The little dream that doesn’t mean anything (Part 4 of 4)

Part 4 – Conclusion

little dreamIs it possible that a dream has no meaning?

I heard a story recently that made me a little sad. Years ago a student was asked in an exam if “all dreams mean something?” She said yes, she believed they did. The examiner shook her head slowly and with a pained and patronizing countenance said, “Oh when you have heard thousands of dreams we will see what you think then.”

I have been listening almost everyday to numbers of dreams since the 1970s and have not found a meaningless dream yet. The tiniest, most banal image can open the world. When a person insists he has not dreamed all week, sometimes a wee little image will emerge.

“Do you have a dream today?”

“No, I don’t, sorry.”

“No need to be sorry. They come, they go. But what might be happening, are you aware you are dreaming, or not writing them down in time to capture them or what?”

“Oh, I just don’t have a whole dream.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I have a few images but they are not the long good dreams I like to bring to analysis.”

“Could you tell me one of the images you do remember? They are not random, since you have so many memories and thoughts in your mind, it is curious just what precisely your dream maker brought to you.”

“Oh, well…..I had an image of a ….”

And then the session cracks open like so many eggs for a soufflé.
I have asked the students at the Jung Institute in Zurich/Küsnacht to bring me a dream that means absolutely nothing but no one has managed so far.



Castleman, Tess. (2004) Threads, Knots, Tapestries: How a tribal connection is revealed through dreams and synchronicities. Daimon Verlag: Einsiedeln
–(2009) Sarcred Dream Circles: A Guide to Facilitating Jungian Dream Groups. Daimon Verlag: Einsiedeln

Jung, Carl. (1984) Dream Analysis: Notes of the Seminar Given 1928—1930 by C .G. Jung. Ed. William McGuire. Bolligen Series 49. New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Neihardt, John G. (1932) Black Elk Speaks. Washington Square Press: New York

Victor Gollancz. Grimms’ Tales for Young and Old, (Oxford: UP, 1979).

von Franz, M-L. (1972) The Feminine in Fairy Tales. Spring Publications: Dallas, 1972
–(1974) Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales. Spring Publications: Zurich
–(1996) The Interpretation of Fairy Tales, Revised Edition. Shambala: Boston and London

The little dream that doesn’t mean anything (part 3 of 4)

Part 3  “My Teeth Are Falling Out, The Bathroom is Filthy and I Cannot Find My Class!”

There are a number of dreams that fall into the category of collective dreams. Here are only a few examples:

  • Appearing in public naked
  • Having to eliminate in a filthy public restroom
  • Teeth falling out.


If one searches on the Internet, the “answer” to these dreams will be easily found. One interpretation after another is given as a recipe from the dream cookbook. The problem is that the interpretations can be almost anything and are all over the map—here is a partial list of what your teeth falling out in a dream “means”:

  1. The dreamer is conflicted about aging and has an unhealthy desire to be young.
  2. A change of consciousness is coming.
  3. The dreamer is using faulty logic about something.
  4. The dreamer has been gossiping too much.
  5. The dreamer is angry.
  6. The Dreamer is facing a major milestone
  7. The dreamer is experiencing loss of childhood innocence
  8. The dreamer fears loosing sexual attractiveness
  9.  The dreamer fears that life is out of control
  10. The dreamer fears becoming a victim
  11. The dreamer needs to be heard, to express oneself.


Let’s take a stab at amplifying the ‘Lost at College’ dream from a Jungian perspective. Here is verbatim dream:

scaredI dream that I am back in college, and it is time for finals. I wander around quite awhile and finally find my classroom only to realize at the last possible moment that I have forgotten to attend any classes this semester. I awaken horrified.

What is clear in this dream is that the dreamer is feeling tremendous pressure and anxiety. So, the dream calls for a question: “How am I feeling that I can’t meet my responsibilities, that I am totally unprepared or that I am trapped into failing? Typically, the dreamer will not have an immediate answer, but after thinking about it a bit, something will come to mind that the dreamer didn’t realize was bothering him or her so much.

One reason this dream is so common is that feeling pressure and even hysteria in our modern world is a condition that many face. Most of us are trying to find a way to pay bills, exercise, meditate, write in a journal, carpool, clean the house, service the car, fix meals, find time to sleep, commute, read, and still go to dinner with friends. We impose nearly impossible demands on ourselves, and our current culture is fond of screaming messages at us that we have to do all of these activities perfectly or be failures.

In the case of the “I Missed My Exam” dream, more is at work here than just reminding us that we are in a pressured culture that brings many to a breaking point. Again, one has to be scientific and curious about all images in dreams and ask, “Why is the dream setting always a college campus?” We don’t dream frequently that we drive to a restaurant only to find it closed or go to our library to find it burned down, or that we find we have forgotten to pay all of our bills—and the possibilities are endless. Why, then this specific image so prevalent in adult dreams? I can only speculate that college, especially the first year is a haunting horror, a frightening—place where freedom and expectation are put together like fire and ice and one is forced to mediate this chaos.

