Dreams that take place in a school or classroom are very common. The dream might be directing our attention back to students days, alluding to unfinished business. Or the dream may be reminding us that we are yet students of life and have much to learn, even though we think we graduated many years ago.
This is a transcript of the dream discussed in Episode 219 — Archetypal Aspects of School
Our dreamer today is a 40-year-old male who trained as an academic in music. He hasn’t been able to find a new teaching post since his college closed in 2019 and is currently working for the IRS, and here is his dream:
I am participating in some sort of arts class, where most of the students are younger and less experienced than me. We are assigned a project where two artworks are placed on each of the four walls. The teacher/ facilitator puts on some very interesting music that I like, and the student participants are to dance around the space and interact with the artworks in a semi choreographed dance. There are art materials available if they choose to add to the works, or they can choose to just interact through semi choreographed dance. I make a conscious and intentional choice to sit to one side and observe and absorb rather than to actively participate. During the dance, one of the participants, a black female, chooses to use the art materials to make changes to one of the paintings.
She is frustrated when her colored pencil breaks almost immediately. So, all she can manage to do is sign her name to the painting. The song ends and the teacher facilitator immediately expresses her frustration that I did not actively participate. She treats me as though I am a hostile unwilling partner who chose not to participate out of fear, which is simply not true. She refuses to understand or believe that I had made a conscious, intentional choice. I offer multiple times to explain myself and she refuses to hear me, saying instead that we will move on to the next activity and I had better participate this time. I become quite agitated and angry that she won’t listen to me and say, since you aren’t listening to me, I’m going to force you too. I then tell my story angrily in such a way that she and the class have no choice but to listen. I tell how in my readings and study I’ve come across two stories that are the reason I’ve done what I’ve done.
The first is the story of a man who lived in Greenwich Village in the 70s or 80s, who would throw huge elaborate parties in his apartment, inviting 20 to 40 intentionally cultivated younger men. He would provide the food and the drugs and the music. Decades later, multiple people who had attended these legendary parties would all describe the scene the same way, that this man would never actively participate but only sit in the middle and observe and absorb the goings on. Don’t you understand? I scream to my classmates, participants and the teacher/ facilitator. You can’t absorb and observe if you’re focused on participating. There was a second illustrative story. But I’m too worked up right now to remember what it was.
For context about the dream, he writes, this week I’m going to a symposium in my field. I will be the only one there who already has a doctorate in the field. Most of the participants are younger and less experienced. I am going because I genuinely need the professional development because it has been five years since I completed my studies.
The main feelings in the dream are frustration that I’m not being understood, and that an incorrect assumption is being made about my motives.
Well, this is an interesting dream in that it does something that happens in many dreams. But this dream does it fairly clearly. There are two standpoints. There’s the standpoint of the dream ego who says I’m going to sit and observe because I truly think that is the right way to orient to this experience, and then there is the very diametrically opposed standpoint of the dream teacher who says you’re not participating out of fear, you’re being stubborn and recalcitrant and what you need to do is get up and start participating. So, I think it’s always interesting when a dream presents such a clear polarity between two different perspectives.
I think that option of various ways to dance through the material is really important. We don’t have the dreamer here, but I’d be curious to know which one he finds preferable, and which one is the stranger way of interacting. One of the things that I’m wondering about has to do with the typology of the individual. Because the two requirements that the teacher is asking for –the dancing and interacting with the art, are this kind of extroverted participation, so the dream is focused on extroverted sensation. He’s supposed to be in his body dancing, perhaps adding to the artwork, working in this very instinctive, body-centered way, and the dream ego says, you know, I just want to watch that. I just want to observe it right now. In one way, I get it. It’s not a familiar way of interacting with the artwork and he might want to just drink it in because it isn’t familiar. In another way, it could seem passive aggressive, that the dream ego is refusing to experience itself through this extroverted sensation and there is a kind of conflict. One of the things that is revealed in the dream is that underneath the refusal to participate, which at first is presented as a kind of integrated, autonomous choice is an enormous amount of anger and that’s part of that passive aggressive dynamism.
Yeah, the withholding, I will do my thing rather than connect with other participants and the stated activity. I think we’re all kind of following a similar path through this dream of the difference between these stances of conscious and unconscious with the dream ego being the closer to consciousness, on the part of the dreamer, and the teacher being very, very far away and perceived as difficult and oppositional. But here it is, what I’m picking up here on this theme is the very beginning of the dream, I am participating in some sort of arts class, where most of the students are younger, and less experienced than me and then I go to his context, where he says, he’s going to a symposium in his field, and I will be the only one who already has a doctorate. So, that theme of being senior versus younger or less educated students and I would be curious about the degree to which there’s an ambivalence about participating, because he says he is happy to go to the class and needs the professional development, but in the dream, he is frustrated that he’s not being understood and I would wonder a little bit about where that might be in the dreamers life.
Yeah, as you said, Deb, I think we’re all in a sort of similar train here. What I’m noticing is that there are these three people that are distinct in the dream. There’s the dream ego, there’s the teacher, and then there’s the black female who tries to interact with the artwork and other than the dream ego, the other two are women. They’re female and so in a classical Jungian formulation, we might wonder if they contain kind of anima energy, but certainly it’s something other than ego. It is different from ego. It’s, as you said, very far from the ego perspective. But this teacher, who, by the way, is a teacher — and we’ve just been talking about the archetype of the teacher — we might think that in the dream language, the teacher might have something to teach us.
