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Down the Rabbit Hole
Paul Kiritsis, PsyD Clinical Psychology, DPhil., MA (History)


Arnold Mindell: Defining the Dreambody

Paul Kiritsis - Friday, November 02, 2012

A dream sequence

One of the most interesting people working in transpersonal psychotherapy today is New Yorker Arnold Mindell. Like a great many other advocates of the humanistic school of thought, Mindell stresses the impartial observation of processes occurring on a psychic and somatic level. “The therapist’s only tool is his ability to observe processes,” he says, emphasizing the pivotal role physiognomy and body language both play in communicating subliminal messages about the true will of the patient. This nonverbal message is pivotal in determining the environmental factors or consequences that have clogged up all viable pathways to strong, healthy relationships and plunged the individual into the depths of disillusionment, distress, and in some cases psychosomatic illness. Other than the fact that he has created a feasible, symbiotic synthesis between inner unconscious processes, symptomology, body postures, the psychology of human behaviour, quantum physics, and mysticism, perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Mindell’s highly nonconventional phenomenological approach to healing is the theorization of a dreambody.

So what exactly is a dreambody? My initial perception was that it is none other than Jung’s collective unconscious bubble wrapped in a more contemporary and flamboyant garment as to coerce the dilettante of spiritualism and those generally uninformed about psychological inquests into believing it to be an entirely new and innovative concept. In other words, Mindell is seeking intellectual exaltation for his therapeutic successes through the propagation of psychological theories already known to humanistic psychology, many of which appear to have evolved from fundamental cosmological laws intrinsic to esoteric spirituality and religion. Working with the Dreaming Body is hailed by John Rowan as Mindell’s best book yet, particularly for its practical examples of inventive adaptation of therapeutic processes to a whole continuum of psychological and somatic conditions ranging from organic illness to madness. However, in examining the five chapters entitled ‘Flashes of Insight’, ‘From Illness to Inner Development’, ‘Illness and Projection’, ‘Dreambody in Relationships’, and ‘The World as Dreambody’, it becomes patently obvious that many of the concepts that are supposed to betray the existence of a dreambody–primary (conscious) and secondary (unconscious) processes, the paradoxical double signal, psychological projection, the evolution of personal mythology, and psychosomatic symptoms that arise as a result of a disputation between conscious and unconscious mind–are anything but original. Mindell’s original contribution to the field of the transpersonal, I believe, can be safely delimited to introduction of illness and the subsequent proprioception of pain in the therapeutic process as evolutionary mechanisms through which psychospiritual development or increments in personal consciousness occur.

Anyhow, if we were to completely shy away from drawing parallels with concepts drawn from the discipline of humanistic psychology that has developed over the last century as well as with the timeless esoteric tradition, we would see that Mindell’s dreambody, an intangible, protean, and intangible noumenon that projects itself into the phenomenal world as an individual’s total and multifaceted personality, is none other than the Western notion of soul. The primary purpose of its embodiment is evolution and growth. It does this simply by maintaining an amicable and fundamentally harmonious balance between higher dynamic systems of cerebral function like mentation and consciousness, and less intricate biological ones such as those which make up the physical body. When the channels of communication between these two partners becomes blocked, severed, or disconnected, the dreambody appropriates all energetic systems of perception available to it to alert the prevailing ego, the driver in charge of the vehicle, that something isn’t quite right. These impulses of alarm will manifest through the higher telepathic channel of dream symbolism, the lower one of physical symptoms, or a combination of both. So in essence the subjective experience of nightmares and night terrors and the materialization of neurotic behaviours, tensions, pains, and other physical anomalies (mental and some physical illness) signal a detrimental shift of consciousness away from inner natural tendencies wishing to flower from the fertile humus of the personal unconscious.

According to Mindell the process of proprioception, that is, the conscious acknowledgment and amplification of these symptoms through creative visualization, active imagination, sand play therapy, Gestalt therapy, kinaesthetic and synesthetic expression, and many other therapeutic techniques aiming at deciphering vital messages from the region of soul arbitrarily relaxes the patient or sufferer in such a way that self-healing miraculously unfolds of its own accord. What Mindell is telling us is that illnesses and psychosomatic conditions are not random or chance events; on the contrary they actually serve a purpose in the context of an individual’s life journey. The efficacy of therapy in reintegrating the illness back into the total personality as an expansion of individual consciousness depends entirely on the timing and mode of proprioception. When pains and bodily sensations are brought to a conscious level and worked on after having ripened and inaugurated the requisite conditions for transformation within the psyche, healing occurs quite spontaneously. Success in practice then depends as much on timing as it does on the application of a particular technique. Whatever the case the most important thing in the reacquisition of fundamental harmony and homeostasis is that the illness is allowed to run its natural course and that the patient’s decision-making process isn’t encumbered or forced by the will of the transpersonal psychotherapist. The importance of the latter cannot be overstated because it can mean the difference between repeated success and a horrid chain of dismal failures.

As a multi-channelled and self-regulating psychic mechanism, the dreambody is also a preeminent and omnipresent channel of mysterious inner wisdom that is ready to assist at times when the Adamic state of wholeness indigenous to the human psyche is lost; it is the inner doctor, deity, shaman, guide, and daemon that implicitly manifests symptoms in a personality ready for growth and, depending on personal will and circumstance, will either assist in surmounting personal limits and increase consciousness through the subjugation of pain and subsequent healing (i.e. fragmentation and reintegration) or purposefully force the “unripe” or developmentally stagnating person into renouncing his bond with the earthbound plane by manifesting noxious psychoses and terminal illnesses. Where the problem has to do with incongruence between inner inclinations and social standards, the ailment emerges much more subtlety through double signals (saying one thing when your actions and physiognomies are implying something completely different) and neurotic behaviours.

