The Inner Journey
The inner journey begins as soon as one turns within. It may begin as a conscious act, such as prayer or meditation, through a retreat from life or through the creative exploration of ones own imagination. The inner journey may also begin haphazardly or through an unconscious act. Often it is an illness or a depression which steals our attention away from the world and forces us to look inward. Yet of the all inroads to the Self, it is the dream which serves as one of the most clear and potent introductions to the inner life.
When we explore our dreams we embark upon a journey which leads us deep throughout the darkest recesses of our soul. The wisdom of the dream has the capacity to guide and catalyse the whole process of individuation – the process by which we realise the fullness of our being and become whole. Just as an outer journey leads us onto a discovery of the world, this exploring ones dreams culminates in a discovery of oneself.
How to begin
Working with ones dreams is a deceptively simple process. Really it is a matter of developing a genuine interest and finding the time – the rest seems to take care of itself. When we focus on our dreams our dreams come alive. It is as if ones deeper self awakens from a slumber as soon as we turn our attention toward it. In the story of Aladdin and the lamp, Aladdin stumbles into a cave full of untold riches (the inner life). In this cave he spies a lantern, which he cleans and polishes when, whooom, a genie appears. Aladdin’s simple act of rubbing the lantern releases a genie who has been asleep for eons.
Working on our dreams is much the same. When we reflect upon our dreams we polish and rub this lantern. We awaken a genie who offers us as much guidance as he does trouble. So begins the inner journey.
Stages to the Journey
Whilst everyones path is unique, the inner journey is made up of definite stages, with each stage being defined by the psychological challenge which it presents. Interestingly, the stages of the inner journey are mirrored in myth and fairytale. For example the hero must defeat the dragon before he can win the princess. And then, having married the princess, he inherits a kingdom. Or in alchemy one must pass through the nigredo (the blackening) before coming to the albedo (the whitening) which in turn is followed by rubedo (the reddening). In the Shamanic initiation rites one must go down to into the depths, then up to heaven before returning to the earth. In the Zen Ox herding pictures the young monk must first catch the bull, harness the bull, ride the bull and become one with the bull, before he returns to the village as a wise old teacher. Aladdin must stumble into the cave before he finds the lantern. When studied symbolically (just as one would study a dream) such tales as these become invaluable road maps for the inner journey.
Depth psychology also outlines the various stages along the path. In working with dreams I have often found Jung’s fourfold division of the psyche to be a most useful model.
In Jung’s psychology there is the ego (the I or conscious self), the shadow (all that our conscious attitude rejects), the anima and animus (the inner feminine and masculine) and the Self (the central organising and creative principle within the psyche). When one begins the inner journey ones dreams tend to focus first upon issues surrounding the ego, then upon shadow material, followed by the anima/animus and lastly the Self.