Friday, December 28, 2012

Response to Anonymous

If you’ve read some of my papers about the FiveStar Method, you’d know that my focus in working with your dreams is primarily on the dreamer, not the imagery, at least at first.  So what I notice about this dreamer is that you are getting through these challenges without having to do much on your own. I mean, you aren’t flying the plane--you’re simply standing in the cockpit, where the controls are. You don’t panic, nor do you try to do something to avert the crash--you simply pass through the event unscathed. It’s a little different in the second part, because when you find yourself in another threatening spot, you do something (doggie paddle) on your own to respond to the situation. But again, you’re rescued from the situation by some force other than yourself.

When we focus on the dreamer’s responses, we can’t assign a “good” or “not so good” assessment without the dreamer, because we all have different chronic ways of responding to life. If you tend to be rather passive, and depend on others, it comes through this dream, and it might not be the “cutting edge” of your development. But if you tend to be a controlling person, then this dream shows another side of life, whereby you are calm and taken care of--perhaps a very different kind of experience than you’re used to. So I would need to ask you, “What represents a creative and new (for you) way of responding to life? Going with the flow? If so, this dream shows you trusting a great deal. But if you are already calm and tend to be passive, you might look upon the dreamer’s level of response as reflective of a style that might need to be challenged (by you).

Regardless of the level of the dreamer’s response to these challenges, it certainly seems to work out, suggesting that you are getting through things with lots of support, either from within yourself and/or from other people in your life.

After analyzing your responses, we would turn to the imagery and get your associations. The old man, your cousin, the Euphrates, etc. In the case of the two male figures, they don’t do much directly--there’s no verbal communication. The lack of interaction is intriguing,and I’d want to explore that with you. But at least we can see that Christopher’s presence seems to coincide with your rescue, again conveying the sense that you’re being watched over and cared for by strong and capable support.

When we factor in your friend’s dream, as a possible psychic connection, it’s tempting to  insert him into the helper role for you, isn’t it? You don’t dream of each other, but the situations are similar, and he is the rescuer in his dream. Interestingly, he experiences rescuing one of his children, and you are as helpless as a child, only able to doggie paddle. In a way, it’s a wonderful overlap, suggested psychic support from him. But again, you would need to ask, “Is this my customary role, and will depending on him unbalance our friendship?” It could be a refreshing and bonding experience for both of you or it can be “chronic” and unbalanced. It takes both of you participating in this analysis to answer these questions. I certainly cannot, but this process, which focuses on relational dynamics raises the questions that need to be asked, don’t you think?

If you'd like to share more reflections on your dream, please do so. I might have more to say at that point. Thanks for sharing your dream!

Monday, August 6, 2012

If this were my dream...

For the last few days, members of the Board Operations listserv of the IASD have engaged in a conversation about the uses and abuses of Montague Ullman's famous phrase, "If this were my dream..." Those of you who know of this work, and the related work of Jeremy Taylor, are full aware of the importance afforded to this phrase, because it allows a dream worker to minimize the harm that can be done by simply saying, "I think your dream means..." Avoiding intrusive and harmful projections continues to be a concern for ethical dream workers, regardless of whether they are therapists or lay leaders. I wrote the following to the Board Ops listserv, but later discovered that it hadn't gone out. I was relieved, it is on my blog. Perhaps it will satisfy my need to weigh in on this important matter, while avoiding the possible escalation of conflict.
I recalled the time in 1977 that I studied with Ullman at his home in NY. I was developing a dream course for the Association for Research and Enlightenment, and the ARE wanted to take into consideration a variety of approaches in our final methodology. Toward the end of the first day of the group seminar, I asked him if he'd ever considered adding a step that would analyze the narrative structure, which Mark Thurston and I tended to call the "theme" back then (even though our approach to "theme" varied somewhat from the variety of excellent approaches espoused today). He said, "No." So I asked, "Why not?" He said, "Because I don't think it's necessary."

The night after I asked him the question about the theme, he had a dream about a young man who drove up to his house in a red sports car, and seemed to cause a bit of a stir. After we worked on his dream, he admitted that he thought our conversation had provoked the dream, and that the younger man was essentially I, or the part of Monty that I represented! He went on to way that I was the first person ever to challenge his method. I felt both honored and embarrassed.

Our interaction after that exchange was warm, respectful, and playful. I went on to develop a five-step dreamwork method for ARE's course and Monty gave me his blessing to use his method and to modify it as I thought necessary. He was an open-minded man, and his blessings meant a lot.

