Electric Dreams

Should We Control Our Dreams?

Fred C. Olsen 

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Olsen, Fred C. (1997 August). Should We Control Our Dreams? Electric Dreams 4(7). Retrieved July 26, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams

Thanks to DreamNetwork Journal for permission and sending the transcript.What, Never heard of the DNJ?
Dream Network, A Journal Exploring Dreams & Myth
"Encouraging Individual & Cultural Appreciation for the Value of Dreams" Roberta Ossana, Publisher/Editor
1337 Powerhouse Lane, Suite 22/PO Box 1026
Moab, UT 84532
801/259-5936 Voice Mail/Subscriptions: 800/861-3732

Email: DreamsKey@sisna.com

The question "Should we control our dreams?" has surfaced recently in the Dream Network letters to the editor with respect to lucid dreaming. This is not a new issue in the dream move ment. In fact, one of the most vivid memories I had from the 1990 Association for the Study of Dreams (ASD) conference in Chicago was of a panel discussion on the subject "Should we control our dreams?" Very passionate and contradictory viewpoints were expressed. The same issues arise in Jungian psychology with respect to active imagination and in therapeutic circles, in general, when confronting the role of the conscious ego in relationship to the contents of the unconscious and between the therapist, or guide, and the dreamier. The issue of control touches the heart and soul of our relationship to dreams and dreaming, but more importantly, it infuses every area of our lives. We do not act, choose or relate without confronting the issue of control. Every world view, theology, cosmology, social, political and economic system has, at its core, a structure of belief about the appropriate nature, source and locus of control. Once we identify our survival with one of these points of view we act reflexively to defend that viewpoint, often with our lives.

In this article my purpose is not to provide a definitive answer to the issue of control in dreams but to expand the dimensions of our explorations. Why, for example, is this particular question so important to us in our cultural framework? I will present three dream accounts in which the issue of control arises in the dream and the accompanying dreamwork and I will explore: 1. some aspects of the nature and function of control, 2. what we mean by "our" dreams, and 3. who is the we that controls our dreams. As we dialogue on these essentials, then we can begin to approach the question 'should we control ourour dreams. As we dialogue on these essentials, then we might begin to approach the question 'should we, or should we not, control our dreams?

o Control -- A Cultural Bias

In Western culture, in contrast to many primal cultures, for example, we experience a primary split between Nature and Spirit, mind and body, consciousness and matter, outer reality and inner reality. Core Judeo-Christian images blended with Greek and Roman philosophy have provided a powerful engine that drives our civilization. A core belief pattern is that "Man", is subject to an unchanging law of God and is responsible to exercise dominion over nature, which, since the "Fall," is under the power of Evil (Satan). The only salvation for "Man" is to turn his life, loyalty and obedience back to this unchanging God which will insure a place in Heaven in the after-life. The secular, scientific, socio-political-economic models derived from this hierarchy of God over fallen Man, and Man over a corrupt Nature, is that we feel dissociated from Nature, including our own and we feel responsible to freely exploit and control nature to insure our unending progress (salvation). In this world view, God guides, or controls our destiny, and we control or have dominion over acorrupt nature. In the extreme view, nature is not worth saving at all. This simple vision of a hierarchy of power between God, humanity and a corrupted nature is in sharp contrast to the visions it supplanted and other major cultural and religious viewpoints.

For example, the Native American and other primal mythologies are not based on an individualis tic ideal, or a hierarchy of control but on a relational, or communal ideal which includes the animals and plants, rocks and sky as part of a vital living community. It is not a model of dominance over, but of partnership with all that is that is crucial to survival. Nature is experienced as a conscious living being to be loved rather than an object to be used, abused and discarded at will. The Great Spirit (God) is infused in nature so that everything is in a living relationship to everything else. When we look at dreams and dreaming through these very different and contra dictory viewpoints we arrive at very different perspectives on the issue of control.

The question "should we control our dreams?" may arise from the relationship to all that is. Then the issue of control is experienced in a totally different light. Instead of a hierarchy of power we find ourselves in a more fluid ecology and economy of shared relationships where the health of the whole is more important than the autonomy of the parts. In this world view dreams are meant to serve the whole community. The impossibility of determining the source of dreaming as from either God or nature may reflect more on the inadequacies of our limited world view than on the source or value of dreaming. During the ASD panel, Eugene Gendlin expanded the focus when he pointed out the importance of dialogue between the dreamer and the dream and within the dream. Through inner-dialogue a felt-shift occurs in the body if a breakthrough is achieved in the dreamer-dream relationship. During the question and answer period I suggested that we further expand our understanding of who the "we" is who is controlling in the first place.

My ongoing work with dreams and active imaging has revealed consistently that the locus of 'dream ego' control changes dynamically when within the inner-image experienced in relation to the body, through various feeling states and through layers of imagery within the dreamscape. This suggests that the relationship between the waking and dreaming domains are much more dynamic than we acknowledge from our preexisting viewpoints. I believe that as we expand and transform the limits of our understanding of our relationship to dreaming,we will transform the same limits in our lives and in our world.

