Insights from Jung’s Dream Seminars Part I

Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members.  Honesty, as well as professional courtesy, require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.



Insights from Jung’s Dream Seminar on Dream Analysis

Part I: On Growth and Progress


“Psychologically you develop in a spiral, you always come over the same point where you have been before, but it is never exactly the same, it is either above or below.  A patient will say, ‘I am just at the place where I was three years ago,’ but I say, ‘At least you have traveled three years.’…”

Jung (1984)[1]


“The difficult thing is that when the God within makes himself visible you can only trace his way by the things we call infantile, childish, too youthful in ourselves, but these very things promise future development.  Whatever is already developed in you has no future, it has reached its culmination.  The continuation of life always originates in those things which are undeveloped….”

Jung (1984)[2]


“We never grow into the divine stature, we are never with our gods.  The essentially human thing is that man is always a little below, a little incomplete. He must be so! So you have to assume the attitude of a newborn babe.  One must always be humble when it comes to one’s own dreams.  After twenty or thirty years I have learned this attitude, that the things that are worthwhile are way ahead of me.  There are things in us that are superior to ourselves, therefore we get the idea of a hypothetical new center superior to the conscious one….”

Jung (1984)[3]


“This is the progress of man, that he depotentiates the outside world; the last remnant is the idea of an absolute God, or such figures as the anima and animus.  The more you increase your consciousness the less these things exist. …”

Jung (1984)[4]


From November of 1928 to June of 1930 Jung gave a six-term seminar on dream analysis to some five dozen people, 16 of whom later became Jungian analysts.[5] Mary Foote, an American portrait painter and analysand of Jung, recorded most of Jung’s seminars, including the 51 lectures that comprise the dream seminar.[6] Since the size of the group was small, the format was more conversational than lecture, with questions and answers (by both Jung and participants). Jung’s presentations were less formal, making the published seminars some of the most easily-readable of Jung’s work. In this series, I picked some of what seem to me to be “raisins” from the 700+ pages of the Seminar on Dream Analysis. I present Jung’s words in bold type, followed by my commentary.


Jung: “…your attempt has the divine quality because, if you study these attempts of man, you will discover that they are not so much conscious decisions, not so much his own free will, as that they are forced upon him.  He has to make the attempt, he cannot escape it.  It may be the thing he is perhaps most afraid of,…A superior factor in himself, Deus ex machina, the divine thing in him, that tremendous power, is forcing his hand, and he is the victim of his own attempt—though he says his attempt was just his purpose….”[7]

Commentary: From my personal experience of analysis, I know how right Jung is in speaking of a tremendous power that forced my hand. When my “voice-over” dreams began in November of 1983, there was no way at all that I wanted to give up everything and have my life be transformed! But, as Jung says, I could not escape it, and there were so many times in the first 19 months (before I found a Jungian analyst) where I was afraid–afraid I was going crazy, afraid of what the (now very uncertain) future held, afraid I would never be able to climb out of the “hole” I had fallen into. It was only many years later that I came to agree that the groping, stumbling attempts to grow did have a “divine quality” to them, as I discovered the reality of the Self within me. Now I can see the “purpose” in my transformation, but early on I never would have said it was consciously intentional.

Jung: “Everything that is resisting us in our psychology is a god or daemon because it does not conform to our wishes.  It is as though we were possessed by fears, emotion, undertones outside of ourselves.  All new contents are at first autonomous contents; and where there is such a content we may be sure that in its development it will possess the individual either with or without his consent and it will bring a great change into his life. …If you have the spirit or attitude which gives the best welcome to a deity, then he might appear, he might bestow his blessing upon you. …”[8]

Commentary: “Resistance” was the name of the game when I had the first dream that started me down the rabbit hole of inner work. And it surely felt like a demon–a devilish phenomenon which would not let me be. It certainly did not conform to my (ego mind’s) wishes: I did feel possessed, especially because the directive dreams would not stop. They did seem like something “outside” of me, and they were “autonomous” in that I could not stop them, reason with them, and, when I tried to ignore them life really got bad: sickness, accidents, all sorts of weird mistakes, confusions. It was only when I got into analysis and reported these miserable experiences that my analyst suggested I be “more open to the unconscious.” That is, she was drawing on Jung’s teaching to shift my attitude–to be more welcoming to the deity that lives within me. This was not easy: It meant my ego had to give up its sense of being in control, and it took years of this “crucifixion of the ego”[9] before I finally felt trusting enough in the Self to feel comfortable living like this. Blessings have followed.

Jung: “If you do not become like a little child you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven, you cannot make true the God within.

