This surprised me at first, but when I thought about it, it seemed less surprising. The people who call by the House of Dreams are almost all dreamers and writers, and dreamers and writers are acquainted with their own inner darkness, and know how powerful it can be.
When you first engage with the darkness, it can be terrifying, and you may look for reassurance that you will not come to harm.
As you explore further, you find the darkness is full of meaning, and then you may look for other explorers who will understand your experience.
Carl Jung said that he stopped trying to cure people of depression when he realised that the way to make your darkness less dark was to accept it and inhabit it.
When creative people and depressives, and dreamers like me, are called to the darkness, that is a gift of opportunity, even though it is a gift nobody wants.
The sick man has not to learn how to get rid of his neurosis, but how to bear it. For the illness is not a superfluous and senseless burden, it is himself.
The darkness holds the keys to the self, and more. On the other side of meaning, where both the dark and the light are dissolved, all is energy and possibility, and we can experience pure creative freedom.
I believe in this journey. It can be long, and bewildering; it can feel unbearable. But if we can learn to bear the darkness, there is treasure to be found.
I hesitate to write about depression because it may sound as if I don’t understand how terrible it can be. I do. I suffered from depression for many years before I stopped fighting it and, paradoxically, began to win.
These three posts about the darkness brought a wealth of wisdom and experience in the comments, which I hope you will take the time to read.
Has depression or the creative journey ever brought healing and insights for you?
A friend emailed me this week about a series of workshops I’m doing in March-April called ‘Writing your Life.’ She said, ‘I suppose some people might have had lots of exciting adventures they want to tell other people about. For me it’s more about my internal life…’
This reminded me of a dream I had just after the New Year, when I was planning my writing and other work projects for 2014. Specifically, I was thinking I should probably stop messing about with self-publishing my dream book before I actually started spending money on it, and concentrate on writing some proposals for books that might find a publisher and bring some money in.
In my dream, I was walking briskly along a tarmac path towards the station, in a stream of other people who were all wearing suits. I noticed the person in front of me was Deborah Meaden, the millionaire businesswoman from Dragon’s Den.
The path rose to the left over a long wide bridge, but I saw a little dirt track dipping away just before it, and made a diversion. Several people rushing by onto the bridge called me and told me I was going the wrong way and I would miss the train, but by then I could see that the path led down to a long sandy beach.
The sea was coming in and the space under the bridge was under water, but I could paddle along the very edge, and as I did so, I suddenly saw hundreds of brightly-coloured fish swimming around. Stopping to watch them, I noticed there were other creatures swimming in the shallow water too – little crocodiles and lizards, hippos and tiny elephants.
I stood there transfixed, overwhelmed by feelings of wonder and gratitude.
Everyone’s life is particularly lit up by different areas of experience. For me, like my friend, it’s the inner world that feels most exciting. In dreams and imagination I’ve been to wonderful places and seen amazing things, and those travels are as vivid in my memory as other people’s memories of travels in the outer world.
One of the memoirs I’ve found most gripping is Jung’s ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’ and the memoir strand in my own ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ is very much the story of my dreaming, which is the great adventure of my life.
Inner or outer, the adventure’s the thing. Writing is a way of seeing, and understanding where the power that drives your life is, and the joy. I love that some people will bring ‘lots of exciting adventures’ they’ve had in the outer world to these workshops, and others the thoughts and imaginings that have lit up their life from within.
What would you write if you were writing your life?
Carolyn Hughes is a writer with an interest in addiction and mental health issues. Her popular blog is The Hurt Healer and she has a lively and rapidly growing following on facebook and twitter
I must also have a dark side if I am to be whole ~ Jung
Like many writers I want my work to be recognisable by its unique and individual style. For me, it’s crucial that what and how I write reflects my authentic self. Anyone who has read my blog The Hurt Healer will be familiar with the fact that I share from the heart. It’s a deliberate approach to enable readers to relate to and hopefully be encouraged by my words. Authenticity means being genuine and real. Much as I would love to reveal only my good side, to be true to my work I have to disclose my whole self.
