Ep.48: Interpreting Dreams with Machiel Klerk
Have you ever wondered what your dreams mean? Today I introduce you to my friend Machiel Klerk. Machiel is a healing professional who loves to facilitate and realize dreams. He is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist who has studied extensively and explored many healing traditions from around the world since the mid 90’s. Machiel is also trained in the indigenous counseling technique of Africa, and is a gifted diviner.
Based on a night time dream he founded the non-profit organization the Jung Society of Utah in 2009, and the online educational organization the Jung Platform in 2011. Machiel is a social entrepreneur who has won several awards from his local community, including the ‘influential cultural forces’ award. He was voted one of the ‘Enlightened Fifty’ by his community in Salt Lake City for his work benefiting the community.
In today’s episode you will learn the psychology and mysteries of the dream world.
LINKS AND RESOURCES:
Learn more about Machiel and dreamwork: machielklerk.com/
Robyn: Hey, everyone. It’s Robyn Openshaw, and welcome back to Your High Vibration Life. Today I’m introducing you to Machiel Klerk, who is my friend. He’s local to me here in Utah, and he’s a South African psychotherapist and dream worker. He’s an international speaker and a diviner. After getting a masters degree and doing many years of clinical psychotherapy, Michiel has finished three years of post grad training in Robert Boznak’s dream work. He’s trained by the Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland.
If you don’t know Carl Jung, he was a protégé of Sigmund Freud, one of the most famous figures in the history of human psychology, and Freud was all about the subconscious and what it says about where we may be energetically and developmentally stuck, due to our subconscious and what’s happening there. Then Jung took off from Freud’s work and dived into the deep, dark place of the human subconscious, including our dream life.
Machiel has published articles on depth psychology, and he’s released CD on dreams. He was named as one of the 100 most influential cultural figures in Utah, because he teaches dream workshops, which is where I met him, and he lectures all over Europe, North America, and Africa with other dream work experts, including famous African shamans. Machiel’s also the founding president of the Jung Society in Utah, who’s entire purpose is to teach people to leverage their nighttime dreams for their daytime growth, and learning, and problem solving. Welcome, Machiel Klerk.
Machiel: Well, thank you very much. Excited to be here, Robyn.
Robyn: Well, I want you to tell us about … You know, most of us think about dreams as some weird thing that happens when we’re unconscious. Dreams are sort of shameful sometimes. You know, I almost feel guilty about what I’m dreaming about sometimes, and sometimes I get in weird ruts, dreaming about building a house. For a few months I was just dreaming about building a house, even though I’m not building a house and I haven’t for many years. They’re just pretty much always confusing, unless you’ve studied the symbology of it. It’s really great that we get to listen to a pro today, tell us about what we’re missing in our dream. We forget them within an hour of waking up mostly, so talk to us about dreams are important to you, why you’ve made a career out of helping people understand how important their dreams are.
Machiel: Yeah. Well, I got stuck in my early 20s, and I was at that time living in Amsterdam, and I didn’t really know what to do in the future. I had unresolved grief of the death of my father at the age of 10, and my culture and my family wasn’t really good at dealing with grief, and so several [inaudible 00:02:51] really did lead up to a situation in my own life where life had become kind of meaningless and lack of dreams, and vision, and purpose.
By some fortunate coincidence, I stumbled upon the works of Carl Jung, which you just mentioned, one of the great dream workers of the last century and founding fathers of psychoanalysis in the world. He provided some guidelines on how to see dreams, how to work with dreams, how to understand dreams, and then really my own life started being flooded with dreams at night, almost to the point that it was overwhelming.
However, many of these dreams provided insights into my own current situation. You could say they were a kind of psychological x-rays, displaying my own place in life and getting an idea of where I was, of the territory I found myself in, and they started to provide suggestions and clues on how to move forward and how to connect with, well, my own gifts and purpose.
