Images, Image Sequences, and Dreams

For those people who are not familiar with modern dream interpretation techniques, I am going to offer an extremely short course in unravelling the meaning behind these seemingly bizarre communications. Let us strip them of their disguise.

The abiding rule in the world of imagination is that images always stand for some issue that is active within us. The brain, as we have said, abhors both pain and the knowledge of how the pain came to be. We have seen how the brain broadcasts its pain outward to signal us with the six mechanisms talked about early in this section (specific body sensations, et cetera).

When the brain wishes to work within itself to unravel and express its pain, it does so using imagery in such a manner that conscious knowledge of its hurt is avoided. Thus, it remains true to its struggle to process material without letting our conscious mind know how much we hurt or where the hurt comes from. Thus, images and dreams give us information in a displaced and symbolically disguised manner. Freud taught us a hundred years ago that the normal censorship of the mind relaxes in our dream experiences so that they need not be logical. We can jump off a building. We can ride a bicycle under water. Daytime logic and daytime necessity no longer need to be obeyed. Thus, images and dreams flow without regard to daytime reality and appear to be complete nonsense. But in this manual we have already become used to the nonsense of symptoms. We have already seen that while seemingly non-logical on the surface, they always obey the deep, inner necessity to complete a psychological process (to form a Gestalt). Thus, like symptoms, if we pursue images and dreams with a few simple tools, the underlying processes will always be laid bare.

Let us study images, image sequences and dreams by constructing one and observing how it is built from the ground up. This will allow us later to start at the top with what we see, and work our way back down to the ground of what is actually struggling to be known.

Take an issue that is bothering you and turn it into a metaphor.

For example, let us suppose your older sister is always criticizing you and over and over again she hurts you in this way. We could turn this basic problem into a metaphor, using pictures which represent your struggle. For example, you might have a dream in which you are a child who is sitting in the sand by the sea. You are building beautiful sand castles but unfortunately they are too close to the rushing waves. Each time you build your castle, a wave washes it away and everything you build comes to nothing.

The sea is your sister, unceasing, remorseless, implacable in its destruction of all that you try to do. Just as her criticisms destroy your efforts in the real world, the sea destroys your efforts in the dream world.

Let us say, not understanding any of this, that you have such a dream, and that you take it to your therapist. How does the therapist help you move from the dream that you see within yourself (manifest dream content) to the underlying issue your brain is struggling to deal with in a disguised way (latent dream content)? There are several common methods which will take us from the surface of the dream to the depths of the problem.


Method One: The method of Fritz Perls' Gestalt Therapy

Fritz Perls told us to imagine that the dream is a play upon a stage and that we are to become each image, alive or inanimate, and give that image a voice. We are to insert ourselves into each symbol and speak that symbol's truth. For example, to unravel the dream discussed above, the client might become the little girl and would then describe the little girl's dream using the word ' I ' (present tense, personal pronoun).

- I am a little girl and everything that I build is getting destroyed. No matter how hard I try, nothing escapes the destruction of the sea.
- I am the sea. I will destroy everything you build. I don't care how hard you try.
- I am the sand castle. I am being destroyed.

Perls went one step further and suggested that dialogues be arranged between the dream symbols. For example, the sea might talk to the little girl.

- I am the sea. I hate you, little girl. I am big and powerful and I am going to destroy you.
- I am the little girl and I hate you for what you are doing to me.

At this point, the patient would usually make the connections that are relevant for her. If not, the therapist could inquire if the dream accurately represents or stands for (in metaphorical form) the client's actual or previous life situation. The client, if the connection had not already been made, would probably come to understand that the sea is really her sister, who has tried to destroy everything she had built in her lifetime. The dream is, therefore, a representation of her existence in the present or the past. In that sense, the dream is an existential statement and allows the brain to express a painful or conflicted life situation, without having to know, or feel directly, what is wrong. The brain's abhorence of pain and the processes which cause it, give rise to avoidance of direct understanding on the one hand, and yet allow an attempt at processing the issue on the other.


Method Two: The Intuitive Leap

- I dreamed my sand castles were being destroyed by the sea.
- Does this remind you of anything?
- Yeah, my sister is always trying to destroy me with her criticism.


Method Three: The Feeling-Oriented Approach (Level Four Therapy)

Images and dreams, if entered one image at a time, will almost always yield a feeling. Sometimes it is an image sequence which yields a feeling and sometimes it is a whole dream which yields a feeling and sometimes there are several feelings.

If we treat the images and sequences as we would treat any other symptom which we have studied, enter them and merge with them, we will return very quickly to the basic methods outlined in this manual. We will, in fact, be using the method of STAYING WITH, which is one of our devices to neutralize the brain's trickery. We will also be obeying the rule which tells us to find the actual feelings and sensations which are obviously, or subtly, connected to the six main body-alerting systems. Remember, we do this because we need the presence of the actual feelings to orient the compass of our awareness, and we need the intensity to penetrate the defensive net.

It should also be noted that because feelings are simple and powerful, they bore downward through our intellectual and symbolizing defences like a hot knife through butter always seeking the basic issue, the pain-radiating event which has given rise to the super structure of the elegant, the complex and the intellectual. The feeling attached to any symptom unfailingly attracts our attention regardless of how confused, how complex and how symbolized the symptom layers may be.

In addition to this, feelings allow us to create our congruences, which in turn intensify the very feelings with which we are seeking to merge. Thus, feelings have a four-part importance in the therapeutic journey. No wonder feeling-oriented therapists are so dedicated to the feeling of feelings.

Let us now unravel our dream, using our feeling-oriented Level Four therapy approach:

- I dreamed I was a little girl, sitting by the sea building castles. Each time I built a sand castle the sea washed it away.
- What is the feeling in this dream?
- I'm angry.
- Enter the anger, allow it to come to you, stay inside it for at least half a minute and then say whatever simple words or phrases or sounds want to come up out of that place.
-- (Long pause) I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.
- Scream it as loudly as you can.
- I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU (pause) It's my fucking sister. She tries to destroy everything I do. (and so on.)

Here we see, once again, that if we stay inside a feeling it cuts through the symbolizing processes of the brain, precipitating our various levels of HOLISTIC INSIGHT. In the end, feelings can never be fooled. It is for this reason that those who would manipulate us would rather that we do not feel.

Sometimes, if everything else fails, simply return to the dream from time to time, asking how it represents your life. Sooner or later the answer will come to you.

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