It is no coincidence that I am only now finding my writing voice as it has taken a long time to find myself. Years of battling with depression and alcoholism meant that I had very little idea of who I was. How I presented to the outside world was very different to how I felt inside. It was only through having the courage to challenge my past at every level that I was able to start the journey to healing and so begin to find personal identity and my authentic self.
My aim though isn’t just to be authentic, but to be authentically creative. And the key to writing both authentically and creatively lies with the unconscious. For me the unconscious is a limitless place in my mind where my spirit and soul meet. It is a place where I can visit those painful issues that used to torment me. But instead of being overwhelmed I can now bring them into my conscious, safe from their power to harm me. So as I communicate from my unconscious, so I hope to reach the unconscious of others and in doing so share a collective moment of authenticity.
The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind ~ Freud
Recently I’ve been looking at how I can reach further into the depths of my unconscious and take my writing to a new level of creativity. I’ve started to look at the constituents of my dreams. This is a wonderful way to tap into those hidden thoughts and images that make up the psyche, as well as exposing my inner truth.
Examining my dreams however has only been possible from a position of emotional recovery and psychological stability. In those dark days of depression and alcoholism my night-time experiences were fraught with darkness and fear. The erratic and terrifying nightmares that emerged reflected my complete inability at the time to manage my physical and mental anguish.
Jung once remarked that nothing was ever lost in the psyche. That is an horrendous thought for anyone who has tried to block out the past in the hope that the pain would stop. The idea that all thoughts, memories and emotions never disappear but remain forever can be frightening. Yet I found that there was indeed a freedom to be found in allowing the unconscious to simply ‘ be’. I stopped fighting the emergence of the dark side and celebrated the arrival of the good side. By no longer fearing my thoughts and dreams I was free to live authentically and to write openly too.
Il ne faut jamais regarder quelqu’un qui dort. C’est comme si on ouvrait une lettre qui ne vous est pas addressee ~ Sacha Guitry
I couldn’t mention dreams without including one of my favourite quotes. A general translation of this is; “You should never look at someone who is sleeping. It is like opening a letter that isn’t addressed to you.”
It is a quote I came across many years ago at a time when I was experiencing my first love. After one of those deep conversations that you have in such relationships I remember feeling that he hadn’t been entirely truthful. As I watched him sleeping I remembered the quote and realised that I had been right to doubt him. His real emotions were disclosed on his face as he slept. So dreams aren’t just for the benefit of the dreamer!
Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy ~ Freud
Being new to noting my dreams, I must admit that at first they did appear to be made up of bizarre representations that made little sense and made no contribution to my creativity. But as I made more of a conscious effort to remember them and to focus on not just what they were about but how I felt, they became significant.
Very often it’s in that winding down time between waking and sleeping that a word, phrase, image that comes into my mind and gives the essence to a piece of writing. Other times it’s a complete dream that a memory from the past, an issue of the present or an aspiration for the future.
Sometimes this works better than others depending on the obscurity or relevance of my dreams. Yet the importance lies in allowing that writing to happen regardless of whether it makes sense at the time. So although I may have rearranged the words to make them flow, I haven’t messed with the essence of what my soul may have whispered to me.
I may never reach the purest form of authenticity or be famed for my creativity, but I will continue to write from the heart with my unconscious and dreams as my guides.
I met Brenda Mallon at a conference of children’s authors and she kindly agreed to read the MS of my book, ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ and to be interviewed for this blog.
Brenda has over thirty years experience of working with dreams as a researcher, teacher and therapist. She has written 18 books on the subject, presented a Channel Four series ‘In your Dreams’ and sat on the board of directors of the International Association for the Study of Dreams.
Could you tell us a bit about your own personal journey in dreams, Brenda? How and why did you start to remember them, and how has your relationship with dreams developed over the years?
