My youngest child is 9 months old, and while he can't walk by himself yet, he's almost there. His most-favoritest thing to do is teeter around the house, holding an adult's finger in one hand, and exploring the fascinating objects that he passes by with the other hand. This is cute, and it's alright, as long as all unsafe objects are out of the way. When we go to my mom's house, however, there are several potted plants at just the right height for a 9-month-old to grab! My first reaction is to say, "No! Don't touch the plant!" and pull him in a different direction. My wise and experienced mother, however, has a different approach, which I've recently noticed. She says, "Pretty plant!" and holds Baby's free hand, so he can touch the leaves without grabbing them. In a few seconds, his attention span has been used up, and he moves on.
I like my mom's approach, because it tells Baby, "plants are good things that we are not afraid of. We can learn to touch them in the right way." Of course, this is an obvious statement to an adult, but how much easier is it just to tell Baby "NO!" and pull him away before he shovels Miracle-Gro-infused potting soil into his mouth or picks all the leaves off of that rare hibiscus hybrid?
Noticing this difference recently got me to thinking. What if there were a country entirely populated by people who, out of fear for safety, taught their children to avoid all plants? To avoid having their children poisoned by eating a toxic leaf, or having the landscape destroyed by curious little hands, they decided it would be easier to restrict plants altogether? Can you imagine visiting such a country after a few generations of this mindset being passed along? Most people would probably choose rocks in their lawns instead of grass. Nobody would go camping or eat salads. If someone accidentally brushed some leaves on a tree while walking by it, they'd freak out, and take a shower as soon as they got home.
I can guarantee you this, though. In this imaginary country, every single person has buried in their unconscious minds the knowledge, "I am a part of this earth. Plants are beautiful things and I have a right to explore them." This repressed unconscious knowledge would force itself up in all kinds of ways. Some people would buy silk plants and keep them in their homes for "safe plant ownership." There would be frowned-upon but widely-consumed books filled with pictures of gardeners or people frolicking in fields of knee-high grasses. The love of plants would become an unhealthy secret obsession. People would feel guilty for even looking at a plant in any kind of affectionate way.
I bring up this absurd scenario to demonstrate how so often we place restrictions on ourselves that may have helped us at one time, but no longer are necessary. Psychologists tell us that up to 80-90% of our behavior is unconsciously-driven. How much of our behavior is driven by fears, cautions, ideas, or restrictions from our youth that is no longer relevant?
These kinds of unnecessary unconscious restrictions may show up in our dreams as somebody else driving our car, or people doing strange things for no apparent reason, or many other ways. For example, I once had a dream that I was cleaning someone's house. I knew I wasn't going to get paid for it, but I felt obligated to to it anyway. The details of the dream showed me certain unconscious restrictions I was still operating under that were actually serving to hurt me in the present.
Understanding and working with our dreams can help us break free from restrictions upon ourselves that are, in the light of our current circumstances and maturity level, laughably absurd.
Go eat some plants!