Dreams: the subject of the deep

In Psychology and Religion, Carl G. Jung undertakes a philosophical investigation into the religious dimension of the unconscious. Jung investigates the nature of an inner voice of wisdom as it occurs within a dream sequence. This investigation begins with a discussion of a man and his dreams. He says:

[The dream voice] “utters an authoritative declaration or command, either of astonishing common sense or of profound philosophic import. It is nearly always a final statement, usually coming toward the end of a dream, and it is, as a rule, so clear and convincing that the dreamer finds no argument against it. It has, indeed, so much the character of indisputable truth that it can hardly be understood as anything except a final and trenchant summing up of a long process of unconscious deliberation and weighing of arguments. ” (p. 45)

The dream voice can be seen as an internal representation, be it the soul or an inner guide. The dream voice shows us that “the unconscious mind is capable at times of assuming an intelligence and purposiveness which are superior to actual conscious insight.”(p. 45) Jung states that is often the case that the “conscious mental makeup” of the individual “was certainly most unlikely to produce religious phenomena.” (p. 46)

Jung goes on to contemplate this inner voice. His writings express the difficulty inherent in creating a theory of an unconscious subjectivity. His thoughts become a philosophical investigation into the religious depths of the unconscious. In this process, Jung seems quite aware that the idea of a mystical inner voice may provoke objection by rational thought. For most people this inner voice would simply appear to be a representation of the thoughts of the individual.  Yet Jung aims to overcome such objections and show that there is something much more interesting (and even divine) going on within the mind. Jung states:

“I have often met with the objection that the thoughts which the voice represents are no more than the thoughts of the individual himself. That may be; but I would call a thought my own only when I have thought it, just as I would call money my own only when I have earned or acquired it in a conscious and legitimate manner. If somebody gives me the money as a present, then I shall certainly not say to my benefactor, “Thank you for my money,” although to a third person I might say afterwards: “This is my own money.” With the voice I am in a similar situa­tion. The voice gives me certain contents, exactly as if a friend were informing me of his ideas. It would be neither decent nor truthful to suggest that what he says are my own ideas.”(p.46)

To help us understand his perspective on the nature of the inner voice, Jung is asking us to consider the idea of ownership. Ownership is often thought of as something we have earned or acquired in a conscious way. He brings attention to how we do not acquire the wisdom of the inner voice, instead it is given to us. The inner voice provides us with gifts of wisdom, which then become our own. If we fully acknowledge this profound insight, then we will see that the inner voice is quite different from our conscious waking thoughts. Jung says:

“This is the reason why I differentiate between what I have produced or acquired by my own conscious effort and what is clearly and unmistakably a product of the unconscious. Someone may object that the so-called unconscious mind is merely my own mind and that, therefore, such a differentiation is super­fluous. But I am not at all convinced that the unconscious mind is merely my mind, because the term “unconscious” means that I am not even conscious of it. As a matter of fact, the concept of the unconscious is an assumption for the sake of convenience. In reality I am totally unconscious of-or, in other words, I do not know at all-where the voice comes from. Not only am I incapable of producing the phenomenon at will, I am unable to anticipate what the voice will say. Under such conditions it would be presumptuous to refer to the factor that produces the voice as my unconscious or my mind. This would not be ac­curate, to say the least. The fact that you perceive the voice in your dream proves nothing at all, for you can also hear the noises in the street, which you would never think of calling your own.” (p.46-47)

What I love in this passage is that Jung is pointing to the incredible nature of the unconscious. He is showing us that although we dream, we do not know from where these internal voicec of the unconscious originate. Jung goes on to show how we are each related to, or part of, something bigger than ourselves. And in this way when we dream we connect to the larger body of life.

“There is only one condition under which you might legitimately call the voice your own, and that is when you assume your conscious personality to be a part of a whole or to be a smaller circle contained in a bigger one..” (p. 47)

Here Jung brings in an analogy, “to be a smaller circle contained in a bigger one”. When we dream we are connecting and communicating with the larger body of life. In this instance Jung asks us to “conceive of the ego [as] being subordinate to, or contained within, a superordinate self as a center of the total, illimitable and indefinable psychic personality” (p. 47- 48]

Jung takes us deeper into the philosophical origins of this thought. He shows that each experience or object contains contact with an ‘unknown’ aspect that cannot be assumed. When we encounter the larger circle, or the larger body of life, we are making contact with this unassumable unknown as it resides within us. Carl Jung says,

“To put it simply one could say: Since we do not know every­thing, practically every experience, fact, or object contains something unknown. Hence, if we speak of the totality of an experience, the word “totality” can refer only to the conscious part of it. As we cannot assume that our experience covers the totality of the object, it is clear that its absolute totality must necessarily contain the part that has not been experienced. The same holds true, as I have mentioned, of every experience and also of the psyche, whose absolute totality covers a greater area than consciousness.” (p. 49)

Each thing we look at, each experience we have, contains within it both that which we are conscious of and an ‘absolute totality’ that we cannot be conscious of. There is always an unassumable excess to each experience or thing. There is a surplus which can never quite be known, or articulated, and yet remains.

Carl Jung then turns his inquiry back upon the psyche. He becomes the observer, observing the nature of his own mind. In this inquiry he realizes that our own psyche contains an excess ‘surplus’ which is unknown– an unassumable excess upon which we cannot gain a handhold.  He says, “the psyche is no exception to the general rule that the universe can be established only in so far as our psychic organism permits.” (p. 49)

And yet, what is amazing is that this surplus aspect of the psyche is the very truth and depth of our subjectivity. And from this truth emanates wisdom– as intuition.

“My psychological experience has shown time and again that certain contents issue from a psyche that is more complete than consciousness. They often contain a superior analysis or insight or knowledge which consciousness has not been able to produce. We have a suitable word for such occurrences-intuition..” (p.49)

It is only through dreams, imagination, visions, and synchronicities that we begin to intuit the larger totality of our being. It is through this dreaming capacity that we, as ‘smaller circles’, are able to make contact with the ‘larger circle’, be it the Anima, the Anima Mundi, or even that which is wholly other, ineffable, undefinable. What is important in this understanding is that this ‘larger circle’ of being is not only outside of us, transcendent to us, but within us.  It is a subjectivity which resides within the depths of us.

Image reference: Helderth Bridge, Karl-Ludwig Poggemann from Germany, 2008, Creative Commons


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