I can recall dreams from my childhood that have stayed with me. I was probably influenced to some extent by my mother. She talked about her dreams and had dreams which were precognitive. She didn’t call them that but would say, ‘You watch, it will happen.’ I think she was psychic in many ways and dreams were just one aspect of that ability. So, over the years I was fascinated by dreams . When I was completing my Diploma in Counselling I based my dissertation dreams. I recorded and worked on my dreams over a sixth month period and was amazed by what they revealed. After that I wanted to focus on working with and researching dreams and to find out what other people’s dreams meant to them, so when I wasn’t working in my full time job in the Child Guidance Centre, I was sending out questionnaires and interviewing woman about their dreams. Over 900 woman took part and the findings were covered in my first book ‘Women Dreaming’ which was published by Harper Collins.
I greatly enjoyed your Channel 4 series, ‘In your dreams.’ Could you talk about how you work with dreams as a therapist?
Thanks, I enjoyed working on the series and meeting such a variety of people who were not coming for therapy but to discuss their dream life in general.
As a therapist, my role, I believe, it to accompany people as they seek to find a way to resolve issues that are distressing and to help them find their own way forward. I generally ask clients to write down their dreams when they recall them and to bring them to the sessions. I should add here, that not all clients do remember their dreams so I work in other ways if that is the case. When a client talks about a dream I ask them if they can make a connections to their waking life and explore the emotional aspects of the dream as well as the symbolic significance of the content. Sometimes, I ask the client to draw their dream and use that as a basis for our work. These techniques, including recording your dreams, using metaphors and symbols, taking the dream forward and dream amplification are detailed in ‘The Dream Bible’ (Godsfield/Octopus)
I like working with dreams because they empower the client to work on their own dreams once they get used to the techniques. This can take just a few sessions and it is something they can access on their own for the rest of their lives, if they wish to. Also, I have specialized in working with people who have been bereaved and, in many cases, dreams can bring great comfort. They form part of the continuing bond we have with those who have died. In ‘Dying, Death and Grief: Working with adult bereavement’ (SAGE) I show how valuable such dreams can be.
As a children’s author, I’m interested in your work with children’s dreams. What would you say are the main differences between talking with children about their dreams and talking with adults?
I think younger children are more open to talking about their dreams and less concerned about how others might view them. I remember, one four year old I spoke to told me that dreams were ‘pictures in my pillow’. His dreams were in his pillow which came into his head when he slept. (In fact, I later used it in ‘Children Dreaming: Pictures in my pillow’ (Penguin). So, small children feel they have little if any control over dreams and their content and are less defensive than adults sometimes are.
Children are usually happy to enter into the playful aspect of dream work. For example, a girl whose brother had died, had a distressing dream in which a lion came into her bedroom and wanted to eat her and her brother, who was alive in the dream, She talked about what frightened her and how she was sad that her brother no longer came into her room to play. She drew the dream, including the fierce lion. I asked her what she would change in the dream if she could change it. She thought for a while and said, ‘The lion could turn out to be nice and then it could go away. I could play with my brother again and that would be lovely.’ So, we talked about what they would play and games they used to play. She then did another drawing of herself and her bother playing as they had done in the past. She knew her brother was dead and would not return to her home and family but talking about him and playing with him gave her comfort and a chance to recall happy times in the past, which is part of the grieving and healing process.
Working with adults is also a pleasure. Adults however may have more pre-conceived ideas about dream interpretation which may lead to being more guarded about what dreams they share. However, once they understand dreams are powerful tools to help them through their crisis or distress, they truly value them, even those nightmare ‘wake up’ calls.
This blog is mostly about using dreams as a creative resource. I know you also teach creativity and writing workshops – do dreams feature in that work as well?
Artists, writers, scientists, musicians and actors speak of the importance of dreams as a source of creativity. I use dreams in my own writing and many members of the creative writing courses I teach use dreams as the springboard for their writing. Sometimes an image will be so vivid that the dreamer cannot get it out of their mind. This kernel of an idea then grows to encompass characters, plot, further imagery and a developed story line. In other cases, the whole story or song appears in the dream. Robin Gibb, of the Bee Gees, told me his song ‘Stayin’ Alive’ came in one of his dreams as did Paul McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’.
