Jean Raffa on Dream Interpretation and Memoir Writing
Author Jean Raffa has been sharing her knowledge of dreams in a series begun with this post and continuing with last week’s post about the Big dreams of childhood. Here are two more concluding questions from me and Jean’s answers.
A: Lots of people think I’m a Jungian analyst, but I’m not. I’m just obsessed with Jungian psychology because when I discovered it, it hit my inner environment with the force of a Florida hurricane! Hurricane Jean, I guess.
My formal training is in education—Curriculum and Instruction—and my teaching specialties were Children’s Literature and Language Arts. These were never my passions, but I didn’t know it until the age of 46 when I discovered Jungian psychology. A dear friend invited me to join a 5-year long Jungian study group called Centerpoint which is based on a series of lessons written by Jungian analysts.
The first activity at our first meeting was to share an important dream. I shared one I had at the age of ten in which my hero, the Lone Ranger, shot me, and to my surprise and discomfort I realized I could barely talk because I was struggling so hard to hold in tears and some strong emotions. That’s when I knew the power of this kind of inner work.
There weren’t any Jungian analysts in my town, so I ordered several books from Inner City Books, a publisher that specializes in Jungian studies written by Jungian analysts, and started reading on my own. And underlining! And taking notes.
Soon I was writing down my dreams and trying to understand them. Essentially, I was discovering and following my passion. And except for the members of my weekly study group, (we rarely talked about dreams after that first time) I had no other companions: no teachers, no therapists, no one else to talk to about the exciting inner journey I was taking.
After a year of this I knew I had a book or two in me, so I decided to quit teaching and start writing. I can’t adequately express how freeing and empowering it was to make these choices, and from the very beginning my dreams affirmed that I was doing the right thing.
My first psychological book was The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth.
In it I wrote about working with my dreams, and my readers’ responses were so positive that I decided to write a book about how to do it. Dream Theatres of the Soul: Empowering the Feminine Through Jungian Dream Work came out two years later. Copies of both are still available from Amazon (just click on link), and I’d recommend them to anyone seriously interested in going deeper.
My newest book,
Healing the Sacred Divide: Making Peace with Ourselves, Each Other, and the World, also contains stories about how I work with my dreams and what I’ve learned from them. It can be ordered from larsonpublications.com or Amazon (see the box), both of which are offering pre-publication discounts. So in answer to your question, I would say that having the help of a Jungian analyst would be a rare gift, but it’s not essential to one who has an interest in dreams and a passion for self-knowledge.
Q: If you were writing a memoir, especially one about childhood, would you expect to write overtly about your own remembered dream about the Lone Ranger or would you use the dream work as a covert influence helping you to sort detail, which stories to tell, etc.?
A. This is a very insightful question. As I mentioned in response to your first question, my last three books were all memoirs, and in them I took both of the routes you’ve mentioned. The Bridge to Wholeness started out with my earliest memory of being lost and alone at the age of three on the shore of Lake Michigan because both parents had gone back up to the cottage, each thinking the other had taken me with them. That experience was so traumatic that I never forgot it. It very much had the quality of a dream and when I wrote about it I approached it that way.
I looked for the emotions, (a lot of fear and questioning and imagining the direction my life might take), and examined the symbols (it was night, I was lost and alone, and I was determinedly walking toward a small light in the distance). How symbolic is that? I was surrounded by darkness (the unconscious) and the only direction I knew to take was toward the light, i.e. toward consciousness and enlightenment. There could not be a more apt metaphor for the essence of my personality and the purpose of my life.
In essence, these symbols say something similar to what I think your basement dream said: What is a basement if not dark? What is television if not a view of life as seen through light? Looking for personal meaning in the symbols that show up in waking life, is, to me, an extremely valuable way of making sense of our lives. This is your second suggested approach to memoir writing, i.e. allowing my dreamwork to be a covert influence on my writing.