There are a variety of ways to facilitate a fluid relationship between the many selves within our being. The key to all of them is to stay connected in the relationships through dialogue, interac tion, choice and action. The following dream, for example, invites the dreamer to take greater control.

W's Dream
W dreamed that he was standing on a beach near a wide inlet of water. On the beach towering over him was a tall mechanical crane. The crane was unusual in that it was constructed of a delicate spiderweb-like material. It had a long arm. Whoever was in charge of the crane encour aged W to take over the controls and operate the crane from where he stood. W felt very small, inadequate and vulnerable. If the crane toppled it could fall on top of him. He wasn't sure of his competency to operate such a large and delicate machine.

In the dreamwork that followed W reentered the dream. He reluctantly took the controls and tried to operate the crane, which became unbalanced. He then relinquished the controls for fear of causing an accident. At this point in the reentry the scene changed. The crane now reached down using its own power and swept the water away with its long arm. This motion exposed the sea-life to the open air. In the nearby shallows a very large prehistoric Mako shark was exposed to the air. W was shocked that such a dangerous creature had come so close to shore where swimmers had been only moments before.

When W shared his associations related to the shark and the crane, it became clear that they were aspects of himself. The tall artistic mechanical crane that he had trouble controlling matched aspects of himself, as did the psychically attuned, efficient shark that traveled easily in the deep waters. The exposed identity of the small dream-ego, who was not in control, matched more closely his fears about himself. When he was able to bring the feeling of the crane and the shark into his body and view the reluctant person on the beach from that perspective the locus of control shifted dramatically. In his waking life the crane and the shark aspects operated independ ently of his diminished self-image. As he became increasingly aware of the inner relationships between the parts of himself, his abilities, and the way they serve him, he began to exercise greater control from a more expanded awareness. In this dream the invitation is for the dreamer to take greater control of his abilities and his power.

J's Dream
The opposite is true in the following dream. At a recent meeting of California Dreamworkers, Calamity shared the following dream. In the dream she saw her daughter Jezabel at the top of the stairs holding a talisman that had been given to Calamity by a beloved and skillful dreamer. In the dream the talisman opened like a flower, turned inside-out and then crumbled into a black powder. Calamity was appalled. The scene then changed. Now Calamity was alone in the middle of the ocean holding on to a pole with one hand. The pole was anchored solidly to the floor of the ocean and rose about twenty feet into the air. All of the ocean was calm except around the pole. A whirlpool spun faster and faster. Calamity spun out from the pole so that she had to hold on tightly with both hands. The faster she and the water spun the more desperate Calamity felt and the tighter she held on.

In the dreamwork, when Calamity realized that the pole was secure, she was able to embrace the pole. The pole then shifted inside her body and aligned with her spine. Now she could let go and feel safe, centered and peaceful at any depth or height on the pole. On her way home that night, Calamity realized that the pole was a symbol of her horse Spark. She had purchased Spark to replace the one she had lost as a child. Her childhood pony had been her symbol of safety and spiritual connection as a child.

When Calamity arrived home that night, Jezabel had prearranged to trailer Spark to a horse-show the next day with another woman's horse. From Calamity's perspective everything was wrong with this picture. Neither horse had been trailered, the trailer was rented, etc. It was a disaster in the making. Calamity immediately slipped into her pattern of feeling out of control and distrusting the circumstances. Then Jezabel said "Mom, you never trust me." The dreamwork immediately flooded back to Calamity. At that moment she understood the dream. By entrusting Spark--the talisman--in Jezabel's hands it could flower and turn inside out and release the magic of the spirit into the atmosphere. When Calamity shifted to the new level of trust and allowed the transformed dream energy to infuse the situation, the next day fell into place like magic. Control was shared between herself, Jezabel and the magic of the moment. This led to a positive shift in their relationship.

In W's dream the issue was for him to take greater control whereas Calamity needed to let go of control and trust the connections in the moment. Here the dream, the dreamwork and the outer events coincided in a magical synchronicity where control was shared in a dance between the players and the greater purpose of the moment.

o Control in Systems Theory

In systems theory control is shared by interacting processes that each contribute to balance and equilibrium in the system as a whole enable the system to fulfill its purpose. It restrains as well as guides and maintains the system integrity as a whole. Should we exercise restraint over our dreams? Some people are so overwhelmed by dream content that they need to find ways to slow the frequency of recall. Others attempt, with great frustration, to recall any dream or fragment. Some, plagued with overwhelming nightmares, need to find relief in order to gain equilibrium in life. Should we exercise direction over our dreams? Anyone who incubates a dream--a very common dream skill--is in some measure setting out to exercise, at least partial, direction over dreams and dreaming. Should our dreams exercise direction over our lives? Few serious dreamers would deny the value of dreams for clarifying, at least on occasion, our life direction. Should our dreams dominate us, or command us, hold us in check or curb us? Even here we would, I believe, find occasions to say yes. I believe that if we ponder the question of control deeply we will be compelled to recognize that we are engaged in a co-creative relationship in life at every moment.

o The Locus of Dream Control

The question is not a simple "should we control our dreams?" or "should our dreams control us?" The question of control lies at the heart and soul of who we are. From moment to moment we face the choice, the freedom and the responsibility to exercise, relinquish or share control. Instead of "should we control?" it makes more sense to ask *who*is in control, under what circum stances, by what means and for what reasons at each and every moment, in every aspect of our dreaming and waking life. We might then learn to take seriously our relationships, our purpose, our freedom, our responsibility, our limitations and the mystery of our existence in relationship to the vast dimensions and connections between our inner and outer worlds.