I include sections on creative writing and creative dreaming in ‘A Year of Creativity’ (MQ Publications) as I think dreams are central to our creativity. The more we pay attention to our internal treasure trove of dreams the more enriched we are.
Who is your favourite author on the subject of dreams?
I like the work of Kelly Bulkeley, Robert Van De Castle and Patricia Gardfield. All members of the International Association for the Study of Dreams who have made vitally important , accessible contributions to the understanding of dreams. Also, Carl Gustav Jung, who could leave him out!
And your favourite book?
This is a hard one to answer. Probably because it is one of the earliest books I read that introduced me to the significance of symbolism in dreams is ‘Man and His Symbols’ by C.G. Jung.
As an author yourself, which of your own books are you most glad to have written?
Another difficult question! As a therapist, I think ‘Dreams, Counselling and Healing’ was an important book because I was able to put down my experience of working with clients and to show how powerful working with dreams is and to share techniques so others could use them. My latest dream book ‘The Dream Experience: Your complete dream workshop in a book ‘, which includes a CD featuring exercises and inspirational music, is interactive and is, I hope, a guide to deepen awareness of the creative heart of dreaming.
Jung said that dreams don’t only happen when we’re asleep, but all the time, waking and sleeping, throughout our lives. The unconscious mind is continuously producing images and narratives, but we’re only aware of it during sleep because then the distractions of waking life are stilled.
The movement between the conscious and unconscious areas of the mind is like a breathing in and out. Products of the unconscious mind emerge into consciousness – inklings, intuitions, emotions, instincts, senses, desires, before we have had time to formulate them into conscious ideas – and everything you have ever consciously known but don’t currently need to remember sinks into your unconscious mind, where it may lie undisturbed for years.
Because everything you have ever known is in there somewhere, it isn’t uncommon to have the experience of a name or piece of information you vaguely recognise but can’t recall where from suddenly popping up in your mind in response to something that’s happening in your life.
This happened to me recently when I was planning some new courses. One of the ideas I was considering was an all-women group, and another was writing from myths – I do a couple of sessions on myth in my ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ workshops, but not a whole course. That night, I dreamt about someone called Pinkola Estes.
The name rang a bell, and I looked it up, to discover that Clarissa Pinkola Estes was the author of a book from the nineteen-nineties exploring myths and stories, ‘Women who run with the wolves.’ I recalled a friend recommending the book to me two decades before, but as I didn’t like the title I had never followed it up.
I hadn’t thought of Clarissa Pinkola Estes once in the intervening years – to all intents and purposes, I had completely forgotten about her. She had only ever been, after all, a fleeting mention. But I bought the book, and am finding it very useful as I develop this new workshop series.
I have dreamt the names of books, authors, gods and goddesses, which I may have come across long ago or sometimes can’t recall ever having heard of before, and it always happens at a time when following them up proves to be fruitful.
Have you ever suddenly recalled to mind something you had effectively forgotten?
Jung called the Shadow ‘the seat of creativity’ because it contains every potential in us, not just the qualities we identify with. Instead of being limited and narrow, like our ideas about who we are and what life is, it’s fluid and boundless, and messy like real life.
Meeting the Shadow is an experience of expansiveness; it releases energy which was previously tied up in holding the border between what we think of as ‘me’ and ‘not me’, what we think of as ‘how life is’ and how life really is.
It isn’t something you can understand by reading about it. Jung said the archetypes were not ideas but ‘pieces of life itself.’ You have to experience it, and you only know you’ve got it when you are changed by that experience.
An uncomfortable meeting
Meeting the Shadow is always uncomfortable. If it’s easy, you aren’t doing it right, because the Shadow is by definition the aspects of our self that we’re so uncomfortable with, we’ve disowned them.
This is not to say the Shadow is only negative. Positive potentials which may have been strong in us can be lost. For example, a strong-willed child may learn to identify that strength as a bad thing, and grow to suppress and deny it.
