Dreaming together

Nine women are sitting in a room with their eyes closed. One starts to speak. “Last night I dreamed I went to the hairdresser. Every week this woman had a new idea for my hair. This time she said: ‘a pony tail.’ I thought,What does she mean? Is that even an option?You see, I had mid-length hair. Then she mumbled something about extensions and got out a curler, which she used on the front part of my hair."

 

The room goes quiet for a moment, then the others respond.

“A story about her,” someone says. “Not about him.”

“What sticks with me is the word ‘extensions,’” says another participant. 

“Creativity. Openness. The curler is open; you get an opening at the front of your head.”

“I think it would be nice if people could be ‘extensions’ for one another.”

“I can feel my feet tingling and that part of my head where she put your roller.”

“My hands feel very warm.”

“Mine too!”

And on it goes. The discussion goes back and forth. Sometimes the transitions are logical, but more often they jump around erratically. 

We’re participating in a social dreaming session. Some trainers call it “culture dreaming” or create a different term, but the process is the same: It’s a kind of brainstorming in which participants share dreams and spontaneously respond to others using their own free associations. 

“It would be nice to have one of those antennas like the Teletubbies.” 

“Maybe our hair is the antenna.” 

“My son used to draw dolls with hair that stood straight up.”

“That makes me think of the headdresses and feathers of Indian chiefs, which symbolize a kind of extension upwards.” 

All kinds of images are tossed about, including one of parachute jumpers holding hands in the air in a crystal formation. Forty-five minutes later the discussion comes to a natural end. We take a little time to evaluate.

“What those warm hands were seeking,” concludes one of the women, “is to hold each other in a free, creative space. The fear is gone.”

Someone paraphrases psychologist Abraham Maslow: “With enough faith in ourselves and each other we can improvise and move in a situation that has never before existed.” 

 

We all confirm the euphoric feeling of solidarity created during the session. The feeling that together, we formed a single antenna ready to receive new input. 

 

The term “social dreaming” describes sessions in which the participants free associate to dream material. It was devised in the early 1980s by British psychologist Gordon Lawrence. He even came up with the ideal seating arrangement for participants: They don’t sit in a circle, but in a “snowflake pattern” with an empty centre and chairs arranged around it like a crystal. 

 

During a session Lawrence invites participants to form a “matrix,” which is different from a group. “A group is an arena for individuals to pursue a primary task,” he writes in his book Introduction to Social Dreaming, "and to exercise their sense of purpose and their needs for power and security—at its worst, in a finite world dominated by task achievement. The matrix, on the other hand, is a collection of minds opening and being available for dwelling in possibility. It demands a different kind of leadership—one inspired by the recognition of the infinite, of not knowing, of being in doubt and uncertainty, as opposed to knowing and repeating banal facts.”

 

The principle is simple: A participant starts to recount his or her dreams, while the others react spontaneously with their own: an association, an image or a physical sensation. If they prefer to listen, they may remain silent. In any case, it is not about interpreting each other’s dreams or asking personal questions. The dreams people present are meaningful for the group as a whole. 

 

When my women’s group spent a couple of days together in the woods, we were eager to try a dream session. In fact, we did two. During the first one, someone talked about her dream of a baby she who needed feeding that she had forgotten somewhere. Another woman responded by saying, “I often dream about babies I’ve left somewhere and forgotten. A feeling of panic sets in: What time did I last feed him?”

 

The theme that emerged from this first session was clearly “food”—an archetypal female topic. What could be distilled from our contributions was that alongside physical food there is also a spiritual variety and that everything that is new must be fed and treasured like a newborn baby. 

 

That first session was a special experience. But the second one the following day was an intensely inspiring collective experience in which we all seemed to be vibrating on the same wave length, even emotionally. 

 

“You could say that the first session was a kind of insemination for the second,” said Richard Russo, dream consultant and trainer in Berkeley, California, when I told him about the two sessions. Russo is the former chairperson of the International Association for the Study of Dreams and co-director of the Dream Institute of Northern California. Based on Gordon Lawrence’s method, he and his colleague Meredith Sabini have worked out a technique they call “culture dreaming.” They have been working with it for seven years, in companies and organizations, and also in monthly sessions open to the public. 

 

“In a culture dreaming session we don’t allow any personal information about the dreamer or what’s happening in his or her life," explains Russo, "nor do we discuss potential personal interpretations of the dream. It’s really about the cultural meaning of the dreams.”

