Mysteries intrigue us all. Attempting to solve a mystery promises an encounter with the unknown and the unexpected. A crime of passion executed with imagination and violence is emotionally compelling. The unexpected death, however grotesque, is spellbinding. So, too, are the pervasive sense of disquiet, the tantalizing clues left for the reader to unravel, the false leads, the moment of insight - the unsuspected culprit brought at last to justice.
Perhaps it will surprise you to learn that each and every one of us is a great mystery writer. Day in and night out we create our stories, filling them with passion and adventure and colorful characters - some perpetrators, some victims, some bystanders or witnesses. We leave ourselves puzzling, often disturbing clues that summon us to the role of detective. We even throw in a red herring or two to throw ourselves off the track. We challenge ourselves to search and discover again and again.
The mystery stories to which I refer are of course our dreams. Dreams are so vital to survival that almost all of us create them in clusters, four or five times every night. And it is through our dreams that we work over the emotional "crimes" perpetrated each and every day: the hurts to which we are subjected and to which we subject others; the anxieties and conflicts of everyday life - loss and accident and illness, success and joy and triumph, birth, death, love, and desire - anything that affects us emotionally.
Dreams contain clues that need to be deciphered. And some of these clues are very puzzling indeed. If we take their meaning at face value, we are likely to be deceived. We need a way to get at the meaning of these dream clues.
Paradoxically, although we are all superlative mystery writers, none of us are very good detectives. It is easy to be fooled by the alluring but often deceptive surface of the dream. We are ready to point a finger at an innocent bystander to avoid recognizing the actual perpetrator of the crime - not infrequently ourselves. This may make us feel better for the moment. But then we have to maintain our "ignorance" of the truth, and this effort usually proves in the long run to be self-defeating and damaging. And in the process we forgo the use of our inner creativity.
We are poor detectives for a number of reasons. The first is the nature of a dream itself. A dream is an expression of human adaptation to an emotionally charged situation; it is a means of coping with conflict and of achieving inner and outer peace. Since the correct interpretation of a dream leads inevitably to the real causes of our emotional disequilibrium, dream interpretation can provoke anxiety, even terror, as we bring to light the secrets that we have hidden from ourselves.
Too often, our fears triumph and our secrets remain hidden as we forget our dreams or ignore them or remember an occasional funny image to recount over breakfast. So there the dream sits loaded with wisdom waiting to be decoded, with solutions to our personal mysteries and to problems we would do well to confront. Much of dream decoding lies in overcoming our natural fears and defenses.
A second reason for our difficulty in solving the mystery of our dreams lies in the structure of a dream: A dream is the end of the story, not the beginning. Recalling a dream is like suddenly finding yourself at the top of a mountain. You can see where you are, but you don't know how you got there. And you don't know why you came. You don't even recognize the context of your present position. To find out what's going on, you have to retrace your steps backward and downward to the point of origin.
Finding the origin of your dream makes interpretation possible; this strategy is essential to the trigger decoding method. Trigger decoding begins and ends with the point of origin of an emotional conflict. It enables you to discover the emotional conflicts and interpersonal problems that are disturbing your equilibrium and, more important, how best to solve these problems. Trigger decoding, then, not only exposes your emotional wounds, it also provides the balm for healing them - a form of healing that is not generated by our more usual conscious efforts at problem solving.
The third reason our dream mysteries are hard for us to solve is that they speak to us in an unfamiliar language. Dreams reflect premises and assumptions that are different from our everyday conscious understanding of ourselves, of others, of the world. Dreams have their own logic. For example, in conscious experience a sweater is something we own and wear; in dream experience, it is our total being, inseparable from our body and self. In waking life, were someone else to touch the sweater, that would be all he or she had done; in dream life, touching the sweater is touching you - your body.
The deep unconscious mental system, which dominates dream expressions, has its own way of processing information. This does not mean, however, that our waking view is real and our sleeping and dreaming view is unreal. Instead, each system - our conscious system and our deep unconscious system - has a distinctive way of processing and experiencing reality. Each has its own validity. The dream is primarily a product of the deep unconscious system. The problem is that conscious waking thought and experience do not allow the dream's realm of experience to enter its own accustomed domain. The conscious mind sees the dream world as a disturbing foreign body to be extruded rather than integrated. At the very least, we prefer to reduce dreams to the commonplace and to squeeze out their unique attributes to the point where they resemble ordinary waking thoughts. And yet, in preferring the familiar to the unfamiliar, the safe to the unsafe, we reduce originality to clichés - and lose much in the process.
