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Posts Tagged ‘approaching the unconscious’

Vogeler - DreamsAs we age we undergo a process of emotional development. Obviously we do not possess the same outlook in our middle years as we did when we were children, but what is it that drives us to change? Is it merely that we come to inhabit a progressively older body? Is it the experience of life itself that changes us, or is it that are we subject to influences from the unconscious mind that would have us seek those experiences out as a medium for change?

Life can provide any number of varied environments enabling us to grow in all manner of positive directions, but it can just as easily arrest our development if experience of life is at odds with our aspirations. So where does the aspiration, the imperative, the drive come from? Abusive relationships, personal misfortune, global upheaval, even financial ruin, all present challenges to health and well being, subverting a life’s path and running it onto the rocks. Yet in spite of misfortune some people suffer no injury beyond the initial trauma, while others are maimed for life. To avoid lasting scars appears to require an agile frame of mind and a deep intuitive sense of one’s abiding value in the face of all rational evidence to the contrary. Where does such strength, such resilience come from?

With bad experiences, what usually happens is we push the memories out of range of our emotional radar and get on with things as best we can. We are all good at this, at removing from conscious awareness those things that are most painful to us, and anyway we cannot always react to hurt in the way we would like, and in which our instincts are urging us – like punching the other guy on the nose. In the course of life, there is a lot we simply have to swallow, but the unconscious never forgets a slight. It remembers everything.

It even knows what I was doing at half past three on Wednesday afternoon, December 28th 1978. I can no longer consciously recall this moment of course – it is lost to my every day awareness but well documented cases of spontaneous and total recall suggest the memory of this moment still exists, somewhere, and if, during that moment, I was experiencing an emotional upset that was never healed, my unconscious will offer it back. And it will keep offering it back, until I deal with it.

It does this through the dreaming process, using a symbolic language in which the objects, the people, the situations we encounter in the dream world are emotionally charged in ways reflective of our life experience, including the things we’d rather not acknowledge. And the dream is saying, here, look, take this back this and then we can move on. But if we have fallen foul of a culture that devalues the dreaming process, if we never take notice of our dreams, the process of “dealing with it” can be a problem. And stuff mounts up. Some of us incubate hidden, forgotten traumas, combine them, allow them to breed, then hatch them into inexplicable and stupendously debilitating neuroses. At such times as these it seems our unconscious is overrun with demons out to do us harm. We might feel that to go poking around in there is the very last thing we should be doing, but paying attention to our dreams helps defuse things. It puts the unconscious mind in a better mood for dealing with us, if it realises we are receptive.

We all dream, every night, though some people dispute this, claiming never to have dreamed at all. But the thing with dreams is they play out in a part of the mind that bypasses the way we normally acquire memory. If we want to remember our dreams we have to make a conscious effort to do so. We have to remind ourselves, when we lay down to sleep, we would like to remember our dreams. Then, on waking, in the first seconds of awareness, we have a fleeting opportunity to drink the dream down whole, sufficient at least to recall it well enough to record it later on. But even then we must make haste, or the memory will fade to nothing like an imperfectly processed photograph. Reading my dream journal now, accounts of many dreams I had years ago are like reading the fantasies of a complete stranger.

So we have our dream. What now? Well, the best we can do is sit down and ponder upon it. What might it be showing us? What emotions does it provoke? It does not matter if we cannot understand the dream. It seems to be the conversation with the unconscious that’s the important thing. If we fail in the first dreams, to understand what it’s showing us, it will try other ways of illustrating the same thing, until we finally get it.

We can forget those dream dictionaries. What they fail to point out is that the dream is a personal thing and that, for example, a rabbit in my dream might mean something entirely different in yours. You can forget also asking advice from others because they may react to your symbols differently. Thus, slowly, respectfully, and with an attitude of genuine enquiry, we approach the unconscious, preferably on bended knee.

I worry about self-help dream techniques that sound more assertive, like a battering down of a door into unconsciousness in order to plunder its contents, in an effort to turn us into mega-star celebrities with millions in the bank, and perfect teeth. The lesson of a century of psychoanalysis tells us we are only a small part of who we think we are, that we are not entirely in charge. We can be part of the solution to the mystery of our lives, which involves being a good listener and a willing partner in the adventure, or we can remain for ever a part of the problem.

I suppose the bottom line is we do not need to be ill to take an interest in our personal development, in the rounding out and the maturation of our soul. True there are grown men and women as emotionally well developed as four year olds, or for that matter wildebeest, and for whom all talk of the dreaming process will sound ridiculous. But for those who seek meaning beyond the normal watering and rutting of the species, the dream is nature’s own gift to aid us on the path to a greater self awareness.

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