Tag Archives | collective unconscious

What is the Collective Unconscious?

To understand the collective unconscious, we must begin with the personal unconscious.  Most people in the western world have a basic understanding of the parts of our human mind that are hidden, unknown or deeply mysterious.  We call this the unconscious mind.  And while rooted in psychology, the notion that we have an unconscious mind is a part of our day-to-day experience, showing up in the media and pop culture.

We have no way of really knowing that such a thing exists, but its presence is revealed to us through behaviors we can not justify, choices we make that we don’t understand, reactions to events that do not energetically match the event itself or slips of the tongue that embarrass us because they reveal desires we hadn’t planned to expose.  It is considered by many to be a frightening aspect of the human mind.

Beyond the disquieting notion of powerful but hidden forces that lurk below the surface of our thinking, the unconscious is also home to intuition, imagination, creativity and spontaneity.  This vibrant and fascinating realm is also, of course, the home of our dreams.  When seen in this light, it is much easier to make the leap to understanding what the collective unconscious is.

The collective unconscious goes even deeper than the unconscious mind.  It is a realm of experience that exists in all human beings and connects each individual to each other in life and back through history to the beginning of time.  Because it is not something that can be isolated or touched, we only know of its existence through the evidence that reveals a commonality that all human beings share collectively. 

Jung made this discovery through observations during his extensive travels all over the globe. He found that all cultures, no matter where they existed on the planet or how ancient their history, shared vast arrays of similar mythologies, beliefs, artistic expression and much to his surprise, dreams.

What Jung recorded that was so shocking to him was that the native populations that he studied in Africa and Asia were having the exact same dreams as his patients in Switzerland.  Impossibly removed from each other by geography and culture, these third world peoples dreamed routinely of flying, falling, loosing their teeth, being chased and other commonly reported imagery just the same as his well-to-do Caucasian counterparts thousands of miles away.  Granted the natives were being chased by lions as opposed to assailants with guns, but the essential content and theme were the same.

Because of the existence of the collective unconscious, we powerfully connect to symbolic meaning that we may not have any conscious awareness of.  In this way, the importance of accepting the existence of the collective for the modern day dreamer will feature prominently in the process of interpreting dream imagery.

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Do dreams connect to world events?

Our individual experiences in life are always connected to what is happening globally, although it is not always easy to identify how this is happening.  Dreams are one of the ways that we connect to the collective experience.  In fact, the basic foundation of modern dream work is predicated upon the existence of what Jung termed the Collective Unconscious – the realm of thought that is experienced by all human beings in the same way.

Here is a dream that illustrates this concept so well, I wanted to share it.  A client of mine presented a dream in which she was suffering from a severe headache.  In order to have some relief, she rinsed her head with cool water and found that there was black dye in her hair.  She came upon a woman and asked for some help in cleaning off the dye, but the woman replied that she couldn’t get the equipment working properly and would be unable to wash her hair at this time.

On the personal level, this dream is reflecting the dreamer’s current struggles with health issues and depression.  The headache could represent her ongoing negative thoughts, with the black hair dye connecting to the outward expression of these negative thoughts.  In examining this dream, we decided that asking the woman for help was indicative of her desire to turn toward the feminine principle for relief – holistic healing and the mind-body connection as opposed to relying strictly on Western medicine.  The fact that the equipment was not operable was a clear indication that the moment for relief was not yet at hand, which was certainly accurate in terms of her waking-life condition.

The personal dream work satisfied us both and helped my client reach a sense of surrender to her plight that day.  This was no easy task as her level of discomfort was great, but the dream did it’s work and she felt shifted as a result of our conversation. 

However, while we were working on the dream, I was struck by what to me was a very obvious connection between the timing of this dream and a world event that had happened the day before the dream appeared.  As this is one of my most intuitive clients, I didn’t have to wonder whether I should broach the subject; she did it for me and suggested that we look at how her current experience might also be reflecting things going on in the collective.  We had only to turn to news of current events to make the connection.

She had this dream the night after BP installed the cap on the damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico.  There was not yet enough information to know whether this fix was going to work and the measure of efficacy was going to connect directly to how much pressure was going to be exerted on the integrity of the well.  The cap on the well could be symbolically connected to the head.  The pressure buildup beneath the cap could certainly cause a symbolic headache.  The black dye was such an overt symbolism of the impact of spilled oil, we both found the image a bit humorous.  The fact that the equipment was not yet ready to clean off this black dye (spilled oil) was certainly applicable to the hope that the cap would work coupled with the knowledge that the impact of the oil would take a long time to clean up.  There was no doubt for us both; the dream was reflecting both her personal journey and what was happening in the world at that very moment.

Now, not every dream is going to exhibit this connection quite so directly.  However, I share it with you to encourage a more enthusiastic exploration of the Collective Unconscious and how it might be operating in your dream life every day!

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