Dreams: Still the Royal Road to the Unconscious

Michael Cornwall, PhD
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As a Jungian, and a blogger on Mad In America, I’ve been feeling the need to weigh in a bit from a depth psychology perspective. I rarely read about dreams, or the function of the personal or collective unconscious here. So here goes my attempt to communicate what my friend and mentor John Weir Perry shared with me, from a teaching on understanding dreams that Carl Jung had personally revealed to John in the 1940’s.

John said it was the single most important thing he had learned from Jung in Zurich, because it contained a simple key to seeing how emotion and imagery function in dreams, madness and waking life. It played into John later re-defining an archetype into the simple formula “Affect-Image”.

First to provide some historical context; over a century ago Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, famously claimed that “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious!”

I believe that is as true now as it ever was.

But in our strange 2013 world, where one out of four women and one out of five of all Americans are taking a prescribed psychiatric medication, dreams have lost their place in fostering healing and enriching our personal growth. Most of my therapist friends and co-workers in the mental health field over the past thirty years haven’t asked for or listened to the dreams of those they serve.

The important but limited focus of the more cognitive and problem solving modes of therapy tend to hurry over deeper personal needs and truths, in my opinion. Those invaluable core sources of meaning are just waiting to be revealed; by including dreams in therapy, or in our peer-to-peer conversations for those of us with lived experience.

I always encourage the people I serve to bring their dreams to our therapy sessions, because I know how valuable understanding what our dreams are telling us can be. Every night our unconscious psyches process enormous amounts of emotional content that is symbolically portrayed in imagery. This dreaming work of our deep psyches is so vital, that if we are kept from dreaming for a few nights, we will start to hallucinate, and soon will enter a so-called psychotic or extreme state of consciousness.

But every morning we have the chance to shed light on what our deepest desires, fears and individual life purpose is revealing – if we attend to our dreams. The best way I have found to explore dreams comes from what Jung told Perry.

First, a little more history…

Jung was Freud’s heir apparent, but broke his connection with Freud and psychoanalysis because he believed that there was a deeper level to the unconscious than Freud had imagined – a deeper, universal or collective unconscious level that held ancient emotional and symbolic content, and was animated by autonomous, numinous and cthonic forces.

Jung believed that humans were often visited in dreams by such archetypal forces that were mythic and spiritual in nature, in addition to dreams containing the personal content that Freud focused on. From this more inclusive and universal vantage point, Jung discovered that when we remember a dream, the key to really getting the greatest understanding is to first focus in on the exact emotion we feel in the dream. If we feel fear, what dream figures or dream settings and situations evoke the fear in us as we sleep? What is the quality and intensity of the fear?

Then, he told Perry, once we have closely identified a discrete dream emotion, we can look out into our waking lives, and try to see where that exact emotion exists. We usually can’t look out and identify a one-to-one connection of a dream image to a real world image, because dream imagery is often fantastic and confusingly symbolic in nature.

Jung told Perry that he had finally discovered his personal dream work method after repeated, terrifying dreams of being pursued by a menacing dragon. Jung described a moment of very clear insight one day after consciously dropping down into the exact emotional memory of the uncanny quality of fear that he always experienced in the re-occurring dragon dreams.

Jung confided to Perry that he realized that the identical fear existed inside him in his waking life every time his mother in-law walked into the room!

He hadn’t been consciously aware of being deeply afraid of her.

So, the next time you have a dream where the emotion is pronounced enough to carry it into waking memory – you might consider trying Jung’s method. The practical worth of it is that Jung’s method alerts us to the real-world people and situations that are powerful enough to evoke such strong dreams, and also to what mythic themes are being played out in our deepest unconscious lives.

Jung realized that the archetypal or mythic form of the dragon represented a terrible, devouring form of the universal mother, and that he had work to do to be able to be conscious of why women like his mother-in-law triggered that ancient fear and imagery in him.

I know some people don’t easily remember their dreams. It often helps the unconscious to dream dreams we can remember if we commit to recording them. Just place a pad and pen nearby with the promise to write down a dream if you’re given one to remember, and chances are you will be rewarded.

Best of luck on the royal road of dreams!

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36 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you, Michael. I have two dreams from quite a long time ago which I often think about because of their intense emotion and how those emotions may be with me in my waking life in various situations. I will now pay even more special attention. To me, dreams are eternally fascinating and filled with intricate internal wishes and fears and hopes. They are often a secret window into our very souls.

  2. Significant. Thanks for this. For so long, I have not “dreamed” in my sleep. Recently, I have had the most beautiful connections to loved ones during that twilight moment between wakeful consciousness and sleep where there is dialogue, deep connection, energy shared, love said, love and words that must be spoken outloud, emotions seen and spent… I can’t control this beautiful exchange and it’s very real… it just happens. It is always very positive and it’s much like a real visit. It is meditative and I only hope that it continues. I wish your blog were longer.

