On the night following the death of her friend, Carl, a woman had the following three-part dream: “I see Carl lying on his back. He is dead and wears a blue shirt with some sort of insignia or emblem sewn upon the chest. Over each eye is an eyepatch. In the next scene he is in the same position. This time, however, there are no eyepatches. He is still dead but his eyes are open and they are all white. No pupil or iris is visible. In the final segment of the dream he is in a prone position, but now his eyes are closed. I notice that there is a slight twitching of his eyelids as if he is trying to open his eyes. Some other people present wonder if he is becoming a zombie or robot.”
This is an intriguing dream. Its timing and subject matter suggest that it is giving information about the post-life transition. The dream gives special emphasis to the eyes. First they are covered with eye patches. Then they are open but all white. Then they are closed but with twitching eyelids. Because they allow us to see, eyes are often a symbol of consciousness. What we look at is where our awareness and attention is.
Initially, the dead man’s eyes are covered with patches. Usually, eyepatches are worn to protect the eyes following an operation, or to aid in the recovery from an injury. Is the dream comparing death to an operation which heals our vision or helps us to become more conscious? Eyepatches also prevent us from seeing the outside world. Thus, they direct our thoughts and vision inward, defocusing our attention from the outside world. This idea dovetails with the image in the second segment of the dream. If we see only the whites of the eyes, the implication is that the iris and pupil are oriented into the body rather than to the outer world. Symbolically, the dead person’s consciousness is directed away from his former life, from outer life, to his inner life.
In her book, On Dreams and Death, Jungian psychologist Marie-Louise von Franz reflects on the deep state of depression that some people experience prior to their death. She states, “…it [the depression] serves to help detach the consciousness of the dying person from the outer world; the latter is experienced in the depression as more or less meaningless, futile, unreal…the eyes…are to be understood as symbolizing one’s view of the outer world, which must now be terminated in favor of a complete about-face toward the inner images. The spirit of discouragement is related to the fact that the ego still looks too much toward the outside, at the visible world, and does not yet sufficiently see the ‘reality of the soul.’” (p. 62)
Seeing the reality of the soul (along with the reality of the unconscious and spiritual world) is evidently something that may be resisted not only during life but after physical death as well. This may explain the presence of spirits and ghosts. We can hypothesize that ghosts are spirits that, rather than moving on to the next world, maintain psychological attachment to this world and their former life. This possibility is expressed in the third segment of the dream where the dead person’s eyelids are twitching and concern is expressed that the deceased will become a zombie. A zombie is a symbol of a person whose spirit or soul is elsewhere. If the deceased tries to turn away from his inner life and the afterlife by opening his eyes and returning his gaze to the outer world, he would be like a zombie for he would be taking leave of his soul.
The dream emphasizes the importance of detaching your focus from one world if you are going to move on to the next. This instinctive understanding is symbolized by the common tendency to close the eyes of a person upon their death. This symbolic act has relevance for the living perhaps more than the dead. Many people struggle to move on with their life after a significant “death.” This could be the death of a spouse, a child, a job, an identity, or a time of life such as your childhood. You can stay depressed for a long time, and you can live as a “ghost of your former self,” if you insist on focusing upon what was rather than turning your gaze inward to discover the new life that stretches out before you.
1) von Franz, Marie-Louise. On Dreams and Death: A Jungian Interpretation. Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, MA. 1986.
Copyright © Andy Drymalski, Ed.D.
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