Original Artwork by Rachael Shores

A Guide to Jungian Dreamwork

How to activate your creative energy.

Joshua Burkhart
39 min readMar 16, 2021


Dreamwork is a lot more than wrestling esoteric meanings from random symbols. While it can help us cultivate greater self-knowledge, it is a visceral experience that unlocks psychological energy, potential, and creativity. In essence, it unlocks parts of the self that lie dormant or splintered away from the conscious mind.

Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist who explored dreams and the unconscious referred to this psychological energy as “libido.”

When we buffer from lack of psychic energy, we say we have a depression or an inhibition, not realising that part of our mental hierarchy has run away beyond our control, that we have, in fact, lost our soul…

Thus images are energy or libido.

— Carl Jung, Cornwall Seminar

It was his theory that much of our mental health and unconscious blocks arise from fractures in the personality that disrupt our libido or psychological energy, motivation, creativity and drive.

In a modern interpretation, we can see how stress, trauma, and conditioning disrupt portions of the brain along with neurological associations causing shifts in focus, attention, and the way we see the world. Often this creates a feedback loop in the body where we store tensions and traumas as we move from states of disassociation to hyper-vigilance or arousal (fight, flight, freeze, fawn).

Since the brain interprets our sensory data we essentially live within the brain’s experience. What we think of as life or reality is the best working model the brain has to give us. Due to the brain’s limitations, that model is bound to have biases and glitches as well as oversimplifications.

Dreams offer a door to this world of experience. No longer bound by sensory data they allow a direct experience of consciousness itself.

Here we find familiar textures and patterns but the unfocused nature of dreams (being distanced from sensory stimuli) allows us to break through our more conscious patterns — the ruts of the mind.

When we do this in an embodied, mindful way, dreamwork acts as visceral alchemy, germinating the unconscious with conscious observation, thus activating its energy and growth potential. This is done through symbol, narrative, and the dynamic energy experienced in the body waiting for consciousness or attention to awaken it.

What results is a lot more than information. It’s an embodied experience of knowing or gnosis that can find, free, and activate our energy, creativity, and motivation.

The practical benefits of Jungian dreamwork.

Theory is nice but results are better. My work with the dream sequence below sparked a rush of energy and creativity. This article is proof of that and I’ve already outlined several others building on the concept of dream work, shadow work, and working with the unconscious.

The day of the initial dreamwork the energy was so intense I felt I may be going manic and had to focus on grounding it. Once I got it under control it stuck with me as I’ve felt a positive shift in confidence, energy, and motivation.

The work also gave me a deeper, embodied perspective — reminding me of the effect of this history in my body and helping me cultivate greater compassion for my mother in relation to these specific dreams. She and I have since had several conversations that have gone much better than anticipated.

The dream sequence continued on beyond the demonstration below involving new work with the father image. That has led to new insights, powerful conversations, and the changing of several habits for the better.

There has certainly been a significant, positive shift.

I have seen the same happen with clients as particularly powerful dreams boost energy and creativity and lead to powerful shifts in behaviors that seem to occur overnight.

The truth is the process was well underway before the dream occurred, it just required the alchemizing participation of the consciousness with the unconscious dream content to accelerate the process.

For instance, several years ago when everything was “going well,” dreamwork helped me realize a powerful inner frustration. This sparked resolve to make several big changes. One of them being my move to Bali, leaving behind everything I’d known for a one-way ticket to a place I’d never been.

I’ve never been happier.

How to work with dreams.

Recall the dream and write it down.

The first step of any dream process is to remember the dream.

What I’ve found most helpful for myself and clients is to spend a week or two practicing a mindful wake-up: try not to move, to think, to act. Let the body wake up mindful but empty. Don’t reach for the dreams you know you had, just let them come and fill the space of the body like water filling a bowl.

When you feel you’ve received as much of the dream as your going to get you can trace back scenes and clues to other portions of the dream. When you’ve gathered as much as you can, write it down. Be as specific as possible.

Even if all you get is a sensation, “it felt eerie,” or “the floor was red,” note it. This will build a sensitivity to your dreams.

If you find you’re struggling with dream recall after several weeks I highly recommend Robert Bosnak’s book “A Little Course in Dreams.” It has powerful exercises for dream recall and is one of the best books I’ve read on dreamwork, inspiring much of my own process.

Pro-Tip: If you can’t wake up without an alarm (which throws off the mindful wake-up) try priming your unconscious for dreamwork with set intentions. Before going to bed tell yourself “I will have my important dreams on — ” whatever day you can sleep in without an alarm. “If my unconscious wants to communicate it can give me a dream then.”

Another method is to ask yourself to wake up before the alarm. It sounds crazy but the body has an amazing bio-clock. For myself and many of my clients simply telling the body when to wake up works (that’s the power of the unconscious).

Tap into the dream atmosphere.

Once you’ve captured the shape of your dreams you’ll need to feel into the dream atmosphere. Dreams have a certain texture or taste, you may notice patterns and themes that help to reinforce this.

More important, right now, than the analysis of the pattern is the feel of the dream itself. Think of the dream as a place, a space of consciousness that you enter into. Just like a restaurant or cafe it has a feel to it that goes beyond the feelings of the observer. When we feel into this dream atmosphere it makes it easier to both remember the dream and to explore it and step through into active imagination.

Closing your eyes and walking through the dream chronologically, remembering as many of its details as possible, can help to invoke this atmosphere.

