Dead But Dreaming

?The most merciful thing in the world?? H.P. Lovecraft writes in his horror story The Call of Cthulhu, ?is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.?  To be sure, if all our memories and perceptions registered in the mind equally, we should be like the unfortunate Funes of the Borges tale?completely overwhelmed by the sum of our experiences, unable to act.  Yet, as Freud realized, we pay a price for this compartmentalization.  The conflicts, urges, and passions that we sacrifice in the interest of present concern do not merely vanish.  Like Cthulhu, they lie beneath the depths; in the apt phrase of The Fields of the Nephilim, ?dead but dreaming?.  They call to us when our emotional stars are aligned, waiting for the time of their release.


Those stars are aligned when we experience ?triggers?: situations sufficiently similar to initial traumas and travails that they reactivate memories?and earlier modes of coping.  This is a most important concept within depth psychology.  Every current problem represents a mode of coping from the past that has long since lost its usefulness.  Perhaps as a child I felt humiliated by my siblings and their emotional abuse.  Whenever I tried to prove myself to them, they beat me down with taunts and physical threats.  My only coping, as a younger, smaller child, was to withdraw in silence so that I would not incite them to a physical expression of their hostility.

Now I am an adult, trading the financial markets, and I am eager to prove myself in this most challenging arena.  Trade after trade I experience losses and, before long, I retreat to my psychological shell, passively watching as the market ultimately moves in the anticipated direction.  ?Why didn?t I take those trades?? I wonder after the close, bemoaning my inability to ?pull the trigger?.  Later, I find myself even more frustrated, as the prescribed self-affirmations and visualizations of trading coaches fail to dent my dysfunctional pattern.

Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of this scenario is that I can know what to do during times of sober reflection.  In the heat of trading, however, when those emotional stars are right, my past coping is activated?and it is as if I become another person!  If there is anything more horrifying than the prospect of encountering Dagon-like creatures in the seas, it is finding oneself dominated by an internal Cthulhu, with no prospect of escape.  As long as I experience market losses as humiliations heaped upon my hopes for self-assertion, part of me will protect myself from emotional pain through withdrawal?even as I yearn to pull that trigger.  The only way to trade better in such a situation is to find a way to reprocess market events.

Taking Control

The key to such reprocessing is to make the trigger events familiar and non-threatening.  Something that we encounter time and time again tends to lose its emotional valence, much as repeated jokes are drained of their humor.  Some depth psychologists believe that repetitive dreams?and the Freudian compulsion to repeat past problem patterns in the present?are the mind?s attempt at self-healing, promoting self-mastery through a reworking of those patterns.  We needn?t wait for our stars to be right to attempt this reworking, however.  Rather, we can align those stars ourselves?activating the very triggers that thwart our planning and judgment?and learn to process them afresh. 

The practical steps in this reprocessing are straightforward:

  1. As Gurdjieff recognized, the work begins with self-observation.  Before we can reprocess the triggers that activate past behavioral patterns, we need to know what those triggers are.  Careful recounting of the thoughts, events, and feelings preceding problematic periods will generally yield patterns: recurring situations that are associated with the seeming shift in personality.  Many times these trigger situations will be accompanied by a shift in our physical and emotional state: a sudden rush of frustration, anger, hopelessness, or excitement.  Maintaining a personal journal can be very helpful in tracking the situations and state shifts associated with our triggers.
  2. Once we recognize our most difficult triggers, we want to face them?but only in a fresh manner.  This means invoking a state of thought, physical arousal, and emotion that is contrary to the ones normally triggered.  Teaching oneself to become highly relaxed and cognitively focused through deepened, rhythmical breathing and concentration on a single stimulus is highly useful in this regard.  It provides a relatively non-emotional, controlled state that, with practice, you can enter at will.
  3. When you have gotten to the point of being able to enter a calm, focused state, you then use guided imagery to place yourself in situations that you?ve highlighted in your journal.  The key is to make these mental rehearsals vivid?as if you are truly reliving them.  While experiencing these events in imagery, you are focusing your mind and slowing and deepening your breathing as you have been practicing.  The goal is to stay calm and focused, even as you are contemplating the most emotionally challenging circumstances.
  4. From there, it is a matter of repetition: creating endless variations of the scenarios from your journal and systematically reprocessing them.  Once you are able to encounter these situations without emotional arousal through the use of imagery, you are then ready to bring your focusing and deep breathing into life events as they occur?facing your triggers in real time, while keeping yourself under control.  This, too, requires repetition, but with repeated success comes confidence and a heightened sense of control.