  3. I forgot to mention in my first comment that after my dear friend, Lee, died suddenly in 1981, when he was only 43. I dreamed about him off and on for over ten years. They were searching dreams in which I would be looking for him and just after I would finally see him, but he would never see me, I would wake up. It was as though I were an outside observer somehow. They were searching but comforting dreams as I always would see him and he would always have his tender smile. The dreams helped me through my grieving so much, and I would look forward to seeing him. Now I am able to look back on that difficult time with sadness but with internal strength. I feel sure that it was being able to talk about him with a mutual friend and the experience of those amazing dreams which lifted me through that sad time.

  4. Brother Michael, I’m so happy to see this lived perspective on the madness of our 2013, “objectified” sense of self. The very sense of self which presumes itself intelligent, while remaining in deep, socially constructed denial about our true nature, IMO.

    Only this morning, half a world away from you, I find myself writing these notes to myself, in my journal, as I continue an inward journey, which began with my “flight” to Thailand, three and half years ago. Please consider;

    “Noticed, projected anger this morning, from the frustration of my life-long “outsider” position and working on my more academic essay. Yet, at the same time being aware of how a frustrating “process” helps me to better articulate my intuitive sense of reality, as it is. I’m struggling with how best to say to myself and others, how our self-deluding, yet consensually accepted “subject – object” orientation of our intelligent mind, adopts the “projected” illusion of objective reality, in service of denial.”

    My intuitive, “day-dream” sense, of how our need to sanctify the mind, reflects our need to control our evolved, innate, nature. Hence, our urge to dominate Mother nature, seems to reflect the evolved mind’s need to dominate those powerful, archetypal forces within, which are the forces of our Cosmic evolution, as a sentient life-form. Please consider an excerpt from a current essay, I’m writing;

    “The collective manifestations of the insanity that lies at the heart of the human condition constitute the greater part of human history. It is to a large extent a history of madness. If the history of humanity were the clinical case history of a single human being, the diagnosis would have to be: chronic paranoid delusions, a pathological propensity to commit murder and acts of extreme violence and cruelty against his perceived “enemies” – his own unconsciousness projected outward. Criminally insane, with a few brief lucid intervals.

    Fear, greed, and the desire for power are the psychological motivating forces not only behind warfare and violence between nations, tribes, religions, and ideologies, but also the cause of incessant conflict in personal relationships. They bring about a distortion in your perception of other people and yourself. Through them, you misinterpret every situation, leading to misguided action designed to rid you of fear and satisfy your need for more, a bottomless hole that can never be filled.

    Trying to become a good or better human being sounds like a commendable and high minded thing to do, yet it is an endeavor you cannot ultimately succeed in unless there is a shift in consciousness. This is because it is still part of the same dysfunction, a more subtle and rarefied form of self-enhancement, of desire for more and a strengthening of one’s conceptual identity, one’s self-image. You do not become good by trying to be good, but by finding the goodness that is already within you, and allowing that goodness to emerge. But it can only emerge if something fundamental changes in your state of consciousness.”

    Exerts from “A NEW EARTH” by Eckhart Tolle.

    My psychoses over the past three years, have fundamentally changed my state of consciousness. Yet mainstream psychiatry considers all hyper-sensitive’s like me, pathological?

    Please consider excerpts from a dissertation on Psychosis and Spirituality;

    “Similarities between mystical experience and “madness” have been noted since ancient times. Mystics have long been persecuted for their experiences, which to some may look like mental disorder, but for initiates are signposts that they are on the right path. Even today, the ancient practices of many tribal and indigenous peoples would be considered a psychotic disorder by mainstream psychiatrists.

    Psychiatry, in general, makes no distinction between mystical experiences and mental illness, and shows no recognition of the contribution made by the great spiritual teachings into the systemic study of consciousness. Consequently the concepts and practices based on centuries of deep psychological exploration and experimentation are dismissed and the fruits of this practice ignored (Grof and Grof, 1989).

    PSYCHOSIS, OR PEAK EXPERIENCE:

    Peak experiences have been reported by millions of people both males and females of all ages, from diverse social and educational backgrounds with various religious affiliations (Austin, 19980). During his initial research, Maslow (1971) believed that all individuals were capable of peak experiences and even came to the expectation that all participants in his research would report a peak experience. Those who did not, he called non-peakers, not because they could not have this type of experience but because he believed that they somehow suppressed or denied them. Maslow considered “non-peakers” to be rational or mechanistic and therefore regarded their peak experiences as a form of insanity. He believed that the individual who is afraid of losing control would desperately try to stabilize or hold onto their reality and push the peak experience away.

    (In general terms, does this fear of losing control, apply to the consensus reality we all share as a socially constructed, group mind, in our generational need to keep madness, out of sight and out of consensus awareness, so that we can remain in denial? What does the Biblical story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den really refer to, when we think in terms of metaphor & projected internal energies? Both the Lion & the Dragon have long been associated with the fiery energies of the human heart, and this “projection” is seen most recently in the movie Avatar, when Jake Sully, that well know scoun, is foolish enough to try to Master the red dragon of Psychosis, IMO. Yet what benefits flow to the tribe, when the born to be sensitive’s, manage this age-old challenge, to decipher the needs of our Cosmic Soul & our Destiny as sentient species? IMO we are the children of this Universe and its own evolved mechanism (hate that Descartes, term, that limited cause and effect logic, “as if,” we are a machine), of Eternity.)

