Dream Remedies: Music and Psyche
by Travis Wernet

There may be more of a connection between music and the depths of our being than we previously realized. Jung made an interesting comment in support of this notion when Meg Tilly invited him to listen to her piano playing and witness her approach to music therapy. Tilly apparently felt that incorporation of music into Analytical Psychology would be of benefit, and sought to influence Jung on this matter. She was invited to Küsnacht after contacting Jung to share her method with him. In regards to the experience, he remarked, “Music is dealing with such deep archetypal material and those who play don’t realize this. Yet, used therapeutically from this level, music should be an essential part of every analysis. [It] expresses in sounds what fantasies and visions express in visual images … music represents movement, development and transformation of motifs of the collective unconscious.”

From a depth view of psyche, we know that dreams, too, present a reliable touchstone for accessing the unconscious. To invite the energies of the soul to speak to us through dreaming, we may yearn to cultivate ways of bringing our imaginations alive. Just remembering dreams has a potent effect on our waking experience, but practice shows this isn’t enough. As any number of engaged, living studies of dreams show, our nightly sojourns provide us with missing keys to ourselves, and a larger life. They also provide us with a wealth of practical promptings towards wellness and a depth of understanding. Dreams have even been shown to speak towards finding our place within the ecology of the Earth in their invitations to recognize the inter-connectedness of all things: “Our dreams carry us beyond the limits of our ordinary distinctions and categorizations to reveal that we are indeed part of a web of being that expands in many different directions.” For this and so many other reasons, we’d do well to develop further ways to work and play with dreams, to foster a space for the imaginal in our lives.

When one thinks of the bare necessities for survival, essentials such as food, shelter, water, clean air, and sleep are tantamount. It can be said that just as vital to survival is the cultivation of imagination—the art of dreaming. Even the most conservative dream researchers agree that dreaming serves the function of taking us through certain scenarios of experience to ‘rehearse’ up-coming events which we need to learn or practice. Indigenous cultures, like the Australian Aboriginal and North American Iroquois Peoples (among others), have understood for ages that dreams come to help us learn about what’s ahead, in life-sustaining ways. In a paradoxical twist of modernity, it seems that science and the old spiritual teachings have the potential to wrap around at the ends, during our time, to conjoin and agree—if not on precise meanings or applications, at least on a general sense of shared purpose for optimum survival.

Inherent to a full-blooded vitality is relating to the realm of the creative. For, what can come into existence that hasn’t first been dreamt up? Who among us would choose to live without music, for example, that most universal of healing balms? Whether we know it or not, we all hear several kinds of music every day. The birds singing their wake-up songs in the early morn, the wind blowing through the tree branches, a loved one’s voice in tender conversation, even the wild cacophony of traffic outside—all of these and more form a soundtrack to our lives which we synchronize with. We also surround ourselves with composed music in a variety of settings. Even deaf folks enjoy and are affected by the vibrations in sound, the under-pinning hum of life, as the rhythms and melodies of the ‘music of the spheres’ sneak past certain limits like a canny breeze through a door crack.

There are many ways to support the vital sense of our dreams. One that I find most useful is the invocation of meditative music and trance-inducing sounds as tools for enriching dreaming. Music is a portal for soul, heart and mind to connect—within waves and images, within and beyond language, across time and space.

As already mentioned, several ancient ‘dreaming cultures’ have tended the relationship between music and dreams. It has even been said that music can be a bridge to dreaming, and vice versa. In Why the World Doesn’t End, [iii] storyteller and mythologist Michael Meade reminds us how, in one of the old Native American folk-myths, the creation-origin of medicine is found in a story about the First People going out into the dark night of the soul, to the four corners of existence, to learn how to pray, chant, sing and drum. 3 These mythic First People go into deep night and are affected by the wild discovery that these activities are like the living roots of a great and vital tree containing a flowing green sap of wisdom and wholeness. Like dreamers who seek and receive healing when the sun has descended into the Underworld (as ancient Egyptians imagined nightfall in their mythos), these first seekers went out to the darkest part of the night to receive as yet unknown remedies for wellbeing.

As Marina Roseman has shown, the Temiar people of Malay are known dreamers who intentionally dream to learn songs from healing spirits. Theirs is a culture in which dreams must be enacted to music for the rest of the village, where great medicine comes from experiences in dreams, as well as from the dreamers’ responsive actions, and both dreams and dreamers come together in an imaginatively true way within the day-world of outer events. Not only does such a practice show powerful transformational effects flowing from dreams involving music and sound, it also bespeaks a vivid creative practice for honoring the “visions of the night”. This life-way shines forth a tremendously helpful cultural embodiment for waking and dreaming life with its diverse mélange of actions whereby people seek to unite with their authentic selves, the spirits and each other.

