Electric Dreams

Awakening Within
The Dream

Will Parfitt

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Parfitt, Will (2005 July). Awakening Within The Dream. Electric Dreams 12(7).

Extracted from Chapter 18 of Psychosynthesis: The Elements and Beyond (PS Avalon, U.K., 2003 ISBN 0-9544764-0-9) Reprinted by permission of the author.

Whilst Psychosynthesis practitioners may work with dreams in the more usual ways, including dream recall and interpretation, they also may include the cultural relevance of the dreaming, the investigation of lucid dreaming, and dreaming as a spiritual practice. As well as exploring the dreams we have whilst asleep, Psychosynthesis also focuses on how to awaken ourselves within 'the dream of everyday life'. Rather than awakening from a dream, we can learn to awaken within the dream so we are awake to the beauty and meaning within our lives. To wake up from a dream suggests a movement from 'being asleep and dreaming' to 'being awake.' To awaken within suggests something quite different, where we can be fully ourselves, here and now, whether we are physically awake or asleep.

Assagioli's attitude to dreams is found in Psychosynthesis: '... although dreams do give access to the unconscious of the subject ... [they] often only give access to one part of it - only one part of the unconscious is able or cares to express itself through dreams.' After stating that there are many types of dreams, differing in quality and meaning, Assagioli continues: ' in our practice [we] point out dream interpretation is only one of the techniques and not the chief one.' Jung, who worked extensively with dream interpretation, wrote: 'I share all your prejudices against dream interpretation as the quintessence of uncertainty and arbitrariness. On the other hand, I know that if we meditate on a dream sufficiently long and thoroughly, if we carry it round and turn it over and over, something almost always comes of it.' Assagioli seems to be suggesting something just like this, and not just interpretation but also other dream practices. He only gives one direct clue in his books, however, to what he is referring.

Assagioli asserts that there are two major limitations to dream analysis. One is the potential for passive dependence on the uncontrolled appearance of dreams. Clearly Jung would not have agreed with this as he relished 'the uncontrolled appearance' of dreams. This is a good example of the different emphasis between the two men, which Assagioli would have ascribed to their differing 'rays'. Assagioli emphasized the importance of the will more than Jung, who, following the more 'feminine' track, worked more with what emerges spontaneously.

The other limitation to dream analysis, according to Assagioli, is the impossibility of fully understanding 'the forgotten language' of dreams. Jung agreed: '... it is obvious we lack the sense and ingenuity to read the enigmatic message from the nocturnal realm of the psyche.' Jung proposes, as a way forward a systematic study of dreams, to which, of course, he devoted much of his life. Assagioli, on the other hand, proposes 'symbol projection' as a better alternative. By this, Assagioli means the visualization of specific items to induce fuller imagery. It involves being aware or awake whilst at the same time being in 'dream state', that is a state where the unconscious can speak to us in its language. Thus the proposal to practitioners, at the outset of most Psychosynthesis meditation and visualization techniques, that they relax and centres themselves, and follow their breath into a still, undisturbed space.

Jung wrote: 'In sleep, fantasy takes the form of dreams. But in waking life, too, we continue to dream beneath the threshold of consciousness, especially when under the influence of repressed or other unconscious complexes.' Of course, as Jung was well aware, we live our lives under these influences, continuously in a socializing and restricting trance produced by such complexes and repressed material. Jung's methods of working included his own version of symbol projection, which he termed active imagination. More than Assagioli, Jung used a wide variety of other techniques, including dance and movement, to explore the edges of the unconscious, the 'borderlands' of consciousness. Jung clearly placed greater importance on dream interpretation than did Assagioli, who through working with imagery had found what he felt was a more readily useful method.

William James, who was greatly admired by Assagioli, wrote: 'Our normal waking consciousness is but one special type of consciousness, while all about it parted by the filmiest of screens there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different... Apply the requisite stimulus and at a touch they are there in all their completeness.' Perhaps Psychosynthesis offers us our best chance for finding and applying this 'requisite stimulus'. Assagioli certainly felt that, and may well have known the famous quote from Thoreau: 'Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.' This conveys something similar to the difference between freedom from something, which moves us away, somewhere else, and freedom to, which moves us towards doing what is right for us in any specific moment. Freedom, one of Assagioli's beloved 'qualities', brings responsibility, and the need to use the will, to not shy away from making choices. Thus the relevance of will as the compliment to imagination, both of which are the key components to personal and spiritual development in the Western mystery traditions. The correct use of will and imagination wakens the higher centers in the human system that bring responsibilities of a deeper nature.