We can’t see the Shadow in ourselves; we have to look in the mirror of the world, where we have projected it out, and the clue is in our feelings.
Five obvious places to look
Think about people who provoke an exaggerated emotional response in you, either positive or negative. These might be people you know personally or public figures. The things you dislike or admire about them could be undeveloped potentials in yourself.
Think about your fictional heroes and villains – who’s your favourite character in the drama/sitcom you’re following? Which character do you most despise? Describe them in two words. Consider!
Slips of the tongue. When you say something you didn’t mean – or someone takes something you’ve said in a way you didn’t mean – what would it say about you if you meant it?
Notice what people say about you – both criticisms and compliments – anything you balk at could flag up qualities in you that you haven’t fully recognised.
Consider anything which blocks your ego-desires, anything you normally fight against in life, as possibly carrying shadow aspects. Physical symptoms which stop you doing what you want, for example.
Letting go of how things ought to be – accepting how things are
Whatever you resist in life, rather than fighting it, see what happens if you side with it instead. Experiment, but don’t go at it like a sledge hammer. This isn’t about instant insights; it’s about attitude.
It’s about a way of being in the world, not demanding explanations, but opening to possibilities, being willing to let go of what you think you understand, without having to replace it with another understanding. It’s about amplifying your experience to accommodate uncertainty and confusion.
Judge by results. You’ll know whether the Shadow is at work by what happens when you stop resisting the things and people in life that you don’t like. The Shadow is an unwelcome visitor, but it comes to bring balance and wholeness.
For example, if you think of yourself as a hard worker, willing to put in all the hours, but back problems mean you keep having to take time off, the illness may be helping to bring balance. It may be forcing you to occupy more of your self, more than just the part that is hard-working. If you acknowledge it, loosen your identification with hard-working and swap some of your overtime for leisure activities, the Shadow’s happy and your back problems may start to improve.
Authors talk about writers’ block. But if instead of battling with it we accept it as part of the natural rhythm of writing, it ceases to be a problem and becomes enabling. Writing is more than time spent at the computer, and words written per day. Trying to push on when it isn’t flowing may mean the ideas aren’t firmed up enough, or you aren’t ready, and your block is forcing you to be patient and receptive.
If you want to explore shadow-work further, I recommend this book of short pieces by various authors – it’s both accessible and thought-provoking.
Have you ever realised something about yourself that you’d have preferred not to see?
Next week, the award-winning author Susan Price will be telling her own story about how engaging with the shadow – or daemon – helped her to release her creative power. Wonderful stuff – don’t miss it!
In Jungian psychology, the Shadow is one of the major archetypes of the Self. It represents all the things you have identified as ‘not me’ during your formative years, when you were building your sense of who you are. It’s the other side of the Persona archetype, which is your identity, or how you see yourself and expect other people to see you.
A classic depiction of the conflict between Persona and Shadow is ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,’ by Robert Louis Stevenson, which came to him in a dream. In the story, Dr Jekyll is a respectable pillar of the community, but he has a secret other side – at night, he is addicted to the pleasures of debauchery.
He invents a potion which can completely change his physical appearance so that, as Mr Hyde, he is able to go out on the town and not worry about being discovered. Effectively, he turns himself into two people, one embodying his Persona, and the other his Shadow.
Whatever we don’t identify with as ‘me’, we project out. We may disown it so completely that we can’t recognise it in ourselves at all. We can only see it in the mirror of the world.
One way we project undeveloped aspects of our Self is onto the people around us. A person who thinks of himself as hard-working and high-achieving may find other people lazy and unambitious. A person who thinks of herself as ugly may feel that virtually everyone else is good-looking.
In a couple, the tasks of personality are often shared out. One partner may be good with money, so the other can enjoy financial security without having to develop good money-sense themselves. One might be fun-loving and dizzy so the other can be sensible and steady, yet still enjoy a party lifestyle.
