When Swiss dream pioneer and founder of Analytical Psychology, Carl G. Jung, was in university, he dreamt he was walking at night into a mighty wind with his hands cupped around a tiny light which threatened to go out at any moment. Even as a gigantic black figure pursued him, he knew that everything depended on his keeping the little light alive.
To keep the light of consciousness alive as we enter into the shadowy aspects of our psyches is the great task of dreamwork. It is perhaps the most common reason that people resist dreaming, for how frightening nightmares can be.
But covering your eyes is usually worse than looking. It is when you avoid pain that dreams tend to reoccur, or turn up their creepiness volume. This is not, as you might suspect, to torture you, but rather to get your attention so you may progress. Just as a bird must be pushed out of a tree to find its wings, so too must we face our demons if we hope to turn them into allies.
It is through our toughest experiences, including difficult dreams, that we discover our agency. You might even say that we require risk in order to become ourselves. As far as personal growth is concerned, the smelly stuff of our dark dreams is loaded with juicy jewels. 90% of it is highly compostable.
A famous example of shadow potential realized is the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Not only was the tale taken from one of Stevenson’s nightmares, it is in itself an excellent description of what can happen when the shadow is ignored. Stevenson’s historical masterpiece came out of his own work to integrate the shadow, while speaking powerfully to the good and evil within all of us.
At first, it may seem counter-intuitive to enter into that which we work so hard to avoid. Indeed, as we sort through the uncomfortable pile, it appears unending – especially when our dreams ask us to admit that we possess many of the qualities we dislike, or even despise. But what we may not realize is the enormous amount of energy it requires not to.
Like the Chinese ‘finger trap,’ the harder we resist, pulling outwards to escape, the more we are caught. It’s only when we push to the interior that we are released.
As we enter the dark of our dreams with the flashlight of consciousness, they lose their power over us. We learn to own our complexes rather than having them own us. And soon, the energy it took to keep our painful bits hidden is freed up for infinitely greater purposes. Maybe there’s even a novel or album in there!
Though plodding through the dark requires considerable patience and courage, we are always braver for it. As Jung poetically puts it, “My own understanding is the sole treasure I possess, and the greatest. Though infinitely small and fragile in comparison with the powers of darkness, it is still a light, my only light.”