If I’m having trouble feeling into the dream I’ll sometimes list parts of it that have a visceral or strong psychological impact on me. I won’t bother analyzing these yet but if a strong association — another memory, dream or sensation — pops up I’ll list those too. Then I’ll audibly repeat these words, giving them a rhythm to form a flow, letting myself get caught up in the flow to trace out whatever branches occur until I am feeling the atmosphere of the dream and begin to describe it as if I am telling a friend.

If there is a significant space between the time you write the dream down and when you are working on it you can connect to the dream atmosphere and then write it down again. Later you can read both versions and note the changes.

Dreams, like memories, are constantly shifting. Neither dream nor memory are objective facts, they’re impressions that arise through a host of shifting chemicals and neural interactions. Every time we touch them we alter them — and that’s just fine.

You’re not looking for 100% accuracy. You’re feeling into the dream because it is made up of a portion of your mental environment, your atmosphere, You. It is a mirror. By observing changes in the dream you’re observing changes in your psyche. It’s like watching yourself make faces in a mirror. The face is the same but the emotion portrayed on it can give you a better feel into your current psychological state.

Remember to feel into your body.

Dreamwork is visceral. It’s a method of working with the unconscious which includes the body as well as the parts of the brain that operate without our conscious awareness.

Many people approach dream work consciously, immediately attempting to analyze and decode it. This strips the dream of its greatest asset, being in itself a window to the parts of consciousness we’re least familiar with.

We spend most of our day thinking, often analyzing or problem-solving. This leads to a dismissal of our body’s experience, our emotions and so many of the sensations that are there beneath the spinning thoughts and analysis.

Dreamwork is an opportunity to pay attention to these other parts of self. To immediately analyze, decode or problem-solve them is to place your dreams under the same tyrannical rule of thought we spend the rest of our lives in.

Instead, try to feel into your body as you enter into the dream atmosphere. If the dream atmosphere is the atmosphere of a cafe, let the body be the cafe itself. Let it hold space for the characters and scenes. Feel into how it reacts to the different parts of the dream.

There will be room for analysis later. Right now you’re just observing, experiencing, noting all the twisting rabbit holes the dream and its associations take you down; getting a feel for the warrens of meaning inside your mind and body.

Feel for energy, tension, and aversion.

Once you’re wandering the warrens of your dream, feeling it in your body, you can feel into its details.

Feel for parts of the dream that seem the most charged or hold the greatest amount of emotion or tension. Alternatively, feel into the parts of the dream your mind shies away from, the parts that feel boring or fuzzy. Much of dreamwork is spent in feeling into the parts of the psyche our mind is averse to. Aversion isn’t always disgust, anger or repulsion, the mind is clever and often paints over discomfort with a lack of interest.

You can feel into different parts of the dream by visualizing yourself approaching different dream objects, interacting with them and seeing what happens.

Be careful not to force the process. You’ll notice that the dream atmosphere can grow denser if you’re working with it or evaporate if you push it too far. Take things easy so you can remain in the atmosphere. Once that atmosphere evaporates it’s hard to tell what is the legitimate dreamwork experience and what is forced imagination. Plenty can be analyzed from our imagination but when consciously invoked it doesn’t provide the same sort of window/mirror into the unconscious as a dream does.

Begin analysis and/or invoke active imagination.

I personally go back and forth between these two processes depending on the dream.

In general, I avoid analysis for as long as possible as it often detracts from the atmosphere. Paradoxically I’ve found, at times, that I wasn’t ready for the active imagination until some point of analysis was raised, an associative link or question that seems to set the stage for the active imagination, invoking a stronger sense of the atmosphere.

Like most healing modalities you’ll have to find what works best for you.

Active Imagination

Active imagination occurs when we allow the dream atmosphere to carry us past the dream’s ending. It’s best to do this in a state of non-attached focus — we simply witness what arises.

It’s like stepping back into that cafe, into the scene that has now become familiar, and watching how that scene plays out past our dream script.

If done right (being fully immersed in the dream atmosphere) the characters of the scene, the setting, and environment will be sustained by the dream atmosphere and continuity occurs.

Often this causes elements of the dream to play out into a new resolution. If we have carefully traced the dream associations into various memories, thought patterns, symbols, or visceral experiences in the body this resolution will carry over into these associations.

A sort of dream alchemy is performed that allows for transformation: freeing stagnant emotions still trapped in the body or memory, rebirthing the psychological energy caught beneath repetitive thought cycles, discovering new passions or forgotten values now viscerally supported by the mind and body.

This is one of the greater effects of dream work. It allows for a visceral method of actively transforming psychological content, much of which has been cut off or gone stagnant, thus freeing psychological energy or libido.

Jungian Dream Analysis

The other benefit of dreamwork is the alternative perspective it gives us on our lives, thoughts, and actions. Due to their unconscious nature dreams can act as a counterpoint to our more active thought life, filling in the gaps of what we may otherwise be missing.

The brain receives eleven million bits of information per second from the body, not to mention all the information that is stored around us in the environment or being expressed by others.

The conscious mind can process fifty bits of information per second.

To be fair some of that eleven million is redundant, some doesn’t need our attention, and some of it is being condensed into easier accessed information. Still, the conscious mind is clearly not capable of processing all the information around and within us, thus it will have blind spots.

Dreamwork can help us fill in these gaps by tracing the various associations of the dream to older memories, thoughts, personal or collective symbols. Once we gather these clues and set about our analysis we can begin to ascertain a meaning in the dream.

“Again we seek for the way via the dream. The meaning of the dream must be fitted into the conscious attitude, thus acting as a ferment in the conscious attitude and out of that a new attitude is made, day by day.”

— Carl Jung, Cornwall Seminar

Meaning comes from the interplay of the dream and the consciousness that is interpreting it. There are often clear patterns in the dream but it requires the conscious mind to note those patterns and awake their meaning.

