Sansaku: St. Augustine
“Thank God, I’m not responsible for my dreams.” St. Augustine
After I wrote that sansaku about Muriel, the psychoanalyst I met in the elder hostel dream class, I went looking through my notes on Freud, to see what kind of a fool I’d been back then. It wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.
When I was studying economics in graduate school, I had a professor who was big on both Freud and Marx. He said that the discovery of the unconscious and ideology marked the end of the enlightenment. He said they destroyed our assumption of rationality.
It doesn’t mean that we’re not rational; it means we have a dark side, and it’s of paramount importance that we know this. And the more we believe we know, the darker the shadow.
That was forty years ago and things haven’t changed. The whole world seems to be saying, “Thank God, I’m not responsible for my dreams.” We still have trouble with the truth.
One of the ideas Freud began with is the simple fact that the world does not conform to our wishes, and the dream is an attempt to remold reality nearer to the heart’s desire. He wrote, “The motive for a dream is the wish, and the content of the dream is its fulfillment.”
But there’s a problem with this. While we think we know ourselves, we don’t. Many of our wishes go against our values and counter our personal and social beliefs. And these impulses are there, whether we want them or not. St. Augustine didn’t want them either.
And just because we’ve censored and suppressed some of these troublesome wishes, doesn’t mean they’ve gone away. In fact, when they’ve been “successfully” repressed, things get really weird.
He believed the more we repressed something, the greater the energy charge. And since the energy needed to be released and dissipated, it was up to the dream to do this. Two of the more problematic repressions were sex and aggression. Just turn on the news.
If St. Augustine was doing his best to be a good Christian, you can well imagine what kind of dreams he struggled with. I’m betting they were plenty lascivious and none too gentle and meek.
Because these wishes and impulses argue against our self-conceptions, they are often disguised and distorted. Freud called this the neurotic symptom or reaction formation. In other words, when we don’t face a problem directly, the attempted cure becomes the problem. Now we have two problems.
For example, and I’m guessing, St. Augustine’s going to continue to be horny and pissed off. He might also get righteous and judgmental about those who don’t properly repress. And now that the devil’s out there, watch out. It can justify all kinds of violence.
With this understanding, Freud realized there was much method to madness, and the bizarre twists of both mental illness and dreams began to make sense.
It turned out, and it shouldn’t be much of a surprise, that this rather obvious fact is hard for most people to swallow. Instead of seeing how we’re subject to these deceptions and owning up to them, most of us go with St. Augustine.