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Psychology, therapists and counsellors often work with dreams and Jung who wrote The Red Book is regarded, along with Freud, as the founders of modern day dream work. Psychology can be viewed by some as fairly dull, or ‘rats and stats’ as a colleague of mine once described it. You will never think that again once you open The Red Book. It was written by the Swiss psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung between 1915 and 1930.
“It is a nearly 100 year old book, bound in red leather, which has spent the last quarter century secreted away in a bank vault in Switzerland.”
Even though I had studied Jung and dreams when I was a younger therapist, to be honest, I never totally connected with Jung. After 3 degrees, I came across Process Oriented Psychology when I met Dr. Max Schubach in 1988 who was teaching in Sydney, Australia. I had no intention to study again but I was so intrigued and fascinated with him and what he was teaching.
I started to explore Process Oriented Psychology and quickly began to study with a group of people in Sydney. It was so different from any other form of psychology and therapy I had previously come across, that I was drawn like a moth to a flame!
Process Oriented Psychology
Process Oriented Psychology, was founded by Dr. Arnold Mindell who was a Jungian training analyst in Zurich, though originally had been an American scientist. He incorporated Jung, Taoism and the new scientific paradigm and developed Process Oriented Psychology. This form of psychology is now practiced and studied in over 43 countries in the world. As his work developed, he wrote many books. They include topics such as shamanism, working with coma, Quantum Mind, Inner work, The Dream Maker’s Apprentice, Earth based Psychology, City Shadow’s and many more.
“Am I Chuang-Tzu dreaming that I am a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming I am Chuang-Tzu.” Chuang-Tzu
Dr Mindell wrote the book, The Dreambody which takes Jung’s work further into a ‘new world view.’ He writes that night time and day dreams are not separate from the process of the body and vice versa. “Physical symptoms are inevitably reflected in dreams. The dreambody is dreams and body at once. ‘The dreambody, then, is a multi-channeled information sender asking you to receive its message in many ways and notice how its formation appears over and over again in dreams and body symptoms.” Dr. Mindell.
As a Process Oriented Psychology therapist, I consider that our dreams are like a snapshot which shows the way to a larger process waiting to be unfolded and understood. This is the same for a troubling body symptom or relationship difficulties etc. They are all intimately connected, not separate.
No matter what ‘dream door’ we enter into the process, we will arrive at an unknown core process. If we become more aware, we can understand the meaning and significance of what is happening to us and follow what needs to happen next. This can then shape our work, relationships, health and life in a way we hadn’t previously imagined.
So, as part of my training. I studied Jung again and became completely inspired by him and especially his writing and painting his experiences which culminated in The Red Book. Jung, along with Freud, were the first two modern therapists who worked with their own and their patient’s dreams. Jung talked about Numinous or Big Dreams.
So what are are Numinous or Big Dreams and why are they important?
Carl Jung borrowed the term numinous from Rodolf Otto, who wrote about it in his book, ‘The Idea of the Holy.’ Numinous dreams can unfold your purpose and meaning in life. Jung wrote to a friend.
“You tell me you have had many dreams lately but have been too busy with your writing to pay attention to them. You have got it the wrong way round. Your writing can wait, but your dreams cannot, because they come unsolicited from within and point urgently to the way you must go.”
We can have great dreams or big dreams, but usually only a few. They occur at critical stages in life such as puberty, mid-life, and as we approach death and usually include archetypes in them. They speak of existence beyond our own life or internal struggles. We usually recognise them as they are incredibly vivid and reverberate strongly inside of us and we don’t forget them. They have an unmistakably inspirational spiritual quality and feel very important. They often don’t need interpretation but are quite clear to us.
Numinous is a sense of the sublime and blissful, mystical and magical. We feel entranced, excited and fascinated. It can be similar to a ‘peak experience’ when we are awake. It is usually beyond our known personality and path. It can also feel daunting and dangerous and cause fear, agitation and can haunt us.
Value your Inner Life
“Jungians look for and find the numinous in dreams, in waking visions and active imagination. Also there are numinous aspects in relationships, in and out of therapy. Sometimes, these aspects enter into spontaneous artistic productions, in meaningful coincidences or synchronistic events, which are common while engaged in deep inner work.
