Posted by Ryan Hurd on August 12, 2009
So far, in this post series about ways to work with dreams, I have mostly focused on ways of working with your dreams alone. Today let’s talk about group dream work and how to start your own local dream sharing group.
If you are interested in dream interpretation, being part of a dream circle can be surprisingly accurate at finding the core truths in a dream, be them fears, future possibilities, or emotional hangovers from the past. Unfortunately, the uneasy fact is that we are pretty bad at “seeing” our dreams ourselves. This is especially the case if we haven’t been tracking our dreams for very long. Bringing a dream into a safe group setting like a dream circle can quickly deliver many perspectives on what these dreams mean, and more often than not, bring wisdom that can really surprise the dreamer.
Essentials for Starting a Dream Group
It’s easy to start a dream circle in your neighborhood. You don’t have to have a therapist amongst you, or someone well-versed in mythology (although these are helpful energies to have along for the ride). The most important thing is that you collect a small group of people who trust each other, and feel safe enough to tell their dream and listen to feedback about what others think.
I have taken dream workshops with Jeremy Taylor, who is one of the strongest voices today for group dream sharing, also called group dream work. Many of my tips and advice that follows comes from his methods and his books, which I will reference at the end of the article.
The only dream expert is you
Taylor would be the first to say though that nobody “owns” the methods of group dream work; they have literally been with us for as long as we have historical records. In fact, some social scientists believe that dreams are adaptive for us precisely because we share them with our community.
Dreams have a language that adapts to the medium of their expression, and they use this medium to reinforce social values and, sometimes, to question and overturn them. In this way, dreams that are shared in a group necessarily have social critique as well as personal information about the dreamer.
In other words, when we share a dream in a circle, we dream for the benefit of everyone.
Despite the the social implications that we dream for everyone, an important value when discussing dreams is to acknowledge that the dreamer has the last word on his or her dream. It’s a cognitive right, plain and simple, and no authority outside the dreamer can dictate the meaning of a private experience. Remembering this will ensure your dream group a safe environment and a long life.
“If it Were My Dream…”
The flip side here is that every comment about some else’s dream is a projection. This is a basic psychological fact: everything that we see we must recognize first, and that recognition means that the concept comes from within us. As we used to say when we were eight years old: it takes one to know one. So when we discuss other people’s dreams, we are actually opening up the door to our inner lives too. Jeremy Taylor suggests to start each dream comment with the phrase “If this were my dream,” to help the dreamer and the speaker remember that the comment is not a fact, but a projection.
10 Tips for Starting a Dream Interpretation Group
1. Find a group of people less than 12 and more than 5 for optimal interactions.
2. Meet regularly, and schedule a couple hours for the meeting. Once a week can be a big commitment, but it’s the best. Twice a month will keep a group strong too.
3. What happens in the dream circle stays in the dream circle. Agree to anonymity so you can discuss what you learned but without naming names once you are out of the circle.
4. Bring a dream with you that you want to share. The one with the strongest need to share will come forward!
5. If you have formed the dream circle, you are acting as the facilitator, but the dream group does not need a formal leader if everyone agrees to some rules about watching time, keeping safety, and giving everyone an opportunity to have their voice heard. Still, many prefer to have a dream leader, even if that person switches out every week.
6. Prepare for one or two people max to be able to share a dream in a one hour session. The time goes by fast!
7. Give the dreamer the last word on what she has heard that night. She does not need to say “yes” or “no” to possible dream meanings – let it soak in. If she had a revelation, she can share it.
8. Start the meeting with a brief check-in about how your day/week has gone, with a focus on your emotional state. This can relieve some projections from the get go and also builds safety.
9. It’s also nice to check in with the dreamers who went last week and see if anything new came to them after they had time to process. Sometimes, especially for introverts, people need some time to chew on the new ideas about their dreams.
10. Watch for recurrent patterns of interpretation that may point to a group blind spot that is developing. Especially positive themes. If every dream turns out to be about accepting new wisdom or a celebration of the goddess, chances are a communal blind spot has developed that is dancing around some of the darker themes that routinely show up in dream work, such as relationship issues, change, or coping with death.
Again, you do not need to be an expert to start a dream group! All you need is a group that is enthusiastic about sharing dreams. The rest comes with experience.
Highly recommended further readings if you want to start your own dream group:
Dream Sharing Groups, Spirituality, and Community. A free article by Kelly Bulkeley.
Dream Work: Techniques for discovering the creative power in dreams by Jeremy Taylor
Appreciating Dreams by Montague Ullmann, PhD. (Jeremy Taylor’s mentor and renowned dream researcher).
The next post in this series is about dream honoring.