Updated: Apr 24, 2020
“Opinions are like arseholes: everybody has one!” I don’t know where I read that, but I try to always keep it in mind, especially when I’m putting across my take on something. I seek out ‘facts’ but real facts are hard to come by: they can change when we look at them in a different light, just as statistics can change when we cut the data differently. I enjoyed Matthew Parris’ article in the Spectator (18th April ed) on how we are all guilty of recruiting this virus to our own cause ….and I find another reason for me to not write anything. Yet, as we go deeper into lock down in the UK for another three weeks, I can’t help feeling this time is too important not to explore some of my own reaction and thought.
Physicist, Psychoanalyst and founder of Process Oriented Psychology (or Processwork), Arnold Mindell, talks about the role dreaming plays in personal and world experiences. To explain dreaming in this context, while people generally share consensus reality – things we can all agree on in our everyday world such as ‘we have a pandemic on our hands: fact’ - there is another order of reality going on as well which is dreaming. Consensus reality (CR) is rather like the visible part of an iceberg – the bit we can all see - and although we might see it from different angles, we can agree it is there. Under the surface of the water is our dreaming, a personal reality imbued with symbolic meaning. This reality is harder for people to agree on and is generally not so accessible to our rational, waking mind. As with our night time dreams, our dreaming reality may seem irrational. Our dreaming manifests through body symptoms, disturbances of all kinds – including COVID-19, irrational feelings and symbolic awareness - a sort of dream like connecting of apparently unconnected things. For example, when I leave the house for my daily exercise, I am struck by all the rainbows I see stuck in windows and chalked on pavements and walls and I feel hopeful. It is not rational exactly, it just is. The rainbows access a different me, one lost in colour and confident childlike marks, one that is connected to symbol. It is not consensus reality and I can’t explain it. The dreaming is all around if we allow ourselves to notice it but is best accessed through half closed eyes, noticing far off sounds, smells, feelings and intuitions or through the darkness of our bodies. Poems access the dreaming and our night time dreams are fully in it. It’s a different order of reality but it is, nonetheless, reality.
Mindell also talks about entanglement: how we are all entangled with each other and this earth; how our individual experiences and dreaming are relevant and important beyond us as individuals; how there is no such thing as ‘just me’. Our dreaming is connected, each to all and all to each. Our dreaming operates outside of our conscious intentions and can make moods, cause accidents, illness, pain, love or anything else. COVID-19 is fully part of our personal and collective dreaming experience in that it is touching us all. It’s not rational, it just is. To pay attention to it at the dreaming level is to open our minds to the irrational in the name of deepening our understanding of ourselves and our universe. Our scientists know the existence of very many orders of reality and of the limits of our knowledge. To wit Einstein famously championed the imagination over knowledge, which for a scientist, seems odd to our rational minds. As Mindell has pointed out, 96% of the universe is what is termed ‘dark matter’ as in not known or understood. Yet, he says, ‘we act so smart!’. So, let’s leave behind the rational and give airtime to the dreaming and let’s see where it gets us.
So how do we do it?
We have to start by paying attention to ourselves and what stands out to us, however irrational, or self-centred it feels. We can’t think this thing through – the rational mind is too all controlling – but we can feel it through. We can follow our body symptoms, feel our feelings, make notes, journal, observe, welcome the symbolic order of things and let go of the need for rational explanations and live instead with the Schrodinger’s cat of ‘both - and’’, however contradictory it makes things feel. We need to let go of having to be right and start to get interested in deepening our understanding and experience instead. With COVID-19, I am very glad to say I have not experienced it, and nor do I wish to, but I can notice how it is affecting my life. Which bits of me am I censoring, what am I not allowed to feel? That happiness when I see the rainbows? Is that allowed? Explore that feeling.
Of course, nobody could possibly hope to teach Processwork practice in a tiny, amateur, article. For most of us it will be a lifetime’s work to improve and deepen our practice. For interested people I can recommend any of Mindell’s books. What is worth noting however, is that the strangeness of this time lends itself to a receptiveness to a different order of things. Try accessing the dreaming level through whatever means you can. Cut up words and pull them out randomly to make a poem. Dance. Lie down when you feel like it and notice what your body tells you. Draw or ‘take a line for a walk’ (to quote Artist Paul Klee). If you have access to nature, get in it and really notice it. If you don’t have access to nature, notice the quality of the environment you are in. The way the curtain falls, the shadows, the patterns hidden in the knots of your wooden kitchen table, any noises or sensations at the edge of your awareness. Explore all these and go deep. See what comes back to you when you reach out and explore.
Consensus reality and dreaming is not all, of course: our iceberg floats in an ocean, a great and mysterious force that is furthest from our awareness but is all around us, moves us and moves all of life. This is Mindell’s Processmind, akin to C G Jung’s ‘Self’. Some people call it God. But I am not going there today!
My message is that the meaning of this extraordinary time needs exploring at the dreaming level. Some of us have the opportunity to spend some time out of our usual consensus reality spheres making this an ideal opportunity. We don’t know what the future holds. Add climate chaos to pandemics and our current situation looks mild by comparison to what we may experience in future. It would be a terrible waste if we didn’t use this time to explore a different order of reality.