Additionally, the engine that drives our educational system is one of fear, punishment, shame and blame. From the earliest school moments a child realizes he/she has to “behave” which is one of his first exposures to societal conformity. Here mother’s sweet voice, or father’s warm lap are gone, replaced by a stranger who may yell, threaten, punish or wield power in destructive ways. Even in cases where one is lucky enough to have the kindest teachers, rules abide and a type of oppression ensures in spite of a teacher’s best intentions.

Quickly the child has to determine what the norm is—is it ok to talk without raising a hand, is it ok to sharpen a pencil without permission? Many rules have to be learned correctly or the child is punished—by ridicule, by overt humiliation where the teacher reprimands the child in front of the class, by eliminating recess, by calling a parent, by harassment from the other children, and so on. Additionally, pop quizzes, test grades, report cards, state exams all begin early and are gravely anxiety producing for children.

Children catch the panic of the teachers and parents and know that performance will insure their affection and regard from the authorities, failure can feel like love is being withheld. For a small person, this is life or death. And this pattern, one that is kept in place throughout the educational system is brutal and abusive. Here the dream tells it over and over in so many individuals’ nighttime dramas—not just “an anxiety dream” (whatever that means) but a societal mistake portrayed in the collective dream.

Trauma and terror mark the beginning of education and continue throughout schooling—coming to a crescendo by college. There the stakes are high—perform or flunk. Flunking is a financial, emotional and professional failure that can wound a person for the rest of life. Education is frightening for most people, even the smart ones. And in the freshman year of college a person usually faces his greatest freedom and his greatest pressure. The conflict is daunting. Do I study or take drugs? Do I write a paper or have sex? Do I read my assignments or stay out late partying? Let us not forget this is the onset age for schizophrenia. Many young people are deeply traumatized by college, even when they do not consciously know it.

This dream becomes clearer after we have followed the process of working with dreams. The only difference in the amplification of the waking context just written is I used the culture as the dreamer, not the individual. At the end we are faced with a blistering confrontation about education and how it is approached in our world. So perhaps we can begin to see how this dream might come to so many people on so many on occasions?

The little dream that doesn’t mean anything (part 2 of 4)

Part 2  “My Teeth Are Falling Out, The Bathroom is Filthy and I Cannot Find My Class!”

my_teeth_were_falling_out_by_brokenopenseed-d30wxkyThen there were dreams that seemed to be dismissed entirely.  “Oh, that is just an anxiety dream.  That didn’t mean anything because I was thinking about my traveling yesterday so that is why I dreamed I was at the airport.”  End of dream work.  Yet, certainly the dreamer thought of many things the day before so that particular image is of utmost importance, and the ego has only been tricked one more time by the elusive dream image hiding as a “meaningless dream”.  Since we dream about things of which we are unconscious, it is imperative that an association to an image in a dream not be an excuse to dismiss its symbolic significance.

The ego is a mighty organism within the matrix of the psyche.  It demands dominion and omnipotence when it has next to none.  It seems to beat on its chest like a bully after a fight.  I will not remember!  My dream is not important!  This is stupid!  This is only a wish!   Our ego development clearly contributed to the advancement of the human race, but still the instincts and the archetypes are dangerous left completely un-integrated.

Additionally, our dreams hide in the smallest cracks.  They are elusive, wily and mercurial.  They still, no matter how long a person has worked with her or others’ dreams, will find a way to be forgotten, ignored, dismissed and laughed at.   I call this The Little Dream That Doesn’t Mean Anything.

And one category of dream that is especially disregarded is the ubiquitous, repetitive, common dream.  It is both collective, as in the tribal dream cited above, as well as considered a small, unimportant dream often edited out of one’s dream journal as well as one’s analysis.  Yet just as personal dreams, meant only for the dreamer (if there is such a dream) are an intention of correction, compensation, awareness, etc. so do ubiquitous common dreams intend to correct, compensate, etc. the culture or collective consciousness.  They are not necessarily limited to the dreamer himself.  We dream to heal our world, just as our ancestors have for millenia. Therefore they seem to me to be extraordinarily important.  Let me give an example:

I go to college only to discover I have arrived very late, I have missed all of the semester, and now must take the final.

There are a number of variations of this dream, not finding the classroom, not having the books, etc.  All have the same setting, theme and emotion in the dream.

“Oh that is just a little anxiety dream.  I have it occasionally so it doesn’t mean anything.  Day residue. Maybe I am worried about the presentation I have to give”

Once more, end of dream work for the dreamer.