In this I rely on a Jewish authority, the Talmud, where it says: “The dream is its own interpretation,” meaning that we have to take the dream for what it is.

— Carl Jung, Children’s Dreams Seminar

In a way meaning is the work of the conscious mind, the unconscious mind simply is.

To accept the meaning someone else has given your dreams and their symbols is to accept the meaning another consciousness has found in your dreams and that may not be yours (although that meaning and perspective can still be useful).

With time you’ll develop your own lexicon of symbols, your personal language of the psyche, which will help you better understand yourself and better communicate with your psyche via mediation, internal dialogue, or ritual.

Remember daylight influences.

It’s important to remember that dreams don’t arise in a vacuum. They’re often related to events that happened recently.

Try and note what was going on in your mind before sleep. Similarly, be mindful of experiences that had a strong emotional or visceral impact on you.

Dreamwork can provide important insights into these daylight experiences, giving us alternative perspectives from other regions of the self we may not be paying attention to.

Things to keep in mind:

Some work isn’t ready until you’ve completed a dream cycle.

Many dreams are not stand alone. They’re part of a larger cycle that may spread itself out over several nights or even months or years. To further complicate matters, most dreams don’t come labeled “dreams I-V.”

The only way to tell that a dream is part of a cycle is to pick up on repeating patterns, imagery and/or atmosphere. In the dream cycle below (a relatively short one) there is an exaggeration of darkness. Light is nearly nonexistent, if it happens it’s yellow or otherwise noted as being dim. Themes around death, falling, open pits, and a mother figure make their way into most sequences.

Awakening from the Sunday dream I immediately remembered the Friday dream and felt them related via their themes and atmosphere.

Not all dream cycles are like this. Robert Bosnak traces several in his book that are linked to various themes like the shifting nature of dirt to mud to clay to stone and pottery, running through several months.

Keep an eye out for cycles and realize that some dreams won’t fully open until you’ve completed a cycle.

This is one of the many reasons why it can be helpful to have someone else working with you on your dreams whether that be a trusted friend or a professional as it often takes another set of eyes to recognize the patterns.

Never judge yourself by your dreams.

Unless you’re lucid dreaming you have no control over your dreams. They occur in a random swirl of shifting chemicals and charged ions. Feeling repulsed by dream content can create aversions to dreamwork. We may find we’re forgetting our dreams, have no focus for the work or have nightmares.

If something is particularly troubling and you discover it has associations with other worries, problematic behaviors or traumas then consider seeking help.

Otherwise, allow your dreams to be what they are without judging yourself by them. In her book, “Dream Worlds of Shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism: the Third Place,” Angela Sumegi traces the dreams of Dalai Lamas and finds that they’re often violent and gory.

If your dreams are strange, you’re in good company.

Remember, dreams change. Respect their authenticity.

I want to reinforce this idea as it often leads to aversion as people doubt the effectiveness of dreamwork if they can’t remember the dream perfectly. That thought process is rooted in thinking that dreams are messages from the psyche that need to be interpreted and would have a clear meaning if we just knew how to do it.

Dreams however are ever-changing. You may find a dream analyzed through dreamwork acts just as much as a question or an illustration as it does an answer. It’s the act of interpretation that gives them meaning.

Don’t worry if you feel you’re making things up, that is part of the process — working through an ever-changing state, one interconnected with memories, symbols, visceral sensations, psychological energies, and patterns. It shifts and transmutes as you observe it, opening doors, repelling you from unwanted areas of the psyche with symbolic caution signs: fear, feelings of repulsion, nausea, distracting worries, captivating fantasies…

There are two tricks here:

  1. Watch the various threads that open and interweave, feeling into the nature of the consciousness that not only sets the stage but pulses with tides and interconnected networks below, above, and all throughout the scene — below, above, and all throughout you.
  2. Stay true to the atmosphere of the dream. Yes, we want to follow memories, fantasies, and associations because we want to observe the consciousness itself. However, dreams have internal integrity much like stories do. When characters in stories do things wildly out of character the story falls apart and loses its magnetic appeal. The same goes for dreams. It’s tempting for the ego to read things into dreams: things it wants, things it doesn’t want to see — “Oh this must be a sign of my intuition developing.” “Clearly this dream means they love me!” “No, I will not follow that thread, I don’t want to feel my jealousy. Let’s fantasize instead — focus on aliens, rockets and first contact.”

Find your own way.

Everyone will work with dreams a little differently. Writing helps me. I’ll sit with my eyes closed and go through all the steps above (and below in the section to follow). This doesn’t disturb the dream atmosphere for me and I can still feel into my body as I’m taking notes. If anything it helps me focus.

I’m also practiced at this and obsessed with writing. This may not be your method. You may want to sit still, listen to music, have absolute quiet, or a sketchbook to doodle in. Find what works for you and do it.

An Example of Dreamwork:

I’m sharing the dreamwork that inspired this article because it clearly illustrates the topics above.

Please note that this is a particularly clear dream sequence. I’m practiced at doing dreamwork, know my internal lexicon and this is a particularly poignant dream cycle.

Not all my dreams are like this. I still wake up with many dreams being nothing but a blur and others having no semblance of rhyme or reason.

I share this because dreamwork is an active working of our psyche. If we are holding high expectations or comparing our dreams to others it will affect our dreamwork and what we take from it.

Please accept this as a relatively rare, particularly concise example, and may you find yourself having plenty of your own, in your own time and fashion.

