A Synchronistic Encounter: Where Dreams and Waking Life Intersect
Life can be so dreamlike. In the late 1980s, I was working as the Book Service Manager for the C. G. Jung Foundation of New York. One day, one of my customers asked me how come I didn't carry his books. Wondering who he was, I asked him and he replied, "I'm Dr. Montague Ullman." Astonished, I realized I was talking to one of the world's leading experts on dreams.
Being passionately interested in dreaming, this apparently chance meeting was deeply meaningful and synchronistic for me. As we got to know each other over time, Dr. Ullman and I realized that we actually lived quite close to each other in the suburbs. One time when I visited Dr. Ullman at his home, I shared with him the intense shamanic initiatory illness that I had been going through since the late 70s. I described to him the overwhelming experiences I had been having where the boundary between dreaming and waking was dissolving. As if I was living inside of a waking dream, my inner process was externalizing itself and synchronistically manifesting itself literally, as well as symbolically, through what was occurring in the outer world. It was as if some deeper part of myself was configuring events in the seemingly external world so as to express itself.
I knew from Dr. Ullman's work that he was not only a psychiatrist but was very open and interested in the paranormal. So I told him about many of the out of the ordinary experiences that were happening to me. Events were happening in my life that were supposedly not possible in this universe of ours; stuff that could only happen in dreams. Just like a dream, it was as if a deeper, inner process was revealing itself to me through the medium of the outside world. The seemingly "outer" world was manifesting like a living oracle, an instantaneous feedback loop, a continually unfolding revelation that was speaking "symbolically," which is the language of dreams. People's fearful and judgmental reactions to what I was experiencing had caused me to become a bit gun-shy, making me hesitant to share with others what I was realizing for fear of being patholgized and told I was going crazy. I explained to Dr. Ullman how I was struggling with trying to integrate what I was realizing about the dreamlike nature of this universe with somehow being in the world and making a living in a way that supported my spiritual unfoldment.
I knew that being the Book Service Manager at the Jung Foundation wasn't my true calling. Even though I enjoyed the job because it allowed me to study Jung, the job itself felt like a suit that fit too tight. If I amplified this experience like a dream, having a job in consensus reality felt like a part of my soul was being killed. I knew Jung had said that the cause of suffering and neurosis, both of which I had plenty of, was not finding our true vocation. He points out that, etymologically speaking, "vocation" comes from the word "calling," which comes from the words "genie" (as in "I dream of...") and "genius." And the word "genius" comes from the word "daemon," which means the inner voice and guiding spirit. Jung makes the point that if we don't honor our daemon, however, it constellates destructively and becomes a "demon." The point is that if we follow our inner voice we will find our true vocation, snap out of our neurosis and heal our suffering, or so says Jung.
Dr. Ullman was in strong agreement with Jung. I will never forget one thing he told me, something that no one else had ever said to me in response to my problems with integrating my mystical experiences into this seemingly mundane, physical world, which demanded that I "make a living." As if giving me a prophecy, he said that my healing would undoubtedly have to do with if I could creatively find a way to build a bridge between the two worlds, to assimilate the deeper spiritual process I had fallen into in such a way that I would then be able to make a living out of this very process of integration. He told me a story of a student of his who had managed to do this, teaching workshops which were the vehicle not only of getting across whatever she was realizing, but the workshops themselves were the very container that deepened her own process of realization. She was living her dream and dreaming it in a creative way that came from deep inside of herself.
Over the course of years, Dr. Ullman's prediction has become true. The unique work that I've developed in dreaming is the very thing that both supports me in the world while simultaneously deepening my healing. I have developed what I call "Awakening in the Dream Groups" (please see my article on these groups available here), in which people who are awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality come together and creatively discover ways to help each other to deepen and stabilize our shared lucidity. As if in a dream, we view each other as "dream characters" – embodied reflections of different parts of ourselves – who are not separate from each other but rather are interconnected parts of one another. By what I call "following the dreaming," which simply requires being in the present moment, recognizing the perfection of what is presenting itself, and seeing that whatever is happening we are all collaboratively "dreaming up," conjures up a (dream)field which is lubricated for our shared healing. Just as in a night dream, if any of us in the group have an unhealed, incomplete, unconscious part of ourselves (and who doesn't?), over and in time this unconscious content gets dreamed up in the alchemical container of the group and in a very natural (as compared to fabricated) way gets acted out as the group process. Instead of playing this out unconsciously in a way that would reinforce the wound, however, the group adds the light of consciousness to this unconscious energy that is playing out in the field and is then able to dream into and unfold this energy in a way which metabolizes and integrates the unconscious content. By fluidly following the dreaming with no agenda or technique, we find ourselves incarnating full-bodied dreamwork in real-time, the present moment, in a way which liberates the unconscious energy which was bound up in the compulsion to recreate the unhealed wound.
Seen as a dreaming process, my encounter with Dr. Ullman was a reflection of a deeper, atemporal, inner process taking place deep within my psyche that was getting dreamed up and played out in linear time through the canvas of the apparently outside world. Synchronistic phenomenon like this seemingly co-incidental encounter with Dr. Ullman can oftentimes illumine the underlying dreamlike nature of things. We can view this chance meeting with Dr. Ullman as a dream in which "central casting" sent Dr. Ullman to pick up and enact a crucial role in my inner, dreaming process. In Dr. Ullman, it was as if I had "dreamed up," in actual embodied, materialized form an inner wisdom figure and guide. Being unconscious of the inner wisdom that he re-presented at the time, I had to project it seemingly outside of myself, dreaming it up into actual form, to begin to develop a conscious relationship with this part of myself. Like Jung says, the unconscious always approaches us from seemingly outside of ourselves, which is to say that we dream up this world of ours to (potentially) wake us up. If you were to tell me that I am just imagining or dreaming that this is so, I would say, "Exactly!"
© 2007 Paul Levy
Image by Mor (bcnbits), used via a Creative Commons license.