In a repeated dream motif I am in a vehicle that is moving with traffic when I discover that I am not in the driver's seat and that no one else is either. There is a feeling of unregulated momentum and panic as I try to get into the driver's seat before an accident happens.
The dream motif is trying to awaken me to a very real hazard in my life, and in the lives of many people. Unconscious forces gather momentum in us without our noticing (or we notice too late) and accidents, unfortunate consequences and even tragedies occur as a result.
Succumbing to unconscious momentum is not a rare or exceptional event but is happening to most of us on a daily basis. Here are some familiar examples:
— I walk into a place where there is a bowl of cookies. Although it is against the dietary principles I am trying to follow, my hand is reaching for the cookies, and before I've thought about it very much I find that I am eating them.
— Someone is pushing my buttons in conversation and rousing my anger. Before I know it I have descended to their level and am responding in kind.
— I'm walking down the aisle of a store when my eye is caught by a shiny new gadget on sale. I've paid for the gadget and am walking out of the store when I realize that I have violated my budget and bought something I really didn't need.
— I'm at a party when I see someone I am attracted to. Without much reflection I find my eyes following this person as fantasies about them start lighting up in my mind.
— A worry about something pops into my mind, and before I know it I have visualized several upsetting disaster scenarios based on worst possible outcomes of the worry. My blood pressure has elevated and I am feeling anxious and frazzled because of imagined events.
Throughout an ordinary day, unconscious forces seek to gain control and may quickly gather potent momentum. If we are not in the driver's seat and alert to these hazards we all too easily lose control and find we have acted out in regrettable ways. Addictions, appetites, urges, habits, obsessions, and impulses are all trying to reach for the steering wheel and gas pedal. We need a strong and conscious ego in the driver's seat keeping us on course. As Freud said, "Where id was, let ego be."
Staying in the driver's seat means that we need to be mindful of the various forces that want to seize control. Most of these forces, if we reflect on our lives, are very well known to us. Even so, it is useful to make a list of the forces most likely to take control and create havoc in your life.
Once you have named and recognized all those forces you need some techniques for dealing with them. "Speed kills" is a classic traffic safety principle. This principle applies to most unconscious forces — they all like to take control fast and get you swerving and accelerating toward what they want before you notice what's happening. You may need some techniques and tricks that allow you to put on the brakes when an unfriendly force is trying to get you to accelerate. Here are some examples of braking techniques:
Put a credit card in a plastic container of water and place it in your freezer. You have to wait for the ice to thaw out before you can use the card which creates a cooling off period.
Make an arrangement to call a significant other before making any purchase costing over $75 or some other amount you set.
Put your fork down after each bite of food.
If you find yourself becoming emotionally riled up by a conversation, count to five or ten and take some deep breaths before responding.
If you are recovering from an addiction, find someone else who is also recovering from the same addiction whom you can call when you are feeling tempted.
When negative thoughts and fantasies begin looping in your mind do a mental numbers exercise to break their momentum. (See "Dealing with Afflictive Thoughts and Feelings" in A Guide to the Perplexed Interdimensional Traveler
Meditation may help to create more inner stillness and mindfulness which may allow you to more quickly recognize the pushing and pulling of unconscious forces.
Recognize zones where you will be more vulnerable to unconscious forces and either avoid those zones or take special precautions. For example, an all-you-can-eat buffet may be a danger zone for unconscious eating. Avoid such buffets or decide in advance that you will only eat healthy salad items there, etc. Notice when you are tired, irritable, lonely, out-of-sorts, angry, etc. as these are unconscious force danger zones for most people.
Stay alert to magical thinking and rationalizations that allow your ego to justify surrendering control. "OK, I'll let myself go this time, but starting tomorrow…" etc.
Just as you would create strong boundaries between yourself and dangerous persons, you need to have strong boundaries between your actions and unconscious forces.
Consider this a propitious time to keep your hands on the wheel through awareness and regulation of unconscious forces.