Freud realized that the basic problem with people is that, to the extent that they are dominated by past patterns, they lack a truly free will.  ?Where id was, there ego shall be,? was his formulation of the idea that self-awareness is the philosopher?s stone that unlocks our inner gold from its base surroundings.  The alchemist Theobald von Hoghelande recognized this in 1594 when he declared, ?The art requires the total man.?  So it is with the art of trading.  The exclusive focus on profit and loss triggers our fears over success, failure, inadequacy, gratification, and self worth, making alchemical ?puffers? of us all.  The philosopher?s stone is within: in the realm of a liberated will.  A small footnote to Elizium, taken from the Chaldean Oracles, advises:

Stay not on the precipice with the dross of matter, for there is a place for thy image in a realm ever splendid.

Trader Psychology

What have I learned as a trading psychologist?  Just this: In newly revisiting the nightmares of our depths, we become more total; more capable of Will.  To find one?s purpose and passion in life and yoke it to an unfettered will: what greater and nobler challenge could there be?  ?Love is the law, love under will,? was Crowley?s formulation: the ideal of placing passion in the service of one?s capacity for directed action.

Gurdjieff emphasized that effort is the currency with which we purchase our will?s development.  Yet without adversity and challenge, there is no need for effort.  Imagine a universe without gravity.  Our muscles would never develop, as nothing could possibly test?and develop?their strength.  It was Colin Wilson?s seminal insight that human beings need emotional gravity for self-development.  This is the purpose of all suffering, great and small: to provide the counter-forces by which we can develop the muscles of will through directed effort.  It is human nature to avoid suffering: to consign it, like Cthulhu, to the depths.  Yet there it lies dead but dreaming, entering our thoughts and actions, refusing to accept banishment. 

How ironic it is that we overcome suffering by embracing and facing it, ferreting it out and repeating it so often that its voice is stilled!  It is as if our worst fears and memories are crying out, ?Smother me or suffer?:  immerse yourself in me, rework me, or be dominated by me.  The markets pose us with obstacles?and even suffering?on a regular basis.  In their complexity and uncertainty, they offer unparalleled challenges to our ordered minds.  Facing those challenges, we face ourselves, and become ever more the total individual, the true discoverer of the philosopher?s stone.  Mercy grants us limits in correlating the contents of our minds; providence provides for the possibility of achieving ever-greater correlation.

This article is my way of acknowledging the many philosophical, spiritual, and musical influences on my work.  With the help of Google and the direct and indirect references in this article?and their direct and indirect references?you, like Borges, can be well on your way toward discovering the Library.  Sweet dreams?

Brett N. Steenbarger, Ph.D. is Director of Trader Development for Kingstree Trading, LLC in Chicago and Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY.  A clinical psychologist and active trader for the past 20 years, Brett is the author of The Psychology of Trading (Wiley; 2003) and numerous articles on trading psychology for financial publications.  His book chapters on brief psychotherapy can be found in such reference works as The Psychologist's Desk Reference (Oxford University Press, 1998) and the Encyclopedia of Psychotherapy (Academic Press, 2002).  His newest, coedited book, The Art and Science of the Brief Psychotherapies (American Psychiatric Press, 2005), has been selected as a core training text for psychiatry residency programs.  In July, 2004, Dr. Steenbarger stepped down from his medical school faculty position and began intensive work with traders at Kingstree Trading.  He also coordinates their training program for new traders.  Drawing upon an intensive research program that began in 1998, he has created a number of unique measures of market trend, momentum, and institutional activity designed to aid short-term traders.  These measures--and the trading strategies derived from them--have been chronicled daily since June, 2002 in the Trading Psychology Weblog and on his web site.Dr. Steenbarger does not offer coaching or other commercial services to traders, but welcomes questions and comments at

Brett N. Steenbarger, Ph.D. is Director of Trader Development for Kingstree Trading, LLC in Chicago and Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry and...


