(Mis)using Jung; or, “Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes”

(Mis)using Jung; or, “Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes”

25 May 2022

Carl Jung’s words show up on various social and professional web platforms, usually as an introduction to someone’s webpage/practice or as part of a collection of quotes-that-will-change-your-life. As a Jungian, this should make me happy: Jung’s words have an impact, they are attractive and worth repeating. These quotes are almost exclusively short (a couple of sentences max), free-flowing, plastered on top of pretty images or a photograph of wise old Jung; and they are rarely accompanied by the source citation. A prime example: “Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.” What does it mean? Judging from its common usage, it’s anyone’s guess. Literally.

I cringe – a scholarly quirk: How can any quote not be accompanied by its corresponding citation? If you don’t have the big picture, i.e. the source itself – the previous sentences/paragraphs leading up to the statement and those that follow – there is no way of knowing the context. An out-of-context quote is incomplete, and most likely misleading if not flat-out wrong. These out-of-context quotes are then copied by others who interpret them as they please, out of ignorance and/or convenience.

Taking quotes out of context, and thus distorting their meaning in a way that is convenient to one’s own point, is such a common practice that it has a name: ‘contextomy’ or ‘quote mining’. This has been a human tendency from time immemorial, e.g. “Jesus said so.” The practice has reached epidemic levels with the internet. I bet that almost everyone can identify the author of the statement “God does not play dice.” I would also bet that a small fraction of those who correctly answered ‘Einstein’ can also answer Who/what was this a response to? When/why did he say it? and, most crucially, What did he mean by this? (Spoiler alert: No, it wasn’t a declaration of faith, and it was as unrelated to a religious notion of God, as dice are to poker).

The issue isn’t (just) a matter of scholarly rigor, however.  The full, context-driven meaning of such quotes – while less amenable to being manipulated to conveniently fit any random point being made – is invariably richer and infinitly more rewarding than the simplistic face-value gist typically ascribed to them.

So, what did Jung mean by “Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes”? Jung believed that the only way to individuation is to stop projecting our unconscious reality ‘outside.’ This is a fundamental idea of analytical psychology (and thus a common theme in my “Musings”). In order to understand the quote itself, and via it reach a better understanding of this central premise, we need to examine the context (even if we risk losing some readers in the process).

This quote is found in a short letter, written in 1916 as a response to Fanny Bowditch, whom Jung agreed to take on as a patient, after he would return from his military service. Jung wrote:

 “I realize that under the circumstances you have described you feel the need to see clearly. But your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Without, everything seems discordant; only within does it coalesce into unity. Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes.”[1]

Prior to the above, he had suggested that, ideally, the recipient of the advice would “devalue” Jung himself, so that she can “concentrate [her] libido on [her] own individuality”, i.e. that she would withdraw her projections upon Jung.

Fanny Bowditch (1874-1967) – later Bowditch Katz – was an American patient of Carl Jung, who moved to Zurich to undergo treatment with him, after her father’s death which resulted in depression. Fanny’s “vision” as well as “the circumstances [she has] described” are the particular aspect of the letter that this quote comments upon.[2] Hence we need to know what Fanny’s “vision” and “circumstances” were; Jung asked Fanny to examine her vision so we must understand the context.

It seems that this turn inwards is what Fanny Bowditch Katz herself took to heart. In a letter to Emma Jung (Jung’s wife), dated November 11th 1916, Fanny Bowditch Katz stated that “my Analysis has required more solitude than collectivity.”[3] It is this solitary inward state that Carl Jung had prescribed for ‘awakening.’  As Jung wrote on May 30th 1957 (in a letter to Gustav Schmaltz), “Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living…The journey is a great adventure in itself, but not one that can be talked about at great length.”[4]

Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakes: Come (back) to yourself! In order to reach a harmonious inner state, you need to look inside, to your own individual psyche. An awakened Self requires solitary inward movement, into the depths of one’s own psyche, away from the collective noise. The outside world is but a mere projection of your inner reality; you must withdraw those projections, and utilize your life-force (libido) for your own self-exploration and understanding. Only by doing so you will (re)gain a conscious relationship with your own self. Dreaming is not used in this context as the act of having a dream – a state that Jung greatly appreciated, and relied upon throughout his life – but rather as a dazed state of non-consciousness. Mistake your projections for reality, and you are in a state of dreaming-while-awake. The outside world is a dream-like illusion that will divert you from your individuation process, and thus from awakening.

Am I being pedantic? Not really. The actual meaning of the quote is far richer and more profound than any simplistic understanding gleaned from a grab-bag of quotes.  One should either be vigilant about using someone else’s words, especially if these words are then used to express one’s own position in life. Alternatively, we should each state our own opinion and take responsibility for it, without trying to borrow glory from a profound thinker like Jung or Einstein.



Dedicated to Sabrina Sexton, who shares my passion for words and their meaning; and who knows precisely what Einstein meant by any given quote, in any given context.


[1] C.G. Jung, Letters, Vol1:1906-1950, Bollingen Series XCV:1, Edited by G. Adler & A. Jaffe, Translated by R.F.C. Hull. page 33.

[2] Fanny Bowditch Katz’s correspondence with Jung are held at the Center for the History of Medicine, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Harvard.

[3] Sonu Shamdasani (1998). Cult Fictions: C. G. Jung and the Founding of Analytical Psychology. Routledge. Page 63

[4] C. G. Jung (1976). C. G. Jung Letters, Vol. 2. Bollingen Series. page 363