Dreams and Systems Theory, pt. 1

A woman dreamt that she was standing near a low sea wall and the ocean tide began to rise. Waves began to lap over the top of the wall. So she laid a row of stones along the top of the wall, which took care of the problem...until the tide rose even further. She continued to lay additional layers of stone until the wall was 10 feet tall. Still, the tide rose, until waves were breaking over the top of the wall.

In systems theory, this is called a runaway dynamic. It escalates until the system breaks down. We've all experienced it in various relationships in which two parties hold on to their respective positions, while the situation only gets worse. In theory, it's based on the premise articulated by Einstein, who defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result."

This is not only a dynamic between people, but it's a familiar dynamic WITHIN the psyche and in the confines of the dream. Indeed, we are often fighting battles to resist the expression of some legitimate urge or awareness, and only making it worse, because the "solution" that we impose only resists the expression of something that will not cease and desist. Finally, our efforts go bankrupt, and things usually get better (after the crisis is over!).

In co-creative dream theory, upon which the FiveStar Method is based, the dream is, simply put, a relational field, in which the dreamer interacts with a variety of aspects of self and others toward eventual integration, as the positions expressed by both clash, enter into dialogue, and eventually synthesize into new identity. Hegel is known for his elegant formula for the evolution of consciousness: "thesis, antithesis, synthesis." One can observe this process occurring in all areas of life, especially in dreams where unfinished business, orphaned aspects of self, and legitimate others (of indeterminate origin) enter into our psychic field and clamor for attention in the spirit of enlarging our perspective on life. Fortunately, the tide keeps rising no matter how committed we are to "non-solutions," that is, the repetition of self-preserving actions meant to end the conflict.

In our relational work with dreams, (See Step 3 in the FSM), we become sensitized to runaway dynamics, and thereby coach dreamers toward adopting more adaptive responses to the challenges presented. If the dreamer in the above dream had stopped building the seawall, she would have never faced the prospect of a cataclysmic collapse. The water would have flowed over her boundaries at a lower level of intensity, and she may have even enjoyed it! But dreamers tend to repeat old patterns which simply make the situation progressively worse.

Most of what we resist would fulfill us if we let it. That's the good news that we can bring into to our work with dreamers, who tend to view challenges through the narrow aperture of the ego's status quo. Fear and habit keeps us from receiving the gifts the dream brings us. Until we shift our perspective, the dream will do us a favor by ramping up the intensity of the encounter until we see the light of a new way of responding. The FSM is designed to encourage dreamers to perceive the oft-unacknowledged gifts of our dreams, and to welcome them.

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