Legendary member
not quite sure what this is about. seems quite high-faluting.
all this revisiting painful memories and replaying them seems similar to NLP, where you vividly recall past events, and try to replay them with a positive outcome.

sufficiently vague as to be interpreted anyway you want.


Senior member
Must be 30 years ago I remember picking up a 'course' in a second hand bookshop entitled if memory still serves me... 'Auto Self Suggestion' essence it was pretty much along the lines suggested in the article ..relaxation techniques couple with imagery be frank it didn't help me pick up more women ..but the relaxation technique I learned back then I still use today when faced with a 'stressful' situation and that has proved it's worth many times over Kipling wrote ....

"If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs
and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about don't deal in lies,
Or being hated don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good nor talk too wise:
If you can dream-and not make dreams your master;
If you can think and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by naves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings-nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distant run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And-which is more-you'll be a Man, my son!"


Legendary member

one of my fave poems, along with Masefields "Sea Fever".

however, dont recommend the

"If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,"

a martingale strat if ever there was one. :) :)


Legendary member
Moving on

Chump - Kipling, takes me back to many years ago when book reading at school and home was popular. In later years the bedtime reading to my children relating to the exploits of "Ratty" and "Mole."
The rooting through old book shop shelves etc. Enough - I am showing my age :!:
(Apologies for digressing - overtaken by a tear of nostalgia for a distant childhood) :D

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it

-- Omar Khayyam


Senior member
Yeats had the last say...but he really should have added 'traders' to the list..

WE sat together at one summer's end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, "A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.'

And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There's many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, "To be born woman is to know --
Although they do not talk of it at school --
That we must labour to be beautiful.'
I said, "It's certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam's fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.'
We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time's waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.
I had a thought for no one's but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we'd grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

Mr. Charts

Legendary member
Nice to see some quality poetry here.
As for the article, I thought it ok for the audience it's aimed at. The problem is exactly that. Some find it great and others of little use. Perhaps that's a reflection of both experience and expectation.
I would never slate anyone's efforts.
It is very US orientated, of course, so I gave it a hanging chad.

Mr. Charts

Legendary member
Did the title, "Dead but Dreaming" trigger the poetry, gentlemen?
Which reminds me, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"
Great film, with wonderfully lyrical words at the end.


Legendary member
Times past

Mr. Charts said:
Did the title, "Dead but Dreaming" trigger the poetry, gentlemen?
Which reminds me, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"
Great film, with wonderfully lyrical words at the end.
Youthful nostalgia for the written word methinks ;)

Especially so after marking so many essays lacking the literary flair and command of English of yore :cry:

Maybe the next intake will uncover a budding essayist :D


Legendary member
AFAIC, Steenbarger's dead on. Anyone who works with beginners and not-so-beginners for very long will be impressed at how the same reasons for bravado and fear of loss and failure of discipline and so forth keep cropping up: trying to prove to (one's father, a teacher, a counselor, a wife, an ex-wife, a bully of one sort or another, etc) that one isn't such a loser after all, can too stick to a plan, can too fight rather than flee, and so on. In other words, the fear of being, for example, stopped out has little to do with losing the money, but with, for example, proving to oneself that one's father (or whoever) was right after all and that one is in fact an undeniable loser.

While his efforts to relate his client's experiences to the markets can sometimes be a stretch, Steenbarger's book is excellent, and I recommend it highly.



“Love is the law, love under will,”
Quoting an occultist who let his ego get so out of hand he died insane and powerless.... I like it!


Active member
For most, this article is aromatherapy of the wor****s kind... even if he were to remove all the gurgling about cossack and dark london occultists... It's definitely not Steen's best work
For some, it's a perfect guide for a difficult, but necessary, personal process if they are to have any chance at the trading game.
Great insights and guidance for identifying issues. However, instead of relaxation and desensitization techniques for clearing these issues, I would recommend EFT.

All the best,