So, if you have a teacher show up in your dream that might be interesting to wonder, well, what can the teacher teach us? You know, the thing about being in a situation where you are the most qualified or the most senior is that you can sometimes feel maybe that it’s beneath you and that you don’t have anything to learn, and I wonder if that is perhaps in the dreamer’s psyche a little bit as he prepares to go to this symposium because it certainly seems to be in the dream. You know, the teacher in the dream is kind of accusing him of withholding, although the dream ego insists that that’s not what’s going on. As we know, the least trustworthy attitude in the dream is that of the dream ego. So, I am inclined to want to take the words of the teacher in this dream at face value. If I were this dreamer, I would want to try that on, how might it be true what this teacher is saying about me?
I have an imagination about what it might be like to have received a doctorate in music but be working for the IRS, yes, and I might feel a little embarrassed. I would probably feel quite resentful and I would feel really frustrated and thwarted. I achieved this highest level of education in my field and here I am now working for the IRS. And there’s a way in which in his life, he is not participating in the dance and he’s not participating in the art, because he’s working for the IRS instead of doing what he loves, which is working in music. And the teacher in this dream has a theory about why he’s not participating in the dance. So, if I were the dreamer, I would want to work with the dream and say, what can the teacher in the dream and the black female teach me about why I’m an observer in my own life right now? Because I think he has become an observer in his own life. Some of that may have to do with the anger that you pointed out, Joseph. Some of it may have to do with a kind of bitterness and resentment, where he’s holding himself out. And some of it might have to do with some of the things that the teacher brings up — that there’s fear, and he’s holding himself back out of fear. The dream maker is really taking the dreamer in hand, and I believe trying to send him a very clear message about his need to get in the dance.
Absolutely. Let’s talk about the other figure that was very distinct in the dream and how this two I think, expands the interpretation you just gave Lisa. I thought it was significant, the story of this man who lived in Greenwich Village. So, now we have a male figure in the dream in addition to the dream ego. He threw these parties that were legendary, and he, the host, would never actively participate, but sit in the middle. So, that’s an interesting image of being central, without having to participate and this man, the host, provided food, drugs, and music and so I wonder in this dream, if the dream ego’s refusal to participate, is also a desire to be in the middle, and to be the authority as the host. I think that’s another interesting amplification of the theme that we have been expanding here, of the difference between the dream ego and the other components of the dream and the dream maker saying, in effect, as you said, Lisa, taking him in hand and saying, listen up.
Yeah, especially with this story, the sort of story embedded within the dream, it does make me think that the dreamer may have a life pattern of not participating in some sense in some way, just holding himself aloof, probably relationally, holding himself removed from relationships and never really making himself available. I want to say one more thing. I’m looking at this language. She treats me as though I am a hostile, unwilling participant who chose not to participate out of fear, which is simply not true. And I want to offer to the dreamer, this little signpost — that when a dream figure says something in a dream, we have to assume that there is a way in which it is true. I’m not saying it’s always true. But I think we have to start with the assumption that whatever that dream figure says, no matter how crazy, no matter how nonsensical, we have to let ourselves open into a space where we say, well, how could that be true? So, the dream ego is saying this is simply not true, but I’m going to ask the dreamer, how is it true that you are a hostile or unwilling participant who chooses not to participate out of fear? How is that true in your life and where is it true in your life?
And I think that theme is returned to later in the dream, where the dream ego is screaming, you can’t observe and absorb if you’re focused on participating and that takes me back to what you mentioned earlier, Joseph, about typology and whether there is a real tendency to kind of go cognitive instead of relational. Let me absorb and learn and do it my way, my thing separate from everyone, rather than joining the dance, and risking and being vulnerable.
I’m thinking about the context, that he has a doctorate in this musical field, that right now, he’s not able to use and feels that the universe in a sense has not afforded him an opportunity. He hasn’t been able to find a teaching position. But I’m wondering if the dream is trying to diagnose why he doesn’t have a teacher…
I totally agree with that and the dream is telling him, here’s why you can’t get in the dance.
And so, whether or not it’s fear of participating, or anger, at being forced to do something that you feel ambivalent about, but there is an unexpressed emotional dynamic in this relationship to music in a teaching environment. So, I’m wondering if this were my dream, I would do a lot of journaling about how do I feel about being back in that educational environment? I mean, to be honest, I have several friends and analysands who are college professors, and a couple of them are working in music departments. It’s a very difficult time to be working in academia. Just as we were saying earlier. There are incredible amounts of budget cuts and if you’re working in the fine arts, unless you’re in a remarkably well funded organization like Juilliard, most universities are continuing to cut funding to fine arts. They don’t feel that it’s lucrative enough and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be in that world. So, I’m wondering if on an unconscious level, reasonably so there’s a fair amount of ambivalence.
Yes, it would be nice to return to the environment that you love, and that you have dedicated your life to, and there’s a lot of really challenging things going on in higher education right now, that may or may not be all that appealing to the individual, such that they are shying back from putting themselves in that environment again. The other thing that I would invite the dreamer to consider is to put himself in the role of the teacher. If I were the teacher, and I had led this experience, and I had a student who just said no, I’d prefer to watch, what would that mean? And how would I negotiate that dynamic in myself and outside of myself? I think that if we can identify with some of the problematic characters in the dream, then we can soften something inside of us, and here we also have this issue of the feminine and the masculine. So, these two feminine characters, the student who can only get her signature on the piece of artwork, and the teacher who’s frustrated because she wants everybody to be involved in this sensate expression, those are him as well. Although he doesn’t identify with that consciously, his inner women are also struggling with him.
It’s interesting the stance that all of us have taken with this dream. I’m wondering if underneath all of this, in the dream and in the dreamer’s life situation, there is simply a great deal of unprocessed hurt and grief. Music is soulful and the college he was at closed, that he’s not being listened to, in some very real way of listening to himself. That is has been a very difficult, painful time with loss and the dream frames this as sort of an oppositional dynamic between teacher and student when really, it’s hard. Just plain hard.