While You Were Sleeping
"Why a salamander?" was the question on Kim Collet's mind when she walked into her dream group. In a recent dream, the busy mother of young children had been relegated to taking care of a house by the ocean while everyone else got to go off to the beach. Inside, she discovered a salamander--shimmering and colorful in pinks and purples--lying on the kitchen table.
Collet was mystified by the image, but her group members offered up several clues: Salamanders are amphibians that go between water and land; and in certain mythologies they are symbolic of transformation and are said to be able to survive fire.
"Right after working on the dream, I decided to make that salamander," Collet says. The human-sized cement, chicken wire and mosaic piece would take almost five years to complete. During that time Collet also began building an art studio adjacent to her home. The first thing she did in her new studio was establish art as a priority in her life by putting the finishing touches on her sculpture.
In creating her artwork, Collet was doing what Stephen Aizenstat, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founding president of Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, Calif., calls "animating the dream image." Like a growing number of psychologists who work with dreams and dreamwork groups, he often recommends using art as a way to "meet the dream more directly" than words allow.
searching for meaning
Interest in group dreamwork led by a peer or professional has been slowly growing over the past three decades, but with the advent of the Internet, the practice has blossomed to a remarkable degree. Online groups--with real-time conversations and bulletin-board postings of dreams and feedback--have made dreamwork accessible to everyone. Yahoo! offers at least 132 dream groups, while the online bulletin board at the Web site of the Association for the Study of Dreams, an international organization that fosters multidisciplinary studies of dreams and publishes a peer-reviewed academic journal on dreaming, reports a 200 percent increase in the number of daily messages over the past five years.
Can these laypeople be sure that they're analyzing their dreams "correctly"? No matter: It's having the conversation, not the results, that counts.
"The psychological interpretation is really the least important part of it," says Aizenstat, who has conducted group seminars and workshops for 25 years. The benefit of such groups, with or without a professional leader, "is people sharing the power of the dreamtime with each other in intimate ways," he says.
"There are many, many uses for dreams outside of the psychotherapist's office," says Alan Siegel, Ph.D., an assistant clinical professor of clinical science at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Dream Wisdom. While he cautions that dreamwork should not be used as a substitute for professional therapy, Siegel believes that the great reward of dream groups is in "the process of exploring, of building the dialogue between the dreamer and the other people in the group."
It's a process that can translate into personal and spiritual growth, artistic and creative development, and improved problem-solving skills, say proponents. Noticing, honoring and sharing our dreams connects us to our inner, less rational and more emotional selves, as well as to our outer world and the other beings that inhabit it. There is significant variation in how dreams are used in nontherapeutic settings. Some groups promote using dreams to solve the problems of daily life, encouraging people to think of questions before going to bed and then interpreting dreams as answers. Others utilize their dreams to pick up on subtle messages from their bodies, and there are reports of people detecting diseases through dreams before medical tests could find the physical evidence of a disorder. Some groups focus on the dream as a pathway to creativity, and members try innovative techniques to combine dreams and art.
One of the hottest debates in dreamwork revolves around those times when we realize that we are dreaming. Enthusiasts of these "lucid dreams" encourage people to not just go along for the ride, but to step into the driver's seat, changing plot, characters and outcomes. Others tend to see dreams as communications from either an inner or outer source of wisdom, and believe we should be engaging in dialogue with these wisdom sources rather than trying to tell them what to say.