            “The difficult thing is that when the God within makes himself visible you can only trace his way by the things we call infantile, childish, too youthful in ourselves, but these very things promise future development.  Whatever is already developed in you has no future, it has reached its culmination.  The continuation of life always originates in those things which are undeveloped….”[10]

Commentary: Jung is quoting Jesus here (Matt. 18:3-4), recognizing the same wisdom that led the Buddha to prize “beginner’s mind.”[11] Our potentials are what we grow on, not our well-honed skills and functions. It is our “inferior function”[12] (as Jung called it) that offers us growth, but we usually don’t want to go there, for the inferior function is where we are inept, awkward, and likely to be embarrassed when we live it in public. I found this out all too vividly when I had a dream telling me to develop my intuition. By this point in my transition story I knew I had to obey this directive, and that meant taking a course where my ineptitude was on full display. Fortunately the group I was in was kind and the teacher was patient.

Jung: He [the hero] is deprived of his superior function for the sake of the next function which is waiting for differentiation, for it seems that nature is continuing that desire to dissociate man from his original unconscious condition.  As nature has pushed man to become conscious of a second one, and for that purpose—because the next one has to be developed—the differentiated function suddenly becomes useless.”[13]

Commentary: When I sat in the Intuition course, my too-well-developed Thinking function was useless–worse than useless, in fact, because none of the activities were the sorts of things one could “figure out.” Out of my usual element, I was indeed “deprived of my superior function.” By taking the course (and several others after that) I was “dissociating” from my “original unconscious condition.” Because I had had to “turn type”[14] as a child (from my original innate preference of Intuitive Feeling), developing my intuition meant I was able to reclaim my true nature. Not everyone is so unfortunate as to turn type, but everyone can benefit from developing whichever function is “inferior,” i.e. in the unconscious, undeveloped.

Jung: “One of the fundamental laws of natural development is that it moves in a spiral, and the true law of nature is always reached after the labyrinth has been traveled. … “Psychologically you develop in a spiral, you always come over the same point where you have been before, but it is never exactly the same, it is either above or below.  A patient will say, ‘I am just at the place where I was three years ago,’ but I say, ‘At least you have traveled three years.’…”[15]

Commentary: How familiar is this lament! I said this complaint often to my analyst and I get this often from my dream students. Our cultural norm is linearity, and we think “going in circles” means going nowhere. But the psyche operates with a different system, in what the alchemists called the circumambulatio,[16] walking around and around on the spiritual journey. The ancient image of the labyrinth captures this movement, which Plotinus regarded as the “language of the soul.”[17] With our modern sensibility and eagerness for evidence of speedy progress, this spiral movement often produces impatience and exasperation. I tell my dream students that watching for significant change in inner work is like watching grass grow. Jung’s reply to his analysands reminds us that the time we spend on the journey (circular though it is) is not time wasted. It also gives us a gauge of just how differently the soul paces the growth process from what our ego minds might wish.

Jung: “…the American concept of efficiency would surely be rather injured by the wu wei principle.  One can hardly imagine a greater contrast than these two, but the American efficiency is far more destructive that the Eastern lack of it….it is not only the psychological destruction of the individual, it is also physiological.  Look at the men in Wall Street!  At forty-five they are completely exhausted.  Modern life in America is more efficient than in any place in the world, but it completely destroys the man.  Also it has a peculiar effect on the unconscious of the American woman; it stimulates her animus, as it likewise stimulates the anima in a man.  When these figures prevail, it means just destruction.  So if one added a bit of the Eastern wu wei to our Western idea of efficiency it would perhaps be helpful.  Naturally our efficiency would suffer, but that is a monster, a dragon, which eats human life.  Wu wei means a certain decrease of efficiency, but it not as destructive to life. …”[18]

Commentary: Jung made six trips to the United States,[19] sailing into New York each time, so he got to know the hectic pace of Wall Street. As this passage indicates, Jung found our penchant for efficiency a “monster” and this “dragon” is still “eating” people up, more than 50 years after Jung died. By the wu wei principle, Jung refers to the Taoist idea of “action through non-action,”[20] a way of living that relaxes into trusting the Self (our inner divine wisdom) to carry us through our projects and tasks. Note that Jung is not suggesting we relinquish all of life to non-action: He asks only that we allow “a certain decrease of efficiency”–a change in attitude that would permit us to relax a bit, take some vacation time, and thereby foster our physical well-being.

