“Big” Dreams

So-called "Big" dreams can be drenched in pretentious, often mystical valuation by many who see magical or spiritual profundity in dreams. But "Bigness" is no less relative (to the individual) than "smallness" is. "Big" dreams usually seem to be the narrative problem/resolution dreams probably indicative of REM state sleep. But not every narrative dream is "Big". What makes a dream "Big" is what the individual does with it, how important the dream is to the unique organization of memory that one is. The length and complexity of "Big" dreams, therefore, need not accord with the proportion suggested by their label. Even a brief scene, sometimes even a single snapshot image or feeling, is enough to determine "Bigness".

"Big" dreams, especially among those of Jungian persuasion, also often describe pivotal movements of individuation or other identity revising events. Still, one individual's "Big" may not even register for someone else. There are no hard and fast rules for dream "Bigness". Sometimes a dreamer might consider a dream "Big" (even if that term is not actually used) even if it merely depicts an image or event s/he feels (correctly or not) is confirming an already held "true belief". Others might reserve "Bigness" for those dreams that change one's view or awaken one to something previously unrecognized or devalued.

Ultimately, dream "Bigness" is something I don't feel is especially useful or meaningful. Sometimes it is the most unassuming dreams that end up having the most profound and long-lasting significance to a dreamer. Equally, dreams of great portentousness and numinosity can prove little more than flashes in the pan. But most Jungians probably associate "Bigness" with encounters with the numinous. There is a bit of a weakness for numinosity and the "purity" of archetypal images among Jungians. Yet, I have never noticed that the most "Jungian" or purely archetypal dreams have proved the most personally meaningful.

This should not be that surprising, because the valuation of memory complexes tends to be relative to the role these complexes play in the construction of Self. So if one dreams of gods and goddesses, such a dream is less likely to be as directly significant to identity. I've come to feel it is extremely important to be able to ground dreams in the "real" . . . and some Jungian approaches to dream analysis are inherently inflated. Still, there is a great deal of consciousness of this temptation toward grandiosity among contemporary Jungian analysts (the growing influence of psychoanalysis on Jungian thought my be behind this). Sometimes, even often, the opposite problem is true. That is, dreams that have any aggrandizing or grandiose characters, events, or symbols are assumed by some analysts to indicate a dangerous grandiosity is afoot in the dreamer. So the real danger is moving form one pole to the other and failing to find a balance.

In my experience, dreams do not aggrandize or tempt the ego (at least when understood properly). If one is stricken with a dangerous inflation, one's dreams are likely to not necessarily compensate, but note this problem in critical ways. At the same time, in my own struggles with inflation, I never felt my dreams criticized me about it . . . even when, while awake, it was a constant issue of concern and shame for me. But I was also inclined to the kind of inflation that emerges as a compensation for feelings of worthlessness, almost as if I was "trying" to be inflated in order to stave off these feelings. The result of which was that I just acquired something else to be ashamed of myself for (i.e., inflation). By contrast, when I have observed the phenomenon of inflation in others (and hanging around Jungians affords one innumerable such opportunities), I came away with a feeling that they were substantially less aware of and concerned with their own inflation. They usually saw it as a righteousness, an example of their particular "holy" attitude and insight into things. Also (and this is especially true of Jungians, again), these demonstrations of righteousness usually involved scapegoating sermons where "bad" people were identified by their inability to attain or appreciate such righteousness . . . and of course it was these "bad" people that such Jungians felt to be the epitome of inflation. Inflation is quite the bogeyman in Jungian culture.

With me, the issue of inflation clung to an inner struggle I found myself caught up in, where I felt driven to assert and even "profess" something, yet also felt that I lacked the "entitlement" or credentials to profess or to make claim to a "truth". I worried that I would not be taken seriously. This manifested with a feeling or greater desire to defy my negative or unqualified self-image and assert that "truth" I had insufficient entitlement to. As the anxiety built up, I finally found myself in a situation where I had to essentially force myself to say something "as if true" while simultaneously feeling terribly ashamed at myself both for such grandstanding and for being weak and incapable of restraining myself. Eventually, I figured out that this whole complex had to do with a disease of enshadowed identity or a "negative self-image". Stricken with that disease, I felt no entitlement to my, perhaps not unequivocally "true", but certainly valid, insights. I did not trust the value of my inner experience. Yet, at the same time, I "knew" somehow that it was valid and important . . . and perhaps somewhat rare. Coming to trust and respect the value of my experience and accept my right to have opinions, sometimes even insightful ones, led to a huge decrease in the anxiety I felt surrounding my identity as an "outside" or "stranger". As that anxiety decreased, I felt much less inclined to "blurt out" insights in more grandiose ways.

