Monitor of the Unconscious

A way to understand this is to consider the now commonly used monitors one sees at the bedside of critically ill people. Such monitors depict in the form of an image – a flashing moving graph – the heartbeat of the patient. They can also portray temperature, breathing, brain pulses and blood pressure in the form of externally visible images. These internal events would otherwise be unknown or unconscious. In a similar way, dreams are a monitor, giving apparently external images to depict the subtle and otherwise unconscious processes of body and mind.

That the external person or object in the dream is actually the dreamer’s own internal feelings and mental structure is difficult for many people to believe or even grasp. The following unusual dream helps us to develop a conception of this. I say it is unusual because very seldom can a dreamer admit to themselves while asleep, that the world which in their dream appears as exterior, is actually their own internal thoughts feelings and psychobiological functions. The dreamer, A. B. is a man in his fifties, and dreams he has found a huge thistle in his garden which is as big as a tree.

I look at the trunk of the thistle examining it. At this point it seems like a giant hardwood tree. I snap a twig and it smells very nice – a perfumed wood. Other branches are going rotten. Walking around to the back of the tree to see if the bark is rotten I notice a hole where bees or wasps have a colony. I put my left hand up to touch the bark and as I do so notice there is also a hole in the back of my hand, in and out of which wasps are flying. With great shock I look in the hole and see wasps eating my flesh away, so my hand is almost hollow. I awake with the feeling of being old and decrepit.

What is of particular importance in this dream is the point of transition where the dreamer moves from seeing the hole in the tree, to seeing the hole in himself. But this transition continues, for the dreamer then moves to the feeling of being old and decrepit. These points of transition mark the stages of realisation that what seems exterior is not. It also shows a transition that few dreamers ever make.

Some of the key statements in the dream are EXAMINING – I NOTICE – A HOLE – I LOOK IN – and SEE – THE FEELINGS OF BEING OLD and DECREPIT. If we put this into a flowing sentence we have, ‘In examining myself I noticed ‘a hole’ or emptiness in myself. When I look into this I find a sense of being old and decrepit.’

In looking at his hand and realising there was a hole in his life, A. B. took note of what he felt. Just prior to the dream he had experienced a lot of anxiety about whether his marriage was breaking up. The dream made him realise that niggling thoughts and emotions were eating away at his self confidence leading him to feelings of being near to the scrap heap, having outlived his usefulness. The dream had depicted these emotions and thoughts as wasps. This enabled him to see that if he entertained such feelings, they would certainly eat away his grasp of life. He could see that as a person he only ENTERTAINED thoughts and emotions. They were simply what he thought and felt about reality, not reality itself. It was up to him as to what he wanted reality to be. Did he want to entertain the reality of the tired ageing man who could no longer satisfy his wife’s need for love and companionship, having nothing worthwhile to contribute to others? That could certainly become reality if he allowed such feelings to dominate him. He had thought that his life was like a giant thistle, but on closer inspection he saw it was a giant hardwood. It did have branches which needed pruning, but the rest of the tree was good and perfumed – giving off good feelings to others. So, he decided to put love and care into his life and marriage instead of self doubt and a sense of defeat.

Some observers have attempted to determine the pattern of interaction between physiological variables and dreaming that might occur during a given night. An account was published by a French physician in 1821 involving a twenty-six-year-old female subject who had lost a large portion of her skull and brain covering. He reported that when the woman was in a dreamless sleep, her brain was motionless and lay within the cranium. However, when she was agitated by dreams, her brain moved and protruded outward from the cranium. The physician commented that, “in vivid dreams, reported as such by herself, the protrusion was considerable.’

  1. Esquirol, a French psychiatrist noted for his humanitarian attitude toward patients, spent considerable time in the 1830’s sitting beside sleeping mental patients, observing their facial expressions and movements and noting their pulse and respiration. He claimed that he often knew when patients were dreaming and could predict the general nature of their dream content from this combination of behavioural and physiological indices.

When we realise each aspect of the dream, each emotion, each landscape and environment are materialisation’s of our own feeling states and body condition, we begin to see how we live in the midst of a world – the world of our thoughts, feelings, values, judgements, fears and physiology – largely of our own making. Whatever we think or feel, even in the depths of our being, becomes a material fact of experience in our dream. It is almost certainly this inner universe that religion speaks of as heaven or hell. Finding some degree of direction, mastery or harmony within this world of our own being, is the great work of human life.

But our overall direction of dreams is an attempt toward growth and wholeness, not easily achieved because of the fears we inject into out dreams.

Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved