Dreambody: The Body’s Role in Revealing the Self.  By Arnold Mindell


Vol. VIII, No. 8, March 1983

Dreambody: The Body’s Role in Revealing the Self.  By Arnold Mindell. (Santa Monica, CA: Sigo Press, 1982, 219 pages.)



In a recent interview reported in Bulletin, the newsletter of the Analytical Psychology Club of Los Angeles, Jungian analyst Edward F. Edinger reflects on the farsightedness of Jung’s views. So far was he ahead of his time (five or six hundred years in Edinger’s estimation) that even Jungians are not aware of some of the implications of his writings—the product of his psychological experience. Edinger feels that he has a glimmering of what Jung was saying, and finds comfort and hope in “the power, the potency and the versatile adaptability of the dynamic of life—biological life.” Perhaps the man who has worked most consistently in this psychoid hinterland of Jungian research and therapy is Arnold Mindell, an American based in Zurich.

Over the years a number of Mindell’s articles on synchronicity and transference phenomena have appeared in Quadrant, the journal of the C. G. Jung Foundation in New York. There were references to his interest in Carlos Castaneda’s shaman hero, don Juan, in Donald Lee Williams’ excellent study, Border Crossings (Inner City Books, 1982). Dreambody, however, represents the first opportunity for readers to appreciate the full significance and scope of Mindell’s orientation—what Edinger would consider “a new world view.”

                In the opening pages of his book, Arnold Mindell suggests that Jung may have been hinting at dreambody work when he says in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, that it is necessary for the analyst to put his training and preconceptions behind him and begin anew with each patient, re-creating psychology. The irony is that it requires a high degree of discipline, experience and knowledge to do just that.

For Mindell the way was paved in part by his own illness, ten years ago, and the opportunity to work with terminally ill patients, for whom the reality of the somatic situation could not be met by psychological explanations. They only served to intellectualize the experience. It was then that he and his analysands began to let the body “speak” for itself, to amplify its symptoms which led in time to the re-formulation of the age-old concept of the dreambody. “The dreambody is a collection of energy vortices held together by the total personality.”

Dreambody work has meant for Mindell that dream exclusive of body work, or body exclusive of dream work, seem obsolete. The implications of a system which views dream and body as one process, hovering between body sensation and mythical realization are vast.

Arnold Mindell’s early training was in physics, that most rational of sciences. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, however, physics underwent a radical transformation. The mechanical laws of cause and effect which owed much to Greek thought, could not explain phenomena which were being observed at the microscopic level. The fact of observation itself effected the outcome. In other words, the search for perfect laws and unified theories was over.

By the same token, according to Mindell, when we change from real body awareness to dreambody, we must put aside real body questions. “Illness is an ego concept, a definition belonging to the realm of the real body.” Questions about the origins of disease pre-judge its nature and prejudice the experience and experiencing of the dreambody. “If we want to get at the individual roots of psychological processes we must observe the personal, changing experience of the body.”

In challenging the assumptions of Carl and Stephanie Simonton’s work with cancer patients, the openness of a dreambody approach comes into sharpest focus. The Simontons describe meditative imaginings in which medicine appears as a positive force, combatting evil cancer. With some of Mindell’s patients, the medicines are identified with evil, and the cancer with the Self.

What he is saying then is that if we are to learn from our illnesses, we must reach beyond a consciousness pre-occupied with healing. Or to phrase it more positively: “Dreambody work heals the body by relieving it from doing, and by integrating symptoms as meaningful aspects of existence.”

Perhaps the strongest analogy to dreambody work is found in the Tao which Mindell defines as a “pre-meaningful field, a sort of force operating on the personality or radiated by it.” When the individual is in touch with the body spirit of the Self, he no longer experiences himself as a particle in a field, he is that field and dances effortlessly. In common with yogic and shamanistic practices, “dreambody awareness is a preparation for death and a living confrontation with the timeless nature of the personality.”

Death also stands at the foot of the therapeutic work, in the nature of the body energy which attends the meeting between patient and analyst. When the latter experiences exhaustion or depletion, it is a sign that the patient is not addressing himself to his central problems. (Nathan Schwartz-Salant makes the same observation in Narcissism and Character Transformation. It may be that he does not want help or that help may only be found in personal relationships, or in an internal constellation of the healer. Death then as termination may lead to that experience of death beyond the opposites, where it is one with life.

Arnold Mindell is urging us to put aside our pre-conceptions, to cleanse our perceptions and trust that spark in the psyche and the body of the dreamer.


                                                                                                                                                —Alice Johnston