    Maslow’s (1971) research demonstrated that peak experiences can occur in the middle of everyday events in the most common of surroundings. Maslow was surprised to find many of his undergraduate students having peak experiences which they described in similar language to that used by spiritual leaders in the East and West, thus implying that one does not need to be a mystic to experience a peak state (Hoffman, 1988). In fact Maslow said:

    “The great lesson from the true mystics, from Zen monks, and now also from the humanistic and transpersonal psychologists – that the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s backyard. (Maslow, 1971, p, x)

    According to Maslow (1986), these experiences lie at the core of moments of ecstasy and deep mystical and transcendental experiences such as those explored by William James. (link to “the varieties of religious experience)

    Other models of Peak Experience:

    Maslow’s description of the peak experience is similar to the description given by Rogers (1980) for the “fully-functioning person.” Rogers originally described this as being open to experience, process oriented, caring, non-materialistic, anti-institutional, holding an inner sense of power, somewhat skeptical of science and technology, having a desire for authenticity, wholeness, intimacy and the spiritual. Like Maslow, Rogers was aware that only a minority of the population reached this state and of these, only a few possessed each of the characteristics.

    Maslow also considered the height of the peak experience similar to Cosmic consciousness (Bucke, 1923/1969) and the mystical experience as outlined by James (1902/2007), who identified four characteristics of the mystical experience: 1. Ineffability; the experience defies expression, its quality must be experienced, it cannot be transferred, it is more like a state of feeling rather than intellect. 2. Noetic quality; a state of knowledge providing insights into the depth of truth beyond the grasp of the intellect, illuminations and revelations of significance transcending time and space. 3. Transiency; mystical states cannot be sustained, they are fleeting, rarely lasting up to half an hour at most, once faded they can be somewhat imperfectly reproduced. 4. Passivity; the individual’s will is suspended and one is held by a superior power, various phenomena such as autonomic writing, trance or prophetic speech are experienced and although not often recalled the individual senses their importance.

    Cosmic conflict involving a dramatic clash of opposites-combat between the forces of light and darkness. With archetypal images as primordial patterns which form the basic content of religions, mythologies, legends and fairy tales of all ages. (which has been my intuitive, yet unarticulated understanding for a long time now.)”

    Excerpts from: The Differentiation of Psychosis & Spiritual Emergency by Monika Goretzki. (comments in brackets, mine)

    http://digital.library.adelaide.edu.au/dspace/bitstream/2440/47986/1/02whole.pdf

    Sadly, the need to embrace the current group mind, tends to lead transpersonal writer’s into a dichotomy of suggestion, that there is a “clinical” difference between psychosis and Mysticism, which IMO reflects the current limitations of our “cause and effect intelligence. Even the scientists who embrace “systems theory,” which now illuminating the systems growth of our early maturing brain/nervous systems, within the first years of life, acknowledge that they revert to cause and effect language, in everyday dialogue, with family and friends. It does seem though, that we are on the road to the Kingdom of Heaven, the rise and rise of mass education, lifts the perceptual capacity of our younger generations. President Obama’s impromptu remarks about the Trayvon Martin case, reflect this reality, IMO. He noted how, observing his children and their friends, that they were accepting the generational challenge to it better than we did.

    I know you will recognize John’s contribution to this fine dissertation, in the language of our Cosmic struggle, to become Buddha, within this eternal now. The literal translation of Buddha, meaning, AWAKE.

    Best wishes,

    David.

  5. An interesting piece Michael, great to see your writings again.

    I’m likely a bit different to other folks and prefer not to remember my dreams. I’d rather they did their work when I’m asleep and I can wake up and get on with stuff. If I wake up in the middle of a dream it tends to keep me back. Tires me a bit.

    Often I wake up first thing with ideas for what to write, either in a blog or Email, in my present role as a mental health activist. It’s as if through the night the script was being written or the idea was taking hold. Like my mind was working out stuff from the day or days before and I wake up clear as to what I should write about. What the focus should be. An unconscious reflection and I’m quite happy for my mind to do this when I’m asleep. Then I can get on with stuff when I’m awake.

    Not sure if this makes sense. I’m more and more of the mind that when we sleep there’s a lot going on in our minds. That we don’t need to be ‘present’ for it to be sorting itself out. I hated being on psychiatric drugs for they took away the reflecting, the imagination, the decision-making and the systems thinking. For me. My episodes of psychoses, after childbirth and at the menopause were quite natural occurrences after times of great body and life changes. It’s the psychiatric treatment that was traumatic.

    It was the same for many of my family who experienced psychosis. Some used to bring it on, as an escape, not using drugs to do so. One of my family members describes it as a very creative experience, they look back fondly and often speak of their psychotic episodes as adventures. Explorations into the other areas of the mind?

    I don’t know why psychiatry fears psychosis. And want to label and stigmatise it. Rather than let it be a thing of itself. A state of mind that can be productive, a journey from one place of being to another. Sometimes necessary in a life of fast paced living.

