Extracted from Chapter 18 of Psychosynthesis: The Elements and Beyond
(PS Avalon, U.K., 2003 ISBN 0-9544764-0-9)
Reprinted by permission of the author.
Whilst Psychosynthesis practitioners may work with dreams in the more
usual ways, including dream recall and interpretation, they also may
include the cultural relevance of the dreaming, the investigation of
lucid dreaming, and dreaming as a spiritual practice. As well as
exploring the dreams we have whilst asleep, Psychosynthesis also
focuses on how to awaken ourselves within 'the dream of everyday
life'. Rather than awakening from a dream, we can learn to awaken
within the dream so we are awake to the beauty and meaning within our
lives. To wake up from a dream suggests a movement from 'being asleep
and dreaming' to 'being awake.' To awaken within suggests something
quite different, where we can be fully ourselves, here and now,
whether we are physically awake or asleep.
Assagioli's attitude to dreams is found in Psychosynthesis: '...
although dreams do give access to the unconscious of the subject ...
[they] often only give access to one part of it - only one part of
the unconscious is able or cares to express itself through dreams.'
After stating that there are many types of dreams, differing in
quality and meaning, Assagioli continues: ' in our practice [we]
point out dream interpretation is only one of the techniques and not
the chief one.' Jung, who worked extensively with dream
interpretation, wrote: 'I share all your prejudices against dream
interpretation as the quintessence of uncertainty and arbitrariness.
On the other hand, I know that if we meditate on a dream sufficiently
long and thoroughly, if we carry it round and turn it over and over,
something almost always comes of it.' Assagioli seems to be
suggesting something just like this, and not just interpretation but
also other dream practices. He only gives one direct clue in his
books, however, to what he is referring.
Assagioli asserts that there are two major limitations to dream
analysis. One is the potential for passive dependence on the
uncontrolled appearance of dreams. Clearly Jung would not have agreed
with this as he relished 'the uncontrolled appearance' of dreams.
This is a good example of the different emphasis between the two men,
which Assagioli would have ascribed to their differing 'rays'.
Assagioli emphasized the importance of the will more than Jung, who,
following the more 'feminine' track, worked more with what emerges
The other limitation to dream analysis, according to Assagioli, is
the impossibility of fully understanding 'the forgotten language' of
dreams. Jung agreed: '... it is obvious we lack the sense and
ingenuity to read the enigmatic message from the nocturnal realm of
the psyche.' Jung proposes, as a way forward a systematic study of
dreams, to which, of course, he devoted much of his life. Assagioli,
on the other hand, proposes 'symbol projection' as a better
alternative. By this, Assagioli means the visualization of specific
items to induce fuller imagery. It involves being aware or awake
whilst at the same time being in 'dream state', that is a state where
the unconscious can speak to us in its language. Thus the proposal to
practitioners, at the outset of most Psychosynthesis meditation and
visualization techniques, that they relax and centres themselves, and
follow their breath into a still, undisturbed space.
Jung wrote: 'In sleep, fantasy takes the form of dreams. But in
waking life, too, we continue to dream beneath the threshold of
consciousness, especially when under the influence of repressed or
other unconscious complexes.' Of course, as Jung was well aware, we
live our lives under these influences, continuously in a socializing
and restricting trance produced by such complexes and repressed
material. Jung's methods of working included his own version of
symbol projection, which he termed active imagination. More than
Assagioli, Jung used a wide variety of other techniques, including
dance and movement, to explore the edges of the unconscious,
the 'borderlands' of consciousness. Jung clearly placed greater
importance on dream interpretation than did Assagioli, who through
working with imagery had found what he felt was a more readily useful
William James, who was greatly admired by Assagioli, wrote: 'Our
normal waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness,
while all about it parted by the filmiest of screens there lie
potential forms of consciousness entirely different... Apply the
requisite stimulus and at a touch they are there in all their
completeness.' Perhaps Psychosynthesis offers us our best chance for
finding and applying this 'requisite stimulus'. Assagioli certainly
felt that, and may well have known the famous quote from
Thoreau: 'Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.' This
conveys something similar to the difference between freedom from
something, which moves us away, somewhere else, and freedom to, which
moves us towards doing what is right for us in any specific moment.
Freedom, one of Assagioli's beloved 'qualities', brings
responsibility, and the need to use the will, to not shy away from
making choices. Thus the relevance of will as the compliment to
imagination, both of which are the key components to personal and
spiritual development in the Western mystery traditions. The correct
use of will and imagination wakens the higher centers in the human
system that bring responsibilities of a deeper nature.
