Cats and dogs and flying crabs

I’ve been rereading John Sarno’s “The Divided Mind” — a book I commented on here when I first passed through it. The book’s fundamental argument is that a lot of physical pain has roots in the emotions of the psyche. As such, there’s a lot of Freudian ideas at play. In one section, a psychotherapist who has worked with Sarno describes the dream of one of his patients…

One day James told me of a dream that had a very different feel to it. He was chasing a crab that was flying around the room, with the intent of killing it with a knife. He finally succeeded in killing it. He remembered that there was also a cat and a mouse in the room, but they disappeared early in the dream. With regard to TMS*, the crab could be a metaphor for the hard, outer shell, symbolically representing pain, other physical symptoms, and/or anxiety that were covering up and protecting him from vulnerable, inner emotions. In addition, he thought that the cat and mouse might symbolize his father and mother.

*This stands for tension myositis syndrome which is the aforementioned “pain caused by emotions” theory.

I’ve always had a bit of trouble with this kind of Jungian dream analysis. “How can the unconscious understand the crab as a metaphor for an emotional outer shell?” I find myself asking. In fact, how can the unconscious understand any metaphor? But, as I think about it, if the conscious brain can understand metaphor, why not the unconscious? Why wouldn’t it have access to at least some of the same tools as the conscious brain? Clearly the conscious brain can understand and use metaphor, as well as a host of other literary techniques, as can be seen by reading any book of poetry or literature.

And something else struck me. I’ve argued in my “what is creativity?” article, that a lot of creativity is really about the unconscious handing off ideas to the conscious. This is why, for example, many people, including myself, seem particularly creative in the morning, during that “still waking up” period. So, a lot of your great creative ideas come not from your conscious brain, but your unconscious. And as such, it should be no surprise that the unconscious could wield metaphors. Perhaps many of the great metaphors in numerous human art forms really originally came from the originator’s unconscious.

I’m considering that my original supposition, that only the conscious brain could wield metaphor, has it exactly backwards. Maybe it’s only the unconscious that can use such tools.

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