The ancient Greeks also incorporated aspects of sound, music and theatre, while engaging the transformative powers in dreams at the ancient healing sanctuaries of Asclepius, the God of Healing. C.A. Meier, a colleague of Jung’s, has commented on this: “It is quite clear from Plato that musical and poetic competitions on a large scale took place at the Asclepieia… The particularly large theaters in the sanctuaries are further evidence of the importance attached to the influence of music in the ancient ritual healing.” Meier’s words show that a relationship existed between music and medicine amongst the ancestors of western civilization and that it was deeply understood that the influence of such creative interweaving helpfully affected dreamers seeking wellness at these sanctuaries.

I have witnessed the potency of musical dream incubation where groups of dreamers during retreats have been encouraged to seek dreams while listening to special instruments, including the didjeridu, Tibetan bowls and Native American flutes. In these workshops and depth ceremonies, we often start with an evening of Sound Healing. Inviting dreams through listening to music is encouraged. We do this at night, just before folks go to their dreaming. On one occasion, a woman in our group entered deeply—albeit skeptically, at first—into the musical meditation. Upon returning to share journeys the next morning, this dreamer reported having received a powerful dream, which we re-imagined together. While working with the narrative, it became clear that the further meanings of her dream had to do with clear promptings to go ahead with a questionable surgery. This woman followed through on the implied actions springing from the dream and our work with it. She later underwent a successful medical procedure that greatly affected her overall health and wellbeing. Dreams worked with powerful intention often support these kinds of results.

Music can provide powerful ways for augmenting the living energies pouring through us during our dreams. As Jung said, music can help us transform with the energies of the unconscious. These modes of vibrancy, through sound, can enhance and enrich the playful, serious work we do while honoring the memory of our mythopoetic travels in the realms of the human imagination. Working with these and other instruments, as well as the voice, can help us transcend and include the limits of spoken languages which often make it difficult to describe and feel the energy and reality of our dreaming adventures. Entering these invisible layers of sound, we stimulate deep sense perceptions and feeling sources within us that draw upon surprising sources other than, but in addition to, the intellect. In this way we are affected by the intonations of tapestries woven in dreams and visionary planes. The audible hum and tonality of music can also inspire us to discover our best words—the poetry we desire for describing experiences that occur inside such a space of resonance where what we hear is accompanied by the silence that is part of any musical quest.

 


[i] Claire Dunne, Carl Jung, Wounded Healer of the Soul, (Watkins Publishing, London, 2012), p.220.

[ii] Kelly Bulkely, Visions of the Night, (State University of New York Press, Albany, 1999) p. 45.

[iii] Michael Meade, Why the World Doesn’t End, Tales of Renewal in Times of Loss, (Green Fire Press, an imprint of Mosaic Multicultural Foundation, 2012).

[iv] Marina Roseman, Healing Sounds from the Malaysian Rainforest, (University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford, 1991).

[v] C.A. Meier, Healing Dream and Ritual, Ancient Incubation and Modern Psychotherapy, (Daimon Verlag, 2009), p. 73.

Travis Wernet is a certified MIPD Dream Worker & Musician. He has traveled to Egypt offering ceremonies using Didjeridu, Flutes and Tibetan Bowls. He leads dream groups in Northern California and his most recent musical release is ‘Yoro Yoro’.

2 comments

  1. Erin Montgomery says:

    Thank you for the article Travis. I recently completed training in The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM). Helen Bonny was deeply influenced by the work of Jung. GIM is a truly beautiful method of exploring depth materials and consciousness using music. Also, a chapter by Karlyn Ward came to mind while I was reading your thoughts about the use of music in analytical psychology:
    Ward, K.E. (2002). A Jungian orientation to the Bonny Method. In Bruscia, K.E., & Grocke, D.E. (Eds.). Guided Imagery and Music: The Bonny Method and Beyond. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers, pp. 207-224.

    More about GIM here: http://ami-bonnymethod.org/

    Thank you again. I am a music therapist and it is always nice to hear how others are incorporating music into their work. Erin

    • Hi Travis and Erin!

      Thanks Travis for your article and thanks Erin for your post! I also wanted to share about The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music and so glad to see Erin’s post providing more information. As a Primary Trainer of the Association of Music and Imagery, I have found this approach to be the most profound and able to facilitate a music-centered depth psychotherapy process in which the images, symbols, and metaphors are fully expressed and move a person through a healing and growth transformation.

      Indeed “music should be an essential part of every analysis”.

      Best regards, Cara

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