Friday Dream:

We drove to a parking lot. Something had to be done. Mom was worried. She got in a brass elevator with a woman. The woman was tall and slender. Her hair like a reversed triangle. When the elevator doors closed they were bronze and I couldn’t see my mom but I could see the silhouette of the woman. As the doors were closing I tried to pray in various gods to keep my mom safe as I knew angels would not go where she was going. I sent in Mars. He was a red orb. I also said other names I don’t remember. The elevator went down.

I was choosing dnd classes for myself, like sorcerer and monk. Someone was talking about how a certain manual was a cheat, the classes looked powerful but they were all simple tricks. The writer was upset about this and named a feature that had something to do with the way a hand moved in a martial form. The original speaker said it didn’t exist but I found it in the huan school. I was trying to be something arcane and martial. At another point I was behind a building beside a large hole when a sort of dragon shaman found me (human). I was worried he’d cast a spell and push me in.

Sunday Dream:

We drive in with our truck to an education center with parents and fam. My siblings and I are younger children. Jonathan points out there is only republican news, no mention of democrats. Dad is playing a game. I ask why we’re there several times. Mom is getting upset and frustrated with me. I ask if we can go to the other homeschool center because it’s more balanced. They say no. I remember I have money and can call an Uber and say I’m going.

I wake up (really). I’m thinking about how to write an article on shadow work.

I’m on a train but the cars are so small they’re more like coffins or the back of our childhood truck shrunk down. I’m facing backward like the truck seat in the bed. I’m laying down but am raising myself up. My arms are touching the side of the car. We’re moving along a track in a dark city. The only light in the windows is of Christian iconography but it doesn’t really light anything up. It’s just dull yellow light and shadows in a dark cityscape beneath dark, jet black clouds. Behind the buildings rise plateaus and mountains. The buildings aren’t carved but they’re sunk into the stone giving an underground feel.

I am watching two creatures. One is something like a badger. The other I think is supposed to be me but I’m not sure what it is. Both fall into a dark canyon with a giant snake. At points I see the snake from the small creature’s point of view, it is many times larger but its head is wounded. It strikes at the badger three times. I see this from a side angle and from the small point of view. While it does this I imagine another scene where the badger summons light as a way to protect us but it never really happens. Instead, the badger is poisoned and we fall down a large pit and keep tumbling and tumbling. I tell the badger “There’s still more to do. We need to find your inner healer.”

I wake up (really) thinking about the article.

Dream Process:

Hours after the Sunday dream, having felt into its significance I write the dream again from memory, listing any associations that arise.

Friday Dream Recall:

I’m driving in the car with my mom. It doesn’t fully feel like our childhood truck. At first, I’m thinking an older car with a hatchback, it’s golden-colored like my mom’s old car when I was a child. I don’t remember the type but an association comes up: my parents always explained that it was the color and type and her black curly hair (Latino heritage) that led to her getting pulled over all the time by the cops. While they saw it as an annoyance they never mentioned it as racist. It felt like their sympathies were with the police — the system discriminating against her.

While I’m thinking of what car this is it suddenly becomes my mom’s PT Cruiser. A car I rather hate for not having enough legroom. A car my dad also disdains but my mom loves. He tells the story that she wanted it for the analog clock in the dashboard. Everyone rolls their eyes at this in sympathy with him, a dismissal of her reasons for something irrational. She never corrects this. The car is purple and suddenly in the image it is very real, very clearly her car as if it has been locked in and made solid.

Another memory arises. My mom is driving me at night. We’re in SoCal. I’m a child. I ask her, “If Jesus is the lord of light who rules the dark and night?”

“Satan,” she says matter of factly as a homeless man crosses the crosswalk in front of us. She hits the power lock on the doors “just in case.”

Just like the car, my perspective of myself focuses. It had been protean, shifting through different age groups, now it’s the age I was in the car that night, hard to peg down but somewhere between 4 and 6.

I realize she’s been her age from the memory throughout the dream.

She gets out of the car, leaving the keys in the ignition. There’s a warehouse/factory of sorts, dark red bricks in the evening gloom. Pale yellow light is cast from highly mounted bulbs. I can’t see the sky behind the warehouse/factory, it’s too large.

Now that I am feeling into the dream it feels like there are presences watching but I don’t see them. I am reminded of another childhood dream:

I am under a swingset. Wolves are surrounding me. They are pitch black and red-eyed. They are circling closer and closer. I am trying to say the name of God but don’t remember it. They are laughing at me saying I’ll never remember and even if I do it has no power over them. I know they are demons. I finally remember the name at the last second and wake up.

What name did I call?

This dream memory sparks another:

The devil has fallen through the roof of my bedroom. He is bright red, looks very much like a traditional devil. He is unconscious. The muppets usher me out of the room and post-security with Miss Piggy and Kermit the frog acting as leaders. I convince them to let me back in, saying he’s probably dead. They warn me to be careful. I slowly circle the body, still unconscious, looking up to see the pitch-black hole in the ceiling.

(As I write this I think to that later abyss in the Sunday dream.)

I get closer and closer with each trip around the body until I am bending over the face. The devil’s eyes flash open and he grabs my head and says “You are mine.”

I told my mom about the dream the next day. She said the devil had tried to claim me.

Even as I remember this dream another childhood dream comes with black dragons trying to consume me. I ran into my parent’s bedroom. They let me stay with them but made me sleep on the floor. The dream kept waking me up.

This scene with my mother is waking up my childhood dreams. The common theme being the dark and possession or destruction but also the memories surrounding them. My mother giving them an evil connotation, never comforting, simply drawing lines as to what was good or bad.