    Thanks Michael, Chrys

    • This approach sounds similar to mine. I tend not to work on my dreams so much as let them work on me. Sometimes they move me to action or to alter my behaviour. Recently my mind began to spin into a very fast and excitable state. I dreamed that I was careering out of control down a hill in my car and then I realised that I had my foot on the accelerator instead of the brake. I began to deliberately slow myself down in my daily life and was able to find my way back to balance. The other night I dreamed about making a pot in a particular shape, and I am now making that pot in this reality, an interplay and communication between different aspects of consciousness that fascinates me.

  6. Michael,

    A great post.

    When I was a young man, I went through some unspeakable trauma. Fortunately, I was able to connect to a very humble and deeply caring soul. His specialty was dream interpretation.

    I shared two dreams that seemed to me to be quite frightening; although when he heard them he smiled and told me they were wonderful. After I heard his interpretation, I experienced an overwhelming sense of peace.

    There were other things that helped me overcome the trauma. He suggested biofeedback, and introduced it to me. I also had several sessions of cranial osteopathy, but the human relationship with a caring soul who was anxious to hear my dreams moved me through what I thought was the darkest time in my life. It helped me overcome, move beyond – bringing light and hope.

    Glad you’re back with posts!

    Your brother,

    Duane

    • @Duane, thanks for this small example of just how simple it can be…

      “I shared two dreams that seemed to me to be quite frightening; although when he heard them he smiled and told me they were wonderful. After I heard his interpretation, I experienced an overwhelming sense of peace.”

  7. Thanks for this essay, Michael, really lovely to honor that oft-neglected aspect of the human condition…that we are vast dreamers.

    I cannot help but to wonder, however, if there is some privilege involved in becoming aware of one’s dreams and the significance they may have in one’s life, what they may tell us about our deepest subconscious symbols, fears and longings.

    I do not want to become the person that endlessly says “This is privileged! That is a privilege!” – but, it is hard not to, when so many of our ideas about healing and empowerment are, in fact, impacted by privilege and access to ideas and a culture that supports exploration, questioning, and self-actualization.

    All humans dream, and yet not all humans have the opportunities to consider what their dreams may mean or are invited to embrace the potential importance in them. True, anyone can consider their dreams and there are no barriers to the ideas and perspectives that drift around the internet and fill the shelves of libraries. Yet, many people, due to the structure and circumstances of their lives, may not be privy to dream consideration and certainly may not have access to a real live person with whom they can discuss their dreams in a therapeutic or self-actualizing process…other than themselves, of course. 🙂

    Since David brought up Maslow, it seems to fair to say, “Yeah, but…so, what is the relevance of dreams to the person trying to survive?” (This is not to say, in any way, that dreams are irrelevant to the desperate – they may be even more relevant?)

    I have to wonder though about the extent to which self-actualization seems to be a privilege in many ways…and that perhaps denial of/disparity in access to/punishment of self-actualization is at the core of many forms of human oppression.

    I do know that during my hardest times, dreams were a solace, an escape…sleep was a way out…yet, I did not want to analyze my dreams when I woke up…because I immediately had to go back to trying to survive within my waking life.

    I remember, however, that some mornings, I woke with my body and mind in the grips of a fear and anxiety state, my dreams having not been a refuge at all, but an invasive and threatening event that I did not take part in willingly.

    I have since done a lot of work on my dreams and in my dreams, finding the realms of sleep in which I am able to participate consciously… manipulating what occurs, considering what I think about it, mediating what I feel about it and the impact whatever comes up in my dreams has on me.

    Thus, I appreciate your call for more consideration of dreams in therapeutic dialogues…but, it makes me sad to know that very few have access to such spaces of loving kindness and acceptance, where they can speak without fear of what crosses their mind at the edges of sleep and waking, the places they may visit or return to behind closed eyes.

    How can we create a culture in which dreams and all our little private voyages are held as vital (and interesting and cool!) across lines of privilege, where the day laborer and the young person in public housing or the person stuck in a trailer out at the county line may be invited to hold their dreams close, too?

    As I write this, I am struck by the knowledge that most people probably do talk about and think, at least some, about their dreams…while they are getting ready for work, driving in the car, sitting quietly and having coffee…hanging out with friends in the middle of the night. There is something uniquely unifying in the fact that we all dream.

    I think it’s great that you ended this essay with the most simple and accessible suggestion: to take a moment and write down our dreams.

    While I value my dreams, and often feel that I get good work done while sleeping and drifting in a semi-wakeful state, I know that if my life were just a little different, I’d have no time for dreams and I may pronounce Jung as Jung, with a hard J.

    It is my hope that, in the slow shift in consciousness that seems to be occurring, the masses of dreamers will find what is true and vital to them. Sometimes, when I am not sure what else to do, I just hope with all my heart that the president/corporate head/warlord will dream dreams that wake them up, that remind them who they were and are as children.

    Much appreciation for the opportunity to spend some time with hope for the dreaming world.