To this day, I recognize this dynamic emerging when I am in a situation where my "strangeness" is a factor. I've become more relaxed and graceful in general, but I've also recognized that some degree of this identity anxiety is inevitable whenever one is treated as or slips into the role of being perceived as a stranger. Strangers are simply not entitled to have truly acceptable identity. They are quasi-invisible. The fact that this situation evokes some anxiety in me is not the product of an "inflation", but an indication that I am remaining aware of the potential danger of ignoring the dynamics of the stranger/familiar relationship. Unacknowledged, one (identified as a stranger) could be tempted to believe his or her "strangeness" made his or her opinion or insight more profound and mystically "true".

I digress on this issue of inflation in relation to "Big" dreams, because that is always a facet connected to such dreams. That is, the feeling of "Bigness" a dream has may lead the dreamer to exaggerate or feel his or her own worth or profundity is increased along with the portent of the dream. The dream worker must navigate through the work on "Big" dreams with special vigilance, caution, and devotion. One lesson that often takes some grappling to comprehend has to do with the role of the hero in the individuation process.

While individuation events are engaged, one's dreams are quite likely to depict one (or the dream ego) as some kind of hero or person of special importance or aptitude. That can be misconstrued by the dreamer as an indication that s/he is a special chosen one, champion, or prophet. In his book, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, Jung described this inflated figure as the "mana-personality" and proposed that it arose as a result of the ego "assimilating the unconscious" or conquering the anima and therefore absorbing her mystical power or "mana". It is an area of great depth and specialization in Jung's thinking, but also one where he swerves into shaky (and not merely experimental) territory.

Jung's construction of the unconscious and the archetypes is one that pits them against consciousness. He felt that some kind of battle had to be fought with the dangerous, otherly unconscious that ended with the ego either succumbing to it (and becoming psychotic) or chiseling out its own little niche and right to be or to sit at the table of the gods. By contrast, I have never found such work with the autonomous psyche to be so combative. I always recognized that the battle was with my own selfhood and my desires to have a validated identity. The "unconscious" Other was never behind this conflict, never tempted or misled me.

I eventually came to identify another archetype, the Demon, which is not actually part of the autonomous psychic system but functions as a societal, superegoic introject that lays claim to the individual personality, a claim that is in conflict with the organizing principle of the Self system. The Demon is the psychic personage or mechanism that "tempts" the ego to identify with the archetypal hero in a way that uses a heroic costume to fortify and defend one's vulnerability against any penetration. As a result, the individual may form an inflation in which some kind of heroic transcendence, enlightenment, righteousness, or holiness is used to defend the ego against the effect of or relationship with the Other. "Perfection" (or the imitation of perfection) is used to shelter one from accepting her or his shadow. That is the more standard way in which inflation operates.

As one works through a series of "Big" dreams accompanying an individuation event, inflation is likely to be a companion and a problem. The inflating Demon is always ready, even at the brink of being vanquished, to capitalize on the strange sense of "newness" and transcendence that accompanies and valuates the individuant’s journey. Even if the ego is not actually “assimilating the unconscious” or “conquering the anima,” I agree with Jung that there is no significant success in the individuation journey without running up against inflation. It is always a moral struggle to figure out the worth of what one learns or seems to learn during an individuation event. During the heat of the work, the valuation that accompanies these new attitudes and understandings is enormous. The problem of individuation is to figure out, after the conflagration has subsided, what exactly it all means and what is its ultimate use and value.

This is the substantially harder Work of individuation. What does one do with all of that tremendous revelation and inspiration? It becomes obvious (to anyone not caught up in the inflation of being touched by the Self) that the usefulness and worth of the individuation event is not universal. It is personal and, regrettably, nontransferable. The ethical struggle with this problem can make a spiritualist into a psychologist.

Filed under: Psyche Comments Off
Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Trackbacks are disabled.