I’m going to spoil part of the last chapter of Robert Waggoner’s Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self. In February 2006, needing a topic for an upcoming issue of his magazine, Robert has a lucid dream in which a dream figure draws attention to the book he’s holding, John A. Sanford’s Dreams: God’s Forgetten Language. In his waking life, Robert owned the book, but hadn’t read it yet. This dream was his impetus to finally sit down and read it.
I came across a copy of the book at the beginning of May 2015, in a used book store in tiny Pahoa, Hawaii. Remembering Robert’s anecdote, I quickly snapped it up, but was less than impressed when I started perusing the table of contents and reading the introduction. John A. Sanford was an Episcopal priest and Jungian analyst, and I got nervous that the “God” he was referring to was the bearded, wrathful sky-father I left behind before I got to high school.
I read the first chapter on a whim last night and I’m pleased to report that, 27 pages in, it’s actually shaping up to be one of the most nuanced and useful treatments of dream interpretation I’ve come across. Even when Sanford incorporates quotes and stories from the Bible into this chapter, he is able to stress their richness as psychological metaphors. He comes right out and says:
Now it doesn’t matter at this point whether the reader believes in the Bible as historical fact or not. As far as our present purposes are concerned, the only important thing is that this biblical story is rich with psychological meaning. Whether it actually happened that way, or is only an oral tradition, it nevertheless expresses a psychological truth as true today as in Jacob’s day: that God assails us in life as our shadow, seeming to be an adversary, but desiring our fundamental change.
But wait… do we have to accept that the shadow figures in our dreams are God working undercover for our benefit? Isn’t that just the same sky-father in a series of masks? Yes and no. Sanford’s understanding of God is a bit more nuanced. As he recounts the trajectory of a man with nightmares he counseled in his role as a priest, Sanford asserts:
We may therefore assume an intelligence within his psyche that was responsible for these meaningful dreams. For reasons that will appear more clearly as we go on, I do not hesitate to call this intelligence “God.” God is the name we give to the purposeful, numinous power that crosses our lives; our dreams are one of the manifestations of this power.
Now, I’m not quite convinced of the existence an independent, unconscious intelligence driven towards self-coherence within my own psyche, let alone the idea that this independent intelligence is God. I am, however, curious about the “reasons that will appear more clearly” for referring to this postulated internal force as God.
The Book’s Impact on My Dreams So Far
I read the first chapter in bed, right before nodding off for the night, and it seems to have expressed itself through the dreams I had. Much of the chapter is about the importance of balance and unity between the different parts of the self. Examples of given of a sick man who dreams of his violent shadow side, a proud woman who dreams of her humble shadow side, and an earnest priest who dreams of his laid-back beatnik shadow-side. In Jungian analysis and the alchemical symbology that Jung drew upon, the archetype of the hermaphrodite often represents “the union of opposites”. I recall thinking about this as I read the chapter, and it made an appearance in my dreams.
Last night I dreamt I was back in Hawaii renting out a DVD player, some movies, and a dark dorm to watch them in from a person in the early stages of transitioning from male to female. I had a hard time recording my name in the book as required. I was able to watch the first batch of movies with no issues, but when I wanted to watch The Godfather, the person told me that the dorms I used before were occupied. I chose to take the equipment back to my dorm and watch it there.
My intention before falling asleep was to get lucid in my dreams and ask the dream to show me something important for me to see. Lucidity wasn’t in the cards last night, but it strikes me as significant that a kindly person with both male and female features was my guide for seeing the things I wanted to see in my dream. I’m also still working through the idea that The Godfather (or God, the Father) is something that needs to be experienced at home.
Any further explorations into the recesses of my own unconscious mind are probably going to be of limited interest to anyone else. Dream interpretation is sometimes downplayed among lucid dreaming and dream yoga enthusiasts, but I do hope that this quick little interpretation exercise demonstrates a possible application of the ideas in Sanford’s book. I look forward to reading the rest of it and I’ll be sure to let you know if anything else cool comes of it.