    Note: Do you know of any studies that examine the effect of neuroleptics and other psychoactive drugs on our dream states?

    Thanks again, Michael…

  8. Note, re: “…there are no barriers to the ideas and perspectives that drift around the internet and fill the shelves of libraries.”

    This isn’t true. If you don’t have a computer, you can’t read this essay…and if you can’t read, then books filled with words are of little use.

    Fortunately, there are a lot of folk and vernacular traditions re: dreams…but, as people are coerced into trying to live the America Dream, those other ways of thinking about dreaming may die a little…?

    Then again, in my thinking about the world, the collective unconscious is a persistent presence, as are our wistful hearts, and I think all true art comes from telling of our dreams, whether the artist knows it or not…and art, especially true art, has so many forms…so many ways…

    Thanks for getting me thinking about this some.

  9. I remember reading about a culture, I think in the Pacific islands, where the first activity at breakfast in the morning was each person relating what they’d dreamed about the night before, in a very accepting atmosphere of interest. It did not surprise me that the article went on to say that these folks were among the most peaceful cultures on the planet.

    Dreams are fascinating and informative, and it’s disturbing and indicative of where we’re at as a culture that sharing of dreams has dropped out of therapeutic practice. I definitely shared dreams with my very competent therapist as a young man, and if nothing else, they gave me a clear indication of my progress in therapy. I remember one in particular, later in therapy, where I dreamed of meeting a very ugly, stupid, diseased-looking person who looked something like me. I remember seeing him and wanting to turn away, but instead, deciding to greet and embrace this “unacceptable” version of myself. It was a very powerful moment – brought Jung’s “shadow self” right to mind. I knew at that point that my therapy was drawing to a successful close.

    Thanks for reminding us of the power of our dreams. It’s interesting that “dream” is also synonymous for imagining a better future for ourselves.

    —- Steve

  10. WHAT IS ULTIMATELY DREAMING ITSELF AWAKE, INSIDE YOU?
    Please consider;

    “The notion of this universe, its heavens, hells, and everything within it, as a great dream dreamed by a single being in which all the dream characters are dreaming too, has in India enchanted and shaped the entire civilization.

    The ultimate dreamer is Vishnu floating on the cosmic Milky Ocean, couched upon the coils of the abyssal serpent Ananta, the meaning of whose name is Unending. In the foreground stand the five Pandava brothers, heroes of the epic Mahabharata, with Draupadi, their wife: allegorically, she is the mind and they are the five senses.

    They are those whom the dream is dreaming. Eyes open, ready and willing to fight, the youths address themselves to this world of light in which we stand regarding them, where objects appear to be distinct from each other, and an Aristotelian logic prevails, and A is not not-A. Behind them a dream-door has opened, however, to an inward, backward dimension where a vision emerges against darkness…” _Joseph Campbell.

    And from a neuroscience perspective, (blasphemy, to the true believers here, apparently?), although I question people’s ability to really grasp the meaning of the words “cognitive dissonance and psychological-blindness,” consider;

    Sleep, Arousal, and Mythmaking in the Brain:

    Shakespeare proposed one possible function of sleep when he suggested that it “knits up the raveled sleeve of care.” Each day our lives cycle through the master routines of sleeping, dreaming, and waking. Although we do not know for sure what the various sleep stages do for us, aside from alleviating tiredness, we do know about the brain mechanisms that generate these states.

    All of the executive structures are quite deep in the brain, some in the lower brain stem. To the best of our knowledge, however, the most influential mechanisms for slow wave sleep (SWS) are higher in the brain than the active waking mechanisms, while the executive mechanisms for REM sleep are the lowest of the three. Thus, we are forced to contemplate the strange possibility that the basic dream generators are more ancient in brain evolution than are the generators of our waking consciousness.

    The brain goes through various “state shifts” during both waking and sleep. Surprisingly, it has been more difficult for scientists to agree on the types of discrete states of waking consciousness than on those that occur during sleep. EEG clearly discriminates three global vigilance states of the nervous system–waking, SWS, and dreaming or REM sleep.

    Some people have also thought that dreaming is the crucible of madness. Many have suggested that schizophrenia reflects the release of dreaming processes into the waking state. Schizophrenics do not exhibit any more REM than normal folks, except during the evening before a “schizophrenic break,” when REM is in fact elevated.

    There seem to be two distinct worlds within our minds, like matter and antimatter, worlds that are often 180 degrees out of phase with each other. The electrical activity in the brain stem during dreaming is the mirror image of waking–the ability of certain brain areas to modulate the activity of others during waking changes from excitation to inhibition during REM. In other words, areas of the brain that facilitate behaviors in waking now inhibit those same behaviors.

    Many believe that if we understand this topsy-turvy reversal of the ruling potentials in the brain, we will better understand the nature of everyday mental realities, as well as the nature of minds that are overcome by madness. Perhaps what is now the REM state was the original form of waking consciousness in early brain evolution, when “emotionality” was more important than reason in the competition for resources.

