It is easy to feel swamped by all of this. No wonder, then, that our consciousness takes a break, goes off-duty, or even shuts down. But our dreams never do! While our conscious minds sleep at night, our dreams serve as "sentinels," sifting back through the residue of events and characters in our past day's busy life, including all the impressions formed by events occurring in our world as brought to us by the ever-present media. That is a lot of material to be sorted through! But in addition to the feedback our dreams provide us having to do with yesterday's experiences, these night-time sentinels also continue to work through the unfinished business of our near and distant past.
So what is this information like which the dreams send us? Mainly it is in the form of symbolic images nestled within a story with a beginning, middle, and end, drawing upon the long-time heritage of our common humanity, with insights about how we might live more consciously, avoiding those situations where we get off-track, and moving toward our heart's truest desire within the circumstances we are given.
There is one more characteristic of dreams that is very important. Not only do they reveal the potential of our highest good, they also reveal those psychological complexes in which our darkest shadow operates -- often out of sight to our conscious mind.
Remember that a psychological complex is a "state of mind," a "mood," a "feeling-toned thought or action" that is distorted in some manner. The complex "comes over us" with a heavy sense of what is taken to be reality, but which in actuality is lacking in objectivity. We may even describe those states of mind with explanations like, "I am not myself today," or "I don't know what got into me," or "I sound just like my daddy" (or mother or coach, or drill sergeant, etc.).
Let me give you an example. It is an example that describes a complex which seems to occur frequently in the social/political climate of our current time. The example is embedded within the dream of a professional man, a Caucasian, past 60 years of age, married with grown children, living a routine middle-class life-style, with no outstanding conflicts in his workplace and relationships. With his permission, here is the dream as he recorded it:
I am part of a diverse group of people -- interracial, children and adults --
living in hiding within an abandoned industrial warehouse, in what seems
to be an urban cluster of such buildings. We believe it would be very
dangerous to be found out by the people of this area who live in the
vicinity of our warehouse hiding place. Two of our young males, Caucasian
in their 20s, go outside. I am uncertain why they do this. We ask them not
to do it. But they go anyway, either because they feel a desperate need to
escape our self-imposed confinement, or because they intend to gather
information and/or resources from the people outside. There appears to be
a small grassy park in which people have gathered on a sunny day, playing
games, laughing and enjoying themselves. Our two group members return
after a period of two to three hours, slipping in, they believe, unnoticed.
As twilight draws near, our group sets a common table with food and drink
for the evening meal. Just as we sit down and begin to eat, there is a knock
on the door to our left, the door our two members had used to go outside
and return. Had they been spotted? We are alarmed and send a member to go
upstairs where he can observe unseen the outside yard our door faces. Rushing
back down, our observer tells us a crowd is gathering outside the door and is
growing. We have no time. We leave the table and food as they are. We load
into a Trailways-like bus we have made available in the event we needed to
leave the warehouse. Children and adults take their seats. People trained in
firing automatic rifles sit next to the side windows. We prepare to exit a
large door on the side of the building away from the crowd. The door opens... .
What are we to make of this frightening dream? When I asked the dreamer, he had no answer. Neither did I. He had no enemies that he was aware of; he lived in a comfortable, peaceful neighborhood, and no one in his family appeared to be in danger.
So where is the disturbance in his psyche? Looking for clues, we begin with his associations to the images in the dream:
- the abandoned industrial warehouse. Immediately something very important surfaces. It is a "complex," is it not, meaning a structure within a web of urban buildings. But this makes us suspicious that it is also a psychological complex. Therefore, my question at that point was to ask him his associations to the old industrial complex now abandoned. And that brought him to reflect upon the many such buildings/factories abandoned in the many towns where businesses have left, either because they have been transferred overseas or because the products they produced are no longer used in our post-industrial society. In fact, as of the date of our 2008 recession, 42,400 factories in the US had shut their doors (The American Prospect).
- the experience of the crowd gathering outside the warehouse. Actually, no specific threat had ever appeared in his dream images, no guns except for those getting on the bus. There were no bellicose threats from outside. In fact, the people outside had earlier appeared to be laughing and playing on a beautiful day. In other words, the dreamer has no specific information about how or why the group would be a threat, but still he held a terrifying sense of danger, both within the dream and even as he shared it with me. (We will have to go deeper into his associations to understand his sense of danger. See below.)
- the isolation of the dreamer's group and the fear of those outside. To this image, the dreamer associated what he described as a growing tribalism in the world as well as the much blown-up talk here in the US, about building a wall and enacting laws to shut out immigrants.
- the use of weapons to defend themselves. The dreamer talked about the media's report of increasing tensions with Russia, the war in Syria, the belligerence of terrorist groups such as ISIS, and particularly the prospect of nuclear war with North Korea.
- the uncertainty with which the dream ends in light of a fear of being attacked and destroyed. This moved the dreamer toward deeper reflections of what he described as a dark cloud that hangs over the world, in fact, in his words: "the end of the world as we know it."
And with this last association, it became clear that both the dreamer and I shared a "felt sense" of a kind of impending doom, the end of life as we have known it, or "the end of the world."
But this is a complex, not only a personal psychological complex but a cultural complex as well. In other words, the dream does not mean the world is coming to an end, but rather that there is a mood, a feeling, a felt sense that the end is near. It is an inner experience that is shared by a great number of people and hence may be referred to as a cultural complex.
Where does such a complex come from? Think about it.
The TV evangelists fill our airways and fill our bookstores with this old religious doctrine that a day of judgment is imminent, the end of days, the Second Coming, the end of the world. You have probably heard some preacher predict such an event, specifying a date, and exhorting everyone to prepare for it, but as of this writing such an end of the world has not occurred. Still the damage has been done. A toxic fog of apocalypticism distorts any objective view of the world.
This idea of the imminent end of the world is not unique to Christianity. You can find it also in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Bahai, and many sects. It is an archetypal theme that appears especially in stressful times of transition because, during those times, usually something is coming to an end. Our old world of people, places, and experiences always comes to an end of sorts.
But think also about the damage we have done to the planet with our cavalier attitude of profits at any cost, with little consideration for the environment, our towns and workers who are neglected in the rush to maximize corporate gain. "We owe it to our stockholders to do what is necessary to ensure growth": that has become our mantra for doing business.
And, of course, there are moments in human history when great catastrophes do occur. It is not a complex for the people of Syria that their world is ending. And it is not a psychological complex that the insane happenings with nuclear powers today could set off a chain reaction that ends our civilization. However, it is when these catastrophes are intermingled with a fanatical apocalypticism and corporate greed that an explosive critical mass threatens the world.
Here is the warning and the meaning of the dream above. It is far less likely that the world will be brought to an end if we are able to distinguish our inner fears and tribal paranoia from outer realities. It is our fate that the inner dramas of which we are unconscious may become the very dramas we live out in the world.
The psychological complex of "the end of the world," is only that -- a complex. But if it is not made conscious, then the inner terror may be acted out in ways that evoke a self-fulfilling prophecy. And that is the greatest danger in our world today.