Jung: “The shadow cannot normally receive an education; only by analysis can it be educated,”…because it is in darkness, inferior, carefully hidden away, a skeleton in the cupboard.  You naturally keep him there, and that is a guarantee that he will remain unchanged.  You do not introduce him to your guests, just as you do not wash your dirty linen in public….”[21]

Commentary: Our shadow side we keep “hidden away” because it is that part of us we don’t want to know. Our persona (that “mask” of respectability we wear in public)[22] keeps us from “washing our dirty linen in public” and likewise keeps the shadow in the “darkness” of the unconscious. But if we go into analysis, or work diligently over time with our dreams, the shadow shows up in all sorts of ways that are “not us:” as the liar, the thief, the adulterer, the cheater, the racist, the misogynist, and many other despicable qualities that lie within. But Jung knew that, if we wish to achieve individuation, we must become acquainted with our shadow side.

Jung: “… a real recognition, a full realization, of these unconscious contents never happens all at once.  It always comes in waves, wave after wave, with a pause in between before a new and more intense realization what that thing is. …”[23]

Commentary: We are fortunate that a “full realization of unconscious contents never happens all at once,” for, if it did, we would be devastated! Our ego sensibilities are not so strong as to be able to confront too much of the unconscious at one time. I recall this vividly in my analysis. I was about 6 months into it when I began to feel strange, as if I had some sort of psychic indigestion. There were too many dreams, too much information to process from my analytic sessions (which were just once a week). It was only years later, while reading a book on Jung’s psychology,[24] that I learned this reaction is common for Introverts. We Introverts need a longer “pause between” the waves of realization.

Jung: “You are perhaps inclined to think that when your conscious has mastered a thing, the difficulty is overcome, but as a rule that is not true.  You can master a thing in the conscious quite easily, yet the lower man finds it exceedingly difficult and suffers from that trouble.  For instance, take any kind of human relationship in your life, or any kind of painful duty.  Your conscious knows it is necessary, you must adapt to it, and you really can do it; but if you get a bit tired or don’t feel quite well, up comes the old resentment, and suddenly you cannot cope with it any longer.  It is as if you had never learned to deal with it.  The weak, inferior man comes up as soon as your conscious gets a bit soft.”[25]

Commentary: Jung recognized that we are not only our conscious ego identity: a weaker, less-well-adapted shadow lives within us also, which will appear at those times when we are sick, very tired, fed up or otherwise indisposed. We need to remember that the ego is in control only at times, in certain ideal circumstances, when situations permit our superior functions to operate. I found this out in 2002, when, after 11 years of taking care of my mother (who had Alzheimer’s), I suddenly realized I could not “cope with it any longer.” The dutiful daughter got displaced by the burned-out side who said “Enough!”

Jung: “As long as you go on the individual way, you function as an individual, but if you stop, you dissociate again, for you function only as part of yourself—you instantly drop back into the collective way.  This is a regression. …A person has learned a certain way of functioning, and then he comes up against something that he is not up to,…the situation demands something that is beyond his level of functioning.  He goes to pieces, he instantly dissociates…”[26]

Commentary: Individuation–functioning as the unique individual that we are–is not easy, and especially in the early years of analysis, regression is common. Jung did not have the same attitude about regression that Freud had (for whom it was lamentable).[27] For Jung regression was inevitable: the growth curve is not a smooth, straight-up “J” shape, but a slow path full of ups and downs, achievements and fall-backs, with the “default setting” being “dropping back into the collective way.” It is far easier to “go along to get along,” to follow the crowd and forget about our uniqueness. Anyone on the journey toward individuation has to anticipate numerous regressive episodes.

Jung: “…impedimenta (that beautiful Latin word which really means obstacles, hindrances) are a very typical symbol for a certain psychological fact….Those are the dead things we have to carry, things which are no longer living, things which we are bothered with but which have to be carried along.  They belong to our existence in the flesh, because we cannot travel without any luggage,…And these impedimenta, which cling to us and which we have to carry along, are simply an exposition of our psychology.”[28]

Commentary: When I first read this passage years ago, I thought of Hamlet’s soliloquy questioning “Who would fardels bear, but that the thought of something after death…”[29] Shakespeare and Jung knew we all have baggage–the “dead” scripts and schemas ingrained in us from parents, other relatives and teachers[30]–which no longer serve us, but which we cannot jettison. The key is to become aware of them and understand how they have become part of our psychology. With this awareness they remain obstacles but not barriers: We can carry on along our journey into wholeness in spite of their presence.

