I devoured Jung’s Collected Works as an undergraduate. What fired me up most – as it did so many others – was the version of his life in the larger reality as he gave in Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Two statements from that work have lived with me, from my late teens, as precepts for living. The first is: “All day long I have exciting ideas and thoughts. But I take up in my work only those to which my dreams direct me.” I have lived most of my own life in precisely this way.
Jung also wrote: “Dreams are the facts from which we must proceed.” Exactly! Dreams are not texts, nor delusions caused by random neuronal firings, nor merely day processing, nor subterfuges of the guilty psyche to protect sleep: they are the facts of experience in a larger reality, and to work with them and let them play with use, we must seek to get those facts as clear and complete as possible, if necessary by going back inside the space where we encountered them, through conscious or shamanic dreaming.
Jung’s practice has inspired me more than his theories. For example, his way of consulting what was going on in the field – the wind on the lake, the fox in the woods, the scarab-like beetle at the window – in counseling clients. His famous essay on synchronicity is much less interesting than his personal practice of monitoring coincidence and symbolic popups from the world around him.
Jung, for me, is the model of what a real shaman of the West would be like. In indigenous cultures, the master shaman is a scholar and scientist, a poet and dramatist, whose vocabulary may be many times that of the average person. He or she is someone who can change a body, or an experienced world, by telling a better story about it, and entertains the lively spirits with “fresh words”, as the Inuit say. And the true shaman is a dreamer, one who dreams strong, one who can dream for others. So, if you want to see what a dream shaman of the West is like, look at Jung, who went to the Underworld and died and came back as true shamans are obliged to do.