Recognizing Dynamic and Stuck Elements Within a Dream
There are many ways to find orientation within a dreamscape, but one of the most reliable is to ask yourself what is dynamic and what is stuck? What is moving and what isn’t What is the evolution that is trying to happen and what is the problem that’s holding it back?
The human psyche is not static; it is always trying to change. If it is held back from changing in the way it wants to change it is not happy. It protests, and the first line of protest occurs at night, in our dream life. Our dreaming brain is very concerned with letting us know what changes are trying to unfold, and also what impediments are getting in the way.
Many (I would go so far as to say most) dreams contain both dynamic elements and stuck elements. They tell a story in which something is starting to happen but then it seems that it cannot happen for some reason. These dreams show us that dynamic efforts of the psyche are engaged and working, but they have run into some kind of roadblock. They are pushing against it, trying to unfold something.
Ideally the dream facilitator should be able to recognize, then to separate, these two strands. Generally speaking dynamic parts of a dream do not need any major intervention applied to them. They are already happening, they only need to be recognized, supported, and encouraged. Stuck parts, however, do call out for intervention. They will tend to remain stuck until something specific is done.
Let’s look at an example: a woman in her thirties has a dream of a mafia-type figure outside her door. She is afraid that he will force his way in, although he is not actually doing anything hostile, only standing there looking inside. Still, she feels there is something menacing or ominous about him. She tries to secure the door, but there is only a flimsy lock and she thinks he would be able to force it open. Even if the front door remains intact she suddenly remembers that there are several other entrances that he could use. She wakes terrified. She has had many versions of this dream over the last 10-12 years.
We recognize the presence of a universal motif hereâ€”the threatening figure at the door. Everyone in the world has had their own version of this dream at one time or another. We ask ourselves if this is an inner figure (in other words an aspect of the dreamers self) or an outer figure (something or someone that they feel is threatening them in their life)? Because of the typical elements of the flimsy lock and the multiple entrances we suspect that we are dealing with an inner aspect. This is most likely to be a part of the dreamers own personality that she is excluding or repressing for some reason she is keeping it outside therefore it is trying to get inside (in Jungian psychology this kind of figure would be called the shadow of the dreamer).
Once the psychology of the dream situation is understood we are oriented within the dream because we know what is trying to happen– the dreamers psyche is trying to grow and evolve by uniting with a potential part of itself which has until now been excluded. This is good, very good– this is the dynamic part. Even though the dream has presented the situation in a frightening guise we know that if the dreamer is able open the door and meet the mafia figure something very positive will happen in her personal growth.
Now is there anything stuck here? Is there anything holding back the dynamic process which is trying to happen? It would appear that there is, since she is not able to encounter the figure, or even think about the possibility of encountering him. Also there is an implied stuckness in the fact that this a repeating theme in her dreams (something would not need to repeat itself if it was able to evolve in its desired direction).
Now that we have located the stuckness something will need to be done. Stuck points in dreams correspond to stuck points in waking life, and they do not tend to vanish all on their own. Some action or intervention is now required.
First we will need to know why she is so determined to keep this figure out. Upon asking the dreamer what she associates with mafia figures she says: “they are aggressive, intrusive, use power over others, are selfish, are concerned only with their own moral code and insensitive to the morals of others.”
When asked if the mafia figure may have some positive qualities in addition to these negative qualities, she has trouble thinking of any. She finds it very hard to identify with anything positive in the mafia figure. She does not want to imagine that such a figure could be let inside (psychologically– she does not want to imagine that such a figure could be a part of her, that she could possibly have some of these traits herself).
When a dreamer finds it very hard to identify with a shadow figure it is often because the figure carries strong negative associations with an important early life figure (usually a parent, sibling, teacher, or religious figure). It is as if the figure is so contaminated with negative associations that nothing good can be seen in them. The good must be rejected with the bad. This is psychologically crippling since it means that a person cannot acknowledge the many positive traits they have in common with their father (for example) or could have in common with their father; they must reject everything about their father because of the negative traits. They cannot, as it were, allow any of their father’s personality to come into their own personality.
Exploring this possibility we ask the dreamer, using her own exact words: “Who in your life is (or was) aggressive and intrusive? Who used power over others, who was selfish, who was cared only about their own moral code and was insensitive to others?” The thinks of her father and her grandmother (fathers mother)they both had these qualities in abundance.
Now we can see what is preventing our dreamer from opening the door the possibility of meeting and acknowledging some mafia-like part of herself is too threatening. So the dream will have to keep repeating itself; the psyche does not give up easily, it will keep knocking at the door. The job of the dream facilitator is to broker the meeting. Typically once the door has been opened and the dreamer has encountered her shadow, she will begin to sense that he is not all bad, that in fact he has some exciting new possibilities to offer.
I use the metaphor of a maze in trying to communicate the nature of stuckness. Imagine that you are trying to move through a maze in a desired direction. You cannot. Why not? Because it is the maze which determines your direction, not you. You may know exactly where you want to go, but you must follow the contours of the maze. A person in a maze cannot take a new path. They cannot make a new directional choice. This is the predicament that we humans find ourselves in so often we know exactly the changes we want to make, but somehow we cannot make them. Instead we just keep going round and round in the same repetitive loops of behavior.
Probably the best metaphors to describe human patterns of stuckness would be metaphors of field effects magnetic fields, neural fields, mazes anything which organizes and influences the subject caught within it. This is what we are up against when we really try to change. That’s why it’s not easy. We all have habituated pathways of behavior and perception which, once developed, tend to be used again and again, thus becoming more and more entrenched. These pathways are to some extent fixed in our brains as neural fields. A strongly established neural field will not change easily. These field effects are symbolically depicted in our dreams every night; we just have to be on the lookout for them.
So–next time someone tells you an interesting dream step back a bit. Ask yourself first–what is trying to happen in this dream Then ask Why is it not able to happen This will often give you enough orientation to proceed with some helpful facilitation.
© Christopher Sowton