The Red Book contains an extraordinary record of Jung’s inner experiences, in which he painted the rich imagery of his dreams. The historian who did the translation over the past few years has said the book’s basic message is ‘Value your inner life.”
“The years. . . when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me.
Everything later was merely the outer classification, the scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then.” C.G. Jung
“Of those who saw the Red Book, an educated English woman who was allowed to read some of the book in the 1920’s thought it held infinite wisdom.
“There are people in my country who would read it from cover to cover without stopping to breathe scarcely,” she wrote.
For about six years, Jung worked to prevent his conscious mind from blocking out what his unconscious mind wanted to show him.”
Jung wrote later in his book, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, “I knew that I had to let myself plummet down into them.”
Jung believed that people could work with and shift between their conscious and unconscious mind, their shadow side and the light and their intellectual, rational thoughts and their emotions. In Process Oriented Psychology, we talk about becoming aware of known parts of you. ‘This is who I am’ is called your primary process or identity. Then, ‘this is who I am not,’ is the unknown or secondary parts of yourself.
Jung later said that this ‘confrontation with the unconscious, was similar to a mescaline experiment.’ His visions came in an ‘incessant stream.’ He likened them to rocks falling on his head, to thunderstorms, to molten lava. “I often had to cling to the table so as not to fall apart.”
Psychology and Creative Life
“Jung saw in his own life, and in the lives of his patients and colleagues, just how powerful an impact the numinous can have. It can feed the “hunger of the soul” and provide feelings of liberation and relief. The book tells the story of Jung trying to face down his own demons as they emerged from the shadows. He worked on his Red book on and off for about 16 years, long after his personal crisis had passed, but he never managed to finish it. He actively fretted over it, wondering whether to have it published and face ridicule from his scientifically oriented peers or to put it in a drawer and forget it.
Regarding the significance of what the book contained, however, Jung was unequivocal. “All my works, all my creative activity,” he would recall later, “has come from those initial fantasies and dreams.”
Jung kept the Red Book locked in a cupboard in his house in the Zurich suburb of Küsnacht. When he died in 1961, he left no specific instructions about what to do with it. His son, Franz, an architect and the third of Jung’s five children, took over running the house and chose to leave the book, with its strange musings and elaborate paintings, where it was.
Later, in 1984, the family transferred it to a bank vault. In 2007, the Red book was published.
“This guy, he was a bodhisattva, This is the greatest psychic explorer of the 20th century, and this book tells the story of his inner life.” It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.”
So, I became totally intrigued by this whole mystical story of Jung living in a time of a rational, scientific age experiencing what psychiatrists would have labelled a severe mental breakdown. Yet he continued his family life and work with patients, while at the same time, images and horrific scenes flooded his unconscious, threatening, at times to overwhelm his sanity.
Remember, this all occurred before the 1960’s and 70’s when Transpersonal and ‘New Age’ therapies became fashionable in the West. Spiritual and unusual, weird experiences and stories then became somewhat more widely accepted in mainstream society, if not by psychiatrists trained in the medical profession!
In Jung’s time, he certainly would have been considered crazy if he had revealed what was going through his head, especially as a well known and respected doctor. He has left us a legacy by documenting his deeply intense and sometimes fearful journey. He has shown us that experiencing radical and extreme processes is worthwhile. If we listen, trust and follow our own process, even if it does not conform to our, or society’s value systems, we may discover an endlessly fascinating, and as yet, unexplored dreamland in ourselves.
“I do not know how dreams arise. I am altogether in doubt as to whether my way of handling dreams even deserves the name “method.” I share all my reader’s prejudices against dream interpretation as being the quintessence of uncertainty and arbitrariness.
But, on the other hand, I know that if we meditate on a dream sufficiently and thoroughly – if we take it about with us and turn it over and over – something almost always comes of it. This something is not of a kind that means that we can boast of its scientific nature or rationalize it, but it is a practical and important hint which shows the patient in what direction the unconscious is leading him.” —C.G. Jung
(Part of this blog is from ‘The Holy Grail of the Unconscious’ by Sara Corbett. Published: September 16, 2009. New York Times. Quotes from the article are in quotation marks and I highly recommend you read it. Check it out on Google.