Trigger decoding creates a bridge that extends from the deep unconscious system and its unfamiliar images and language to the conscious system and the everyday language with which we are quite at home. Trigger decoding is a way of outwitting our defensive selves, so to speak.
A fourth reason that we fail as dream detectives is the red-herring factor. Like all good mysteries, dreams not only embody clues, they also offer false leads that take us away from, rather than moving us closer to, their solution. Dominated as we are by our conscious needs, we are an easy mark for the alluring deception in manifest dream clues.
Dreams are loath to surrender their secrets. Of course, this is yet another way of saying that the dreamer is reluctant to know the decoded meaning of his or her dream. A dream will seduce its captor into believing the answer lies here, when a far more meaningful and compelling answer lies there - in the very place where one has not thought - or dared - to look.
To put this differently, dreams are many-layered structures. It is all too easy to settle for superficial insights rather than peeling away the layers to arrive at deeper and usually more disturbing levels of self-knowledge. As a result, much of the thinking and writing on dreams seems clichéd. Clichés have a kernel of general truth, but they only seem to be specifically meaningful; at bottom, they are meaningless and empty. Their false leads distract the dreamer from arriving at more serious revelations.
Again, trigger decoding is a way of resolving this particular dilemma. Trigger decoding grounds the unmasking of disguised dream meanings in the How of our daily lives; it always relates the dream to the emotional issues that most greatly concern you; thus, it grants access to the most compelling hidden meanings and insights contained in the depths of the dream. The deepest meanings revealed by trigger decoding are always surprising, but they are recognized immediately as inescapably accurate and pertinent to a current stressful situation. Thus, the solutions generated by trigger decoding a dream have great emotional impact, yet they often point you to self-evident answers to your emotional problems - answers that somehow elude you when you try to deal with these problems head-on through conscious deliberations.
In essence, we are great mystery writers and poor detectives essentially because of the way the mind is structured. We are faced almost every day with emotionally charged perceptions that are difficult to cope with directly. The human mind is designed to channel some of the most important aspects of these issues outside of direct awareness, leaving the conscious "self" free to contend with issues more amenable to immediate action.
Some perceptions that occur outside of direct awareness are not unconscious as such. Sometimes the conscious mind overlooks direct information or places it on some kind of mental back burner for later processing. Perhaps your eyeglasses need to be changed. Or your car sounds funny when you start it in the morning. A dream may bring such perceptions directly to your attention so that you can take action. You may find yourself dreaming that you can't find your glasses, or that the muffler has fallen out of your car with a clang. Such dreams are bringing essentially conscious information to direct awareness. The conscious system has its own unconscious subsystem, into which it may toss all manner of things it doesn't feel like dealing with. But such things are not highly charged. They are merely annoying or competing with other priorities for immediate attention. So they register only peripherally.
When perceptions and fantasies are highly charged and unbearable, the conscious mind doesn't register them at all. Such information is relegated mentally for processing in a deeply buried unconscious system to which the conscious mind has no access. When someone begins to perceive that a loved one is no longer returning that love, when an individual somewhere deep within experiences murderous wishes toward someone who has caused him or her pain, when forbidden incestuous stirrings press for expression, the feelings, perceptions, and wishes involved are so anxiety-provoking that most of the information is processed without any direct awareness of what has been felt or perceived or wished. If concerns such as these appear in a dream at all, they will be disguised and camouflaged. Lack of awareness is costly, but this is a merciful means of self-protection.
Dreams, then, are really like bridges that extend from the known to the unknown. To analyze a dream, to undo its disguise, is to give up a vital form of automatic psychological protection. The same motives and needs that lead to the encoding of dream material pressure the individual to avoid true decoding. At bottom, the dream is a mystery that only the dreamer can solve. And yet, in the solution lies knowledge that the dreamer may not wish to have. The dilemma can be excruciatingly painful. The outcome can be flight from the proper decoding of dreams - an all too common attitude, even among those who would claim to understand the unconscious realm.
And yet, for those who have the need to know, who find the anxiety of not knowing greater than that of knowing, there is much to be gained. In the proper decoding of dreams, an intelligence, power, and beauty of mind is revealed. The very paradox that tethers life to death couples the incredible wisdom of the dream with fear and anxiety - and therefore with ignorance. We turn now to an approach to dreams designed to combat these very human tendencies, enabling us to tap the power of the dream and the vision of the dreamer.
Tags: Mental Health
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