After Understanding What?

Do You Dream

Tony Crisp

Chapter Ten

We may have discovered in a dream greater self understanding, a knowledge of mankind’s origins, new attitudes to outer competitive living, or even suggestions as to what lies ahead. Like the schoolchild, a great many facts and understandings may have been given to us, but the same question must concern us that concerns the child. What am I going to do with them in life?

Remembering the analogy of the instrument panel, we realise that it depends upon us what we do with the information displayed. Dreams, of and by themselves, do not, will not, solve all our problems. Who has ever removed all problems anyway? Those who have found peace and fulfilment in life did not do so through an escape from difficulties. They did it by relating to their problems in a new way. Likewise, we too can use what is revealed in dreams to relate to the old world in a new way, but this can only be done if we bring certain things to the study of our dreams. For there are many who have most profound and amazing revelations, but whose lives remain unchanged. While there are others who glimpse only a passing fragrance of wisdom, but who take it and transform their lives. So one can truly say that it is not the extent of the wisdom revealed which changes a man, but the extent to which a man or woman can use that wisdom in their daily dealings with life, that produces the change.

Through a dream one may see the folly of acting upon desires arising from possessiveness and jealousy, yet one may go on acting from these same parts of oneself. While the same realisation by another person leads them to think twice before expressing them, which changes their life. That is, not repressing these feelings, but simply recognising where they lead to if acted upon. For if we act upon jealousy, it often leads us to imprison another person in our desires, not allowing them their rightful freedom. Thus a child might be prevented from making deep contacts with new friends, or a wife or husband chained to the limitations of one person’s affection and friendship; or we imprison other parts of our own nature.

Obviously, difficulties beset our path, but life has found a way around difficulties since its inception on Earth millions of years ago. If life had not consistently found ways to deal with problems, we should not be here now. Therefore, a problem solving apparatus is built into us, and expresses itself in dreams. But again, if we do not act upon our innate wisdom, how can it be of value? Nor must we believe that there is only one set way to deal with a situation. One person might easily be able to act upon what is revealed, while another may not have the energy or ability to do so. This does not mean that the latter should therefore give in. They are in a different situation, and have to deal with their problems differently. For everybody starts from a different point, and encounters a different stretch of terrain. Instead of feeling inferior because he does not have the same powers as the man who can immediately act upon his knowledge, he should ask himself, his dreams, ‘Well, how do I cope with this? I have seen it is not for my own good to act out of jealousy, but I don’t seem to have the strength to do otherwise. Is there an alternative? Or can I find strength somehow?’ It is such questions, unconscious though they may have been, that have enabled species to survive ice ages, floods, earthquakes, climatic and environmental changes, and famines. The outwardly strongest, the quickest to act, have not always been the survivors; but those who could adapt even their weaknesses to face the new situation, the new challenge, have continued in the face of problems. Men did not say, ‘Ah, the ice age is too cold, we have not fur enough to face it’ – they put on clothes. So we, too, can find an alternative, even for our weaknesses.

One of the first things to be remembered in dealing with dreams is the persistence in searching for a way to use what we have discovered. It lies in applying our new ‘tool’ to deal with life. But it is no good either, being lazy when, with a little effort, we could use what has already been seen, without alternatives. There is always the temptation to forget, and to let oneself slide back into old attitudes, old habits. Certainly nobody can be condemned for doing so. Life is often difficult enough, without the additional strenuous burden of changing our ways; but one has to admit frankly to oneself, that although change is thus avoided, one still has to suffer the limitations of the old way of life, and we must accept the latter if we choose the former. In the end, it is usually a pressing and painful problem, the desire for something ‘more’ or better, that gives us the necessary energy to meet ourselves and face change.

Even if we have accepted this, we still need help, and this is where the ‘art’ forms of interpretation are invaluable. Unless we have given concrete form in an easily understood manner to the understanding we have gained, it may slip away back into unconsciousness despite our interest in it. Therefore, wherever possible, a record should be kept of interpretations. It is adequate even if only in writing, but if one can catch the essence of it and put it into story form, a new symbol, song, poetry or painting, it becomes a much more powerful aid in conscious life. Especially so if it is then easily seen. In this way, a Christian who carries or wears a cross has a constant reminder of religious resolves through the symbol of the cross.

