Some years ago I was suffering from a bout of gastritis (inflammation of stomach membranes ). For some reason I thought if I drank a lot of milk, I would get some relief. At first I thought the milk might be helping, but if it was it was working very slowly. Then one night I had a dream that lasted no more than a second. In a flash I saw a cow before me that was tied up with rope.
I woke up and immediately thought: the message here is obvious – stop drinking milk! Later that day I consulted with students of mine who were nurses; they all agreed with my take on the dream. Not a good idea to feed an inflamed gut with milk! So I quit my self-appointed milk therapy, and in a very short time the gastritis faded away.
I use the word dialogue in the title of this post. In my dream, the initiative for the ‘dialogue’ was taken by my unconscious mind. That may not be so rare. There are many cases on record when a force outside the conscious mind seems to convey a message of importance, often in strange and compelling ways. So how do we start the dialogue with our unconscious selves.
Think for a moment about the curious situation we’re all in. From moment to moment we live our conscious lives – a narrow sliver of awareness – set against the background of our subliminal mental life, a vast domain riddled with complexity. Theories of the unconscious vary, ranging from the Freudian to the Jungian and to that of Frederic Myers and contemporary writings of Adam Crabtree and James Carpenter, and no doubt many others.
We find a notion of an ongoing dynamic between our conscious and unconscious selves. Each of us is walking about, attached as it were to a hidden world whose content, dangerous forces and creative potential, we’re scarcely aware of. Breakthroughs to this hidden world may occur in therapeutic situations or other contexts of crisis like illness, psychical emergencies, or near-death experiences.
The hidden self I harbor within is a treasure-trove containing more than hints of how to deal with an attack of gastritis. I believe we can expand our sense of identity by awakening to the presence of this wider world we bear within us. We can do this by learning to talk with our subliminal selves.
Here’s one way we can start a dialogue with our creative unconscious. The core of the idea is from the Oxford philosopher, H.H.Price. Price suggests that we pose a question to our subliminal selves before we go to sleep. The question could be about anything that’s troubling us -- a practical, emotional or intellectual problem. Formulate the question, make vivid the need – and then sleep on it. You may wake up with the answer, the missing idea, the perfect phrase. Or get a reply in a dream, or notice a meaningful coincidence the following day.
One has to be specific about one’s petitions or requests from the creative unconscious. Price used his method to facilitate his writing. But it could be any ‘material’ you’re working on – your diet, relationships with people, feelings and their problems. The general idea is to try to mobilize areas of our mental life that may be poised to burst into awareness, The greater mind may be a slumbering giant, and needs us to nudge it into activity. I can say from experience that results correlate with persistence. A casual invitation to solve the mystery of your life won’t work. There has to be a real desire and genuine openness to response.
So, in sum, Price’s exercise is a way of invoking the hidden intelligence that operates apart from our conscious life. Dialogue with our creative unconscious is possible; the trick is to learn how to start the process.