Descent is a vital process whereby a person can ‘sink’ into their unconscious depths to discover or learn about their deepest motivations, challenges, abilities, and needs. Western cultures tend not to emphasize the Inner or unconscious dimensions of our psyches, favoring rather the Outer, surface appearances. This can be problematical, because we tend to “bury” our conflicts or sensitive issues, often resulting in unbalanced behaviors and emotions and ‘off-kilter’ attitudes.
One of the easiest ways to take stock of your inner unconscious messages is through paying close attention to the content of your nightly dreams. You can establish a two-way communication with a deep level of awareness by asking for help in your dreams, then tuning in!
Two very common forms of archetypal figures that might show up in your dreams are what Jung called the Shadow (or Shadow aspects of any number of archetypal forms), and animal figures. The classic Jungian Shadow is a same gender, dark figure that appears to dog your footsteps or threatens you in your dream. Animal figures—sometimes representing what Jung would call Animus and Anima archetypes—may reveal aspects of yourself that you tend to project onto others and may need to “own” in order to better integrate your intrinsic strengths and awareness.
A dream dictionary is a helpful tool (see the Art of Spiritual Dreaming, by Harold Klemp for this and many other helpful dream techniques). In the back of your Dream Journal, you can keep a log of the special dream images that show up in your dreams. Some of these will change in their appearance and in their significance or message to you over time. You are the best interpreter of your own dreams, so long as you pay attention and ask yourself what the message of an image or dream story is, to you.
I went through a period of many years of dreaming about being chased by Tigers or Bears. I would admire the Animal, but then I would run from it, sensing that in its wild nature it would come after me; and then it would! Over time I came to realize these graceful, powerful animal figures represented my own strengths that I was not owning; I projected my own strengths into others for fear of wielding too powerful and thus possibly dangerous feelings. Once I was able to hold my own anima/animus powers in a balanced way, these dreams ceased.
What are some of your own Shadowy figures that turn up and recur in your dreams? What messages do they bring you? If you are not clear about their meanings, I invite you to engage in an active imagination. Go within, and ask to be shown what these images are meant to teach you. I did this once after a Bear dream in which after petting a cub, I realized the Mother would come after me and my sister. I sent my sister to climb a pine tree, and I clambered up behind her. Below me I saw this graceful, powerful Mother Bear scaling the tree as though on flat land. When I asked in an active contemplation two days later about the message of this dream, the whole scenario replayed before my inner eyes and I heard: “Even though you run from Her, she is pushing you to greater heights!”