Carl Jung, when working with psychosis in a hospital ward, realised that he was not just hearing ‘word salad’ from his disturbed patients, but that there were narartive themes, common across our human history that could be discerned. Patients already knew things that they could not possible have known form experience. Later as Jung developed his theories for a map of the Psyche, Jung went deep inside his own consciousness, without harm, to find his own structure of the unconscious. Later he published his findings in the “Red Book” or Liber Novus, recently published in 2012 after being locked away during his lifetime.
Here in one of his landmarks on his psyche map he described the collective unconscious.This is what informs the notion of the social dream.
Why Dreams are important
Dreams, discarded, maddening in their surreal content, often forgotten immediately when we wake, used in common language as a synonym for desire, yet frustratingly elusive are an important part of our lives. We cannot escape being ourselves and all that this contains.
In some of the schools of psychoanalysis, they are seen as the royal road to the most important thing we have. Our unconscious mind.
If you bear with me, some philosophies and schools of psychoanalysis look at our own sense of being as being a journey form our interior self ,reacting with the exterior world , an unfurling of our selves, like a seed developing into a tree.
What is Social dreaming?
Now is a time of crisis, the invisible threat of a virus occupies us all daily. Here is a primitive fear, we react to it in the same way as our forgotten ancestors, the code for survival, our anxieties, fears, both individual and collective are the same now s they were before, as many works of literature attest.
Of course, we try not to live like this, life goes on, we eat , drink seek entertainment and pleasure in the midst of all this, our approach is to be careful, but not doom laden. Yet, we are wary , maybe afraid.
This ancestral fear, the recognition that it is not the same anymore, is where the notion of dream time arrives into our world.
Social dreaming is the idea that at moments like this , our personal dreamscape is attached to the collective unconscious, our ancestral knowledge , lodged deep in our psyche, ready to find its place in our psyche’s survival kit.
You are not alone, the global community and all our ancestral histories are alongside us in the midst of this pandemic crisis.
What is their value to us? As we sleep, when the interfering world of doing can no longer distract us from our self, we process our deepest fears and anxieties, that we have been attempting hide from.
If you can remember dream snippets and write them down, the parts that we remember are the important dramas.
This takes practice, I know, in our western culture we dismiss this phenomenon as a trivial by- product of sleep, so we throw out this rich world.
We record our dream to share to express in a more metaphorical style our deepest selves, and our connectedness to our collective groups.
Why is this useful?
This collective unconscious connection to our family, friends and social group , allows us to momentarily expose, in a symbolic form, our deepest anxieties and fears in the midst of this radical, enforced social change. We can realise that we are not alone. Outside my window, the everyday looks mostly familiar, people still walk dogs, play with their children, go shopping. Yet this surface appearance, and the missing parts of the world, older people etc and of course the missing background noise, stir within me the sense of the uncanny.
If I am able to share, in a way that does not betray my own sense of useless-ness and my deep, rather melancholic mood, I can survive in the middle of a crisis with the connectedness to the collective. If we can share our dreams in order to relate, we can begin to see and share our vulnerabilities.
A return to the primitive
I understand , in our culture that we discount this experience. In the west there has been a suspicion of the non rational for generations. Other cultures though, fascinate us with their dream catchers, or shamanic practices.
This can’t be us though, our rational self takes over. If we pretend all is well , then all is well.
Yet, as we stand on the collective shoulders of our ancestral past, the collected wisdom of survival burrows its way back into our consciousness. We are returned to the primitive in a non- disruptive manner.
We are literally( if not socially) all in this pandemic together, and our self will remind us of this, so we do not fear aloneness or being weak.
Dreams can do a lot of the heavy lifting here. They remind us of what we fear and yet can be processed in a playful way.
Wilfred Bion suggested that dreams are thinking in pictures , Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud felt that here was the keys to the kingdom of our neglected unconscious.
We are always dreaming.
A boring trip on a coach , can turn into an epic daydream. When we switch our attention away from things on the outside world, the rich chthonic whirlpool of our lively unconscious bubble up to the surface. When we sleep, the serious issues of our life journey start to reach the edges of our conscious remembered lives.
Dreaming as a shared social experience can once again , in events such as these, show us that we are not alone in our own minds and share a commonality with our fellows.