    What a strange thing, this dreaming process, that has now been the focus of more scientific inquiry than any other intrinsic mechanism of the brain. In terms of the EEG, it looks like a waking state, but in terms of behavior it looks like flaccid paralysis. When neuronal action potentials are analyzed during the three states of vigilance (sleeping, dreaming, and waking), we generally get a picture of waking activity as accompanied by a great deal of spontaneous neural activity, with only some cells being silent, waiting for the right environmental stimulus to come along.

    Before certain critical experiments were done, it was assumed that the waking state was sustained by the bombardment of the brain by incoming stimuli from the senses and that sleep ensued only when stimulation from environment was sufficiently diminished.

    During REM sleep, most of the brain exhibits slightly more neuronal activity than during waking, with storms of intense activity sweeping through certain areas of the brain. However, many neurons that are most active during waking cease firing completely during REM.”

    Excerpts from, “Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions.” by Jaak Panksepp.

    In a recent moments of day-dreaming inspiration, I’ve written in the Joseph Campbell Mythical Roundtable facebook group, that we are all on a special 12 step program, now containing some 6 billion odd souls, and counting? The Universe perceiving and acting upon itself? Becoming eternal by evolving into a form which acts upon itself, that is.

    And what does such a view have to do with the mental health debate? IMO what is at stake here, is the meaning of being human, in the reality that psychosis, is a right of passage? A subconscious right of passage, as our evolved brain/nervous systems, needs to adopt a mature orientation to reality, as it is. Hence I find myself posting this update on my facebook wall;

    HELP BRING FORTH – REALIZATION?
    Lift the veil a little more & realize the defensive and dark side of your objective rationality. Real human intelligence is emotional, intuitive, innate and entirely creative, because that’s what mother nature and the cosmos, created you for. Too much of our so-called objective insight, is based on our instinctive need to survive, that’s all. In Silvan Tomkins brilliant work on our innate nature, he notes 9 primary affect-emotions, only 2 of which are considered entirely positive. Interest-Excitement and Enjoyment-Joy, the other seven are devoted to your immediate need to survive the possible dangers of the present moment. Going beyond this innate need of wary self-defense is what happens to all the great mystics, including Buddha, Jesus & Muhammad as they faced the nature of their own reality and transcended an innate sense of FEAR.

    In the response to my comment above, Michael writes of interpretation getting easier with age, and I agree, hence my suggestion to Chrys on another thread, that we are “idolizing” education for the sake of education, above the value of lived wisdom, which only age and experience brings. This “idolization” of our educated priesthood, has IMO, led us into our current global dilemma, and is now forcing us to mature, a little more.

    Yet does this point in human history come by way of chaos, chance and circumstance? And is the rationally oriented cause and effect, objectifying intellect, capable of grasping an “unbelievable” reality, of ALL was meant to be? Right here, right now, because this moment is and always was, Eternal? Such is the trial of the visionary mind and the existential challenge of the born to be hyper-sensitive’s, like you and me. Please consider an excerpt from my journal come memoir, currently under construction;

    Is the Unexamined Life worth Living?
    Is the Hero’s Journey, applicable to an ordinary, individual life? Please consider the Cosmic Mythology of our Evolution;

    Joseph John Campbell (March 26, 1904 – October 30, 1987) was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work is vast, covering many aspects of the human experience. His philosophy is often summarized by his phrase: “Follow your bliss.” Please consider;

    Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, or the hero’s journey, is a basic pattern that its proponents argue is found in many narratives from around the world. This widely distributed pattern was described by Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949).

    An enthusiast of novelist James Joyce, Campbell borrowed the term monomyth from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Campbell held that numerous myths from disparate times and regions share fundamental structures and stages, which he summarized in The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

    A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

    Campbell and other scholars, such as Erich Neumann, describe narratives of Gautama Buddha, Moses, and Christ in terms of the monomyth and Campbell argues that classic myths from many cultures follow this basic pattern.

    The Crossing of the First Threshold
    This is the point where the person actually crosses into the field of adventure, leaving the known limits of his or her world and venturing into an unknown and dangerous realm where the rules and limits are not known.

    Campbell: “With the personifications of his destiny to guide and aid him, the hero goes forward in his adventure until he comes to the ‘threshold guardian’ at the entrance to the zone of magnified power. Such custodians bound the world in four directions — also up and down — standing for the limits of the hero’s present sphere, or life horizon. Beyond them is darkness, the unknown and danger; just as beyond the parental watch is danger to the infant and beyond the protection of his society danger to the members of the tribe. The usual person is more than content, he is even proud, to remain within the indicated bounds, and popular belief gives him every reason to fear so much as the first step into the unexplored. The adventure is always and everywhere a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades.”

    Modern Examples: In Star Wars: A New Hope, Luke enters into the threatening and unpredictable world of the Creature Cantina in Mos Eisley. He then leaves Tatooine for the first time on the Millennium Falcon. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry defeats the troll, plunging him into a situation where he and his two companions will actively fight the darker powers, rather than simply parrying the blows. In The Lord of the Rings, Sam stops in the middle of a field and says to Frodo “If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.”