It is not necessary to do this to all dreams. One usually has a series of ‘small’ dreams, culminating in one or several ‘big’ dreams. Here, the size does not refer to length of dream, but to the amount of understanding and help we discover in it. Therefore, it is only necessary to express the big dreams, as they usually collect all the information in the previous ones, and bring it to highlighted meaning.

To illustrate this, let me use a dream which a friend recently sent to me. He teaches art, and says of the dream, ‘My art class gets a little out of hand, the students rebel. I try to discipline them but am confused, though not unduly worried, except that I feel I may have failed in the task of teaching them as they should be taught.’ We will interpret this purely arbitrarily for the purpose of explanation. We can say that it shows that the controlling factor(s) in his conscious life have become ‘confused’. Any crisis makes all our being act together as a unit.

When we are struggling to stop from drowning, the questions of whether we like the scenery, should we marry the person we are engaged to, or is premarital intercourse right, do not bother us. They are all ‘sub-merged’ (unconsciously united) in the problem of survival. Once the problem has been overcome, however, these other issues may ‘rebel’ and become unsettling influences. Similarly, when we are very sure of our direction, doubts, problems are all ‘submerged’. But if we become uncertain, or wonder whether we should not have chosen another direction, all the voices of our other opinions and doubts can rise Up. We then find it difficult to discipline them, lacking certainty ourselves.

All of which suggests that the dream points to loss of certainty in a previously ruling attitude or direction in life. Let us imagine now that he dreams the class is out on the beach. One of the class looks in a dustbin and finds a beautiful and glowing shell. All the class gather round and wish to paint the shell. If this is now interpreted, we see that the shell is something from deep within that one has discarded. In the light of the first dream, the class has left the restrictions of the old attitude represented by the classroom. The discarded feeling or idea is re-discovered and it draws the whole class to a common end again, uniting them in purpose. If the dreamer associates the shell with intuitive feelings he has had for some time, but discarded due to doubt as to their value, the dream falls into place. The intuitive ideas, the dream suggests, are powerful enough, carrying inner light or energy, to unite once more the conflicting aspects of self. If the dreamer now paints this interpretation, he has a constant reminder of the understanding arrived at. This could be depicted as a group of people sitting around a shell painting it If he frequently sees or thinks about the painting, he is thereby often reminded of what he has learnt about himself. This helps him to allow his intuitive feelings to centre or guide his actions, instead of allowing only his conscious fixed attitudes. These last remarks, and the second dream, of course, are purely speculation to illustrate the use of a painting or symbol.


In many books on dreams, where symbols are being mentioned in regard to expressing the essence of a dream, or series of dreams, one finds comment on Mandalas. The word usually refers to a simple or complex diagram or pattern within a circle or square. The pattern of a maze can be considered as a mandala or yantra. Or the interlaced triangles of the Star of David, if within a circle or square, can also be thought of as yantra or mandala. We do not have a word, or words, in the English language that mean quite the same thing. Therefore, to define their meaning, one could say that they are a symmetrical or meaningful diagram, usually held within a circle or square. If looked at, thought over, or contemplated for any length of time, especially under guidance, the mandala or yantra is seen to symbolise or synthesise knowledge we were previously unaware or unconscious of. In other words, the Star of David could symbolise the interlacing of the visible and invisible forces in the universe. If we carried on thinking about it, we could gradually collect, or realise, more and more about the relationship of seen and unseen. The symbol continuously unites in our mind all this information. It also represents all that remains consciously unknown to us.

Therefore mandalas or yantras are powerful symbols in uniting, making conscious, yet reminding us of the still unknown contents of our own conscious and unconscious being. As symbols they remind us of what we have discovered of ourselves, and of what remains to be discovered. They help us to apply what we have learnt, while remaining receptive to further growth. They can also summarise a whole series of inner events which have already happened, while pointing to the unknown but possible direction these events are leading us to.

