“I look in the Mirror and My Hair is Not My Hair!” A Dream Interpretation.

Dear Satya:

Q: I had a dream last night that I was sitting around with a bunch of old female friends (I’m a woman) and we were talking about haircuts. I looked in the mirror and saw that my hair was much thinner, shorter and choppier than it actually is. They were giving me advice on how to change it. I’ve had dreams in which my hair was different before, I think. What does this mean?

I find dreams about hair and haircuts fascinating. It’s just a simple image, but these dreams appear with some regularity, often catching the dreamer’s attention. It feels significant to look into the mirror in a dream and see yourself as different than you know yourself to be.

Let’s start with the archetypal layer of this dream. Prior to modern thinking, hair was often associated with virility and power.

The chiefs and magicians of the Masai, the African tribe, were afraid to lose their supernatural powers if they let their beards be cut . . . Hair is regarded as a sign of extraordinary power and magical strength. The young warriors of the Teutons cut their hair and beards only after having slain the enemy. Samson, too, was deprived of his power after Delilah had cut off his curls. (Children’s Dreamsp. 105)

Indeed, Samson, the strong man of the Bible, has supernatural strength because of his hair. Nothing can stop him or get in his way, until his wife cuts his hair when he is asleep and he awakes to find himself weak and powerless.

These mythological stories — like so many others — may be more true to reality than we originally thought. I’m intrigued by reports that the United States military conducted tests in the Vietnam War on new Native American recruits before they received their military haircuts and after. I can’t verify this story myself, but these military experiments apparently convinced even the most skeptical researchers that the men’s long hair had provided them with a profound intuition that gave them a significant edge in battle. Like Samson, when their hair was cut, they lost their unique skills as soldiers and were in danger much more often. It was theorized that their hair (our human hair) acted like the antennas of insects and whiskers of animals, providing an avenue of sensory input for the surrounding world. (Go ahead and read this article for more information on this research).

So how does this all relate to your dream?

When you look in the mirror, you’re surprised by what you see. Your hair is thinner, shorter and choppier than you know it to be and you’re surprised. In fact, you seem discomforted by this, as if in this moment you feel less confident than before. You don’t think, “Aha! Look at my hair!” Instead, your adjectives betray some confusion and disappointment. Does witnessing yourself in the mirror feel disconcerting? Do you feel less confident than you typically do? Your dream may be reflecting something about how you appear to others (at least in the current moment) not exactly as you perceive yourself. Is your dream calling your attention to a lack of confidence or relationships that are “cutting you down”? I wonder about what this particular group of friends tells you about your identity. Explore for yourself how they connect with your self-perception. Are they people from childhood? Women related to how you learned about who you are?

Of course you know that the way we wear our hair has a dramatic influence on how we are perceived in the world (think dreadlocks versus a mohawk versus a business cut). Not to mention hair as an indicator of ethnicity and resulting social power (something the African American community knows well — just last month I saw the term “wooly-headed” in a professional magazine. Yikes! That’s still being used??). Whether it speaks to intuition or super-human strength or not, hair does still correlate to how much power we hold socially and the groups with which we associate, by choice or not.

Haircuts and hairdos also speak to changing identities in general, not just as a loss or gain of power. Yes, the move into the military involves the ceremonial loss of hair, as does the path to becoming a buddhist monk or nun. Buddhist monastics shave their head as a demonstration of the loss of attachment to worldly things. Even the passage into marriage for many women and men involves a complicated ritual of preparation in regards to her/his hair.

We can’t overlook the fact that, as an imagine, hair also reflects thoughts and ideas; the shape and style and quality of all that energy pouring out of your head. Someone may have a dream in which things are caught in their hair, for instance, pointing to a certain kind of messiness or mental infestation. Your dream indicates a change here too, one that doesn’t feel terribly positive to you. The mirror — another important symbol all by itself — reflects back a side of yourself that you can’t see alone. What we see in the mirror can help us to see ourselves both more accurately and as, strangely, separate from ourselves. We can observe what we were unable to observe before. Be it a shift in power or a shift in your thinking, something has thinned and become choppier and your dream is reflecting that back to you. Is this a shadow side in need or exploring? A mood?

If we were to sit together to explore this dream, I would invite you to delve deeper into the feelings that arise; the feeling of seeing yourself in the mirror, the feeling of contemplating a new haircut, and what you imagine that might look like. What are your attachments or insecurities in regards to your hair in waking life? I encourage you to contemplate your hair and how your identity may be shifting these days. Ask a trusted friend to sit with you and talk about the experience of seeing your hair as you did in the dream. Your dream is showing you something about who you are right now, step towards the image and take a look.

Have you had a dream like this? Leave a comment and share!