When I did that and followed it, life changed radically for the better. I’ve been deeply grateful to the world of dream and its inhabitants, for its support and guidance, and that has led me to a deep engagement with dreams ever since, I first worked in business, but the last 10 years or so I’ve been fully focused on being a therapist, and working with dreams, and thinking and writing about dreams. That is where my own life started with dreams. They really helped me to connect with my gift and purpose, and life became colorful again and meaningful. I think that there are many ways to reach that place in life. Dreams are one of them.
Robyn: You talk to me a lot about dream incubation. Where’d this come from, and what exactly is dream incubation?
Machiel: Yeah. Dream incubation is a really helpful, fun, practical technique in which you can ask your dream, before you go to bed, a question in order to elicit a response from the dream. We can ask the dream any question around health, or vocation, finances, of course love relationships, or a whole range of other things that either have our interest or bothers us, and the dream will, if we do it in the right way, the dream will help and guide us. The dream is kind of a great friend that we can consult at night for some wisdom on our own path. Dream incubation is the name that has been given to that technique.
Robyn: Awesome. What kinds of things do you accomplish with a client when you include their subconscious and what’s going on in their dreams? Give me like an example and how you go ask your dreams for help with your real life.
Machiel: Right. Well, for example, one client once came to me, a woman that had been married for 25 or 30 years. She was wondering what was going on in her marriage. She clearly experienced some dissatisfaction, but couldn’t really put a finger on the issue. We decided to engage the dream and ask the dream to provide some insight. The woman goes home, does a little thinking about it, and creates a ritual in which she goes through her wedding album, finds a picture of her husbands hand and her hand over each other that was taken on the day of her wedding, and then eventually she puts a question mark on it. With that image of the two hands, the wedding ring, and the question mark she goes to bed and then has the following dream.
She says, “In the dream I am entering a building, and this building is maybe in the 1900s or 1950s. It’s a large space with only women working there. There this kind of industrial feel to it, and the women are sitting at long tables, doing some form of mechanical work.” Then she’s brought my her manager to her place, which is in another room, also with only women. She sits behind her desk, and then her eye falls on her contract, and she sees that she’s only earning $6 an hour, of which she remarks, “That is below minimum wage.” She wants to talk to the manager about that. That is the dream.
Then she has the good habit of sharing dreams with her husband, so in the morning she shares this dream without disclosing that she had asked this question. The husband picks up on the end of the dream, where the woman gets underpaid for her work, so he asked the question, “Is there any place in your life where you feel undervalued?” The woman has a pretty good idea where that is. That gave her a starting point, that she felt undervalued in her marriage, that she felt that she was in a role pattern that was very much like the 1900s, where women either were … a traditional role pattern. If a woman did some work, it was simple, mechanical work. So, she felt she was stuck in that kind of life. It gave a starting point for her exploration on how to change it and what to do with that.
Robyn: I love it. What do you think about my constantly dreaming for months about building a house?
Machiel: Yeah. Then you look at the dream, and there’s two levels you can look at it. One is does it have to do with something literally in the outer world, like really building a house? You say you weren’t engaged with that. Then it is more in a metaphorical sense, of you are building something new, a new structure, either a new aspect of yourself, or you are reinventing a part of yourself, or you’re building some other part of a business. It’s some form of building that has to do with a form of comfort, and nurturing, and structure, a sense of home, so something to that extent you must have been working on for several months.
Robyn: Hm. You know, I have somebody on staff at Green Smoothie Girl. Her name’s [Nicki 00:10:26], and she’ll be hearing this eventually. She’s a listener to your High Vibration Life Podcast, and she’s a dream analyst. She knows all the symbology, and sometimes I’ll wake up and text her a dream. I think I’ve done this with you too. She writes back the most remarkable things that seem very on point. Of course, she generally knows what’s going on in my life. She’s worked with us for I think five years now, so we know each other well, but I’ve always been amazed at how close she is to exactly what that might mean in my life.