And yet, we as analytical psychologists have failed to notice that this dream is far too common to be ignored—rather than dismiss it because it is common, the remarkable data is that so many people have such a common image it must garner more of our curiosity, rather than less.  In a classroom often over half the people in it have all had this dream, a question I have asked many groups, from all over the world.  One reference stated this dream is had by 40% of the adult North American population.  I have no idea if that is accurate.  It fits with my spotty research.  And to add to my curiosity, in the summer semester at the Jung Institute this year, I asked this question of our international students, including those from Korea, Croatia, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Japan, and others.  Nearly all raised their hands.  Clearly it is a common dream that many people have.  It is my thought that this dream is about our world zeitgeist, it is trying to correct or compensate or illuminate some aspect of our “spirit of the times” that wants attention, consciousness, change, and energy.

These dreams are collective dreams—at least to some extent.  That does not mean they do not have significant personal guidance for the dreamer—but they are so similar, specific and prevalent that they must also be seen as information for all of us—not just the individual.  In some ways they are like fairy tales, which Marie Louise Von Franz termed “collective dreams”. To summarize, she theorized that fairy tales, like myths, represented the core, crystallized psychological imprint of a culture.  After details that proved to be unimportant faded away, what was left was a story that represented a truth about a group of people.  In the Grimm’s Tales one sees many terrible witches and evil stepmothers. One might surmise that feminine power and strength in Germany circa 1500 was manifesting in a destructive manner.  The ever-present male hero counterbalanced the female antagonist.  Or one could see this pattern as congruent with the emergence of the “masculine” modern era conflicted with the long-standing “feminine” medieval era. Similarly, in current dreams that are repeated in our modern culture we see broad, prospective issues actively and energetically being “talked about” by the dream maker.

What do you think, feel, imagine or see about this type of dream?


The little dream that doesn’t mean anything (part 1 of 4)

The Little Dream That Doesn’t Mean Anything (Part 1 of 4)

During my early days of training to become a Jungian analyst, I was taken by research I did surrounding the process certain indigenous cultures used to understand dreams.

The Lakota, a tribe from North America was particularly interesting since they used dreams and visions to speak to the entire tribe.  Not all dreams, but some.  Black Elk in his semi- autobiography describes a vision he had in childhood that later became a permanent ceremony called the Horse Dance.  He was tormented by fears that he had lost his sanity until he shared his vision years later with a healer.  Then it was understood the vision was for the community and that who ever held a vision like this without sharing it would suffer.

Black Road says to Black Elk:  “You must do your duty and perform this vision for your people on earth.  You must have the horse dance first for the people to see.  Then, the fear will leave you; but if you do not do this, something very bad will happen to you.”  (Black Elk Speaks, Page 135)

This really struck me because first of all I was hearing over and over in my training that dreams were for individuals to tell their analyst and no one else.  Being in the Zurich community at the time, this was not even possible it seemed to me.  We all told our dreams to one another, sometimes we were characters in each other’s dreams and we would tease out which pieces were objective or subjective for the dreamer.

Also, we would have similar dreams or similar images would appear throughout a period of time for several people.  These mysteries kept speaking to me throughout my training and later in my practice.  Then, on occasion, a person would have a dream that seemed to speak to “all of us” just as Black Elk’s vision had meaning for his tribe.  I have termed these dreams “tribal dreams” since they occur within a social cluster where significant connection is established. Recently I heard one of these dreams that the dreamer had during his training in the 1970s.

seatedbeggarleaningoncaneI come to the institute.  It is a magnificent building, a castle or a mansion with a palatial exterior.  As I round the side of the building to enter in a side door I see it is really just a façade and behind the huge front there is no building at all.  Then I see some prominent Jungian Analysts walking around doing their business as if this is normal, not seeing that the building does not really exist. One figure stands out against the well dressed analysts:  a small beggar, with spindly thin legs dressed in a burlap hooded garment limping along with a cane scratching at the earth.  He seemed to be looking for something.  Then I saw there were diamonds and rubies and sapphires on the ground that he was collecting.  Then he lifted his head, pulled back his hood, looked at me and winked.  It was Carl Jung.

I think most Jungians can see the information in this dream goes beyond the dreamer’s personal realm and seeks a larger audience.  What a confrontation!  He dreamed this for our “Jungian Tribe” and it seems to be just as relevant and alive now as it was then.  Tribal Dreams are not only consequential for more than the dreamer, they also operate outside of a space/time reality and can impact others over decades.  In Lakota tradition, an important dream would be cause to adjust a ceremony, or create a new one altogether, possibly change a planned course for hunting or give a new name to a person.

Perhaps some would be willing to speculate what this dream means for our community?  How does it correct our attitude or push us to confront issues of which we are unconscious?

I hope you will visit this site again for Part Two of “The Little Dream that Doesn’t Mean Anything” which will be posted in coming weeks.