 

So what happens during a dream session? Says Russo: “Research indicates that there is no strict boundary between waking and dreaming; there is continuity between the two. In other words, we continually dream about the same things we’re thinking about during the day. Western culture emphasizes the individual, but we are also social creatures. Needless to say, we dream about what happens in the groups we are part of: family, work, culture.” 

 

Something else is added to the mix during a culture dreaming session, he says. The group develops a “group spirit” or collective consciousness that is manifested in the session and influences the process, including the dreams people relate. As a result, the participants feel their individual dreams are part of a process that is bigger than they are. This makes them feel connected. Once that feeling has been established, the group’s collective consciousness becomes a kind of psychological entity in itself. Russo calls this an “emergent energy field.” “The group spirit dreams, too,” he says, “and influences the individual dreamers.” 

 

We practiced dreaming together in our women’s group, but dream consultants like Russo also use the technique in the business community: “Organizations have a collective consciousness and you can even say all participants are living out the same dream. It can be very useful to bring that dream into awareness and openly investigate it.”

 

During the last presidential campaign, he says, his institute collected dreams related to the elections, particularly about Obama. Then they wrote and performed a dream play based on what they had collected. The audience was enthusiastic and reported that the play helped them better understand the significance of the elections for the country. 

 

Dutch dream consultant Marja Moors also uses the technique in her work w
ith companies. The psychologist, who conducted dream research in college, is also a trainer in Organizational Constellations, a method similar to collective dreaming. “Dreaming, per se, is a gateway to a larger source,” explains Moors. “With a group of people you create a collective vat, as it were, with which you can collect other dreams besides the individual ones.”

 

During her sessions with companies, people have recounted dreams about landslides, quicksand or buildings sinking, for example. “This makes you wonder about the strength of the foundation on which the company is built.” Mutual relations between employees and management can also be aptly symbolized in dream images. She adds one caveat: If you want to use dreams to develop a vision, it’s important not to be too precise or demanding in planning the session. 

 

Says Moors: “By remaining open and accepting that you don’t know, you make space for new information…sometimes about something you’d rather not see in your waking consciousness. When people want too much or have ego-related plans, it creates background noise. This is the purpose of free association. It’s just like personal psychoanalysis, but in this case it’s collective. Everyone responds without a preconceived plan, spontaneously, knowing that you don’t need to do anything with it and that your associations don’t have to be logical. Silence is okay, too; there’s no need for the facilitator to fill it.”

 

Moors recognizes a kind of tension between this unforced, non-achievement-related gathering and the functionality focus that dominates most companies. But thinking too much about functionality disrupts the process, she says. Some dream consultants believe such sessions should not be recorded or written up, let alone discussed.

 

One example is Gerard van Reekum, an organizational expert who often works with dreams. He believes the power of the social dreaming matrix lies in the experience of participating. You listen, consider, sometimes contribute with your own memories or associations or by pointing out the link between others’ contributions. “And when it’s over, it’s over. Tomorrow morning—same time, same place—new opportunities await.”

 

He is not at all keen to report on or even bring up memories of sessions. “It’s almost like when you wake up and no longer can or have the courage to look back through the fog to the dream that was so clear in your mind a minute ago. It’s doing its job and may even do it better unconsciously than consciously.”

 

In our women’s group sessions we started by asking a question: What should or can we know about the dynamic process going on in our group? I had more or less expected that something would come up about power structures or tension between members, because that’s where we had experienced problems. And in dreams, after all, shadows appear that we don’t want to see during the day.  

 

But nothing of the kind emerged. Together, we rose to a higher place and felt like a tight-knit team, and we were taken there by the collective exercise. “The unconscious doesn’t just generate shadows but light,” Moors observes, which fits precisely into the idea of the matrix we created at that moment. 

 

According to Moors, you always benefit by sharing dreams, even within organizations. When people tell their own dream story and others hear it in an open, accepting setting, everyone gets a better image of each other: both more complete and more positive. Understanding takes the place of mistrust and distance. Judgements, criticism and cliques disappear. “Sharing dreams this way enhances flexibility as well as the ability to deal with different viewpoints, and substantially improves the connection among team members,” she says.

 

Creating harmony, unity and solidarity in groups of different people with distinct backgrounds and ideas and highly individual characters and personalities is nearly impossible as long as everyone remains entrenched at a mental level of logic and opinions. But amazingly enough, if you venture together to a deeper level—a layer where irrationality, free association and dream images are welcome—a deeper connection arises naturally. 