Satya is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon specializing in dream work, the quarter-life crisis, and work with individuals in their 20s and 30s. www.QuarterLifeCounselor.com

“The Red Book” Uncovered: Explorations into Carl Jung’s Personal Opus, Sessions 5 & 6

The following posts are guest authored by Peter Rinko, a Portland writer, and a participant in my recent seminar on Jung’s Red Book, held through Literary Arts and in collaboration with Portland’s Art Museum.


[Guest post by Peter Rinko]

Walking Dead.01This is a scene from the third episode of Season 06 of AMC’s The Walking Dead.

Here, Michonne—the battle-hardened, katana-swinging, loner-vigilante-turned-heroic-group-leader—puts the young upstart Heath in his place for questioning the group’s marching orders and acting like he’s above it all and could make it back to base—through a rising sea of zombies, mind you—all on his own.

It’s not just that kind of typical but ultra-entertaining scene wherein a gritty senior officer chews out a cocky junior cadet. Sure, Michonne is doing just that, but it’s without ego. Her words are 100% wisdom-based. She’s not simply flexing her commander muscles to put Heath in his place for the sole purpose of rank-and-file. She’s fired up, yes, but her eyes are full of tenderness and deep concern. Why? Because in confronting Heath she is also confronting her younger self—Michonne, the lone wolf, who believed she could (and could only) make it through this world on her own. Between that belief and what she knows now is an abysmally dark sea of blood and guts, misery and mayhem, pain and loss, remembrances and regrets, nightmares and never-agains. Hers is the voice of war-worn wisdom, of knowing over believing. It is not opinion, it is fact:

“Have you ever had to kill people because they had already killed your friends and were coming for you next? Have you ever done things that made you afraid of yourself afterward? Have you ever been covered in so much blood that you didn’t know if it was yours or walkers’ or your friends’? Huh? Then you don’t know.”

Basically, you don’t know shit, Heath. All you got is belief, and that’ll kill you.

Just before our fifth get-together, Satya sent out a really beautiful 4-minute video clip of a British interviewer asking the octogenarian Jung what his thoughts were on death and dying. As I was watching the above scene, what Jung says about believing and knowing, and the stark difference between the two, came flooding back. For me, The Walking Dead scene is a perfect dramatization of what Jung was getting at—not only in the interview, but in The Red Book in general. And, in both Michonne’s case and Jung’s, one must go through hell-and-back to turn what you believe into what you know. That is the hero’s quest for those who venture to know thyself.

Knowing vs. Believing. This is not just a matter of semantics. There is, indeed, a stark difference between believing and knowing. Oftentimes, the two are thrown around rather casually as somewhat synonymous pairs, with believing being the slightly more elevated of the two because it brings more gravitas to the speaker’s sentiment, often appealing to a higher order or lofty ideal. After all, when was the last time you heard someone say, “I know God”? Rather, what you always hear is, “Yes, I believe in God,” or “No, I do not believe in God.”

This is because to believe—as a word, act, and concept—is deeply rooted in hope, faith, and wishful thinking. “Belief used to mean “trust in God”,” writes the etymologist Douglas Harper over at Etymonline.com,

“…while faith meant “loyalty to a person based on promise or duty” … But faith, as cognate of Latin fides, took on the religious sense beginning in 14c. translations, and belief had by 16c. become limited to “mental acceptance of something as true,” from the religious use in the sense of “things held to be true as a matter of religious doctrine” (a sense attested from early 13c.).”

So then, when the interviewer asks Jung, “Do you yourself believe that death is probably the end?”, Jung immediately gets tripped up on the word “believe”, and rightly so. “Well I can’t say,” he says,

“You see the word “believe” is a difficult thing for me. I don’t believe. I must have a reason for a certain hypothesis. Either I know a thing, and then I know – I don’t need to believe it. I don’t allow myself, for instance, to believe a thing just for the sake of believing it. I can’t believe it. But when there are sufficient reasons to form a certain hypothesis, I shall accept these reasons, naturally. I shall say, We have to reckon with the possibility of so and so.”

I love what Jung is saying here—that at its best a belief is a hypothesis, and so we must test it in order to know (and we must do so in order to find out for ourselves). But at its worst, belief is a roadblock, a blinder, a dogma that pretends to know but really knows nothing other than what and how it wishes the world to be or seem. This is the challenge at the center of The Red Book, for both Jung as its writer/experimenter and, never forget, for us as its readers. This is Socrates shouting “Know thyself!”. Jung tests and re-tests that shout—that truth of truths, of which there are only a few—takes it apart and puts it back together again, and by the end, covered in blood and carrying his own katana, calls it Individuation.

[Guest post by Peter Rinko]


[Guest post by Peter Rinko]

[To Come….]

[Guest post by Peter Rinko]