Manifest Content of Dreams

Freud stated that the manifest content is what we easily remember of dream, but this was ‘meagre’ compared with the ‘richness and variety’ of latent content. If one succeeds in touching the feelings and memories usually connected with a dream image, this becomes apparent because of the depth of insight and experience which arise. Although ideally the Freudian analyst helps the client discover their own experience of their dream, it can occur that the analyst puts to the client ready made views of the dream. Out of this has occurred the idea of someone else ‘analysing’ or telling us about our dream.

Another view of manifest content of dreams

But there is another view of this process that makes sense of it. The most frequent way our unconscious mind or processes express themselves or extend toward waking consciousness is in symbols, as in dreams and visions. This is not necessarily because we are hiding something from ourselves, though that can be the case. It is because a lot of our nature is outside of rational thought and language.

Because we are so used to and lost in the world of thoughts and beliefs, we feel there cannot be any other condition. Yet all the creatures around us have existed well without it for millions of years. In fact there seems to be an enormous chasm between what we were when we were born, without thought and language. Our most primal level of being is still functioning without consciousness and without thought. Most of our body and mind functions in that dark world of ‘not knowing’. So to make it deepest needs known, to express itself it has to bubble up through ancient levels of knowing. How to our muscle and digestion know? So it expresses in different ways, and the nearest to our waking self is symbolism.

We have levels of existence from the deeply physical to the heights of insight

But the symbolism the unconscious uses is not necessarily images. It can express in mime or dance, in posture or facial expression. In fact is has four recognised levels of expression. The level furthest from waking understanding is physiological, and is seen in psychosomatic conditions or experiences. So one might experience this as a pain or physical sensation that does not appear to have a physical cause. Deeply suppressed or internalised states of mind or memories often show themselves in this way.

The next level is gestural or postural. It is well recognised that gestures or postures are a form of non-verbal communication. This is easily observed in animals as they signal to one another. This gestural language emerges as we learn to express our feelings and needs through physical movement in infancy.

Certain gestures or postures such as bowing or pointing are well known, but the unconscious is often very subtle in how it expresses. Such gestures or postures have become an intrinsic part of many holy rituals all over the world. The North American Indians in their Sacred Pipe Dance when the pipe is offered to the compass directions have ‘fragments of the rich gestural symbolism of’ the Native American cultural heritage.

The level of myths, religious beliefs and symbols of dreams.

The third level is symbolic, mythic or what we experience as dreams. This is a level seen in many older cultures where truths are expressed in the forms of myths and stories. At this level we express our intuitions and needs through symbolic action, as when, feeling trapped we fight authority figures instead of having direct insight into our problem. We may act out what we feel, or what our life situation is, in a dream, in dramatic actions or play. The stories of the Bible are examples of this level. Like dreams their wonderful truths have not broken through into direct personal insight and knowing.

The verbal-analytic is the fourth level. We have reached this point when we gain direct insight into situations, symbolic actions, dreams or situations and can clearly verbalise them. At this level we can define the dream, symbol or myth.

If we understand these levels then we have a very different view of manifest content.

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