In the Friday dream there is a woman waiting for my mother. Her hair is curly like my mother’s but it sits like an upside-down triangle, bigger on top. She is dressed in a power suit. I think part of it is yellow. She is standing in an elevator. The doors open for my mother. When my mother enters the doors start to close. They are bronze. I am worried for my mother and want to send protection but think to myself “Where she goes angels dare not tread.” So I pray for pagan gods to protect her. The name I remember is Mars, he goes forth from me as a red ball of light and gets in the elevator between the two women. The door blocks the vision of my mother but shows a silhouette of the other woman revealing what is normally left unseen.

The dream ends.

Sunday Dream Recall:

Once again we pull up. This time in the family truck. My dad and siblings are there. We’re all rather young, just a little older than the Friday dream. We’re at an education center. It’s large with long rows of metal shelved books and a row of old computers. While the place is lit it feels dim, like a large building with weak fluorescents, too few windows, and dark clouds outside.

My dad is playing a computer game, sort of like math blasters but more first person. Just like my childhood he’s caught up in it, isn’t paying attention to us, won’t let us play. I know that this is a “Republican” education center, the party I was raised with and synonymous with “Christian.” It clearly lacks information about Democrats.

I tell my mother that this center is unbalanced and I want to go to the other homeschool center (I was homeschooled as a child). I very much feel the imbalance within me and see the symbol of a set of scales, now linked as an adult to Ma’at the Egyptian goddess of truth and balance.

My mother tells me no and I despair for a moment but there is a fire inside that fights back. It feels justified. I remember I have my own money and access to Uber. I recognize this now as an anachronism and something in the dream felt off, it was enough to cause the scene to shift.

I am in a coffin-type bed. I think it felt different when I first wrote the dream but now I see something like a coal train. I am in bed with it even while I see it more like an actual coffin. The sensation is confining, dead. . . dead and jaded. . . dead and empty. . . sad? Yes but not deeply so, too jaded to be deeply sad.

There is a twilight city all around me. The windows aren’t lit, the sky is jet black. There are rocky desert-like cliffs everywhere as the train snakes its way through, curving along on a track built up into the air. The only light is dull and yellow like the factory lights from the Friday dream. They illuminate different bible scenes like the three wise men. I don’t remember many others but I think to myself “stories of the prophets.” I realize there is no sign of life other than me.

The train comes to a dark tunnel and the scene changes.

I am falling and land with a badger. At first, I watch this from a third-person point of view. The badger stands in a guarding position, sheltering what I think of as me, something like a red child, perhaps furred?

Then I am looking through the eyes of the child up at a snake. It is a giant rattlesnake and its head is wounded. The spine pokes through alongside the head as if it has been snapped but it’s still hissing, still curled up, rattle shaking.

I remember a dream from my college years with pits of rattlesnakes and some two-headed ones in an egg. I don’t recall much but I was supposed to protect them. Later I wrote about it and seeing a dead snake that day on the side of the road I thought “If snakes suddenly became our friends who would know?”

In the dream the vision moves out to the third person again as the snake strikes. The badger steps in for each blow. I can’t help but think it is motherly — a fierce mother. I see a sort of ghost image. The badger is shining a light from its hands, it will deflect the snake and its poison but the image never comes true (I am reminded of the wolf dream from childhood).

The badger is struck three times and then falls into a dark pit along with me. As we’re falling in darkness I tell it “We need to find your inner healer.”

The dream ends.

Differences in the retelling:

Clearly, the second telling is longer. I have more time to write. I am also paying more attention. There are clearer associations, particularly with the first dream. My brain and body have had time to feel into the associations even if I haven’t been thinking directly of them. The unconscious works like that.

The first clear difference is the locking in of age for the Friday dream. There is also a larger atmosphere of daemonic forces fed by the childhood associations. I pay more attention to the relationship between dark and light. They had been there before (although, perhaps not as clearly) I just didn’t focus enough to list them.

In the original writing, I call the other woman slim and don’t mention her clothes. The second time she is in a “power suit,” one could say she is “slick.” Giving the opposite impression of my mother.

My mother in the second telling has left me the key. It’s still in the ignition. Perhaps she has left me the key to my mobility just as I have sent her down with the god of war, one who fights to survive.

I had forgotten entirely the second part of the dream. Googling “huan” in a martial arts context I find it is related to Tai Chi which I have some practice in though I don’t recall the term. In particular, Luohan Quan is related to the arhat fist. Arhats being people who have gained enlightenment, thus blending the martial and what the dream thinks of as the sorcerer or the supernatural.

Behind another building (that I now remember as another warehouse) there is a large pit. I am scared of it. I don’t want to go in. Another spiritual character, the dragon shaman (my Chinese star sign is of the dragon which represents the mixing of characteristics; the shaman is a traveler of worlds) feels like a threat, may in fact push me in.

Apparently, he did because in the next set of remembered dreams (Sunday’s) I am traveling through dark layers, often falling. In the other dreams things happen to me, here I hesitate to act, to take the dive, even though my mother has already descended. I think it’s telling that this is the part I forget, the part the mind ignores, the first step. The one it’s afraid of.

It requires training, practice, focus on both the arcane and the martial, something I associate with self-discipline: the mental, physical and spiritual. I am worried when I meet another associated with my zodiac sign, perhaps an aspect of myself who can travel, perhaps heal what I find in these other realms but by the time I am recounting these other realms I have already forgotten this (until it is revealed again externally through notes and analysis and internally through active imagination — my practiced tools).

In the Sunday dream I have mixed the figure of my brother and myself, identifying more with the will to leave and the overall theme of unbalance than a dynamic situation where I’m a child: impatient, wanting answers, frustrated.

I’ve made myself a hero seeking balance, writing out my brother and childish boredom. I focus instead on my justification. A justification perhaps for breaking away, for being martial, Mars-like.

