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Another Perspective

Dreams and Death

Empty-handed I entered the world
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going -
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.*

To dream that you are dying or that you are already dead is not particularly rare. While these dreams can be very emotionally disturbing, almost without exception they are not predicting your physical demise. Rather, these dreams are heralding a much-needed transformation of the ego. Many people from middle-age on have death dreams. Usually they are indicating the ego of the dreamer has an overly youthful attitude that needs to be addressed. The individual has out-lived the usefulness and appropriateness of this attitude and it is time to let it go. These kinds of death dreams occur when the dreamer is having difficulty ending the influence this attitude has on him/her. So while you feel the dream is saying you are about to die, it is in fact most frequently talking about an approaching psychological transformation that is generating the same intensity of anxiety, apprehension and distress that the actual approach of death can bring.

Dreams are the voice of God within us. They show us the manner in which God, through dreams, prepares us for death. Whenever an individual is confronted with something mysterious, something unknown, the unconscious responds by producing symbolic, archetypal material to fill the void. This is what occurs with the mystery of death: the unconscious produces images that give us nature's perspective on it.

The images associated with death dreams indicate that the unconscious regards death not as a termination of life, but as a transition from one realm into another. Death and resurrection or rebirth are common themes of psychological life. Psychologically, just as spiritually, before we can get to Easter, we must first pass through Good Friday.

How is it possible for dreams to know about these things? In his article, "The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche"**
C. G. Jung writes about his exploration into the depths of the psyche. There, he says, exists a knowledge that knows things that consciously the ego does not. Dr. Jung observed that it is out of this region of the psyche that the images about death and the Beyond arise.

The following illustration of a death dream is my favorite and is typical of dreams associated with death. It comes from a woman dying in Los Angeles County General Hospital during the early 1950s. She slept a lot at the end of her life, but awoke just an hour or two before dying. She shared this dream with a young intern who was at her bedside.

There is a lighted candle in a dark room beside a mirror. Two fingers approach and snuff out the flame. But in the mirror, the flame arose once more and its light seems to glow more brightly there.

Tell me your experience with dreams of death.

* This poem was found in the Winter/Spring 1990 edition of Inquiring Mind, a semi-annual journal of the Vipassana Community, Vol. 6, No. 2.
** See Volume 8 of Jung's Collected Works, paragraphs 912, 923, 931, and 948 in particular.
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