 

By Lisette Thooft

Illustration: Neeltje Konings

Solution News Source

Dreaming together

Nine women are sitting in a room with their eyes closed. One starts to speak. “Last night I dreamed I went to the hairdresser. Every week this woman had a new idea for my hair. This time she said: ‘a pony tail.’ I thought,What does she mean? Is that even an option?You see, I had mid-length hair. Then she mumbled something about extensions and got out a curler, which she used on the front part of my hair."

 

The room goes quiet for a moment, then the others respond.

“A story about her,” someone says. “Not about him.”

“What sticks with me is the word ‘extensions,’” says another participant. 

“Creativity. Openness. The curler is open; you get an opening at the front of your head.”

“I think it would be nice if people could be ‘extensions’ for one another.”

“I can feel my feet tingling and that part of my head where she put your roller.”

“My hands feel very warm.”

“Mine too!”

And on it goes. The discussion goes back and forth. Sometimes the transitions are logical, but more often they jump around erratically. 

We’re participating in a social dreaming session. Some trainers call it “culture dreaming” or create a different term, but the process is the same: It’s a kind of brainstorming in which participants share dreams and spontaneously respond to others using their own free associations. 

“It would be nice to have one of those antennas like the Teletubbies.” 

“Maybe our hair is the antenna.” 

“My son used to draw dolls with hair that stood straight up.”

“That makes me think of the headdresses and feathers of Indian chiefs, which symbolize a kind of extension upwards.” 

All kinds of images are tossed about, including one of parachute jumpers holding hands in the air in a crystal formation. Forty-five minutes later the discussion comes to a natural end. We take a little time to evaluate.

“What those warm hands were seeking,” concludes one of the women, “is to hold each other in a free, creative space. The fear is gone.”

Someone paraphrases psychologist Abraham Maslow: “With enough faith in ourselves and each other we can improvise and move in a situation that has never before existed.” 

 

We all confirm the euphoric feeling of solidarity created during the session. The feeling that together, we formed a single antenna ready to receive new input. 

 

The term “social dreaming” describes sessions in which the participants free associate to dream material. It was devised in the early 1980s by British psychologist Gordon Lawrence. He even came up with the ideal seating arrangement for participants: They don’t sit in a circle, but in a “snowflake pattern” with an empty centre and chairs arranged around it like a crystal. 

 

During a session Lawrence invites participants to form a “matrix,” which is different from a group. “A group is an arena for individuals to pursue a primary task,” he writes in his book Introduction to Social Dreaming, "and to exercise their sense of purpose and their needs for power and security—at its worst, in a finite world dominated by task achievement. The matrix, on the other hand, is a collection of minds opening and being available for dwelling in possibility. It demands a different kind of leadership—one inspired by the recognition of the infinite, of not knowing, of being in doubt and uncertainty, as opposed to knowing and repeating banal facts.”

 

The principle is simple: A participant starts to recount his or her dreams, while the others react spontaneously with their own: an association, an image or a physical sensation. If they prefer to listen, they may remain silent. In any case, it is not about interpreting each other’s dreams or asking personal questions. The dreams people present are meaningful for the group as a whole. 

 

When my women’s group spent a couple of days together in the woods, we were eager to try a dream session. In fact, we did two. During the first one, someone talked about her dream of a baby she who needed feeding that she had forgotten somewhere. Another woman responded by saying, “I often dream about babies I’ve left somewhere and forgotten. A feeling of panic sets in: What time did I last feed him?”

 

The theme that emerged from this first session was clearly “food”—an archetypal female topic. What could be distilled from our contributions was that alongside physical food there is also a spiritual variety and that everything that is new must be fed and treasured like a newborn baby. 

 

That first session was a special experience. But the second one the following day was an intensely inspiring collective experience in which we all seemed to be vibrating on the same wave length, even emotionally. 

 

“You could say that the first session was a kind of insemination for the second,” said Richard Russo, dream consultant and trainer in Berkeley, California, when I told him about the two sessions. Russo is the former chairperson of the International Association for the Study of Dreams and co-director of the Dream Institute of Northern California. Based on Gordon Lawrence’s method, he and his colleague Meredith Sabini have worked out a technique they call “culture dreaming.” They have been working with it for seven years, in companies and organizations, and also in monthly sessions open to the public. 

 

“In a culture dreaming session we don’t allow any personal information about the dreamer or what’s happening in his or her life," explains Russo, "nor do we discuss potential personal interpretations of the dream. It’s really about the cultural meaning of the dreams.”

 

So what happens during a dream session? Says Russo: “Research indicates that there is no strict boundary between waking and dreaming; there is continuity between the two. In other words, we continually dream about the same things we’re thinking about during the day. Western culture emphasizes the individual, but we are also social creatures. Needless to say, we dream about what happens in the groups we are part of: family, work, culture.” 

 

Something else is added to the mix during a culture dreaming session, he says. The group develops a “group spirit” or collective consciousness that is manifested in the session and influences the process, including the dreams people relate. As a result, the participants feel their individual dreams are part of a process that is bigger than they are. This makes them feel connected. Once that feeling has been established, the group’s collective consciousness becomes a kind of psychological entity in itself. Russo calls this an “emergent energy field.” “The group spirit dreams, too,” he says, “and influences the individual dreamers.” 

 

We practiced dreaming together in our women’s group, but dream consultants like Russo also use the technique in the business community: “Organizations have a collective consciousness and you can even say all participants are living out the same dream. It can be very useful to bring that dream into awareness and openly investigate it.”

 

During the last presidential campaign, he says, his institute collected dreams related to the elections, particularly about Obama. Then they wrote and performed a dream play based on what they had collected. The audience was enthusiastic and reported that the play helped them better understand the significance of the elections for the country. 

 

Dutch dream consultant Marja Moors also uses the technique in her work w
ith companies. The psychologist, who conducted dream research in college, is also a trainer in Organizational Constellations, a method similar to collective dreaming. “Dreaming, per se, is a gateway to a larger source,” explains Moors. “With a group of people you create a collective vat, as it were, with which you can collect other dreams besides the individual ones.”

 

During her sessions with companies, people have recounted dreams about landslides, quicksand or buildings sinking, for example. “This makes you wonder about the strength of the foundation on which the company is built.” Mutual relations between employees and management can also be aptly symbolized in dream images. She adds one caveat: If you want to use dreams to develop a vision, it’s important not to be too precise or demanding in planning the session. 

 

Says Moors: “By remaining open and accepting that you don’t know, you make space for new information…sometimes about something you’d rather not see in your waking consciousness. When people want too much or have ego-related plans, it creates background noise. This is the purpose of free association. It’s just like personal psychoanalysis, but in this case it’s collective. Everyone responds without a preconceived plan, spontaneously, knowing that you don’t need to do anything with it and that your associations don’t have to be logical. Silence is okay, too; there’s no need for the facilitator to fill it.”

 

Moors recognizes a kind of tension between this unforced, non-achievement-related gathering and the functionality focus that dominates most companies. But thinking too much about functionality disrupts the process, she says. Some dream consultants believe such sessions should not be recorded or written up, let alone discussed.

 

One example is Gerard van Reekum, an organizational expert who often works with dreams. He believes the power of the social dreaming matrix lies in the experience of participating. You listen, consider, sometimes contribute with your own memories or associations or by pointing out the link between others’ contributions. “And when it’s over, it’s over. Tomorrow morning—same time, same place—new opportunities await.”

 

He is not at all keen to report on or even bring up memories of sessions. “It’s almost like when you wake up and no longer can or have the courage to look back through the fog to the dream that was so clear in your mind a minute ago. It’s doing its job and may even do it better unconsciously than consciously.”

 

In our women’s group sessions we started by asking a question: What should or can we know about the dynamic process going on in our group? I had more or less expected that something would come up about power structures or tension between members, because that’s where we had experienced problems. And in dreams, after all, shadows appear that we don’t want to see during the day.  

 

But nothing of the kind emerged. Together, we rose to a higher place and felt like a tight-knit team, and we were taken there by the collective exercise. “The unconscious doesn’t just generate shadows but light,” Moors observes, which fits precisely into the idea of the matrix we created at that moment. 

 

According to Moors, you always benefit by sharing dreams, even within organizations. When people tell their own dream story and others hear it in an open, accepting setting, everyone gets a better image of each other: both more complete and more positive. Understanding takes the place of mistrust and distance. Judgements, criticism and cliques disappear. “Sharing dreams this way enhances flexibility as well as the ability to deal with different viewpoints, and substantially improves the connection among team members,” she says.

 

Creating harmony, unity and solidarity in groups of different people with distinct backgrounds and ideas and highly individual characters and personalities is nearly impossible as long as everyone remains entrenched at a mental level of logic and opinions. But amazingly enough, if you venture together to a deeper level—a layer where irrationality, free association and dream images are welcome—a deeper connection arises naturally. 

 

By Lisette Thooft

Illustration: Neeltje Konings

Solution News Source

SIGN UP

TO GET A Free DAILY DOSE OF OPTIMISM


We respect your privacy and take protecting it seriously. Privacy Policy