consciously do ourselves. While the Self can be said to be doing this all the time without our help, by consciously holding the tension we get to participate in the process and become co- creators in the process. We'll look at this again when we talk later about symbols and archetypes.

Exercise: (1) Locate in one or more dreams an irresolvable dilemma, and the feeling tone associated with it. This might be being lost, bored, frightened, exhausted, or something more subtle.
Example: "I'm dreaming that I want to go home and am lost in a maze of twisty streets, all alike." There is a feeling tone of frustration.

(2) Now imagine that you have a fine bowl or cup in your hands that was especially made to carry the tension created by the dream. You have to bear the weight of the bowl, but you know that if you hold it long enough, some good will come out of it, as its a magic bowl. It may help if you actually hold your hands out or even use a bowl.

(3) Imagine that this tension in the cup is created by opposing elements that can't be brought together. Find the imaginary balance point and try to hold this feeling tone in the bowl. Example: I want to be home, but I'm not home.

(4) Say or think what one side of the tension is like, then the other. Don't worry about what its about, just describe the contradiction.
Example: Its like the side that wants to be home is pulling me, the side that isn't home is afraid.

(5) Now look in the bowl and imagine something arising from the dark interior. Anything, the first thing that comes to mind. What is it? Does it in some unexplainable way represent the issue at hand or not? If not, just keep in the back of your mind for awhile and see it anything changes. I suggest taking the first image that arises and sticking with if for a few days, not going into how it might represent the solution, but rather just remembering that it carries this solution.

The point here is not to imagine that we are conjuring the Self, but rather just seeing what the process or the reconciliation of the opposites might look like on a small scale. The process is not entirely rational, but seems to be quickened by conscious participation.

At one level the Self as the Transcendent Function brings together smaller opposites, but at the deepest levels, the Self brings together our experience of the Good and Evil.

The Self is often confused with God, an the difference may seem subtle, but its important. The notion of Self deals with our experience of a larger transcendent being and reality. Notice the word "experience". The Self is more our collective and personal *experience* of the transcendent, not the transcendent Him/Her/Itself. Yet the Self does go beyond our usual use the word "experience" also and includes the mystic personification of the One and represents the totality of psychological being, the guiding sum of ego, self, Shadow, Anima/Animus and more. From a developmental analogy, the acorn all the way to the tall oak (and the oak forest) is a metaphor of the Self. We come into relationship with the Self via participation and awareness of and co-participation in this hidden plan, the larger creative force, this coming together towards wholeness and completion.

How does the dream fit into all of this? Here's a quote from Jung:

"The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the psyche, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego-consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter how far our ego-consciousness may extend ... All consciousness separates; but in dreams we put on the likeness of that more universal, truer, more eternal man dwelling in the darkness of primordial night. There he is still the whole, and the whole is in him, indistinguishable from nature and bare of all egohood. Out of these all-uniting depths arises the dream, be it ever so childish, grotesque, and immoral."
Jung CW 10 pars 304 f.

The Self is not perfection, but completion. At first we are nagged and chased by the enemy, our own Shadow. To the degree we begin to develop a continual relationship with our neglected and repressed side, we gain new strength and vitality, and our enemy becomes our ally. This opens the door to a deeper experience of ourselves, parts we can never fully claim as ourselves in their alien and different ways. Yet making room for these strange incompatible and establishing a relationship with the manifestations of the Anima/Animus sets the stage for a larger play, the bringing into being of our most dynamic and unique self with the cooperation with The Self.

More on the Jungian Self:

Jung: _Psychological Types_ CW 6, esp, chapter 11,
"Definitions," under "Self," pp. 460?461.

________. _Aion_ CW 9, esp, chapter. 4 "The Self," pp. 223-35,
and chapter 5 "Christ, a Symbol of the Self." pp. 36?71.

________. (1957) _The Undiscovered Self_, New York: Mentor
Books. (also as cw 10, p. 247-305)

Edinger, Edwin (1972) Ego And Archetype. Baltimore: Penguin

Whitmont, Edward C. (1969)._The Symbolic Quest_. see both the
chapters on "The Self" pp. 216?230 and chapter 16 "The Ego-Self
Estrangement" pp. 250?264.


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