While You Were Sleeping
Photography by: courtesy of Shutterstock
Searching for meaning
Interest in group dreamwork led by a peer or professional has been slowly growing over the past three decades, and with the advent of the Internet, the practice blossomed. Now, online groups—with real-time conversations and postings of dreams and feedback—have made dreamwork accessible to everyone. Yahoo! offers thousands of dream groups, while the Facebook fan page for the International Association for the Study of Dreams, an international organization that fosters multidisciplinary studies of dreams, has more than 1,500 likes. Can these laypeople be sure that they’re analyzing their dreams “correctly”? No matter: It’s having the conversation that counts, say experts.
“The psychological interpretation is really a less important part of it,” says Aizenstat, who has conducted seminars and workshops for 35 years. The benefit of such groups, with or without a professional leader, “is people sharing the power of the dreamtime in intimate ways,” he says. “There are many, many uses for dreams outside of the psychotherapist’s office,” says Alan Siegel, Ph.D., an associate clinical professor in the psychology department at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Dream Wisdom: Uncovering Life’s Answers in Your Dreams (Celestial Arts, 2002). While he cautions that dreamwork should not be used as a substitute for professional therapy, Siegel believes that the reward of dream groups is in “the process of exploring, of building the dialogue between the dreamer and the others 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. 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.