I have learned that the locus of control varies fluidly in many dimensions. It changes according to where the dream originates in the body. For example, in the heart I may find a very different dream than in my stomach, throat or head. The dreamer or dream-ego is an inveterate shape -shifter. In age, dress, feeling, intention and context. It is humbling to realize that my inner two-year-old makes so many of my decisions.

o Who is the 'we' that controls?

When tracking the locus of the dream during active therapeutic imaging we note that shifts in feeling state, attention in the body, and changes in context, also shift the dream-ego identity as well. At one moment the dream-ego may be an innocent five-year-old. At another moment a traumatized twelve-year-old. At still another moment a future older and wiser self. When the various inner characters communicate, relate and act together, the inner world changes naturally to reflect the resulting changes in the dreamers consciousness. When conflict, confusion or dissociation represented in the inner imagery becomes clear and resolved, the outer life experi ence, including physical symptoms, shift accordingly. When we recognize and relate to these 'many selves' within us, we are then empowered to move to a higher order of control in our dreams and in our waking life.

o The Western Fallacy of Independence

The western myth of the independent controlling ego may prove to be a major fallacy of our fragmented civilization. When we come to recognize that free and responsible choice is rather a product of a relational consciousness in a global context, then we will understand our true relationship to our dreaming universe.

Control is not at all about me controlling the dream or about the dream controlling me. It is rather a control that unfolds from a conscious relationship in which we explore and co-create the universe together. The world of our dreams is a flexible world in which we are able to safely practice and rehearse, to blunder and fall, to discover, uncover and recover. It is here that we expand our consciousness to embrace our many selves and the other. When we bring our dream characters into our waking life they assist us in co-creating a new world. When our battles are fought and resolved in the imaginal realm with full consciousness, then we don't have to act out our violence in the physical world. We are enabled to break through to new and vital ways of being in a healthy world. This is the process of mythmaking. It is where we learn to crawl, to walk, to run, to fly, and together to transform the world. When we are attuned in this way, the inner and the outer coincide. Our dreams and synchronicity then flow together seamlessly as we saw in J's dream experience.

R's Dream

A third dream example illustrates the issue of control in our dreams and in our lives. At the same California Dreamworker'smeeting, R related the following story from his recent trip to the Dreaming in India Conference. After thirty-six hours of travel and finding himself overwhelmed by the stimulation of India, R was working very hard to control and capture every minute of his experience in his journal. He became exhausted and sick. Then he dreamed that he saw a structure made of square cubicles. In each cubicle was an Indian God. He dreamed that he awoke late in the day. He had, as a result, missed breakfast and the morning events of the conference. Jarred from this realization he awoke to realize that the first awakening was a false awakening. It was actually early in the morning. He had plenty of time to prepare. When R related the dream to his Indian room-mate, the room-mate said "It seems that you have an issue of control. It will be very difficult for you to control your experience in India." With this realization, R let go. He stopped recording every detail in his journal and trusted the flow of his emerging experiences. His illness subsided and from then on he flowed happily and easily through the remainder of his journey, experiencing many synchronicities and adventures along the way. A key to R's transformation was the timing of his sharing with, and accepting of, the input from a stranger who could see the dream from an alternate perspective.

When we trust ourselves and our dreams with others, life expands in its wonder and majesty. When we come into alignment with the myriad dimensions of reality, our dreams and our life respond to us accordingly. We are supported in taking greater or lesser control, or shifting our control to an expanded dimension of reality where we adopt a seamless attitude between our dream life and our waking life. It is ultimately the quality of our attitude that makes the difference, not the degree of waking or sleeping, or our lucidity or nonlucidity.

By affirming a conscious relationship to our symbolic life we can discover and rehearse the deep patterns and consequences of our choices and actions before they are manifested in material form. With the courage, vulnerability and commitment to seek the deeper layers of truth and good in our relationships within and without we have within us the capacity to transform and heal, or to abuse and destroy our world.

This is our final choice....

Fred Olsen, dreamtreck@aol.com

Thanks to DreamNetwork Journal for permission and sending the transcript.What, Never heard of the DNJ?

Dream Network, A Journal Exploring Dreams & Myth
"Encouraging Individual & Cultural Appreciation for the Value of Dreams" Roberta Ossana, Publisher/Editor
1337 Powerhouse Lane, Suite 22/PO Box 1026
Moab, UT 84532
801/259-5936 Voice Mail/Subscriptions: 800/861-3732

Email: DreamsKey@sisna.com