Having defined the mandala and yantra, perhaps it can already be seen how the idea can be used to synthesise the understanding of dreams. In the dream already discussed, where a painting showing a circle of people painting a shell was suggested, we could make this into a mandala. The purpose being that in a very simple design, the elements are easier to remember, and can often suggest more powerfully than a more complex symbol. Thus, when looking at an ink blot, we can imagine more faces than if a proper face were drawn. This is because it allows the creative function of our imagination more scope. It also gives our unconscious contents a more plastic form to project upon. Therefore, the simpler the symbol, the more of our inner unconscious contents we can continue to bring up and incorporate into it. The cross, for instance, can symbolise Christianity as a whole. When Jesus is added, its meaning becomes more restricted, and so on. Thus, to make a mandala out of the dream example used, we have to look for the most basic elements. In this particular dream, we have the shell, representing the known, the becoming known, and the still unknown of the depth; and the circle of people representing outer creative expression of what has emerged. We can say the basic elements are the shell and a circle. A mandala could therefore be drawn of a shell in the middle of a circle. Or if we wish to cut it down even more, simply a dot in a circle. Despite its simplicity, this would still remind us of all our interpretation, and be capable of integrating further information.


Yantras and mandalas are not absolutely necessary. Nothing is absolutely necessary, but each thing is helpful when used in its appropriate place. Nevertheless, some things revealed through interpretation of dreams, call for frequent application. using the arbitrary interpretation of my artistic friend’s dream once more, we see that the need to drop a more conscious attitude in order to be guided by intuition, which sometimes speaks with the essence of our total self in its present situation, rather than parts of our self such as ambition, and desire for creature comforts, then it becomes wise to listen. After all, intuition is probably one of the few means of expression which our complete memory and experience have. We cannot recall much of what we have read, studied, felt, done, seen or heard; we know next to nothing consciously of the biological processes that formed us, and intuition, waking or in dreams, is an expression of them. When the part of us we call our conscious self gets a helpful message from this other self, it is important that we consider it. We have to remember, however, that not all things that emerge from within are good, helpful or true. The dream, as instrument panel, merely tells us what is going on. It is for us to decide whether that knowledge is applicable, and in what way. In the above dream and interpretation, however, where it seems an association with the intuitive factors will be unifying, action is called for. The only problem is, intuition can be so easily drowned out by daily events. What can be done? In answering this question, we have to realise it is about a specific dream. This is done to make the method clear. But it is hoped the general effectiveness can nevertheless be seen in what is said.

It must be reasonably obvious that any idea or emotion we dwell on or experience for long periods of time, begins to channel a great deal of our energy. It also influences our behaviour. When we think of Henry Ford, whose central thought and desire for many years was to produce an inexpensive motor car, we can see how this aim and desire influenced his behaviour, and even his fate. Almost any great name in history, when studied, reveals a similar story. They have held to particular ideas and desires, sometimes of a negative character, and this has channelled their energies and shaped their destinies. When working with dreams, our aims are not so much to become an historical figure, as to become a happier and whole person. Nevertheless, we can still learn from the example of the famous or infamous. For our own ends we can apply the method of keeping our attention fixed upon ideas and emotions that are important. Naturally, the demands of each day bring forgetfulness, but if we set aside a few minutes before starting work, or at midday, or before sleeping, then we can make a habit of remembering.

Returning once more to our hypothetical dream, we have reached the point of capturing the dream’s essence as a mandala, or if not this, then we have at least reduced it to the idea of the outer conscious self, directing its attention in a receptive manner to the centre, or intuition. As far as the dream is concerned, this is important, and will lead to uniting conflicting emotions and tendencies. If the dreamer, having got this far, now simply forgets the whole thing, little or nothing will have changed for him. His outer life may continue to be ‘confusing’ and rebellious; but if he spends some time each day practising what has been revealed, then his life cannot help but change in some degree. Even if nothing stupendous occurs the very fact that he practises in itself shows he has changed his attitude towards himself. In and by itself, this makes him a more unified person, for he is attempting to listen to his whole spectrum of desires and ideas, directions and needs, rather than just a portion of self. If he practises this new attitude of mind regularly for a long period, then his energies will gradually be diverted from their old course, and begin to express in this more fulfilling direction.