Whilst Psychosynthesis borrows dream work methods as appropriate, it
also has some of its own particular approaches that can be applied to
dream work. For instance, a Gestalt therapist may ask a dreamer to
play, enact or describe themselves as the different items in a dream,
not only play the obvious central character. The dreamer might, for
instance, be asked to speak as an animal that appears in their
imagery. 'I am a dog; I have shaggy fur and am always running round
on the spot. My life is ruled by my obsession with food...' Simply
talking as a dream character often reveals interesting and useful
insights into the workings of that dreamer's psyche. A
Psychosynthesis practitioner will use the same approach, but take it
a step further by exploring which part of the psyche was following
these instructions and playing a part. This might be accomplished
through a timely asking of suitable questions: who is it that is
playing this animal? How do you know? Who experiences all this? This
is intended to accomplish an awakening, however brief, of the 'I'
experience, central to the work of Psychosynthesis.
We may use amplification techniques for working with a dream.
Amplification involves working with a small image or sense from a
dream to bring out its richness and depth. This can include items
that are beyond the personal realms, or just of the middle
unconscious. For the personal level of symbology and to explore the
immediate realms of the middle unconscious, a practitioner may use
free association around dream images and check what thoughts and
feelings this brings us, both for the client and for him- or her-
self, being aware of possible projective and reactive
identifications. Working with social and cultural imagery is more
complex for it involves finding items that are common as signs or
signals to us all - a red light meaning 'stop', for instance. This
involves delving deeper into the lower unconscious where such signals
are lodged, which will then inevitably involve analysis of any other
more shadowy unconscious material that is evoked. It is important
however to allow for something being only what it obviously is: a
book in a dream, for instance, might simply be something to read (and
not, for example, a mysterious edible missile that wants to devour
The archetypal level of imagery transcends the individual psyche but
is experienced in each individual in a variety of idiosyncratic ways.
However idiosyncratic an individual may be, there are common
archetypal figures that tend to appear, including the fool, the wise
person, the mother, and the lover. Assagioli loved to include what he
termed 'the wise old man' archetype (that modern Psychosynthesis
practitioners have renamed 'the wise old person'.) Archetypal imagery
also includes events such as birth, marriage and death.
Archetypal figures have to be distinguished from subpersonalities
that may have similar characteristics. Indeed, Psychosynthesis
stresses that at their heart subpersonalities have the same
archetypal qualities. But when these archetypal figures appear in
dreams they bring us messages from the higher unconscious. These
messages can include important insights, precognition, telepathy,
prophecy, and forward-relating imagery. Jung felt that time-wise we
live somewhere 'behind' all our dreams. Subpersonalities are more
obviously figures who are caught up in the past, either the more
recent past (where the dream may be playing out and perhaps re-
configuring recent events,) or the more distant past of repressed
psychic material and complexes. In Psychosynthesis it is important to
work with both directions. The depth work is to enable a
subpersonality to descend into its true inner quality and express it.
The height work is to learn to co-operate with archetypes to help
clarify issues for subpersonalities.
To amplify images on an archetypal level we have to be familiar with
myths, folklore and fairy tales to provide a base for understanding
such imagery. Assagioli discovered that whilst it is important to
have a wide spectrum of such knowledge, to focus on a few central
mythical events, such as found in Dante, for instance, allows close
investigation of all archetypes. He realized that any and all
archetypes can be recognized in each and every story. He was also
aware of the usefulness of the Tree of Life, as we discussed in an
earlier chapter, and utilized his 'hidden' knowledge of the deeper
model behind the simplified egg diagram to help understand the
different levels of dreams.
Psychosynthesis also suggests dream and imagery work as spiritual
practice. For instance, if we are going to awaken ourselves to the
fact that in our everyday life we are also living within a dream,
central to 'dream work' in the Psychosynthesis sense, we have to find
ways to 'check out reality' and see if we are dreaming or not. The
famous 'pinch me to see if I am dreaming' is not so silly: if you
check yourself out that way, if the pinch doesn't hurt, you know you
are in a dream. This opens up the possibility of becoming lucid -
that is, awakening within a dream. In our so-called 'waking' life we
can perform many such 'reality checks' throughout the day, thus
reminding ourselves that we are in a dream: thus, we may awaken
within 'this dream' too. This is the famous 'waking state' in many of
the mystery schools of both the East and West. Such reality checks
include asking: 'Am I dreaming?' and 'Who is dreaming?' then to do
something to check if it is so or not. If you try to fly for
instance, you know whether you are awake in this dream or not! Whilst
requiring great will and imagination, a simple and effective practice
is constantly trying to recall and remind ourselves that whatever we
are doing, we are in a dream. This echoes the words of Chuang-Tzu,
the Taoist: 'Only when they are awake do they begin to know they
dreamed. Then comes the great awakening, when we find out that life
itself is a great dream.'
Will Parfitt, the director of PS Avalon, trained in Psychosynthesis
and has more than thirty years experience of working with personal
and spiritual development. He is a registered psychotherapist and
leads training courses in England and Europe. Will is author of
several books including 'The Complete Guide to the Kabbalah'
and 'Psychosynthesis: The Elements and Beyond'.
His website at www.willparfitt.com includes details of all his books,
courses, artwork, plus articles and journals free to download.