The Individual & Community (“The Interpretation of a Dream”)


On the morning of September 13, 2005, Deborah Louis woke up in her Texas home dreaming of an image. She reached for her pen and jotted it down, later transferring it to her computer.  She also wrote down a somewhat peculiar phrase: I envision a symbol before which I have never seen.  It is suspended in air.” She would additionally take note of the astrological position of the moon. The image to the left is what came to Deborah in her dream.

Thirteen days later Deborah left Texas for Carpinteria, California and the first session of graduate level classes at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Prior to the first class, one hundred or so students – some of them second and third year returnees – gathered in a room and listened as faculty members welcomed the students and introduced themselves to any newcomers. As is usual for the first day of class a mixture of emotions filled the room including curiosity, excitement, and even trepidation.

If Deborah was feeling any trepidation, however, something was about to happen which would ease it substantially if not altogether. The introductory meeting drew to a close and someone rising from his chair in front of Deborah caught her eye. Or, rather, it was some thing about that personthat caught her eye – for he had a tattoo just above his ankle that looked like the image on the right.

If in reading this description you have not experienced anything akin to surprise or amazement, pause a moment and see if you can’t recall a similar experience from your own life. Perhaps you woke up having had a strange dream that stayed with you a while. Or maybe you’ve experienced events, described in earlier posts as synchronicity, where an inner state of mind — say thinking about a friend — was almost simultaneously followed by a matching external event, i.e. that friend unexpectedly knocking on your door or calling you.  The classical understanding of such occurrences is that in order to be genuine there must be an accompanying energy or feeling that we might describe as uncanny, magical, or even spiritual. In fact, the term numinous is often used to describe such cases as it comes from the Latin word numen meaning the nodding of a divinity when giving a command or acknowledging assent. It is not too surprising, then, that in having numinous dreams and synchronistic experiences we invariably exclaim “Oh my God” or one of the several two word epithets beginning  “Holy _____!”

In the moment that Deborah and her dream image powerfully came face-to-face with me and my tattoo her “prophetic dream” became an experience of synchronicity.  It is very hard to reconcile such a dream – much less such a synchronistic experience – with the current “scientific” understanding of dreams as a means for the brain to mull over and work out recent events, express fight or flight fears and desires, or somehow strengthen its powers of memory, all of which were mentioned in last week’s post. No, something deeper must be at work.

There are multiple ways of working with dreams and synchronicities. Our initial inclination might be to seek a more spirit-oriented / intellectual explanation of how these things happen. A recent Mythfire post mentioned C.G. Jung’s notion of archetypes as “innate potential patterns” or “functional dispositions” which reside in the collective unconscious of all human beings. Though not mentioned above, once we know that “community” was the stated theme of the “Welcome to Pacifica / Meet the Teachers” session attended by Deborah and moreover that my tattoo is based on a sculpture entitled “Community,” it would seem that the archetypal idea of  “community” unconsciously innate within all of us was first constellated in Deborah’s dream and then again in the Pacifica classroom. That it took on the form in the dream of an abstract image Deborah had never seen before is not only amazing but is furthermore suggestive of the importance of art and artist in giving expression to archetypal, i.e. eternally vital yet often latent or unconscious ideas.

Whether on her own or with an analytical psychologist, there are a number of ways Deborah could work with both the dream and synchronistic experience that are more soul or feeling-oriented than the just mentioned head-centered explanation. Certainly with the image being an abstract one it is more difficult to find personal associations than if the dream image were a familiar person or animal. However, soul-searching questions remain: Why is the sculpture upside down? What does it mean when something is upside down, inverted, turned on its head? How does this feel? What does “community” mean to Deborah? What are her feelings toward this new group in which she finds herself? Might this be a type of initiatory experience for Deborah? Might this experience also be a numinous sign of affirmation as mentioned above? Perhaps this dream-synchronicity, then, is somehow confirming a move in the right direction for Deborah and her own process of growth or individuation. How then might she move further into this process? Finally, the most soulful activity for Deborah might be to simply stick with the image itself, to contemplate its eye looking out and engaging her own eye, and to see what feelings emerge out of this shared vision.

I would like to thank Deborah for permitting me to use her name and dream experience for this post. Anyone interested in seeing more original sculptures by Michigan sculptor Jim Cunningham will find them here: Again, due to the abstract nature of his “Community” symbol and the fact that Deborah had never seen it before, this entire dream-synchronicity is proof positive of “the creative individual’s essential function for the community.” (Erich Neumann’s Art and the Creative Unconscious, p. 191).



The original sculpture, pictured above, sits in Lansing, Michigan’s Fabulous Acres neighborhood where I served as an AmeriCorps worker from 1994-1995. A plaque at the sculpture’s base reads: “Community: This sculpture with five colorful interconnecting shapes symbolizes five ethnic groups of Fabulous Acres working together to create their community.”  Thanks must also go to my friend and former Fab Acres resident Connie Doyle who first put the “Community” tattoo idea in my head and then quickly proceeded to get one of her own.


Next Monday: The Most Well-Known Example of Synchronicity in Analytical Psychology…


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