In the dark city, the atmosphere of death and stagnation has become stronger. There is now dark and earthy coal from the center of the earth. The psyche is doubling down on its symbols of darkness, death, and stagnation. It ends with another tunnel, one I believe was originally there but couldn’t honestly tell with certainty.

The last portion of the dream has stuck with me the most today. It hasn’t shifted much. The wound to the head and neck remind me of the Torah passage:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel

— Genesis 3:15

The character which is myself seems a bit clearer. I couldn’t tell you if that’s my ego filling itself in or actually from the dream.

Dream Symbols:

Below I give my subjective meaning to these symbols. Please don’t take this as dream gospel. Find your meaning in the visceral experience of your body, revisiting your history and conditioning and then looking into the larger social mythscape and feeling into what has the most weight in your psyche, the most affect.

Duality: Above/below, right/left, light/dark, then/now

These symbols of duality are common and well known. In the dream I am consistently falling, seeking to go left (snaking back and forth on the train rails in the dead city), plummeting into the dark. I am traveling in a specific direction in the dream — dark, left, down — all associated as my memories show with evil, danger, wrong.

Assuming, of course, the opposite, light, right and above as good, conscious, wise, right action.

I was raised to believe that the GOP is the party of the rational, people with God-given morals.

Democrats on other hand were godless, irrational, soft, and lacking in morals; evolutionists who had forgotten God and invented psychology to try and deal with the meaninglessness of their lives.

They were a party of homosexuals (effeminate men), feminists (women who have lost their feminity and try to be wrongfully powerful), baby killers, and people who have deluded themselves with false intelligence and hedonism.

In essence, social transgressors who violate the laws of “good and evil, male and female, light and dark,” calling evil good and wrong right, distorting life and its clearly defined polarities.

There is also a contrast between the meaning of the symbols as a child versus those as an adult, with the differentiating associations and the memories of how they were conditioned creating a dialogue around the internal conflicts of the conditioned past and my current beliefs, life, and identity.

Among these dualisms are the shift from Christian to an eclectic Jewish-pagan practicing shamanic like dreamwork, in politics from conservative to liberal, and a transformation from the concept of the dark as evil to motherly and nurturing. The dreams show various states of development in these changes: the paganism is clearly defined, the political shift is only partially underway and the shifting of symbolism and meanings associated with the dark remain unwitnessed.

Light is shown not to have enough power to repel the danger and to in fact be rather dim, simply not enough. The dreams act more like questions about the experience of the dark than a declaration of its meaning.

Similarly, in the dead city, the symbols of Christendom are not enough to illuminate or give life.

In essence, the dream is clarifying what I’ve lived. My childhood beliefs were not enough to cope with the world. Our faith in Christianity didn’t protect us the way we believed it would nor did it provide enough vigor, comfort, or illumination to guide us through life’s ordeals. Something else is needed, perhaps something old, condensed, buried, able to burn.

What will be the substance of this coal?

Consciousness must fill this questioning space and thus germinate it with new meaning (a Phoenix reborn or perhaps resurrected).

In a way then we have the strata of my developing psyche. My spiritual beliefs shifted first (with plenty of turmoil in the process). Then came political identity (shifting social values) and finally I’m evolving the meaning of other symbols, the psyche is questioning and still restructuring the content of its world.

From the old — childhood — perspective all is dark and dead, even the devil is above me. I am fallen.

Is this the final answer?

Tools/Energy/Knowledge/Independence: Prayer, new gods, training, magic, money, Uber, the libido represented as the serpent which doubles as the keeper of forbidden knowledge; it is both wounded and dangerous

While I fall and feel the conflict — between above/below, right/left, light/dark, rebelling against the former, drifting in the latter — I find new tools and resources.

I have my own money, my own resources, and new options such as Uber or magic (intuitive knowing and action), martial arts and training, new allies as gods (dynamic archetypes) who can go and act in spaces that the angels, “pure light,” dare not tread.

I am not powerless in this other realm, although my consciousness has difficulty remembering this. This inner knowing comes in times of need in the dream but is forgotten by my daylight mind, perhaps still unconscious due to the old associations that cast magic, independence, and knowledge in the dark as “evil.”

Mixed States: Monk/Sorcerer, Dragon Shaman

While the dream focuses on dualities it gives hints of mixed states, places that paradoxically wed the opposites.

Dragons being a combination of various animal features that mix flight and heaven with the bowels of the earth and caves.

Similarly, shaman are said to have a foot in both worlds: physical and spiritual. My dream self is training in martial arts and sorcery, a mastery of the self, biology, and the intuitive world.

Once again this is forgotten in the portion hardest for the conscious mind to remember as the gifts of the unconscious (which Jung called the Underworld) often are.

The Mother: Mom, the badger, fierce protection, a lack of the caring, nurturing, womb-like aspect

The opening of the dream starts with my mother and her descent, suggesting the theme of the dreams will be most concerned with the Mother archetype and my relationship with my mother.

Growing up she called herself the Momma Bear and without a doubt she was fierce and would kill for us, sacrificing herself as the badger did and perhaps explaining why she got into the elevator.

The dream and associated content suggest that she was fundamental in creating the association between the dark and evil while reinforcing the concept that light, heaven, Republicans are good and right.

From my daylight perspective, I know that the Mother archetype is associated with caring and nurturing, something that is missing in these memories and dreams.

The Mother is also associated with matter, the earth, abundant life, feminine fertility and sensuality, the body, emotions, night and the dark, all of which have been demonized in this early conservative perspective and are either missing in the dream or shown to be barren — such as the city and its stone walls.