You know, there’s those glossaries of what a snake means in a dream and what flying … people fly a lot in their dreams. Tell me about dream analysis, like Nicki does for me sometimes when I have a really weird dream. I especially tell her when I’m having a dream that’s really colorful or I’m having a dream that’s repetitive. Talk about dream analysis versus dream incubation.
Machiel: Yeah. Dream analysis is really the pondering about the dream itself. Dream incubation is the process of asking your dream a question, getting a response. Then after you get a response, you engage with the analysis of what does the dream mean or suggest? That’s of course a great art. There are some general things, like a home very often … There are general themes, having a home, or marriage, or going on a journey.
But most dreams you also need to know either the dreamer or ask some questions, because our dreams are manifestations of your belief, and your emotions, and the intent that you have, and so you need to know the dreamer a little bit to understand these inner figures or beings that are in the dream. You get there by asking questions as, “What is your association to a house, or mother, or this dream figure?” Then a person will share that. This very often suggests something that is part of what this dream is suggesting.
That is actually kind of important and necessary, more than just going to a dream dictionary, because that’s too generic. If you were having a dream with a horse in it, but you were kicked by the horse when you were young or you are really afraid for horses, that horse means something completely different than a dream that someone else, who rides horses for their vocation and loves horses. Then that horse doesn’t mean the same thing. You need to have the personal associations of the dreamer to a dream to really do a good and accurate job. This is probably also why your friends and colleague is able to help you, because she knows somewhat of your life.
Robyn: Yeah. I think that’s part of it. It’s amazing how creatively she thinks about symbology. Talk a little bit about Freud, and then Jung, and then symbology and the subconscious, because where I’d like to go from that is for people who aren’t familiar with the fact that Freud was the first one to really dig deep into why what’s going on in our subconscious is stuff we’ve got to resolve, but then where Jung took it from there. After that, I want to ask you where you’re taking it from there.
Machiel: Well, you ask some really big questions, all in one, but they’re great. Freud was probably one of the first in the current western tradition that started to take dreams serious. A little simplified version, but Freud in general, he thought that dreams were kind of stories that showed some where we have repressions and that dreams where changing, the strangeness of dreams was because of the dreams not wanting to upset us while we’re being asleep, and therefore they take on different forms than what they might mean.
He had an idea of an unconscious that was almost like a storehouse of partly repressed contents that we’re living out at night. In his time, in Europe, sexuality was very repressed, so a lot of people had strange repressed dreams around sexuality, because it wasn’t well integrated. Then it shows up at night in strange forms, and so there is where he got a lot of his ideas around sexuality and the strangeness of dreams.
Jung had a slightly different idea about dreams, and he thought that dreams were far more symbolic and metaphorical in nature and that there was an additional layer to the psyche, which he called the collective unconscious. In Jungian terms, you have the symbols, which are representations of something not well known, but a symbol would, for example, be if you were dreaming about someone you haven’t seen for a long time, and then that person would probably not refer to the actual person that you know, but would be a symbol for the emotions and the feelings you have about that person.
Maybe you dream about John. You haven’t seen John for 20 years. I would ask, “What to John.” You would say, “Oh. John is jealous.” The jealousy would symbolically show up in the dream in the clothes and form of John, because John is the person that in your mind is a jealous person. That would be a symbol. A more symbolic metaphorical look at the dreams, for example, with your house. It was not literally referring to a house, but more like a structure that you were building. It could suggest any new endeavor where you were creating a sense of home or building something, whether it’s a business or … You probably know what you were working on in those days, but that was metaphorically represented in your dream as creating a house, building a house. Does that make sense?
Robyn: Yeah. It does. I know that you go to Africa once a year. I mean, you’re from South Africa, but you go work with a shaman there. I know that you have taken the best from Jung, who is long dead, and of course we need to evolve the science of what’s going on in the subconscious. I know you’ve continued to study and it’s a more modern study. Where have you jumped off from Jung’s work, and what’s really exciting and new since the death of Carl Jung?