After treating a few other big early memories the same way, I arrived at the age of ten when I had my really Big Lone Ranger dream. Since it was the only dream I remembered from my childhood, I felt it was extremely important to write about it, and I treated it the same way as the other memories. This, of course, combines both ways of memoir writing that you mention. By that time I had found my voice, and the rest of the book continued in the same way.
Then one day when I was most of the way through, I had a sort of waking dream in front of my makeup mirror in which I spontaneously made up a fairy tale. I was so used to paying attention to my inner life that I knew this had value and meaning too. Sure enough. By the time I had written it down I realized it was the story of my life up to that point, and it became the central metaphor for the entire book.
Trusting my dreams and imagination has allowed me to discover my creativity and fulfill my purpose in life. I wish the same for you and your community of memoir-writers. Thank you for this opportunity to share what I have learned.
Dr. Jean Raffa is an author, speaker, and leader of workshops, dream groups and study groups. Her job history includes teacher, television producer, college professor, and instructor at The Jung Center in Winter Park, FL. Through formal and informal means, including a five-year Centerpoint course and an intensive at the Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland, Jean has been studying Jungian psychology and her own inner life for more than twenty-three years. Her book, Dream Theatres of the Soul: Empowering the Feminine Through Jungian Dream Work has been used in dreamwork courses throughout the country and is included in Amazon.com’s list of the Top 100 Best Selling Dream Books, and TCM’s book list of Human Resources for Organizational Development.
Readers, here is your last chance to ask Jean questions about dreams, creativity, the writing process, or anything else!
I just want to thank you for asking me to participate in this interview. I enjoyed it very much, and it was a pleasure to interact with so many of your viewers. I wish you the best of luck with your new book, and look forward to reading it!
Thank you, Jean.
I’m writing from Kasadosi, Turkey. I came here with the intent of connecting my present life to the Big Dream of my childhood. It’s been an amazing trip!
Here are a few things I learned about dreams in general:
1. Hospitals in the ancient world used dreams as a way of healing–even physical ailments. They had dream centers.
Medical practices seemed very wholistic.
2. I lived your interpretation of my Big Dream of going into the darkness in search of the Light. When my father died, I had a waking dream experience of doing just that! It felt mythic even as I was experiencing it.
Much more to say! But not from an iPhone. Sorry I couldn’t do my usual sharing of these posts on FB and Twitter. Will try to do so when I return go home.
Thanks so much for three excellent, insightful, posts!
I can’t wait to hear all about it. And you’re very welcome. Jeanie
Jean and Shirley,
Thank you so much for this powerful, inspiring series of posts. I managed to read the first while traveling in Europe and am now catching up. But there is so much concentrated wisdom and insight in them that it’s almost overwhelming!
I am a huge fan of Jung, had always been interested in him and then years ago read Memories, Dreams, Reflections and was amazed. It has always interested me too that all of Freud’s famous fainting spells were in the presence of Jung, his disciple who went his own way, who saw God in the depths and not just badness. Freud was undoubtedly a genius but got some things wrong, and Jung’s vision in any case was so vast and spiritual that it soared beyond the individual to reveal deep truths and patterns.
Most of my dreams i don’t remember, or I class them as anxiety expressions. But I had two very significant dreams when I was fifty and had started writing my memoir, the sixth version of which I am writing this summer. Those dreams shook me, affirmed my course, and showed me how necessary it was that I return to deeply personal, artistic writing from my work in journalism and publishing.
I look forward to rereading all these posts and to following Jean and her recommendations.
How kind you are to let us know your thoughts on this series. I’m so glad you found them to be of value to your memoir-writing.
Yes, Jung’s vast and spiritual vision was exactly what I needed to start moving forward on what I now know to be my soul’s true course, and it all came about because when I was first introduced to his work I, too, found it hugely fascinating, amazing and inspiring. Since then I’ve learned that acting on these strong emotions is exactly the right way to find and follow our passions!
Good luck with version six! May this be the Big One!
Richard, I also read Jung’s autobiography and found it fascinating, resonating with stories from his life that explained concepts like synchronicity and therefore the experiences of many others. So glad you found insight here. I also thank Jean–again!