Only the fierceness is allowed to survive here, all else has been cast in shadow, demonized. In a way, my mother indoctrinated me into the very system that demonizes her.

The Masculine: Mars, Dad, serpent

My dad in the dream is distant and distracted much like he was during my childhood. While there are few associations with him he is the embodiment of the system in which I was raised: a white, Christian male, a pastor and official “head of the household.”

In a way I am raised and indoctrinated into the world of “The Father,” and the Republicans who serve him.

That world in the dream though is far away. The light is weak. The angels of the Father do not come. This is the descent of the Mother into her own realm, a realm I also travel, finding it barren, deprived of life, demonized.

I send Mars on ahead of me with the image of my mother. Later, I find his anger moving through me, rebelling in frustration against my father.

This cuts my ties to my father and allows me to fall even deeper into the realm of the dark and Mother.

Here I confront the serpent often associated with the phallus, forbidden knowledge, and in times past: healing, fertility, regeneration, rebirth and wisdom.

Even Christ is self associated with the serpent in the prophecy of his death.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

John 3:14–15

A stark contrast to the serpent crushing Genesis passage. The symbol modern Christianity focuses on with its condemnation of duality and knowledge; Its rejection of sexuality and the hope of rebirth outside of the confines of Christian dogma. In so doing they wound the serpent, depriving it of life much as the world of the Mother is made barren, thus robbing it of its gifts and demonizing this creature associated with masculine regeneration.

The masculine is wounded under the yoke of its imbalance, demonized and made to war with the fierce animal side of the Mother (as my parents often did).

Still, the serpent can poison, by bringing us closer to death it asks its forbidden question:

“Did God really say, `You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?. . .”

“. . .You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.

“For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3:1–4

The serpent asks the woman to question her beliefs of right and wrong, good and evil, suggesting an expansion of Self should she transgress the boundaries of duality.

The myth acts as the foundation for the Judeo-Christian beliefs around the fall, the reason for why women are associated with wrong, evil, death. The reason they and their realm are demonized.

Like the serpent, the dream injects its poison. “Is this all there is? Are these laws right? Is this balanced? What else is there? What lies beyond these conditioned beliefs of good and evil?”

Christian symbols: Hell, knowledge, rebellion, the dead city, the fall

My dreams are rife with Christian symbols from the devil to the fall, a dead city rather than a garden, and the serpent at the root of it all.

The old beliefs give the structure of the dream an endless fall into death, perhaps hell itself. However, it also illustrates that the beliefs of the Christian symbols aren’t enough.

In a way it illustrates my life along with the semi-prophetic nature of my childhood dreams. Feeling things unbalanced I seek forbidden knowledge, something beyond what I know — grasping in the dark.

I am fallen, giving up on my childhood beliefs, the ones that now feel dead. Through this I have learned new skills, new ways of being that are still so novel to me (and in a way taboo) it’s hard to remember that I possess them.

The dream illustrates this and asks “what else is there? Is this all?”

Something has died but is it me or the conditioned beliefs? The associations and strictures within me.

The dream does not say. It leaves me with a cliffhanger. Or rather perhaps an opening, a womb, a space that can be filled.

Daylight Influences:

This sequence of dreams started the day after the attempted coup on capitol hill. News I woke up to in Bali on Thursday morning.

After waking up from the Friday dream I felt the impulse to reach out to my mother. This is rare and never initiated on my own in relation to politics or religion, generally wishing to avoid confrontation. I left her a voice message asking her to see this terrorist attack as the last straw in her allegiance to the Republican party. I told her I didn’t expect her to go Dem but to please support none reactionaries in the party or find a way of establishing a Christian party that follows her values rather than manipulating them.

She responded that she was thankful for my words and is going into isolation. She’s praying for me and feels that Christ’s return is near.

This felt like a withdrawal from the world rather than facing the reality of her religious/political faith system and the consequences of where she put her energy. I felt myself enraged as this felt cowardly, avoidant, and something akin to willfully doubling down on one’s fantasy/psychosis rather than owning one’s mistake.

These experiences came after the dream with her descent away from me and the invocation of Mars, a god of war.

Meanwhile, the Sunday dream reminds me of my mother’s role in my own indoctrination and the way the belief system has demonized much of her being.

Free Association-Analysis:

If I were doing this analysis just for myself I’d have left the descriptions off of the symbols above as I’m familiar with them.

The above covers most of my associations with the dream. Sitting with all of this I was attracted to the pit, that falling sensation, feeling it in my belly and recognizing it as a sort of womb, the womb of the Mother, of the earth and matter, my body and the dead who reside in the earth and in myself.

Here angels dare not tread but the old powers have sway. I’ll need Mars with his will to fight, to struggle, to spark some life amidst the Christian anemia; even as this casts me further down till I find the wounded serpent at the root of it all (as the serpent of kundalini is often represented at the base of the spine).

Simultaneously this refers to the way I grew up, my childhood being its own gestation process. Mothers shaped us as much by their words and actions as the time spent in their womb.

Everyone must cut the cord though, must rebel and be born, expelled from the garden, separate from the external mother as they develop their own internal relationship to mothering and self-care.

I rebelled against my unbalanced education, against symbols that no longer shine, no longer illuminate my life. I found them confining, restrictive in a way that didn’t lead to good but rather to ill in my life, symbols that left the land cold, barren, hard as stone.

I had to find the strength to rebel against these symbols, the lead of my childhood, my nation, and Christianity. The dogma that leaves no room for life, that has defined the underworld as hell; woman and the body as sinful, and dark as evil rather than earthy, embodied, sensual.