On a collective level, cultures, countries and sub-sections of society also have a Persona and a Shadow. In families, for example, it may mean one person becomes the black sheep, with all the family’s unacknowledged problems projected onto them.
Where there is Shadow projection, there is always emotion, because we’re defending our very existence, insofar as that is our idea of ourselves. Which brings me on to Jimmy Savile.
This was a man who appeared to be helping the young and vulnerable but was actually hurting and abusing them in secret. Quite rightly, there’s been huge public outrage, because nobody should have the slightest doubt that what he’s alleged to have done was heinous and wrong.
According to Jung, there may be another dimension to this natural disgust and condemnation – extreme public outcries of the dig-up-his-bones, may-he-rot-in-hell variety may be intensified by Shadow energy. ‘We’re not like that! We’re the opposite of that! We protect children from sexual abuse!’
So, do we? Young children are regularly exposed to highly sexualised music videos on daytime television, and sexual story-lines before the watershed. Magazines and video games which are targeted at children contain sexual content, and children’s clothing which could be seen as sexually provocative is sold in high street shops. A large proportion of primary age children have seen internet pornography. If you google ‘sexualising of children’ you’ll find page after page of examples.
Jung called the Shadow ‘the seat of creativity.’ Embracing the Shadow means letting go of fixed ideas about who we are and the way life is, opening to unconsidered possiblities and engaging with complications, so to create something new.
Something new is happening because of these horrific revelations. People who have kept their own experience of abuse to themselves for many years are suddenly speaking out. Not just the hundreds who were allegedly abused by Savile, but thousands more are flooding helplines with their stories. That in itself is the beginning of a major change.
I hope the high profile and new openness given to the problem of child sexual abuse because of this case will mean that the sexualising of children by adult society in recent years will come under proper scrutiny and be seen for what it is.
Jimmy Savile’s dirty secret may be holding the mirror up to ours, showing us something about our society that we prefer not to acknowledge. Like all Shadow work, simply to acknowledge it is to begin the transformation.
More about the personal Shadow next week – where to look, and how to see it
The way we normally assume the world works is through cause-and-effect, but alongside this there is another pattern, which Carl Jung termed ‘synchronicity.’
Synchronicity is sometimes defined as ‘meaningful coincidence.’ As opposed to causal links, which are objective and impersonal, synchronicity is personal and subjective. In synchronicity, the outer world reflects the inner world, as when, for example, you are thinking of someone and you bump into them on the street.
Most people only notice synchronicity in really striking coincidences. For example, a friend of mine was whiling away an hour at the office trying to plan a round-the-world cycling trip when, going out for a sandwich, he stepped over a book lying open on the pavement about… you guessed it… cycling round the world.
Or indeed the incidence I mentioned in last week’s post, about the pomegranate.
But synchronicity is part of the fabric of being, not just astonishing moments, and writers can use it in fiction without readers balking at it because, although people may not be conscious of it, it is part of everyone’s reality.
There are three ways writers may use synchronicity
1 Pathetic fallacy. This is where the environment reflects the mood of the characters or the atmosphere of the action.
2 Coincidences. This is where the plot progresses in an unexpected or non-logical way.
3 Supernatural aid. If your character is troubled by doubts and indecision, they may see signs and portents in their environment. It’s like incubating a dream to help you make up your mind about something – you spot the answer much more readily when you know the question.
How can you use these devices in fiction in a way that feels natural and unobtrusive? By becoming more aware of synchronicity in your own life. Dream awareness will help with this, because synchronicity works in the same way as dreams; it’s a symbolic layer of reality which transforms objects and stories into symbols of the self.
The more you tune into synchronicities in your own life, the more freely and convincingly you will be able to integrate it in the lives of your characters.
Three times in my life, I’ve seen a sudden rainbow at a moment when I was agonising over a decision I had made, and felt reassured.
Have you ever felt you received a nudge/confirmation/warning from life?
Author Vanessa Harbour has added her thoughts about synchronicity on her blog – worth checking out