Are Dreams Symbolic?


Freud, Jung, and many other authorities consider dreams symbolic. Following ancient historical precedent, Freud saw dream images as symbols that require interpretation. A symbol, by definition, stands for something else. Symbols, therefore, are projections of waking assumptions. The purpose of interpretation is to find out what that something else is. You dream of a bird; interpretation says the bird symbolizes something else, a desire to fly, for freedom, a fear you are “bird-brained…”

Because Integral Deep Listening is rooted in a phenomenological perspective, it suspends the assumption that a dream character or event is symbolic. The sources of this approach can be traced not only to Husserl, Wundt, Medard Boss, and the existentialist philosophers Heidigger, Kierkegaard, and Sartre, but also to the Socratic dialectical method of elenchus, in which questioning is given priority over pronouncements of truth.

IDL does not assume a dream character like a bird represents anything else. Instead it suspends such assumptions in favor of asking the image, “…what aspect of this person do you represent or most closely personify?” The image is free to say that it is not an aspect of the person and does not represent or personify anything. Generally, however, images consider themselves to be autonomous first and representational second. The bird will generally say, among other things, that it represents this or that aspect of the dreamer, and its interpretations are generally found to be more accurate and appropriate than those of other interpreters. Integral Deep Listening encourages interpretations, but first and foremost by interviewed emerging potentials. It also emphasizes what a dream character itself says it symbolizes rather than what someone who wasn’t in the dream may think. For example, the bird might say, “I represent your thoughts in meditation and the way you see them flying wherever they want.” The autonomy and independence of interviewed characters is first respected and listened to, and any interpretations are secondary to that singular beingness of the bird.

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