Going beyond the metaphor to the reality of the situation I spent my 20s finding my way back from a suicide attempt, overcoming the duality of a bipolar diagnosis with manic highs and chronic lows, becoming mindful of my body after years of traumatic disassociation, and making peace with my sexual identity as LGBTQ and my spiritual identity as a queer mystic.

Most of my life has been framed by the implied struggle between intellect/spirit and physicality/emotion. My upbringing said the former are good and the latter evil. This strain caused much of the struggle above.

The dream captures a piece of this, adding a new texture to the experience: the battle of the inner animals against themselves, the protective badger and the wounded serpent (libido/creative energy). They fight and while I can imagine an alchemical transformation of this inner conflict it won’t arise until I find the inner healer, the one who had been forgotten: myself with my tools and magic and the names of gods that shine — gods/concepts/beliefs that make more space for me to be human.

There is also a word of caution in the library. It’s easy for me to turn myself into a hero/martyr. I have to remember my humanness, the childish side that is very real in me. I need to also remember the humanness of my family. The fact my mother is conditioned into this world even to the point of her self demonization.

Active Imagination:

I worked on the active imagination by sinking into the atmosphere of the dream and typing what I saw with my eyes closed, staying mindful of my body. Occasionally I laid down to let the image strengthen and see what came next.

This may work for you. Or it may be too much multitasking. You can sit with the dream in meditation, feel into it, and record what you remember after.

What I wrote is more stream of consciousness than a graphic depiction of what I was experiencing:

The psyche is primed for insemination. The pit feels very much like a womb. I see in my abdomen a phallus ejaculating into a womb and now the image of Shiva and Shakti entwined and shining.

A glowing embryo forms, it sends energy out along my muscles. I feel invigorated. I feel my teeth, they are a lion’s teeth. The lion bites into a pale white heaven: flat, eternal, lifeless. Where it bites color spills into the world, the flat lines twist into fractals of living, thriving, textured jungles, places filled with life and color where consciousness and matter intermix to create infinite potential, a psychedelic tapestry.

The world of angels has been penetrated by the beast’s tooth, mixed with the world embodied. The opposing pieces now intermix as alchemical reagents. The finite and eternal create the myriad legions of the infinite.

With further attention, the endlessly shifting forms organize themselves into a mandala. They still quiver and shift with psychedelic life but maintain now the harmony of an oval mandala centered around my being. It feels much like an egg. It feels nurturing.

The motherly energy that had been trapped in the social conditioning of right and wrong and the demonization of the earthly, the body, and sex is now liberated and revived to nurture and nourish again in a way that makes room for body and spirit, sexuality, and values, physicality and mindful consciousness.

For a moment I remember that the small fractures are necessary. My history, my symbolic fall, my suffering, the dark, the unknown, my fears and “shadows,” the poison, conflict and traumas, the rebellion, the failures, even this drama and the story enacted in the dream act as wombs, the necessary structure to fully realize the infinite potential. They are part of the fractal.

If I remember this wedding of the polarities. If I allow it to live within me it will be the medicine, spermatic serum to those behaviors in my life that close me off to the world, that judge myself and others through old lenses of conditioning, that cause so much separation, leaving me feeling cold, untouched, unnourished; a state that then affects my ability to be warm to others, accepting of others, understanding as well as invigorated, passionate, sensual — the ability to enjoy myself.

Writing this I notice that my abdomen is radiating heat, something I noticed last night before the dreams. It feels like something has been gestating. The abdomen is often associated with pregnancy and in the Western tradition, the stomach is ruled by Cancer, the sign of the Mother. In Hindu astrology, the solar plexus is said to rule our drive and will, being ruled by Mars and fire, also associated with yellow and an upside-down triangle.

Here is a hint then of the healing that mixes the opposites creating a dynamic whole.

If I continue to remember this in an embodiment practice it will help me with my perfectionism (the pale white streets of heaven) and my expectations of others according to a “perfect model.” The small, the finite, the broken become beautiful, a necessary part of the mandala.

I focus on memorizing this mandala, this sensation, feel what happens in my body, what moves, what tingles. The symbol will last with me for a while. In my experience, it won’t last forever but it will serve me in the months to come. Slowly it will pale, losing its power to invoke those states. When another lump of lead (a psychological blockage) is discovered another symbol will be born from the work, one that will bring me back to this state, one that will help me remember.

There are some symbols that stick for me longer or that wax and wane with life, renewing themselves according to their season. For some, a particularly powerful symbol may appear like the sacred heart or a Buddhist mandala or totem that may last for life.

When we remember this deep inner experience it helps us shift our mind’s state, our behaviors, and with these our life.


Jungian dreamwork is a visceral experience that helps us create meaning that goes beyond the cerebral. In it, we address concerns of the dynamic psyche, that which is not only our conscious thoughts but our nerves and memory.

Occasionally we are granted an alchemical process that culminates in a symbolic experience which we can reinvoke to help us continue our transformation and change.

At the very least we are granted a new form of knowing and often a new trail of inquiry.

In the case of this dream, I am left to ponder what else is dead in me? What other conditioning no longer serves me? Where am I still separated from my body? Where is my internal Mother chained by old beliefs or made barren? How can I empower the Mother? Wake up this part of self? Is there any hope to awake the Christian symbols in a way that will shine in me? What other symbols are necessary?

A dream can become as much of a question as it is an answer. We find our meaning in the dialogues that arise.

Big thanks to Rachael Shores who created all the above sketches after reading the article.



Joshua Burkhart

Transformation coach specializing in mental health, spirituality & relationships — the way we connect to self, society & cosmos. link.snipfeed.co/joshuaburkhart