Jung: “When people come to themselves they expect a peculiar liberation, to be free from responsibilities and from vices and virtues, but in reality it is quite different. It is like a trap, you suddenly fall into a hole.  ‘Hang it all!’ you say, and there you are, where you belong….”[31]

Commentary: It is natural, I suppose, for us, having invested a huge amount of time, effort and money in the work of analysis, to expect a big payoff as a result of years of inner work. But, as Jung says here, “in reality it is quite different:” Yes, life is reordered, its meaning and purpose is clearer, the quality of relationships is better, but we are still liable to encounter the “holes” that line the path of life. In my experience, these “holes” are not as deep as they were  in the beginning of my analysis, nor do I feel overwhelmed at the prospect of climbing out. Like with any other aspect of life, practice makes perfect: Fall in enough holes enough times, and eventually we learn how to avoid many of them, and how to get out of them quickly when we can’t avoid them.

Jung: “That uniting of the two points of view will be the result of a long analysis. …”[32]

Commentary: The perspectives of the ego and the Self can come together, but, as Jung’s statement here stresses, this uniting takes a long time. Why? Because trust is not built in a day, and the ego relinquishes control of life very slowly and only after multiple instances of trial and testing to see if the Self really is reliable. In volume 14 of his Collected Works Jung noted that “.. the experience of the self is always a defeat for the ego.”[33] Feeling defeated is not pleasant, so the ego does not welcome the intrusion of the Self. Only with time and numerous instances proving to the ego that the Self is wiser and truly does work for our benefit can we achieve the integration of the “two points of view.”

Jung: “In certain cases realization comes only after a long time.  It is amazing how blind some people can be. …There is an anaphylactic system in everyone to protect him against a too acid realization;…”[34]

Commentary: Just as our body’s immune system strives to protect us from foreign invaders, so we have a psychic “anaphylactic system” to immunize us from ideas or insights that the ego regards as foreign or nonsensical. “Acid realizations” might be corrosive, eating away our psychic digestive system, so we need a protective mechanism, to be sure, but it can make the process of growth and realization much slower. As my analyst suggested, it is better if we can set the intention to be more “open to the unconscious,” despite the feelings of discomfort this can entail.

Jung: “…when a panic or terrible pain reaches the culmination, it ceases and people become ecstatic.  Pain cannot be endured in ever-increasing intensity beyond a certain point.  Then it turns and becomes ekstasis….when despair has reached its climax God reveals himself, which is simply a psychological truth.”[35]

Commentary: Ekstasis is the Greek root of our word “ecstasy,” and its literal meaning is “to stand outside oneself.”[36] As a physician Jung surely saw this phenomenon in both psychic contexts, with his analysands, and in physical situations, during his required annual month of military duty.[37] The Self knows our limits and won’t exceed them. I find myself wondering whether, if more people knew this “psychological truth,” we would have fewer suicides in our current society.

Jung: “We never grow into the divine stature, we are never with our gods.  The essentially human thing is that man is always a little below, a little incomplete. He must be so! So you have to assume the attitude of a newborn babe.  One must always be humble when it comes to one’s own dreams.  After twenty or thirty years I have learned this attitude, that the things that are worthwhile are way ahead of me.[38]

Commentary: Jung reminds us that we will never become as wise as the Self. We can set out goals, dream big, and strive for completeness, but we must never believe we will achieve equality “with our gods.” Better, Jung says, is to aim for achieving “beginner’s mind,” the status of a “newborn babe,” for whom the world is fresh and full of wonder. The need for humility was a leitmotif in Jung’s writings and a cardinal rule he taught his students: Despite all their analytical training and advanced degrees they were never to puff themselves up as authorities in their interactions with their clients.

Jung: “This is the progress of man, that he depotentiates the outside world; the last remnant is the idea of an absolute God, or such figures as the anima and animus.  The more you increase your consciousness the less these things exist. …[39]

Commentary: Jung is giving us some tips here for how to evaluate our progress in becoming conscious. One key is that the outside world comes to have less power or influence in how we live our lives. Our focus is more internal, in active dialog with the inner (subjective/relative) Self (our divine core). We no longer project the contrasexual side as we once did in our relationships, because we have gotten to know the anima/animus, so our relationships can be “cleaner,” i.e. we can interact with others as they are, rather than through the scrim of our projections. Our “inner city”[40] is still populated with energies, but they have lost their power to mess up our lives.

