Control Of Sexual Dreams
( Originally Published 1940 )
It is a pity that all these measures of self-control should be entirely ineffectual at night, in the realm of dreams, where the sexual obtrudes itself more than at other times. And yet our sleep occupies about a third of our whole existence.
Oh, how these dreams can excite us and torment us! They leave us no rest, and lead us during sleep to the most riotous phantasies, to extremes of exaggeration. In our dreams we are already gay and experienced Don Juans, before we have ever really slipped from the path of virtue, and we do the most stupid things in the sexual province before we have really performed even the most reason-able acts; phantasies that are felt so deeply and vividly that when we awake we are still quite under their influence, curious, crazy ideas; in short, a school of the devil.
But it is nothing of the sort! First of all it is not the dreams which excite us sexually of a night, but on the contrary our sexuality which finds its expression in our dreams. Dreams are therefore a school for self-knowledge. Through them alone can we trace the violent congestive phenomena which stirs us inwardly during the night.
These congestive phenomena have a certain periodicity. Every morning when we begin our work the blood pressure rises in the organs involved, whether it be muscles or the brain. At dinnertime the venous congestion is localised a little lower down in the body, that is to say, in the stomach and intestines for digestion. And during the night still a little lower, in the lower portion of the spinal column and in our sexual organs; and these latter may also suffer from a local stimulus such as a too warm bed, a flea, or a desire to urinate, etc.
Thus our dreams are dependent on fixed laws and subject to the chain of cause and effect. The more we study these laws, the more the whole magic play of the dream-life is revealed to us as an unveiled mystery, most instructive as a mighty adjuvant to self-control.
But we must now go a little more deeply into the subject, for it concerns the most delicate secrets of our psychic life. We have accustomed ourselves, with well pretended self-conceit, too much to thinking that consciousness rules in us. But nothing is more erroneous. Consciousness does not include one-tenth of our life, not one thousandth or one ten-thousandth part of it! Just think! All of these millions of microscopic cells that constitute our body have their own life-history, their daily adventures and surprises, their metabolism, oxidation and secretion; and no trace of this penetrates to our consciousness. At the most we become indirectly aware of it when it is shown chemically or microscopically by science.
This realistic, so-called dramatised character of our dreams, also plays a very prominent part in our sexual life. Especially in the sexual province there slumber in our psyche many desires and fears the consequences of which are often artificially repressed, and which on that account, are by no means obliterated when we retire to rest. If we then experience erotic dreams, we feel an awakening exactly as if we had really performed the actions depicted. So our sexual life is revealed to us in dreams, even when everything sexual has been concealed from us during our education. Nature teaches us her secrets naively and innocently in our dreams. So she points out to us the sexual path, and we are consistently stimulated to the exercise of sexual functions; for a mental image, and especially such a vivid one, predisposes us to actual deeds.
This is one of the most dangerous factors in our lives, through which the door leading to debauchery may easily be opened. Lucky is he who has parents and friends with whom he can speak freely on all subjects, so that they can correct for him what is defective in the teachings of Nature. For all the errors of youthful fancy also become dramatised in our dreams. And if in our dreams we do things of which we ourselves stand in horror, this experience must warn us how far we may stray, if we cannot master our serial urge.
Thus I remember once, when the ordinary causes of troubled dreams, such as indigestion and alcoholic drinks were carefully excluded, I experienced a remarkable oppression and feeling of anxiety in a dream, and thus was led to suspect traces of carbon monoxide gas in the bedroom, coming from a stove or a leaky gas-pipe, so slight that when awake I certainly should not have perceived them. And later on, when central heating and electric light had superseded the old-fashioned systems, I could gauge the freshness of the air in my bedroom from the nature of my dreams. If I dreamt of a scene in a closed room in which I felt hemmed in and oppressed; it was because the atmosphere was not very pure; but if I dreamt of an icy wind blowing over an endless waste of water, that indicated that the windows were open too wide.
So dreams may be revelations to us not only, of what is already living in our memory as an after-image, but also of what is in the hygienic sense an actual menace to our health or even to our lives.
If in the day-time we really act on the hygienic warnings which have been whispered to us in the stilly night, we shall soon observe that even in the day-time the same causes produce the same effects as when we feel them in dreams, and how greatly also our unconscious disposition may be improved during the day by these lessons, otherwise we might have remained all day irritable and cross, bewildered by the thousand-fold influences of daily life, without knowing the real reason. And now we can better understand why one man feels so much more happy and lively than another; our dreams can show us the right way in this respect.
Amongst the actual influences of our own body which force themselves upon us during sleep the most prominent are the congestive and secretory processes in our sexual sphere. Thus we not only perceive in our dreams the after-images of sexual desires and fears of the day but also the real ones which are manifest during sleep, when the sexual urge makes itself felt most strongly. So there is a double reason why the sexual demon tries us so severely in our sleep, and does not let even St. Anthony rest.
Are we then defenceless and powerless before these sexual impulses, which are even further dramatised in our dreams?-Ideas which predispose us to the worst follies and errors? No, for here also there is a chain of causes and effects, and so we can Iearn to control this sphere, if, rendered wiser by our own experience and through our dreams, we can discover the influences which cause sexual over-stimulation, e.g., foods and drinks, spices, night-clothes, etc., so that we can avoid them in future. This all depends so much on individual feeling and is so difficult to check in the daytime, that after all, it is only our dreams that can point out the right way.
The more we learn to recognise these causes, the better we shall be able to consciously avoid them, and thus to control not only our sexual life, but in time, our erotic dreams as well. Only the normal urge will remain. Fortunately so, for it must persist because so much energy is thus created. But this normal urge will be ennobled. For the more observant we are of all these hygienic influences and the purer the atmosphere in which we live and sleep, the purer will be our dreams at night and our tendencies during the day. Our whole sexual life will take on a kinder and purer character, the more we listen to the teaching which Nature reveals to us in our dreams.