When Dreams Reveal Reality

12/21/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The other night I dreamed about a woman with whom I had a 'falling out' several years ago. In the dream, she and I were friends - laughing and sharing some day-to-day tidbits of life. Jung thought dreams were a key to personal self-discovery. As he saw it they could reveal important insights in the process of individuation, the unfolding of awareness through integration of the conscious and unconscious. Meditation is often seen as a similar tool for of allowing the unconscious to display itself, to have a voice during waking states as dreams are to sleep states.

Yet, we learn very little about studying our 'unconscious', our dreams or using processes such as meditation, art, music, or contemplation, to investigate our minds. Part of the challenge is that science is the overarching model for knowing today and these 'first person experiences' still remain hard to study using scientific methodologies.

Yet dreams often spur people to take action in life and as such they provide an important component to understanding human behavior, albeit a difficult process to study (although many scientific labs are attempting to do so).

My dream stimulated further self-examination.

It led me to investigate the source of my dislike for this person along with others. When I created a list of people that 'bother me' (i.e. I dislike, envy, or feel some twinge of discomfort for them), the list contained people who could be viewed as either extremely self-absorbed (determined to achieve fame or fortune) or single-focused in action stemming from an extreme passion. What's interesting about this discomfort list is that the overt behavior stemming from these two very different motivations looks the same on the surface.

The saying, "You can't tell a book by its cover" reflects the universal nature of this ambiguity. Behavior may not reflect intention. The invention of dynamite by Alfred Nobel was not intended to garnish forth the murder of thousands in war. Creative outcomes may be used for great harm or great service and it is not necessarily the outcome intended by those creating. My projection that those on my 'dislike' list are self-absorbed rather than passion-seeking reveals a characteristic (self-absorption) that I likely reject in myself (a discovery I also resist realizing).

The process of self-awareness may be likened to a naturalists' exploration of nature. A beautiful rock - cool, strong, colored with deep granite-grey hues - may reveal when turned on its side, a steaming caldron of maggots wiggling amidst the black moistened earth. We are each both: a rock and a caldron of maggots.

True happiness arises in the integration of the two and dreams may help in the integration.