by Richard Wilkerson


“The Dreambody itself hovers between body sensation and mythic visualization.”

Working in a parallel realm with Gendlin’s process psychology is the work of Arnold Mindell. In Mindell’s work the body is again seen as a centering focus and the “felt sense” is recognized as a process that continues all the time, waking or sleeping anand is called the dreambody. This dreambody process takes cues from the whole organism, from many channels, and moves and flows like a river in a circle. When this flow is blocked, the dreambody shifts into another channel and continues to move. This unending movement continues into sleep and the literal dream unfolds this multichannelled process.

Mindell feels that sickness comes from the blocked flow of the dreambody and that our symptoms are an attempt on the part of the dreambody to carry the message of the block forward into consciousness (Mindell, 1982). If we can consciously act the message out, then we may not have to carry the sick message any longer. How to carry this message out and get the flow going Z again becomes a creative and intuitive act in Mindell’s work that may be seen as a larger stage of Eugene Gendlin’s system.

While Gendlin begins directly with the body and feelings, Mindell is willing to start wherever the symptom manifests. With some it may be a dream image, for others an unconscious twitch, for another a stomach ache or disease. Mindell watches the way th person tells the story and focuses particular attention on the half conscious gestures and bodily movements (What Mindell terms “Secondary Processes”). Thus Mindell picks up up on what seems to be trying to happen. Is the person gesturing wildly while telling the story? Are they sitting with arms crossed in a restricted position? Do they lick their lips all the time? Rather than just interpret this back to the patient, Mindell has them amplify and carry forward the pattern. With Gestalt work like this, the focus is in bringing about a cathartic shift out of animplosive emotional layer, but with Mindell, the point cannot be pre-determined, and following the process leads to unexpected shifts. At one moment the channel may be a sore arm, while the next may be a dream memory of a lost child.

However, like Gendlin,Mindell is sensitive to these shifts and, like Gendlin, recognizes them as valuable. (Mindell, 1985a) Generally these shifts just feel like a release and we sink into a state of relaxation and just experiencing the newness and shift-release passively. Mindell sees that the felt-sense at this point can be vital and powerful, like a genie just released from a bottle. We get in the habit of identifying with the main process and let much of the vitality and energy in life slip away by being so stuck in what Mindell calls our Primary Process. (Not the same as Freud’s primary and secondaryprocess, where primary process thinking is magical, like the dreamwork and secondary process thinking is logical,reasonable). One of the most creative aspects of Mindell’s work and writing is taking this process psychology and overlaying it in other systems of thought, like Taoism, Buddhism, Alchemy, Jungianism, Mythological studies, World and Social relations.

What is interesting to us here is that the focus on these shifts and secondary processes are seen by Mindell as mirrored in dreams:

“…the evolution which results from amplifying primary and secondary processes is always mirrored in dreams. Thus, process work is living dreamwork in the sense that when we work with the total process of an individual, we are working with his dreams. This discovery gives rise to the concept of the dreambody, namely the idea that your secondary body processes such as illnesses and symptoms appear in dreams. Moreover, since secondary processes can appear in the form of double signals we can see the dreaming process in others as well and even guess their dreams.” (Mindell,1985b pg 27 River’s Way)

This is of interest to dreamers and another answer to how to work with oneself without getting totally fooled by one’s own unconscious. Since we tend to have edges, places where we have learned by habit not to trespass, we need some way to have those pointed out if the flow of the dreambody is to be smooth. Dreams, according to Mindell, hang out at these edges (limitations in awareness) and by amplifying the icky stuff, we begin to allow the stopped up flow to begin to dream again. However, he really offers no dream technique outside of going with the flow. If a person seems to associate while telling dreams, Mindell wiII encourage the person to associate more. If the person dialogues with dream characters, Mindell will encourage Gestalt dialogue. If the person gestures, then dramatization may be called for.

“I do not deal with dreams. I deal with the dreaming processes. Thus, I hold that I have no dream theory. The method which has proved most exciting, useful and practical in everyday work with dreams is to follow the unknown.” Mindell(1990, pg 89-90) While it is true that Mindell really has no dream theory, he does have some suggestions for dream work which I will paraphrase here. Generally the process is one of simply using your own techniques and strengths and carrying the dream image forward. Breakthroughs and releases are
nice, but this is just where the beginning.

1. What does the word “dream” mean to you? What do you assume about dreams and dreaming? Listen to your internal processanswer. Jot down some notes or draw a picture or do a dance.

2. Note the Edges in your dream- where do you want to get away? Who is the worst person in the dreams? What would you prefer no one knew about? What wouId you prefer to stay away from? How do the edges organize your dreams and how you process them?