It is repeated that here we are dealing with a particular dream, and one’s own dreams may suggest an entirely different course; but the rules remain the same, the direction of one’s energies can be slowly changed by practising the new attitude of mind as a meditation. As to how this can be done, and what its results will be, I will now try to explain. All that is necessary is to take the mandala or synthesised interpretation, and consider it for a period of fifteen minutes to an hour, depending on temperament. This should be done once or twice each day. By ‘consider’ is meant to think about its meaning; to wonder whether we have applied it; to try to see its implications and results. But more important than thinking about it, one should practise the attitudes of mind and emotion suggested by it. In this case it means that the dreamer should become outwardly still, quieten his thoughts and conscious desires, and then direct his attention to those feelings or ideas suggested by the shell. For the period of the meditation this should be maintained. Each time the attention wanders or attitude changes, it should be gently but firmly brought back. Very little of interest may occur at all during these periods. In fact they must not be thought of as reaching for the spectacular or phenomenal; but as practice sessions, just as one might exercise the body so that it remains strong and supple. This will require a great deal of discipline, but will be seen, after some months, to be worth while.

It is necessary then, to understand the dream, grasp its essence, and practise this; but such dreams only come very seldom, and so we shall not be constantly practising new attitudes. What usually happens is that eventually, after having dealt with one’s dreams for some time, a dream of great importance occurs, summarising all that has gone before. If the message of this dream is applied and practised as suggested then another dream appears much later adding to our understanding and slightly modifying the practice. In this way one slowly progresses through a very personal and intimate course of instructions in self development.

The man who dreamt of the white mouse, and wrote The Shining Mouse, used the story as a starting point for meditation. The white mouse he associated with contact and experience of his deepest life-giving self. If this was to be gained, certain attitudes had to be changed. As the story shows, the mouse cannot be caught by searching for it, grasping it, longing for it or thinking about it. The dreamer realised that he had to give up trying to ‘grab this inner experience to make me more important or wonderful. I saw that I didn’t even know the dwelling place, or source of this part of me. So I had to give up looking. Because, after all, I did not know where to look. I simply had to be quiet and let the Shining Mouse come to me in its own time and way. When I first tried to assume these feelings, everything in me rebelled, and I often gave up the practice, or thought some other type would be better. But I came back to it and kept on, until gradually it began to be easier and natural, and slowly it began to change certain parts of my life.’


Wherever possible, it is of enormous help to work on dreams as a group. This is difficult because many people cannot find others as interested in dreams as themselves. But even two people working together can be of great help to each other; but it is safer, where the two are of opposite sexes, to be part of a larger group, unless man and wife. This is said not out of prudishness, but because a great deal of sexual energy is often released in the process, and can cause difficulties unless understood.

One of the main things about working with others is that their questions make us talk, or allow us to talk. Time and time again, a difficult dream has been suddenly understood through talking to somebody else who is interested in dreams. This is not necessarily because they help us to understand through their greater insight. It is as if the meaning pops up as we speak. As if speaking draws it out. This has to be experienced to be believed, but one can be quite hopelessly clueless one moment, and the next moment the answer is there. Possibly this has something to do with the act of speaking, and thus expressing ideas. The fact that one talks about the non-understanding, and unsatisfactory ideas about the dream, seems to clear them out, and make way for the real answer by making one receptive.

Another group benefit is that several different viewpoints and types of questioning about the symbolism of the dream, are often more helpful than simply one narrower viewpoint. Seeing how other people’s dreams are dealt with, and the difficulties they face, also aids us in gaining insight into our own. At first, any such group are almost certainly shy of each other. This is because dreams deal with such intimate and personal aspects of our lives, that to reveal them to others in dream interpretation is not easy. But gradually, as each person realises that everybody else has similar inner contents, these barriers fall, and a great depth of contact, encouragement and love can spring up. The contact comes because we see each other without our social masks and reserves; naked so to speak. The encouragement lies in the fact that because others have similar problems, and are dealing or have dealt with them, this gives us the courage to face them also. While the love arises through sympathy, and knowing the deep spirit that lies beyond the outer tangle or ‘show’ of each person.

