And nothing portrays our symbolic life more dramatically, more interestingly, or even more mysteriously than the stories our dreams narrate. What a treasure these stories our dreams tell, the characters—some familiar, others never encountered before—the scary ones, the comical ones, the brief ones, the "never-ending" ones, the references to our religious and political life, the re-appearance of loved ones long since departed, and the suggestion of a future never anticipated.
But, of course, like everything else you and I encounter in our multi-layered world, dreams mean different things to different people. This is as it should be. And that is why I have tried to be honest about my background and education, my experience as teacher, military officer in the US Army Field Artillery, my travels in the US, the Far East, and Europe, and my present work as a Pastoral Counselor and Jungian Analyst.
So it is true that my life and experiences have served as a matrix from which my dreams arise. But it is also true that my life has arisen from my dream world, as I suggested in my last writing when I shared the evocative dream of an eagle that flew into my life with its puzzling message: "It's alright. I have come from the other side to tell you, it's alright," and then turning to fly back over the horizon from whence it had come.
If it appears that the dream of the eagle and the message itself has an apocalyptic ring, I would agree. Apocalypticism arose in the Hellinistic period. One example is the book of Daniel in which symbolic visions portray the rising and ending of political worlds, imagery that appears later in the Christian book of Revelation that often is used today to project the sobering imagery of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse with an anticipation of the end of history.
Such is the stuff of dreams and visions in which the world is thought to be governed by transcendent powers with whom humanity contends in the transformation of our personal, social, political, and religious destinies. Within the panorama of life and death, dreams flow through our minds each night. In doing so, they offer not a prophetic portrayal of what is to be, but rather the possible meaning of our individual and social life at a given time. These "meanings" are not realized until we ponder the images, the stories, the characters, and the environments described in the dreams.
In just this way, I dreamed of a magnificent eagle that comes "from the other side," commands my attention, delivers a message, and then returns to the "other side." But, you may think, this makes no sense; the dream surely must have arisen from some incident in my life—something I ate, some event in my life, some scene I witnessed on TV or a movie, or something I read in a book.
But that was not the case. In my effort to locate the imagery of the dream in my waking life, I came away empty-handed. Only when I turned to consider seriously the imagery of the dream and its apocalyptic message did I uncover a meaning for myself.
The apocalyptic idea of the transcendent powers that govern our world made sense to me only from the perspective of Jungian depth psychology. And here, I discovered, was the key to understand not only my dream imagery but the unknown and unseen influences that have given shape to the stages of my life. This is important to note. Dreams come to us each night generally in the service of compensating our waking life by bringing us back to a "true north" location of our deep center. At no time is this as important and as difficult to understand as those times when a new direction is called for either because we have gotten off our path or because we have depleted the task of our present stage of life, and the time has come to move on. Our old "worlds" collapse or lose relevance; something new is called for—something we may not even understand, perhaps a path or situation or challenge we fear. After all, when you think about it, this most often is always the case. We do not know what we do not know, or as Carl Jung would put it, "the problem with the unconscious is it is unconscious."
Precisely. So how do we know when the time has come to say good-by to the old and take on the challenge of the unknown? In the old myth of the Knights of the Round Table, when they came to the challenge of a new task, the imagery was that of entering the "dark wood" with all its uncertainty. And each knight entered this dark wood at a different point. What guidance, then, you may ask can we look for?
And, of course, there are traditions. There are paths our family members have taken before us, there are educational and training programs that prepare us. But none of these offer specific directions as we approach the "dark wood" of a new world. After all, there never has been another "you," and like the knights of old, each of us has to enter at the point to which we have been guided or stumbled upon.
So say our dreams, in symbolic fashion. The anticipation of our transformation is encoded within the archetypal imagery of our basic humanity within which lies the age-old courage to undertake the mission of becoming who we truly are.
Maybe then, I thought, maybe the message of the eagle makes sense. Maybe this is the central mission of our human existence and transformation, to become conscious. Hear the message again: "It's alright. I have come from the other side to tell you, it's alright."