    Belly of The Whale:
    The belly of the whale represents the final separation from the hero’s known world and self. By entering this stage, the person shows willingness to undergo a metamorphosis. (recall my use of Kafka’s, The Metamorphosis in Chp 17)

    Campbell: “The idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale. The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown and would appear to have died. This popular motif gives emphasis to the lesson that the passage of the threshold is a form of self-annihilation. Instead of passing outward, beyond the confines of the visible world, the hero goes inward, to be born again. The disappearance corresponds to the passing of a worshipper into a temple—where he is to be quickened by the recollection of who and what he is, namely dust and ashes unless immortal. The temple interior, the belly of the whale, and the heavenly land beyond, above, and below the confines of the world, are one and the same.

    That is why the approaches and entrances to temples are flanked and defended by colossal gargoyles: dragons, lions, devil-slayers with drawn swords, resentful dwarfs, winged bulls. The devotee at the moment of entry into a temple undergoes a metamorphosis. Once inside he may be said to have died to time and returned to the World Womb, the World Navel, the Earthly Paradise. Allegorically, then, the passage into a temple and the hero-dive through the jaws of the whale are identical adventures, both denoting in picture language, the life-centering, life-renewing act.”

    Classical example: In the story of Dionysus, Hera sends hungry titans to devour the infant Dionysus. The Titans tore apart the child and consumed his flesh. However Dionysus’s heart is saved by Hestia, goddess of the hearth, allowing Dionysus to be reborn as a god. Jonah is swallowed by a great fish in the book of Jonah (Old Testament/Hebrew Bible).

    Modern Examples: In “Star Wars: A New Hope”, the heroes are sucked into the enemy space fortress by a tractor beam. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo is stabbed by one of the Ringwraiths; he almost dies but his life is saved by Elrond. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry enters the Forbidden Forest and discovers the presence of Voldemort, who murdered his family and almost murdered him.

    Initiation:

    The Road of Trials:
    The road of trials is a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the person must undergo to begin the transformation. Often the person fails one or more of these tests, which often occur in threes.

    Campbell: “Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials. This is a favorite phase of the myth-adventure. It has produced a world literature of miraculous tests and ordeals. The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region. Or it may be that he here discovers for the first time that there is a benign power everywhere supporting him in his superhuman passage. The original departure into the land of trials represented only the beginning of the long and really perilous path of initiatory conquests and moments of illumination. Dragons have now to be slain and surprising barriers passed — again, again, and again. Meanwhile there will be a multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land.”

    Classical Example: “In fitting in the theme of tests often occurring in threes, Jesus is tempted by Satan three times in the desert. Jesus passes each of these three temptations, and the narrative moves more firmly to Jesus’ divinity.”

    Modern Examples: In The Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship fight their way through to go through the mines of Moria, Gandalf is lost fighting the Balrog. In Star Wars: A New Hope, Luke rescues the princess from the Death Star, but Obi-wan is killed by Darth Vader. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry enters the realm of the trapdoor that’s guarded by the three-headed dog and undergoes a series of trials.

    The Meeting With the Goddess:
    This is the point when the person experiences a love that has the power and significance of the all-powerful, all encompassing, unconditional love that a fortunate infant may experience with his or her mother. This is a very important step in the process and is often represented by the person finding the other person that he or she loves most completely.

    Campbell: “The ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and ogres have been overcome, is commonly represented as a mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World. This is the crisis at the nadir, the zenith, or at the uttermost edge of the earth, at the central point of the cosmos, in the tabernacle of the temple, or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of the heart. The meeting with the goddess (who is incarnate in every woman) is the final test of the talent of the hero to win the boon of love (charity: amor fati), which is life itself enjoyed as the encasement of eternity. And when the adventurer, in this context, is not a youth but a maid, she is the one who, by her qualities, her beauty, or her yearning, is fit to become the consort of an immortal. Then the heavenly husband descends to her and conducts her to his bed—whether she will or not. And if she has shunned him, the scales fall from her eyes; if she has sought him, her desire finds its peace.”

    Modern Examples: In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry defeats Voldemort/Quirrell because touching Harry burns their flesh. The explanation that comes later is that they can’t tolerate the pure love that Harry’s mother had for him, and which protects him.

    Woman as Temptress:
    In this step, the hero faces those temptations, often of a physical or pleasurable nature, that may lead him or her to abandon or stray from his or her quest, which does not necessarily have to be represented by a woman. Woman is a metaphor for the physical or material temptations of life, since the hero-knight was often tempted by lust from his spiritual journey.

    Campbell: “The crux of the curious difficulty lies in the fact that our conscious views of what life ought to be seldom correspond to what life really is. Generally we refuse to admit within ourselves, or within our friends, the fullness of that pushing, self-protective, malodorous, carnivorous, lecherous fever which is the very nature of the organic cell. Rather, we tend to perfume, whitewash, and reinterpret; meanwhile imagining that all the flies in the ointment, all the hairs in the soup, are the faults of some unpleasant someone else. But when it suddenly dawns on us, or is forced to our attention that everything we think or do is necessarily tainted with the odor of the flesh, then, not uncommonly, there is experienced a moment of revulsion: life, the acts of life, the organs of life, woman in particular as the great symbol of life, become intolerable to the pure, the pure, pure soul. The seeker of the life beyond life must press beyond (the woman), surpass the temptations of her call, and soar to the immaculate ether beyond.”