Because another person can stand aside from our own situation, they can often see our dreams better than we can ourselves. We may unconsciously not wish to know or understand, and a group helps us to be honest with ourselves. Sometimes, a small advertisement in the local newspaper is all that is necessary to put us in touch with others thus interested.


It is difficult in this book to give anything more than a hint of the difficulties one faces on the ‘dream journey’. It requires a book itself to map out the various experiences one is likely to meet. But fortunately others have already written adequately on the subject, as in P. W. Martin’s Experiment in Depth. Perhaps we can sum up what he has said as follows:

One of the big perils is releasing more emotion or inner contents than we can easily cope with. We see this in the dream of the bull rushing among the cows, and the dreamer being nearly carried away by sexual desires. It is the old problem of biting off more than we can chew. usually, however, dreams will have given us a method of dealing with this before it happens. This may take the form it did with the dreamer of the shining mouse, where he practises the attitude of quietness and not being moved by doubts, fears or desire. Thus, although not repressing the inner contents, one is learning a technique of calm amidst the storm – of finding a rock to cling to amidst the sea’s turmoil. But unless such methods are practised, they cannot be effective. Martin calls this danger being ‘Swallowed up by the unconscious’. Those who retreat completely from everyday life, to live in their inner world can be classified under the same heading. The balance being a unity between inner and outer life.

Another problem occurs if we start the journey of seriously delving into self, and after a long period, suddenly give it up. For things have been glimpsed, possibilities seen that will not let us rest, but cause us a sense of frustration and loss. Or else problems have been released but not dealt with, and haunt us. Obviously, such events do not occur to those of us who are only mildly interested, and merely try to unravel one or two dreams every so often.

The danger of what psychologists call inflation, or hubris, is also met along the way. Contact with the inner wisdom makes one feel ‘special’, ‘different’ or ‘superior’, and here is the danger. For if we feel superior or different, we may act in the same way. This not only alienates us from all except those who seek a new messiah or leader to follow, but it gives us the false impression of being above normal care and events. Thus it can easily happen that one crashes violently with ‘the bars of experience’ the world provides in the outer life. In other words, physical reality – the facts of life. The person may then either be tempted to retreat from the outer life because it questions or attacks their sense of importance – or else the other extreme is to drop into depths of depression, due to feelings of worthlessness, of having failed because life questioned their ideals.

Martin says that experience is usually the lesson that helps us learn how to keep our balance between the extremes, and walk safely. When we have veered to inflation and depression a few times, we can look back and see that this is not the way. It is not what we seek. To feel ‘on top of the world’ and superior may seem like an advancement for a while. Only its results tell us its real value. Nor does morbid criticism of ourselves and the world satisfy us.

A further danger lies in taking dreams or intuition as oracular, godly, or supernatural truths, instead of pointers on our instrument panel. This makes them as much a threat to our wholeness as acting only out of ambition, or sexual desires. These too must be only a ‘part’ of our life, not the controlling factor. After all, not only truths or wisdom are shown in dreams, but also represented are our murderous impulses, homosexual desires, feelings of power and grandeur, etc. All dreams are truths of the inner life, because they represent what is actually going on inside. But we do not therefore have to act upon them all, or believe that the future is ordained by them. This is all a form of irresponsibility.

A danger to women lies in their ability to enter more fully into their inner world of dreams and intuitions, but not being able to construct meaning and purpose so easily as men. They thus may find a man who sympathises with their inner feelings and dreams; who sees great meaning in them, and helps the woman see how they may be applied. This leads to the danger of making the man into a godlike figure who is the soul mate, or spiritual counterpart. This weakens the woman’s own powers of determination, or construction. But, to quote Martin, ‘This is in no way to condemn the true master/ student relationship, where those less gifted or experienced learn from those having special knowledge or insight.’

While the danger for men is to make of the inner journey only an intellectual experience. The man may read and understand, but refuse to free his emotions from the rein of his intellect so that he can experience it. Thereby the man may never know, he will only think he knows.

These are a sort of basic ‘highway code’ for those who wish to make the journey into self discovery. If we learn them by heart, and attempt to understand them, they may remain rather dry at present, but on the journey they could easily be living realities.

Link To Chapters Link to Chapter Eleven

Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved