Dreams: Dreams, Dream Groups & Related Resources
Guide To Dream Sharing On The Internet
By Ryan Hurd
The Dream Studies Portal
Dream sharing is the core feature of dreamwork. I believe dream sharing will continue to grow in popularity due to the wider acceptance of intuitive ways of knowing in our culture. This trend is coupled by an Internet that is increasingly about social networking and peer-to-peer (i.e. non-hierarchical) information sharing. In this way, dream sharing is inherently revolutionary.
In the past, online dream sharing was considered taboo by professionals due to the shaky legal status of dreamwork. Because of this, many experts opted to not participate in the beginnings of online dreaming. But those who did participate laid a strong cultural foundation that is largely still intact despite the massive structural changes of the Internet in the last 10 years. Online Dream Sharing Today
Today, it is generally accepted that dream sharing (and dream interpretation) is a legally protected activity. Still, additional precautions are taken by many groups through ethics statements, legal disclaimers about non-medical advice, as well as “loopholes” such as dream-interpretation being defined as spiritual guidance rather than as psychological counsel (therefore falling under protection, in the US at least, of freedom of religion).
Here’s a list of the most reputable dream sharing venues active on the net. (Note: I am not covering dream-interpretation services or dream dictionary sites, but only peer-to-peer dream sharing sites)
– Dreamwheel is a Yahoo group with over 6500 members. To participate you have to agree to adhere to the ethical standards established by the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD).
– Sawlogs is a 5-year-old dream database where you can enter your dreams (with public or private settings), see who has had similar dreams, and even connect with these dreamers through discussion forums or private emails.
– Dream Network Journal. This online community of dream sharing was developed in 1995, but the print journal of the same name was established in 1982. IASD member Roberta Ossana still moderates the forums, which provide a safe place for dream sharing and peer-to-peer dream interpretation.
– DreamTree. The dream-sharing discussion forum of this 10 old site is very active; they also have a private google group.
Dream Sharing for Research
There are also a couple dreaming-sharing sites that invite you to do your own dream research. Here the aim is to share dreams in order to add to the database and investigate larger patterns in dreaming. Collectively, we have so much data, but of course interpreting the data requires as many unique perspectives as possible!
– DreamBank. DreamBank is IASD members Bill Domhoff and Adam Schneider’s dream database, hosted by the University of California Santa Cruz. With over 16,000 dream reports in English (and 6,000 in German), this is a great public resource to investigate patterns in dreaming.
Dream-People. This is a new resource maintained by IASD member Erin Langley. Grounded in the philosophy of Indigenous Science, which maintains respect for the dream as a voice of our ancestors and the natural world, this database allows you to correlate cross-cultural dream themes with the cycles of the moon, as well as major astrological charts.
I’m certain that public dream sharing will only grow more popular in the next couple years as social networking technologies become more advanced (imagine Facebook for dreamers…). Dream sharing is grass-roots community building at its finest, and there are still plenty of venues for participating in this foundational part of dreaming culture on the web.
Also, if you are interested in traditional dream sharing (organizing and meeting with people in your community), I highly recommend this article by Kelly Bulkeley (see below).
DREAM-SHARING GROUPS, SPIRITUALITY, AND COMMUNITY
By Kelly Bulkeley
The sharing of dreams in group settings has played a prominent role in communities throughout history. Anthropologists and historians have provided detailed reports of dream-sharing practices found in a wide variety of cultures and religious traditions. However, modern Western psychologist have generally focused on the intrapsychic aspects of dreams and have applied dreams to strictly individual needs and concerns. The practice of dream-sharing in modern Western society has been confined to the clinician’s office, with the primary goal of assisting in the psychotherapy of individuals.
But in the last 30 years or so a remarkably large number of dream-sharing groups have arisen in the United States. Because these groups take so many different forms and appear in so many different contexts, there is virtually no academic research on the subject. However, the phenomenon of dream-sharing groups should be of interest to scholars of religion for a number of reasons. First, these groups often look to dreams specifically for spiritual insights; the groups thus represent a distinctive means of religious expression in contemporary American society. Second, the complex interplay of religious, psychological, and cultural elements in these groups can tell us something about where the process of secularization stands as we approach the close of the twentieth century. And third, dream-sharing groups frequently generate a powerful sense of community, a sense of deep, intimate bonding among the members of the group. Scholars who are concerned about how to create a sense of mutual understanding across differences of race, gender, ethnicity, and class should take note of the community-revitalizing potential of these groups.
Dream-sharing groups began appearing in this country in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The first groups arose in response to the writings and public workshops of Ann Faraday (Dream Power (1972) and The Dream Game (1974)), Patricia Garfield (Creative Dreaming (1974)), Montague Ullman (Working with Dreams (1979)), and Jeremy Taylor (Dream Work (1983)). Each of these people argued that the practice of exploring dreams should be expanded beyond the confines of professional psychotherapy and made accessible to the general population. Another important early stimulus was Kilton Stewart’s essay on “Dream Theory in Malaya,” reprinted in Charles Tart’s best-selling anthology Altered States of Consciousness (1969). Stewart’s description of the Senoi, a native people whose practice of publically sharing and discussing dreams helped them create an idyllic, nearly conflict-free community life, inspired countless Americans to explore their own dreams and to begin sharing their dreams in group settings.
Contemporary dream-sharing groups take many different forms. But they also share many basic elements of structure and process. Let me offer the following “ideal-type” of a dream-sharing group:
— Six to twelve people gather in a quiet, comfortable place.
— One of the people serves as leader or facilitator for the group.
— Each person in the group describes one of his or her dreams.
— The group choses one person’s dream to discuss in detail, and proceeds to offer comments, ask questions, and suggest meanings regarding that dream.
— This discussion can take from 15 minutes to two hours; usually, an effort is made to discuss more than one dream at a given meeting.
— Over the course of a few meetings, everyone in the group participates: everyone gets to share their own dreams, everyone gets to comment on other people’s dreams, and everyone gets to have one of their dreams discussed by the group.
There are many variations on this ideal-typical pattern. The group’s size can vary tremendously; I have seen dream-sharing groups function with as few as three, and as many as 100 people. The group’s leader or facilitator can play a very active role in steering the group process, or can do nothing more than keep an eye on the clock and remind people when it’s time to stop. Many dream-sharing groups function effectively with no formal leaders or facilitators at all.
The greatest variations among different groups occur during the discussion process. The dreamer may actively participate in this process, or may sit quietly and “observe” the group’s discussion of his or her dream. The group may use a relatively structured series of questions to ask of each dream, or may engage in an interpretive “free-for-all.” Some groups, in addition to verbal discussion of the dreams, will draw pictures of them, act them out in “dream theater,” and/or engage in guided imagery exercises. The group’s activities may be oriented by particular psychological theories (e.g., looking for Jungian archetypes), by particular theological perspectives (e.g., looking for the presence of the Holy Spirit), or by particular personal concerns (e.g., looking for help with troubled marriages or relationships). But no matter what their specific theoretical or ideological cast, the discussions of almost all dream-sharing groups are grounded in a core set of assumptions: 1) that dreams are relevant our important waking life concerns, 2) that dreams can be understood without specialized knowledge, and 3) that dreams have the potential to reveal spiritual or religious truths.
The basic dream-sharing process described above has been used in a nearly limitless variety of settings and contexts:
— In churches and religious education programs (e.g., among Catholics, Unitarian Universalists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Methodists);
— In schools, from grammar schools to high schools to colleges to seminaries to business schools to adult education programs;
— In psychological workshops, seminars, and retreats (e.g., conducted by members of Jungian, Gestalt, Humanistic, and Transpersonal schools of psychology);
— In twelve-step counseling programs of various sorts;
— In social service settings (e.g., in prisons, drug rehabilitation centers, and hospitals; for pregnant women and their partners, people with AIDS, and victims of physical and sexual abuse);
— In community centers, libraries, and neighbors’ homes.
There are no precise demographic data on the participants in dream-sharing groups. Based on my initial research efforts, I have found that participants tend to be female, tend to be white, tend to be relatively educated and financially secure, and tend to live on either the East or the West coast. However, these are only the most general of observations: I have also found dream-sharing groups made up of all males, groups made up of all blacks, and groups organized in the South, the Midwest, and the Plains states. Overall, I would estimate that in the last 30 years there have been more than 50,000 dream-sharing groups in the U.S., meaning that approximately a half million people have participated in such groups.
From the beginnings of Western history dreams have traditionally been the province of religion. Dreams have been viewed as either revelations from the divine or as temptations from the Devil, and priests and church leaders have been the authorities on interpreting what a given dream means. In the twentieth century, however, the discipline of psychology has risen to claim authority over dreams. Psychologists are now the ones to whom we turn for interpretations, and we have come to believe that the meanings of dreams reflect the individual’s unconscious personality dynamics.
This transition from a religious to a psychological view of dreams perfectly exemplifies the process of secularization, the process by which modern scientific, economic, and cultural forces have combined to vanquish the authority of religion in Western society. Dream-sharing groups, in which a reliance on psychological dream theories is combined with an interest in the spiritual dimensions of dreams, would seem to mark an interesting new twist on this process.
From one perspective, dream-sharing groups can be seen as resisting and even overcoming the spiritually destructive effects of secularization. Dreams have always been regarded as a means of relating to the sacred, to those powers and realities that transcend ordinary human existence. Dream-sharing groups draw upon this universal source of religious experience and adapt it to the circumstances of people living in contemporary American society. The result is a form of spirituality that may not be “formally” religious and may not always take place within conventional religious contexts, but that genuinely satisfies people’s spiritual needs. If secularization produces a spiritual “disenchantment”, as Max Weber argues, then dream-sharing groups offer the means to a “reenchantment” of the world, to a renewal and revival of authentic spiritual experience in contemporary society.
But from a different perspective, dream-sharing groups can be seen as intensifying the destructive effects of secularization, making modern social life more fragmented, more alienated, and more spiritually confused. Paying so much attention to dreams can easily appear as socially irrelevant navel-gazing; by focusing so intently on one’s personal psychological dynamics, people run the danger of losing touch with the public realm of community involvement. The outer world is so cold and impersonal, and the inner world is so warm and alluring, that modern Westerners feel a strong temptation to abandon the former and immerse themselves in the latter. By surrendering to this temptation, people become ever more detached, isolated, and alienated from society.
The process of exploring one’s dreams in a group setting would seem to minimize these potentially alienating effects. But as Robert Wuthnow argues in his recent work Sharing the Journey (1994), participation in various kinds of small support groups (like dream-sharing groups) is often nothing more than a further defense against broader public engagement. Such groups are usually very homogeneous, making it easier for participants to reinforce their established views and to avoid contact with different types of people. Wuthnow’s concern is that small support groups provide a covert means of self-protection against the complications of a multicultural world, and thus a further erosion in people’s broader sense of community.
So it seems that dream-sharing groups promote a kind of spirituality that is authentic, powerful, and personally fulfilling — but that is also helping to corrode the communal integrity of contemporary American society.
That harsh conclusion is not warranted, however, by a careful examination of the actual practices of various dream-sharing groups. Such an examination reveals that many dream-sharing groups enable participants to gain valuable insights into the relations between their personal lives and the broader social world in which they live. Furthermore, many dream-sharing groups give people a means of understanding others, of recognizing their connections with people who are different. In such cases, dream-sharing groups genuinely help to revitalize a sense of community and to renew people’s active engagement with the world.
The following are two brief descriptions of dream-sharing groups that have this community-revitalizing effect (for fuller accounts of these cases, and for other perspectives on the social and cultural relevance of dream studies, see the anthology I’ve edited, Among All These Dreamers: Essays on Dreaming, Modern Society, and the Future of Dream Studies (in press (a)):
1) Jane White Lewis, a Jungian analyst, has for the past three years been teaching classes on dreams at a public high school in New Haven, Connecticut. New Haven is an all-too typical American city, plagued by drugs, crime, poverty, and urban decay. Many of the teenagers in Lewis’s classes are struggling simply to survive in this deeply troubled community. But Lewis has found that when the students begin exploring and discussing their dreams, they discover new resources of energy, creativity, and hope. In her class the students share their dreams, draw pictures of them, act them out in little dramatic productions, and write essays and stories based on them. Many of the students who hate writing or think they just don’t have the talent to write suddenly find their “voice” when writing about their dreams and about the memories, feelings, and thoughts that arise in connection with their dreams. For example, the students in one class often dreamed of the police, of fighting them, arguing with them, trying to hide from them; class discussions of these “police dreams” led the students to reflect on conflicts with authority, both in society and in their own personal lives. Similarly, the dreams of many of the girls about having babies raised the very immediate issue of teen pregnancy: the students discussed the social and psychological pressures girls feel in romantic relationships, and their dreams opened up new vistas of reflection on how to resist those pressures. In this case, encouraging the students to turn “inwards” to their dreams became a valuable means of guiding them “outwards” to the realm of public society.
2) Bette Ehlert is a New Mexico lawyer who for a number of years has been leading dream-sharing groups in jails, prisons, and other correctional facilities. As public opinion polls tell us, crime is widely regarded as the number one threat to the American community; politicians argue bitterly over what causes crime and what to do with criminals. In her groups Ehlert has found that dream-sharing can be an effective means of discovering links between the particular crimes committed by an offender and certain events, experiences, and conflicts in the offender’s past. For example, a young African-American convicted of dealing crack had a dream of struggling to get away from a dark entity pushing down on him. In the group discussion the dreamer discovered the relations between his being sexually abused as a child and his crime of being a “pusher.” Ehlert has also found that in a more general sense dream-sharing groups help criminal offenders cultivate the cognitive abilities in which they are so notoriously deficient: the abilities to reason critically, to empathetically take the perspective of others, and to envision alternatives, possibilities, and potentials. All of this strengthens their capacity to avoid becoming trapped in a lifelong cycle of crime and incarceration.
These two cases show that dream-sharing groups can actually give their participants valuable, focused insights into problems that involve an intersection of personal and social forces. Rather than promoting navel-gazing escapism, rather than further isolating people in homogeneous little social units, these groups enable participants to perceive, to understand, and to respect the lives of other people, of different people. Dream-sharing groups are not only a powerful means of spiritual discovery and expression; they are also a powerful means of renewing a vivid, dynamic sense of community in contemporary American society.
My discussion of the phenomenon of dream-sharing groups is not intended to suggest that these groups can cure all of society’s ills. Any attempt to offer “new thinking on community” must acknowledge that in this post-modern, post-Cold War world there are no simple remedies, no magic wands that can make poverty and racism and crime and all our other social problems disappear. What I would like to suggest is that dream-sharing groups offer a resource that can, in many situations, prove effective in revitalizing a sense of community. Among their many practical virtues, these groups are widely accessible (since everybody dreams), cost-free (all you need is a space for people to sit in a circle), and capable of adapting to an endless variety of settings and circumstances. Dream-sharing groups have an especially great potential, I believe, to enrich educational programs. Lewis’s work in a public high school is one good example of this. In my own current research, I’m working with preschool children in various socio-economic settings, trying to develop programs that integrate dreams, play, and story-telling.
When shared in a group setting, dreams can stimulate a deep and powerful sense of relatedness to others, enabling people to recognize a shared humanity in the midst of social and cultural differences. I would like to close with one of the more poetic statements of this point, by Synesius of Cyrene, an early fifth-century Neo-Platonist who converted to Christianity and became famous as the bishop of Ptolemais. In a treatise he wrote on dreams, Synesius says this:
“[T]he dream is visible to the man who is worth five hundred medimni, and equally to the possessor of three hundred, to the teamster no less than to the peasant who tills the boundary land for a livelihood, to the galley slave and the common labourer alike… [To this oracle] then we must go, woman and man of us, young and old, poor and rich alike, the private citizen and the ruler, the town dweller and the rustic, the artisan and the orator. She repudiates neither race, nor age, nor condition, nor calling. She is present to everyone, everywhere, this zealous prophetess, this wise counsellor, who holdeth her peace.”
LAST NIGHT I HAD THE STRANGEST DREAM
JEREMY TAYLOR ON DREAMS AS A TOOL FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
By Karen Karvonen
March 30, 2006 Issue
WHERE PEOPLE FLY AND WATER RUNS UPHILL
USING DREAMS TO TAP THE WISDOM OF THE UNCONSCIOUS
MARC IAN BARASCH
EXCERPTS FROM “HEALING DREAMS:
EXPLORING THE DREAMS THAT CAN TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE”
By Marc Ian Barasch
Riverhead Books, 2000
OUTSTANDING DREAM WEBSITES & RESOURCES:
DREAM YOGA (Joseph Dillard)
THE DREAM STUDIES PORTAL (Ryan Hurd)
THE ALCHEMY OF DREAMING (Wes Wyatt)
A JOURNAL EXPLORING DREAMS AND MYTHOLOGY