Regarding the way to use "if this were my dream..." I am reminded of when ARE got into a similar hair-splitting controversy over prayer, of all things. The chief experts on prayer (a group called the Healing Prayer Group that had been meeting weekly since the 1930s) decided it was a bad idea to pray for someone unless you obtained his or her permission. Some of us found that amusing, others thought it was a deadly serious matter.

Down here in south Texas, we have a saying in Spanish, "No sea mas papista que el papa." Don't be more papal than the pope.

IASD includes members from a variety of different dreamwork traditions, which represent different paradigms of approach. Take, for instance, the latest issue of Dreaming, which contains a paper by David Jenkins on narrative approaches to dream work. From Kuhn's standpoint, a narrative approach to dream work is a different paradigm, and thus opens up new questions and problems. The story line, and its climax or lack thereof, becomes more important than the component images. Similarly, my focus on relational or interactive processes in dreams focuses primarily on reciprocal dynamics that co-determine the dream outcome, rather than focusing imagery, and thus downplays interpretation and the potential violations that accompany a content-oriented model. So there are other ways around the particular problem of intrusive projections, but they may not appeal to everyone.

I am also reminded that Monty believed that dreams may have evolved to serve a social function. If so, the mere sharing of them brings us closer together. If this is true, then dreams have been facilitating social bonding way before any of us figured out how to do it "right." Not that we should give up and simply let whatever happens happen. But there's no need to get in the way of normal processes that occasionally cross the line. Even when people say too much, I think more good comes from it than bad. At least we get to know each other. Indeed, as a group therapist, I think that group is effective only when it is slightly less dangerous than real life. Without sufficient unpredictability in the real-life sharing of dreams, then the possibility of a "corrective emotional experience," in which the dreamer/client experiences something wholly unexpected--stressful but growth enhancing--could never happen. I'd rather think that allowing enough room for excess and error are the way that the dream can have the last word.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Is the Dreamer the Ultimate Authority on the Dream's Meaning?

A modern tenet of most dream work systems is that the dreamer is, or should be, the ultimate authority on what the dream means. While this sounds good, and conforms to the post-modern ideal that there is no external "expert" to which we can appeal, I think that putting the dreamer in control is not as simple as it sounds. For, if dreams are, to some extent by definition, designed to show us what we don't know and to some extent have not been willing to acknowledge, then the process of dream analysis is likely to raise unwelcome and even invasive-seeming contributions, even if done with the utmost respect for the dreamer. Rogerian theorists have faced the same dilemma. Rogers advocated a strict non-invasive, client-centered approach, but he also acknowledged the importance of therapist congruency or authenticity. What happens when the helper/therapist has a strong reaction to what the dreamer/client is espousing, or seems to be denying? Does the therapist hide her feelings out of respect for the client's authority, or does she express her feelings/observations at the risk of offending the client's authority and engaging in shadow-driven countertransference? I think the deeper solution is not so much to sign off with a politically correct bow to the dreamer's authority (which is probably all we can do in our espoused ethics), but by remaining aware of what one is doing and the consequences of taking stands that may run counter to the client/dreamer's own assessment. In my own experience in working with dreams (in therapy, admittedly, but then again some degree of therapy "happens" whenever dreams are shared), it's pretty rare that I feel I have to do that, but it's part of working with emergent awarenesses and longstanding unfinished business.

As dream workers, we can not only acknowledge the possibility that we may see something that the dreamer does not, or will not, see; we can provide informed consent by saying from the outset that dream sharing activates an interpersonal process that may involve unexpected and unwanted contributions that partake of the dream worker's accurate perceptions of underlying truth, distorted projections based on our own unfinished business, or a combination thereof. In any case, we would do well not to take refuge in a simplistic view which, while sounding politically correct, does not do justice to the rich and unwieldy process that dream sharing activates.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Demonstration of the FiveStar Method, Tony Hawkin's dreampart 2

Here's more of my work with Tony's dream:

Step Two: Theme

Someone receives something that seems to have lost its content, beauty or value, and disposes of it in a way that mildly offends others. He also becomes aware of something that has value but is not in use.