Whilst Psychosynthesis borrows dream work methods as appropriate, it also has some of its own particular approaches that can be applied to dream work. For instance, a Gestalt therapist may ask a dreamer to play, enact or describe themselves as the different items in a dream, not only play the obvious central character. The dreamer might, for instance, be asked to speak as an animal that appears in their imagery. 'I am a dog; I have shaggy fur and am always running round on the spot. My life is ruled by my obsession with food...' Simply talking as a dream character often reveals interesting and useful insights into the workings of that dreamer's psyche. A Psychosynthesis practitioner will use the same approach, but take it a step further by exploring which part of the psyche was following these instructions and playing a part. This might be accomplished through a timely asking of suitable questions: who is it that is playing this animal? How do you know? Who experiences all this? This is intended to accomplish an awakening, however brief, of the 'I' experience, central to the work of Psychosynthesis.

We may use amplification techniques for working with a dream. Amplification involves working with a small image or sense from a dream to bring out its richness and depth. This can include items that are beyond the personal realms, or just of the middle unconscious. For the personal level of symbology and to explore the immediate realms of the middle unconscious, a practitioner may use free association around dream images and check what thoughts and feelings this brings us, both for the client and for him- or her- self, being aware of possible projective and reactive identifications. Working with social and cultural imagery is more complex for it involves finding items that are common as signs or signals to us all - a red light meaning 'stop', for instance. This involves delving deeper into the lower unconscious where such signals are lodged, which will then inevitably involve analysis of any other more shadowy unconscious material that is evoked. It is important however to allow for something being only what it obviously is: a book in a dream, for instance, might simply be something to read (and not, for example, a mysterious edible missile that wants to devour the dreamer!)

The archetypal level of imagery transcends the individual psyche but is experienced in each individual in a variety of idiosyncratic ways. However idiosyncratic an individual may be, there are common archetypal figures that tend to appear, including the fool, the wise person, the mother, and the lover. Assagioli loved to include what he termed 'the wise old man' archetype (that modern Psychosynthesis practitioners have renamed 'the wise old person'.) Archetypal imagery also includes events such as birth, marriage and death.

Archetypal figures have to be distinguished from subpersonalities that may have similar characteristics. Indeed, Psychosynthesis stresses that at their heart subpersonalities have the same archetypal qualities. But when these archetypal figures appear in dreams they bring us messages from the higher unconscious. These messages can include important insights, precognition, telepathy, prophecy, and forward-relating imagery. Jung felt that time-wise we live somewhere 'behind' all our dreams. Subpersonalities are more obviously figures who are caught up in the past, either the more recent past (where the dream may be playing out and perhaps re- configuring recent events,) or the more distant past of repressed psychic material and complexes. In Psychosynthesis it is important to work with both directions. The depth work is to enable a subpersonality to descend into its true inner quality and express it. The height work is to learn to co-operate with archetypes to help clarify issues for subpersonalities.

To amplify images on an archetypal level we have to be familiar with myths, folklore and fairy tales to provide a base for understanding such imagery. Assagioli discovered that whilst it is important to have a wide spectrum of such knowledge, to focus on a few central mythical events, such as found in Dante, for instance, allows close investigation of all archetypes. He realized that any and all archetypes can be recognized in each and every story. He was also aware of the usefulness of the Tree of Life, as we discussed in an earlier chapter, and utilized his 'hidden' knowledge of the deeper model behind the simplified egg diagram to help understand the different levels of dreams.

Psychosynthesis also suggests dream and imagery work as spiritual practice. For instance, if we are going to awaken ourselves to the fact that in our everyday life we are also living within a dream, central to 'dream work' in the Psychosynthesis sense, we have to find ways to 'check out reality' and see if we are dreaming or not. The famous 'pinch me to see if I am dreaming' is not so silly: if you check yourself out that way, if the pinch doesn't hurt, you know you are in a dream. This opens up the possibility of becoming lucid - that is, awakening within a dream. In our so-called 'waking' life we can perform many such 'reality checks' throughout the day, thus reminding ourselves that we are in a dream: thus, we may awaken within 'this dream' too. This is the famous 'waking state' in many of the mystery schools of both the East and West. Such reality checks include asking: 'Am I dreaming?' and 'Who is dreaming?' then to do something to check if it is so or not. If you try to fly for instance, you know whether you are awake in this dream or not! Whilst requiring great will and imagination, a simple and effective practice is constantly trying to recall and remind ourselves that whatever we are doing, we are in a dream. This echoes the words of Chuang-Tzu, the Taoist: 'Only when they are awake do they begin to know they dreamed. Then comes the great awakening, when we find out that life itself is a great dream.'

Will Parfitt, the director of PS Avalon, trained in Psychosynthesis and has more than thirty years experience of working with personal and spiritual development. He is a registered psychotherapist and leads training courses in England and Europe. Will is author of several books including 'The Complete Guide to the Kabbalah' and 'Psychosynthesis: The Elements and Beyond'.

His website at www.willparfitt.com includes details of all his books, courses, artwork, plus articles and journals free to download.