Machiel: Yeah. The difficulty with Jung is that he posed several different ideas about dreams and were not always even completely congruent with each other. How I see dreams is, first of all, the dream, what is important to know about a dream is that a dream is a world that you find yourself in at night. It’s easy for everybody that listens. Just go back to a strong dream or your latest dream, and you will know that if you look around, that you see maybe the horse, or the angry cab driver, and you are walking somewhere or doing something, and that you’re in a world. That suggests that the dream is not in a letter or a movie generated by your brain, or by a god, or a mystery being sent to you, but is a world that is created your own actions and some other force.
That’s a very important starting point, because now by knowing that you’re in a world, you can start relating to the dream figures that are in this world, They can be seen as forms of consciousness that are there. By getting in touch with these states of consciousness you can transform your own state of consciousness. For example, if you would dream about being chased by a crocodile, and interpretively probably most people would agree that means that you’re afraid for something that is really aggressive and that is chasing you. It could be literally your boss or someone else, but then knowing that, that doesn’t change the situation yet.
If you go back in the dream and you looks at the crocodile, you can get in touch with the energy of the crocodile. Most likely that is a really assertive, aggressive energy that you need in order to change the situation you’re in. The energy will probably give you the strength to speak up to your boss or stop that what is chasing you, and so there is this technique in which you can integrate the consciousness or the energy of crocodile in order to transform your own state of consciousness. Those are really exciting ways of working with dream. I must say, in my travels around the world I’ve seen that other parts of the world actually also relate in the same way with their dreams.
Robyn: Yeah. How do other cultures deal with their dreams? How are we different than other cultures, especially … you have been to some native, more indigenous places. How are we different? What can we learn from them?
Machiel: Yeah. This a good question. Western thinking very often thinks of a dream as little turn on, turn off event at night. You have this experience or you watch this movie, and then that is it. Most indigenous cultures stretch the concept of dream, and they think the dream is a world that we enter at night. They really think this is a world, and they also think the same world continues to exist when we wake up, so you have the world we live in, and then coexisting there is another world. Very often they literally call it the other world, a world that is coexisting with this reality, inhabited with spirits, or dream beings, or ancestors. The goal is to build a relationship with those ancestors, dream beings, spirits, in order to have an affluent life. That is probably one of the differences in general brush strokes between western psychology and an indigenous view on the world of dream.
Robyn: Interesting, and I’m not surprised that they see it more all as one whole cloth. We’ve gotten so reductionistic in so many ways in our culture. It reminds me of our approach to medicine, that we reduce medicine to specific organs, and we have specialties, where the doctor just looks at the cardiovascular system, as if it’s not part of the whole organism. That’s really interesting. What do you say to people who say they don’t dream?
Machiel: Well, we now know that everybody dreams. People actually, if you sleep eight hours, probably four to six hours of that night is being spent in dreaming. The science can these days measure the brain and the dream activity, so they know that we all dream. What you do see is that if you bring people who claim that they’ve never dreamt in their life and they don’t believe they dream, but you bring them to a sleep laboratory and ask them just to write down, when they wake up, a dream, in case they have one, then you see that sometimes the first night or within two, three days people start remembering their dreams.
What the research suggests, and my own experience seems to validate that, is that people will remember dreams if they are interested in dreams. If people think there is some value to the dream, they will start having dreams. If people don’t pay a lot of attention to it, dream life becomes less intense, and sometimes it disappears all together, or at least for the consciousness that remembers it.
Everybody dreams all the time. I would even suggest that dreaming continues to happen right now, like in daydreams and fantasies, but the reason that people don’t remember their dreams is that your short term memory doesn’t function at night. You go to bed. You sleep. Your short term memory goes offline. Then you have all these experiences, of which you remember nothing upon waking, or almost nothing. Even if you remember a dream, it is maybe one, two, or three minutes on multiple hours that you’ve been away, but your brain has been active. It has been working. You’ve been engaged in all kinds of adventures throughout the night, and you remember close to nothing. That is your short term memory doesn’t work.