3. Work with the dream in a way your feel comfortable or a way the dream seems to be indicating. Amplify, exaggerate and be playful with the imagery.

4.. Change channels. If you have been thinking about the dream, try acting or painting. If you have been sitting, move around. If you have been talking with an inner other, just listen without judging. If you have been just meditating, try making a statement out loud about the value of the dream.

5. Victim Identity Check. Are you being hard on yourself? Sometimes we get identified with just one part of the dream and then onIy that part gets attention. If that part is a harsh or persecuting part, then as Mindell says” your inner work will hurt you; you are not working on your parts, a part is working on you.”

6. Where in the Body is the Dream? Take a piece of the dream – an image — and locate that image in your body. Where is it? Does it stay there once you have located it? Try finding where other parts of the dream image are in your body.

Are there limitations to this work? The most often cited (Shafton, 1995) is that Mindell turns all illness into an opportunity i: for growth, all sickness as a message from the self to shift directions. This puts a great deal of guilt on the sick person who often is at the end of his/her rope already and may need something other than amplification of the illness. And I’d like to add to this that the whole project is situated in the realm of sickness and health, which is only one paradigm of existence. All edges become something ill that must be treated or we risk our chance at being whole healthy human beings.


Clearly one of the most neglected aspects of dreamwork is the use and role of the body as a feedback system. In the West we have learned to listen to sounds outside of ourselves to survive the Urban Jungle. But just as dreams are an attempt to address this gap, so to is the body as a feedback system and imaginal ecology of itsown. In our attempt to recover our own centers of meaning and value, the body is a key player and offers grounding for intuition and feeling. It isclearly the house ofdreams.

Originally published in The Dream Tree News, Volume 2-5. © Richard Wilkerson.

Richard Wilkerson is an editor of Electric Dreams, an online magazine and dream sharing community, and the creative genius behind numerous educational and interactive projects on the Internet, including DreamGate, Online Dream History Classes, Dream Art Galleries and much, much more. Visit him online at DreamGate


One thought on “Arnold Mindell and the Dreambody

  1. Hi! A very interesting take on Arny MIndell’s work. I suspect your criticisms at the end need more teasing out. As they stand, they don’t appear convincing.

    “The whole project is situated in the realm of sickness and health.” As you mentioned above, body symptoms are only one cue for the unfolding of process psychology – a simple body gesture can be the beginning of a fascinating journey of discovery; also a daydream, a flirt (something that catches our eye) something that someone says that really hits us and stays with us. Guilt about illness is real, process psychology doesn’t add to it, it begins an unfolding adventure that leads us into the unknown part of ourselves wanting expression and awareness. Below is an illustration of all I am saying, its a column I wrote for the Southland Times based on a therapy session between Arny Mindell and a patient with terminal cancer. I was part of a group of about 30 listening and watching.

    Personal memories of loved ones with cancer flooded over me as I sat with thirty others waiting for process psychology founder Arny Mindell, to Skype a woman with terminal cancer. Her living face appeared on the big screen in front of us, pale and weary.

    “The diagnosis is not the person,” Arny had said earlier.

    Still the atmosphere of death touched us all. The connection faltered. “I can’t see or hear you,” said the woman.

    She was for flagging it but Mindell wouldn’t hear of it. Afterwards he explained: “Her doctors have given up on her and she is in danger of giving up on herself. I was never going to give up.”

    The connection restored I wondered how this little man who was famous for communicating with people in comas, would approach the woman who now had her head in her hands. He asked about her medication and health. She answered then said, “It’s sad but who cares?”

    As she said this she raised a hand and the fingers were quivering. This was Mindell’s lead: “I like what your fingers are doing.”

    She hadn’t noticed. “What does it feel like when your fingers move like that?” he asked.

    “Freedom,” she replied.

    “Oh, crazy freedom!” laughed Mindell. And he was right because immediately she was smiling and throwing her head back.

    “Tell me,” he said, “if you could do one crazy thing right now, what would it be?”

    “Sing an Irish song at the top of my lungs!”

    “So sing!” laughed Arny.

    “I don’t know any Irish songs!” she laughed.

    “Then how about we sing you one?”

    “That would be amazing!” she grinned.

    Someone started Danny Boy and the woman’s face lit up. She was laughing and clapping. The singer faltered and I fed her the words and we sang some more. At the end, Arny said to the woman. “Yeh, you have some sad stuff to face but you also have some crazy things to do.”

    She was full of joy, gratitude and plans, crazy plans.

    Mindell had helped her to that point within thirty minutes simply by unfolding the significance of her quivering fingers. I left the room with my heart brimming, buoyed up to do some living of my own.

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