Understanding the Dream Experience

Wherever you look, there is mind, and wherever is mind, the opportunity for mindfulness presents itself – that means everywhere and all the time. It is not just about meditation, but about insight into one’s inner world, empathy for others, and integration of the energy flow within ourselves and between each other. The stories we tell are part of the landscape of mind to be mined for the hidden treasures of meaning our illusions have so deeply buried.

A dream I recently encountered comes to mind: “I see this woman approach me”, recounts the dreamer, “and there is nothing threatening about her. While dreaming I remember that in the past seemingly harmless people appearing in my dreams would suddenly turn nasty and attack me or even try to kill me. So I make a proactive decision to preempt such a possible development (you may call this a lucid dream). Instead of waiting for her to approach me further, I begin to take initiative to approach her. In doing so the atmosphere of the dream becomes very windy and a strong gale blows against me. I have to fight the wind force against me but do manage to make progress in getting closer to her and find out who she really is. This is when I woke up, feeling satisfied that I had overcome the danger of being attacked, and relieved to have been able to take control of the situation.

It used to be a common occurrence in his dreams – seemingly harmless people suddenly turning against and threatening him, causing him to wake up in a panic from these nightmares. After lots of psychotherapy and meditation practice, this rarely occurs anymore, and in this dream, we see further development in his strength of consciousness, as he takes charge of getting closer to dissociated contents of childhood conditionings. The fact that he is able to reflect while he dreams and choose a different path than he would have in the past speaks for his developed capacity to be strongly aware of being aware and not see himself anymore as a passive victim. Dissociated and non-conscious content being unknown, in dreams it tends to present itself as something foreign, other than oneself, often other people we don’t know or animals. In this case, this woman is a non-conscious aspect of himself that represents some problematic energy and information flow he has not mastered yet since in the dream the mind’s attentional system focuses a spotlight on her.

The dreamer is prescient and experienced, knowing himself well enough that what appears harmless can suddenly turn nasty if he is not attentive. It is almost a cliche to mention that in his childhood his mother was emotionally somewhat unpredictable and his father rather angry and aggressive. That is an old story he knows well and has worked through ad nauseam. But attachment conditionings run deep and take a long time to be undone. The dream shows how the dreamer can see behind appearances of his own mind’s productions and has achieved the capacity of observation and some objectivity about his own mind processes. On some level, he realizes while dreaming that the dream is dreamt up and a production of his mind. He is able to transcend the childlike naïve trust in appearances that very often used to betray him. He can take on the potential enemy before this hidden part of himself has a chance to evolve into an enemy, because he knows the woman to be just a hidden part of his own information processing. His intention to pay attention to the hidden intention of this almost invisible part of himself opens up a whole new relationship dynamic to himself, a whole new state of integration.

The gale strength winds tell us that there is more to do, more awareness strengthening to practice, or maybe they simply tell us that being fully transparent to the unknown of the non-conscious will always be a challenge to be reckoned with. While fighting these winds there was a tinge of anxiety, because he knew that the hidden power of this woman could kill him. But he also knew that it would be nothing more than one aspect of him trying to kill another. He was ready to die to see the truth, the truth of what this woman hides because he somehow knew that all that would die is a constructed illusion about himself.

This reminded him of a dream 15 years ago, in which he saw this stupendously beautiful iguana sitting on a large branch of a tree. It was mind-bogglingly colorful, displaying shimmering shades of blue, green, red, orange, and yellow. He was awestruck by how beautiful such a creature can be, when he suddenly discovered a tiny little handle on its side, suggesting that there was a door he could open. He did open this door, and to his amazement and deep disappointment, he discovered that the inside of what seemed like the most beautiful living creature he had ever seen, was simply a mechanical clockwork. Of course, the archetype of the Wizard of Oz comes to mind, but the echo from this old dream is quite audible in his present dream. It is frightening to discover that what seemed alive is in fact lifeless, and at the time he could identify with the sense of living a life driven more by internalized expectations of others than by his own authenticity. Not now anymore, but he now knows very viscerally how toxic illusions can be. He knew that ultimately the gale-force winds, the touching of that woman could fully dissolve the magic of this play he had written that night, in order to show more of himself to himself. Fifteen years ago the clockwork was the disappointment of discovering lifelessness in beauty; this time the woman turned attacker would have revealed her clockwork nature to a dreamer much stronger and more self-assured than then. It would not have been a beauty to be debunked, but dangerous enmity.

The iguana was too beautiful to be real, and this woman as a potential killer was too dramatically dangerous to be a real enemy. All this is, all these nightmares are in the mind in conflict with itself creating unnecessary fireworks.

This whole dream experience, and drama the dreamer authored for himself to gain more clarity about his inner world, includes every level of energy and information processing we humans have, from the physical/somatic to the emotional and cognitive. The dream reveals a story that was originally concealed and requires psychotherapy to be understood and integrated. At the same time, the dream is steeped in a whole nonverbal world of implicit energy processing beyond the reach of stories, requiring meditation to be penetrated and integrated. The evolution I expect to see some time in the future would manifest in a dream, in which the dreamer not only knows that this woman is a stranger not to be intimidated by and actively pursued for understanding. In a future dream, the dreamer would recognize himself in that woman and embark on a mediative action between two dream characters he would know beyond intuition are both aspects of himself.

Copyright © 2018 by Dr. Stéphane Treyvaud. All rights reserved.

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