That’s also the reason that if you want to increase dream recall, the ability to recall dreams, that when you wake up, you have to immediately write down what you did dream, because most dreams will evaporate. So, dream recall doesn’t have to do with being very intelligent, or having good memory, or will power. If you don’t write it down upon waking, it goes away, because your short term memory just kicks in. Very often what I do is I try to tell the dream two or three times to myself, see the images, so that I capture it. Otherwise, within minutes it can be gone.
Robyn: Okay. One more thing. Tell us what we do at night before bed. Tell us a ritual and what we do when we first wake up or when we wake up from the dream, so that we can really make use of our dreams, and bring our dreams into our waking life, and live a higher vibration life using our subconscious.
Machiel: Yeah. In that case, I would say do this method of dream incubation. In dream incubation the first step is really that you think about what kind of question you want to ask. Usually what works best is a question that is either something you’ve been thinking about during the day, it has been bothering you, or exciting you, or you’re really curious about. Then write down the question, because just like you forget dreams, you might forget the way you phrased the question, and you need to read the answer of your dream against the question.
Just assume that the dream is this great friend that you ask a question, and it will answer your question, but then you must make sure that you remember what your question is, so write it down. Then create a little ritual. The ritual is kind of a way of telling dreaming or if you’re spiritual, you can say God, or the mystery, or the friend, or you say you talk to your brain. It’s some form that you let dreaming know that you would love to have an answer. Some people have a special dream journal, where they write in, or they have a stone that they associate to dreaming, or a painter who wanted inspiration for a painting just putting a blank canvas next to his bed. There are all kinds of little rituals that you can do.
Then you go to bed. You might meditate in bed for a couple of minutes on your question. You have to dream. You wake up, and now, you know, you have to write it down. Otherwise, they disappear. You write down your dream, and then you look at the answer and pause a little bit on it. Very often the answer will make sense, because of the type of question you asked. Maybe a fun question to ask is what is one thing I can do to raise my vibration? Then see what the dream comes up with, a suggestion for them.
Robyn: I love it. I think this is going to be really useful to people, because if they’re listening and they’re wanting to integrate all their energies, why do we take one third of our energies, where we have this colorful, amazing life going on, and we just shrug our shoulders and say, “Well, I don’t understand what that’s about,” and then do nothing with it? I think this has given us some really helpful tips about how we can integrate the two and even just be more aware that we dream and we dream for purposes. These are our subconscious knocking on the door. I think it’s really exciting. Machiel, tell everyone where they can find you and learn more.
Machiel: Yup. There is two places people can do this. It’s on my own website, machielklerk.com, which is M-A-C-H-I-E-L-K-L-E-R-K.com. They can find some information about my dream work, the divinations that I do, that I learned from the African shamans, and on the Jung Platform the J-U-N-G-platform.com. We have several courses there. One course I have is on the dream incubation, where in a four class course I really go over the general concept, what kind of questions people can ask, how you ask it, what you can do to trigger a better response, and some suggestions on how do you work with the answer of the dream. It’s a nice, full, complete package, if people are interested in it.
Robyn: Yeah. Nicki told me … I told you she’s our dream analyst. She told me that she is signed up for your dream incubation project. Again-
Machiel: Oh. Yeah. Yeah.
Robyn: Isn’t that fun? She hasn’t started it yet, but she got it. Again, everyone, it’s Machiel Klerk, M-A-C_H-I-E-L-K-L-E-R-K.com. Machiel, thank you so much, my friend. You are an amazing human, and you’re helping make the world a more high vibration place, so thanks for being with us today.
Machiel: Thank you. It’s always great connecting with you. Thank you for being on the show.