Jung: “…what we call progress is really always one and the same thing, which we are simply unable to realize and which only dawns upon us very slowly….”[41]

Commentary: It takes repeated “waves” of realization, experiences of insight, or glimpses of wholeness in our analysis before we finally realize that these are really not different. Our culture has got us lusting for “progress,” when in this context “progress” is a myth. In the work to achieve completeness,  we must repeat over and over the insights gleaned from unconscious contents before we eventually come to understand that, as T.S. Eliot noted, “… the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.”[42]

Jung: “…through the development of life, in the course of years, these constituents ought to function in such a way that there will be in the end a complete synthesis, the integration of human personality.”[43]

Commentary: “A complete synthesis, the integration of human personality” is how Jung saw the goal of his analytical psychology. Over time, “in the course of years,” all our inner energies attune so we can be said to “have our act together.” Note that Jung did not see the goal as “perfection.”[44] He knew perfection is impossible. Rather we should aim for completeness, which is why his brand of psychology is called “teleological,” from telos, Greek for “end.” Each person comes into life with an end goal or unique purpose. Our various talents, interests and abilities are meant to be synthesized and integrated, so as to foster our achieving this purpose.




Bair, Deirdre (2003), Jung: A Biography. New York: Little, Brown & Co.

Brome, Vincent (1978), Jung. New York: Atheneum.

Eliot, T.S. (1971), Four Quartets. New York: Harcourt Inc.

Goleman, Daniel (1985), Vital Lies, Simple Truths. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Jung, C.G. (1961), “Freud and Psychoanalysis,” Collected Works, 4. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1971), “Psychological Types,” Collected Works, 6. Princeton: Princeton University Press

________ (1960), ”The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche,” CW 8. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1959), “Aion,” Collected Works, 9ii. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1953), “Psychology and Alchemy,” CW 12. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1967), “Alchemical Studies,” CW 13. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1984), Seminar on Dream Analysis. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Liddell & Scott (1978), A Greek-English Lexicon. New York: Oxford University Press.

Suzuki, Shunryu (1984), Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. New York: Weatherhill Press.

von Franz, Marie-Louise (1998), C.G. Jung: His Myth in Our Time. Toronto: Inner City Press.


[1] Jung (1984), 100. All subsequent references to this work will be abbreviated DS.

[2] Ibid., 182.

[3] Ibid., 252.

[4] Ibid., 96.

[5] The 16 are H.G. Baynes, Eleanor Bertine, Ida Bianchi, Linda Fierz-David, Barbara Hannah, M. Esther Harding, Joseph Henderson, Helen Henley, Mary Howells, Manuela Jaeger, James Kirsch, Olga König, Margaret Nordfeldt, Gustav Schmaltz, Helen Shaw, and Toni Wolff; ibid., xviii.

[6] Four lectures were held in November, 1928, 2 in December, 1928, 2 in late January 1929, 4 in February 1929, 4 in March 1929, 3 in May 1929, 4 in June 1929, 4 in October 1929, 4 in November, and 2 in December, 1929. In 1930 Jung held 2 meetings in January, and 4 each in February, March, May and June; ibid., vi.

[7] Ibid., 617.

[8] Ibid., 182-3.

[9] CW 9ii ¶79.

[10] DS, 182.

[11] Suzuki (1984), 21-2.

[12] Jung defines this in CW 6 ¶s763-4.

[13] DS, 595.

[14] CW 6 ¶560.

[15] DS, 100.

[16] CW 9ii ¶352; cf. CW 12 ¶s34,186,188,246,273.

[17] von Franz (1998), 142.

[18] DS, 621-2.

[19] In 1909, 1910, 1912, 1913, 1924 and 1936; Bair (2003), 153,184,229,269,330, 417.

[20] CW 13 ¶20.

[21] DS, 257.

[22] Jung defines this in CW 6 ¶s800-2.

[23] DS, 651.

[24] I had thought I found this in a book by Edward Edinger, but among all the books of his I own I cannot now find the exact citation. I am hopeful it will turn up at some point.

[25] DC, 664.

[26] Ibid., 312.

[27] CW 4 ¶s404-6; cf. CW 8 ¶s60-76, especially ¶63.

[28] DS, 665.

[29] Act III, lines 26-27.

[30] Goleman (1985), 198.

[31] DS, 287.

[32] DS, 227.

[33] CW 14 ¶778.

[34] DS, 269.

[35] Ibid., 680.

[36] The root is existemi, “to stand aside;” Liddell & Scott (1978), 274.

[37] Brome (1978), 63.

[38] DS, 252.

[39] Ibid., 96.

[40] The term “inner city” is Daryl Sharp’s. He created his publishing house, dedicated to work by Jungian analysts, with this name. Jung’s term was “inner world;” CW 7 ¶s317,325-7.

[41] DS, 651.

[42] “Little Gidding,” V, ll. 26-29; Four Quartets.

[43] DS, 453.

[44] See the essay “Jung on Perfection and Completeness” archived on this blog site.