psychoanalysis and dreams

An unquenchable search and thirst for knowledge, theories, and ideas is often a source of creativity, accomplishment, and intellectual achievement.

Yet the pull towards knowledge-seeking can also mislead us if it compels us to look for answers that don’t exist; to find neat resolutions to unresolvable paradoxes; or to try to solve emotional needs requiring love, comfort, and witnessing with intellectual self-help in its place.

In much the same way that fear is not a problem in and of itself, yet becomes a problem when we start getting too many false alarms, or when it causes us to avoid things that are safe (in ways that negatively affect our lives), the drive for answers is also not always problematic. Yet it can become so when the pursuit of knowledge, answers, or certainty becomes a constant source of anxiety in the absence of finding what one’s looking for. Not being able to let one’s guard down, quiet one’s mind, or relax one’s body until one silences all doubts can cross the line into disordered anxiety or OCD.

In truth, most of the ways we protect ourselves are also our greatest sources of strength; whether it’s a lively imagination; strong intellect, physical prowess, a practical sensibility, etc. Yet our greatest strength can easily turn into our greatest challenge when co-opted by other needs than healthy ones or taken to a fault, putting us in the dilemma of needing to change the very thing that is also our most cherished superpower. 

I don’t think the quest for knowledge and certainty is fundamentally flawed; it can just be used in the wrong way. We all have a part of us that wants a sense of confidence and absence of doubt; a longing to go back to a time when things seemed clear, simple, and easy, or at the very least, to make sense.  Losing our sense of trust in the adults around us for their seeming omniscience when we start to realize they’re only human too; having a sense of unity become fractured into painful or confusing dualities; wanting to close the gap between language and intuition (or felt experience and that which can be symbolically shared), etc. creates a normal human desire for the feeling we have the answers or have filled a knowledge void. And sometimes we do find answers that are indeed deeply satisfying and that make the search worthwhile.

And yet, there can also be a tension between that which we want to know and can, vs. that which we don’t want to know or can’t. And the desire for something external and/or elusive, like knowledge or reassurance, to make us feel whole can easily shift from a pleasurable source of stimulation, curiosity, or suspense into an anxious and desperate urge that controls us instead of us controlling it.

Learning to tune into our bodies, to go inwards inside of ourselves, for our own answers about where the line is for each of us between a desire for knowledge that feels good vs. a compulsion driven by fantasy, illusion, or fear, can sometimes open us to a new kind of negotiation.

Ego-driven, fantasy-based, or fear-driven mental activity can indeed be very different from an inspired search for new ideas, understandings, or insights (and perhaps we can’t have one without the other; i.e. get to the good stuff without the pain). We may indeed need to go back and forth between two very different modes as we use our minds in search of satisfaction, reconciling a desperate hunger-filled longing for a mental sense of safety with a surrendered resignation to the limits of this quest.

And yet perhaps in some sort of space in between these two modes we can also find a way to leave a trace of something new to inspire someone else to start their own search in the place where we left off.