Dream Function as Desire Organization

Portraits and Desire (Qin Feng)

Portraits and Desire (Qin Feng)

Next week I will be launching a new project, Exploring the Self: From Being to Becoming, which is aiming to use great philosophy as a tool to help us move towards a knowledge of self that is aligned with the truth of our desire. The tools developed in this course are designed to be iterable, meaning that they can be applied multiple times throughout the course of a life history. The path of becoming is non-linear, and as a consequence, we may have to re-orient and re-organize our direction several times throughout the course of development.

In my life I had perhaps my most profound transformation, or at least one of my most profound transformations (in terms of orientation and organisation), when I transitioned my focus from athletics to academics. In this transformation the symbolic dimension of my identity (my self, “Cadell”), became oriented and organised in relationship to a different dream structure. In my athletics mode, the dream that motivated my symbolic identity was filled with images of becoming a professional athlete. I dreamed of being a professional baseball, football or basketball player, starring for my home town team, destined to be recognised as one of the greatest players of all time. I would live out versions of this dream everyday on the baseball diamond, football field or basketball court; while I was working out; while I was playing or watching sports with friends; or while I was playing video games.

However, a “little piece of the real” (obstacle, blockage, tension) eventually forced me to reconsider the reality of this dream and the images associated with its actualisation. I excelled as an athlete at the high school level but it was unlikely and improbable that this excellence would carry me further into the collegiate or pro sports level. No matter my work ethic or perseverance, this dream was just that, an image which lacked deeper substance. This forced upon me the recognition that my identity would need to transform, and I would need a new orientation, a new organization.

In this process of transformation my mind opened from its previous closed tunnel vision. What were the possibilities before me? What did I really want in my life? How could I know what I would really excel at?

This open exploration led me into a reflection on my self and my world, and I started to stumble into psychology and sociology and the knowledge that these subjects provided for my reflection. I started to fall down the rabbit hole of self understanding and this proved to be as engaging for my mind as sports had been for my body. I wondered more and more about existence and reality and humanity. Soon I was obsessed and I started taking all different forms of courses from physics to philosophy.

After sufficient exposure to the greatest thinkers in our history, (I remember being first attracted to figures like Epicurus, Buddha, Charles Darwin, Jane Goodall, Carl Sagan, to name a few), a new dream appeared and started to take shape. This dream was not a dream of being recognised as a pro athlete, but being recognised for being a great thinker, for being a thinker that, like the previously mentioned figures, had made a substantial contribution to our understanding of the world. Whether that was in the Epicurean life philosophy, Buddhist spiritual revelation, Darwinian mechanistic explanation, Goodallian adventurous drive, or Saganian poetic cosmic visioning, I saw my self as someone capable of participating in this long human tradition.

The dream that specifically took form for me was in relation to trying to understand the meaning of the future of human existence by combining an understanding of evolutionary process, pragmatic life philosophy, deep spiritual knowing, real spontaneous adventure, and big picture thinking. In my mind I imagined making a big discovery that transformed the way we understand our place in the world, I imagined going through all of the personal and professional struggles that would result from such a transformation, I imagined spending hours upon hours writing up my results in a thick manuscript, and I imagined eventually being recognised for this achievement and contribution.

Now, more than 10 years after this dream took hold of my identity, I can say that I stand in a strange position of having brought this vision to life. I have just completed a PhD that focused on the future of humanity. In this work I develop a new theory of human evolution that has direct application and relevance to pragmatic life philosophy, to spiritual knowing, future adventure, and the big picture of humanity’s destiny. Everything I imagined all those years ago, including transforming the way I understand the world, going through deep personal and professional struggles, spending hours writing a thick manuscript, and eventually being recognised by other great thinkers, has come to pass.

What can I learn and share from such a meta-reflection on self process? The first thing I would note is that the dream images do not do the work for you. Anyone can have dreams and everyone does have dreams. The question is the way in which they function to orient and organise actual symbolic-material practices (writing, drawing, speaking, and other day-to-day activities). The way in which these symbolic-material practices are structured are in essence the “gravitational weight” (to use a perhaps useful metaphor) of a subject’s historical action. However, the dream does have a utility and a clear function that may not be simply something we should “deconstruct”.

Of course, images can blind, can distort, and can lead one down a path unconsciously that is actually detrimental or harmful to the search for truth. If my identity had been so trapped in the image of being a pro sports athlete that I could not let it go, even if my material reality reflected a totally other picture, then I could have been totally ruined by the illusion, and perhaps even suffer significant mental health issues, extreme anxiety and depression, from which I would never escape. I could live my entire life in a state of melancholy for the dream-that-never-came-to-pass. I could live my entire life looking for revenge at the world that had wronged me and that had prevented me from achieving my dream.

On the other hand, images can give a new possibility, can organise a new identity, and can lead to a new structure of motivation that allows one self to achieve something that was unthinkable for a previous formation of the identity. When my identity accepted the loss of the pro athlete image and when my identity openly searched for a new trajectory, there was a rough transition, but it was a transition that, in the end, proved to be a new liberation. In this sense the goal is not to find a state of being where one has no more images or illusions, but to cultivate a praxis of becoming where the image serves a true becoming.

I say all of this because now a certain dream structure in my self has actualized its potential. The path has had its many ups and downs, as all adventures do, but the real task is now before me to confront a new transformation. Does the dream I am currently holding serve my becoming? Does the dream that is currently orienting and organising my symbolic motion still the dream that I need to carry me into new depths of truth in self becoming? For me, at the moment, that is an open question. However, I feel a similar motion is possible now to the one I underwent all those years ago. I see my identity looking for new possibilities and trajectories, ultimately new horizons. What will such a search bring? What new dreams are possible for my identity? How will they serve me and others?

This is, in the end, the purpose of the new course I am launching, Exploring the Self: From Being to Becoming. If you are interested to learn more and join, we start April 9th (Late Registration until April 14th)..