An interesting paradox arises from Mindell’s philosophy: illnesses and pains are antagonists of good health but they’re also productive agents responsible for the transformation of personal and collective consciousness. They are a by-product of a violent chemical reaction generated when Philosophical Wetness, the uninhibited and morally neutral expression of inner natural potential meets Philosophical Dryness, the exteriorized and concretized cultural values and norms of our civilization. While the complete absence of illness might make for a uniform body of healthy physical specimens, it could very well be a monocular and shallow one severely lacking in richness and multi-coloured trajectories of creative expression and experience. As disconcerting and as uncomfortable as it makes us all feel, illness could very well be the latent mechanism possessing life from without; the difference between evolution towards immortality and devolution into torpor and chaos. It’s the demon at the route of our life problems but it’s also the salvific figure opening up the way to the kingdom of heaven. From this perspective, illness is a necessary evil.

Personally I would equate Mindell’s dreambody with Carl Jung’s collective unconscious; with Franz Anton Mesmer’s mesmeric fluid; with the Eastern concept of prana; with Democritus’s eidola; with George Ivanovich Gurdjieff’s diamond body; with Frater Albertus’s philosophical mercury; and with Daskalos’s etheric vitality. They are all variants of the metaphysical notion of ether, the vital life force akin to electricity that exists independently of animated matter and creates inimitable fields of influence against the ambient primordial matrix of fields. As an interdimensional entity in possession of dynamic modalities of self-expression like mentation and kinaesthetic activity, it cleaves its own path against the unconsciousness matrix and creates personal histories that each and every one of us identify as “I” or “me” whilst remaining fundamentally untouched by the intimate intercourse between the plasticity of the brain and its immediate environment. Furthermore, it is immortal; when the dynamic biological system through which it functions ends up malfunctioning or short-circuiting it returns to the collective and impersonal cosmic animal that esotericists call the anima mundi, the Platonic world soul. All the above mentioned concepts are basically footnotes to the metaphysical belief in a soul. Beside the change of name, the only thing that makes one different from another is the fact that each one is tailored to corroborate with the weltanschauung (German word which means complete view of reality) of each philosophical and cosmological school of thought. 

To make his theorization comprehensible to his more practical readers Arnold Mindell uses the polygonal shape and qualities of a diamond to describe the variant channels (i.e. dream, body, and world) that the dreambody may temporarily possess for the sake of bringing its imperative message to an individual’s conscious mind. At one point in his Working with the Dreaming Body book he specifically uses the words ‘diamond body’ in explicating its multifaceted workings through dream imagery, physical symptoms, psychological projections, and body language to bring about self-actualization in individuals, in other words assisting the former to realize and capitalize upon their natural inborn qualities or birth dowries. Now it appears that Julius Evola (1898-1974) and George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1877-1949) both used that descriptor as well; the first defines it as a fusion of unconscious psychic energies that can remain conscious during sleep and even after death and the second as a synthesis of inner consciousness dependent on the passage of time which bestows upon an individual the ability to survive bodily death. I anticipate that this concept was borrowed from Eastern mysticism, given that the Chinese Taoist text named The Secret of the Golden Flower also describes a ‘diamond body’ with identical functions. Whatever the case may be, Mindell’s adoption of term to concretize his theory of a dreambody pretty much verifies an unconscious link with the perpetual esoteric traditions of East and West. By unifying all these interpretations, old and new, under a single contemporary hypothesis, we could say that at higher levels of causation illness is an evolutionary and transformative mechanism which makes the permanent personality whole and its visible surface round by ensuring that potentialities relating to all natural inner inclinations are lived out in their entirety.

Of course diamonds are everlasting or as close to everlasting as you can get and so a direct juxtaposition with an intangible and entity that resists quantification would also connote an explicit desire on behalf of the theorist to draw attention to the latter’s indestructibility and immortality. Evidence to support this deduction comes to light in the ‘The Edge of Death’ chapter of Working with the Dreaming Body where Mindell differentiates between the physical container and sensory modalities through which we experience consensual reality and the evolution of a contracted consciousness which gradually bifurcates from the fate of the former. He postulates that once perceptions and impressions belonging to a permanent personality have been sharpened by a body of experiences made possible by bodily apparatuses like eyes, nose, tongue, skin, and ears, the dreambody disengages from the physical body and separate from it at will and even survive its corruption. When the latter finally transpires the dreambody undergoes an inversion, a turning inward and continues operating as a perceptive system from within the dynamic storehouse of its own memories.

This probably isn’t as outrageous or farfetched an idea as what it sounds. If we heed to all the proof pointing to the survival of consciousness then there’s no reason why the dreambody together with its multidimensional channels and proprioceptive apparatuses shouldn’t be able to survive death and return, as Mindell speculates, to a universal mother dreambody where it might deposit the results of life experiment and continue its existence there. Some thirty-five years ago, British explorer and parapsychologist Thomas Charles Lethbridge (1901-1971) conducted a nexus of careful devised scientific experiments using a pendulum which indicated, against all odds and reason, that fossilized clam shells millions of years old maintained acute memories of the sex of sea creatures that had once made their home there. How might this be possible? The only theory that seems to fit amicably with the facts is one entertaining the idea that some energy of which we are generally unaware records and preserves memories relating to earthbound incarnations and that these energies are so subtle that their detection thus far is circumscribed to only a handful of human contraptions. (In Lethbridge’s case the gyrations of a swinging pendulum which he stumbled upon completely by accident.) If memory of sex and other vital qualities continue to subsist on some ambient and primordial matrix of fields long after an organism’s spirit-force has vanished from the face of the earth, then who’s to say that our dreambodies don’t diffuse through a cosmic membrane and reorientate us to a disparate reality after our corporeal playpen expires.

What do you think?  









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