Tag Archives: James Hillman

Life after death – the way of the dreamer

James Hillman, in ‘Dreams and the Underworld,’ describes dreaming in terms of sinking down, of dropping below the surface of things, into the realm of death.

In our dreams, we completely identify with the dream ‘I’, and the waking ‘I’ is no more; the assumption that we are ourselves within the dream is an illusion.

The dream ‘I’ is not the self as we know it. In different dreams, it may be a different gender from the dreamer, or a different age; it may have a different job and skill-set; it may even have supernatural powers. The dream ‘I’ is one of myriad characters which inhabit the ‘inner self.’

Writing fiction is similar to dreaming. We enter the ‘writer’s trance’ and ‘become’ our characters. We live in their lives, and grapple with their circumstances. But it is less intense because we are still aware of our own physical body, sitting at our desk, dipping in and out of the writing dream to answer the phone, pick up email or make coffee.

Choosing to engage with dreams is like a kind of suicide. We let go of the waking ‘I’ and willingly become the dream ‘I’, walking the underworld. In this way, the dream ‘I’ is like the soul – it lives on after ego awareness is gone.

Some of my guests here have described dreams in which they have been or become animals, and some of my workshop participants have reported dreaming in the ‘I’ of characters from different places and times, ages and genders. Have you had a dream in which it’s obvious the dream ‘I’ is not your waking self?