    Modern Examples: In Star Wars: A New Hope, Han Solo claims his reward money and leaves the rebels to fight alone only to return later to save Luke’s life. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry is tempted by the Mirror of Erised as a false answer to his desires and needs. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo attempts to offer the ring to the lovely royal elf Galadriel because he believes in her power, but declines when he sees what it would do to her.”

    From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth

    IMO these age-old legends from all the worlds religions and fairy tales, are as much about our “internal” reality, as the observed “objective” reality of the material world. Hence, following my “intuitive” bliss, as Joseph Campbell suggests, I began a new blog recently;

    “2020: Project Realization. Towards a New Sense of Self & Earth. Re-Defining the Chemistry of Life’s Cosmic Nature.
    A dream. A future day when all humanity will pause to honor our ancestors in acceptance of our species destiny.
    Science continues to discover more about reality, both without & within. Reaching for a Cosmic Self-Realization?”

    http://www.2020-realization.blogspot.com.au/

    But of course, to mainstream “objective” realists, I’m just a crazy psychotic, with “unreal,” cosmic sized day-dreams? And in defense against the predictable “reactions,” rationalized as reason, towards my “reductionist” worldview;

    “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.” _Albert Einstein.

    Please consider a footnote of my own hero’s journey;

    My Personal Journey & need for Redemption:
    Since 2007, my own hero’s journey has been about family redemption. Please consider this personal correspondence with my youngest son;

    Hi Shaun, Thanks for the response, I’m really happy that we are starting to communicate like this, and I do mean it, that my “acting out,” the generational violence when you were young, sends shudders down my spine these days, and makes me feel deeply ashamed. But we all, do this, “acting out,” without consciously knowing how or why? Its been my task, since 2007, to understand this, within myself, and then explain it to others. I wrote to James previously, saying that once I published, to critical acclaim, the family’s attitude will shift, although with little ability to really understand why. The same thing happened when I built the family business, and people’s perception of me changed, even though I had not changed that much. I just brought out more of what is innate, within me, as you did, that night at Jannali, in your HSC drama performance. Its a deep source of regret for me, that both you and James, gave up your acting desires, just as it is that Matthew gave up his artistic desires, and Luke his sporting prowess.

    The two books are 1, about why so-called mental illness, is not a brain disease, and how, after 2007, I set about trying to find the scientific proofs to compliment my intuitive sense, that the medical model, is flawed. As my journey continues, and I manage myself without medications, my ability to understand and communicate that understanding to others, is growing rapidly now. Both, amongst professionals and lay people. The second book, is about our family and the generational nature of emotional coping and how it affects each new generation. In particular, its about the pivotal experience of loss, like the life I sanctioned to be aborted when your mum & I were too young to really understand just how sacred and precious, life is.

    The abortion, came through as a very strong part of the emotions, involved in my first experience of mental illness, and its possible that if we had decided to have that first child, as I wanted too, we would have had five children, 1 girl and 4 boys, just like my Grandmother. Of coarse, no one can be sure, that the first pregnancy was a girl, yet imagine what a difference a girl would have made, on both sides of our family tree? For my own mother, it would have helped to heal a childhood wound, from her abandonment, by her own mother, and for your mother, it would have allowed her and your Nan to improve the generational nature of emotional relationship. My great wish now, is to get a current, academic essay I’m working on right, and then contact an established writer to co-write a book, which will ensure its publication, by a good publishing company.

    The second book, will be about my search for redemption, in the adoption of a Thai daughter, to help bring the generational wound, to a healing completion. Hopefully, this will happen before my mother dies, and we can have the experience I saw with my Grandmother, when you were still a baby. A night in Blacktown, when her great grand children gathered around a curious old fossil, and I saw in her eyes, the meaning of life. She didn’t need money or things, or so-called success, she saw her life’s meaning, right in front of her eyes, and died knowing, just how much she’d contributed to this life, to this family. In the end, its what its all about?

    Best wishes to all,

    David Bates.

  11. To go slightly off topic, Michael wrote, ” in our strange 2013 world, where one out of four women and one out of five of all Americans are taking a prescribed psychiatric medication.” So the American Dream is now Coca Cola, Mcdonalds and Prozac.

    America is now a land ruled by Multi-national marketing depertments.

    The nightmare is complete

  12. Dear Michael,

    Thank you for this engaging essay. The only part of my practice I really miss is the Jungian work with the dreams and the sand tray and such. I built my own sand tray a few years ago, and spent several months collecting adequate numbers of all the needed figures. I had forgotten until today how fulfilling it was to make the sand tray and utilize it in practice.

    Perhaps I feel a bit inspired to revive parts of my practice in a new and evolved way thanks to your essay.

    Best regards,

    Sharon Cretsinger, XLISW
    Kent Empowerment Center, Kent, Ohio