Step Three: Responses
You accept the flower cellophane, but do not engage the woman, nor ask her any questions. You could have asked her something, or said something. When you encounter the women in conversation, who evidence some annoyance, you don't interact. You don't defend yourself, you don't greet them, etc. Indeed, throughout, you do not engage anyone or anything except the flower remnants. While you consider the usefulness of the bicycle, you do not mount it, yet. But there is a sense that you may do so. So you remain somewhat aloof from most of the dream imagery.

Step Four: Imagery
If you were present, I would you dialogue with the woman, the two women, the flower remnants, and the bicycle, because there is so much there that never becomes revealed. I think it would be fruitful if you spoke to the woman, asked her questions, told her what you wanted, and then allowed her to respond. I think it would also be valuable for you to describe yourself as the flower remnants (once beautiful, now dried up, etc.) And what would you say to the women, who became annoyed at your mere presence.
They are much more active and engaged than you are. You seem to be on the outside looking into that relationship. But it seems positive that they are so active, as if to say, "How will you get into a relationship with us, because there's so much there and waiting for you?" Of course, the content may also pertain to external relationship dynamics, as well, where you might feel left out or overlooked.
I would also encourage you to become the bicycle and address the dreamer. I feel that you might hear a certain vitality and youthfulness beckoning for you to embark on an adventure. Alone, perhaps, but nonetheless something vital that would take you to a new place. The bicycle is old, but he's good and still able to bear you.
Also, I noticed that the "flowers" were changing toward the end, becoming something more substantial just as you discarded them. Thus the imagery is moving toward something that you don't notice. One principle in this approach to dreaming is that nothing is ever dead, but remains dormant until we bring it to life with our responses to it. Your careful examination of it seems to have altered it, but you give up on it, perhaps too soon, to discover its lingering vitality.
Step Five: Application
As for application, if this were my dream, I would want to take strides to engage others more (perhaps women), rather than to remain a witness. Or from another standpoint, perhaps it would be best to desist from those efforts and apply yourself in a more individual direction, as represented by the "road trip" on the bicycle. The bicycle is a solitary means of conveyance, so perhaps for now, you might need to invest in yourself, rather than lament the apparent absence of passion, intensity, etc., that the relationship with the women might indicate. One could do both, of course!
As a final step, I would encourage you to relive the dream in reverie, exercising new, more engaged responses at various junctures in the dream. Seize the moment, find your voice, and witness the changes in the imagery and outcome. I think reliving this dream could really unleash some of the pent-up forces of change that are clearly evident in the dream narrative.
In summary, I have done what I don't ordinarily do, which is to analyze the dream without the dreamer' present. But notice that I build everything that I say on the process that is clearly present in the dream. The specific "bridge" to your waking life is up to you, of course.
I hope this proves to be of value to you, Tony!

And here is Tony's response to my work:
Tony Hawkins wrote:
That's really terrific. You've filled in the gap between my fanciful head take (difficult not to on a computer - which is why I'm impressed with what you've done) and something more minimal and depressing. You've emphasized the field of emotions, which is where I really am. And it gives me a very personal example to go on. I appreciate it would be better to have had my responses. Have you ever done this online, it a chatroom type situation?
When the circus is finally over I'll visit your website. I've had a quick look. I'm sure I'll have more to say at some future time. Thanks again.

And here is Ryan Hurd's comment on my work with Tony's dream. Ryan, as you may know, is a well-known lucid dream researcher, blogger, and creator of the highly popular dream website,

Ryan Hurd wrote:
Thanks, Scott, for this clear presentation of your dreamwork method! Seeing it in action with Tony's dream was also a treat (given the limitations of the medium). In particular, I really appreciate the "theme" step for revealing narrative structure.

My question right now is one of training. Do you intend this dreamwork method for all lay dreamworkers, or do you suggest it more for clinical psychotherapists with backgrounds like your own? (I see it is a method than can be used by lay dream workers or professional therapists alike.)

A final comment is that I am excited about the theoretical implications of the 5 star method. The dream is not a fixed text is a relationship in the making.

Me again: In summary, I believe that by challenging some faulty assumptions about dreams, we can view the dream as an interactive, relational process that can be analyzed according to the effects of the dreamer's feelings, assumptions, biases, and responses (or lack thereof). By remaining exclusively focused on what is evident in the dream, rather than what is not, the dream worker can engage the dreamer without overstepping healthy boundaries, and make a significant contribution to the dreamer's self knowledge, even when the dreamer is not present.
Of course, ideally, this method would be used between individuals who are in a real-time exchange. But in the absence of that, the FSM in good hands remains true to the noninvasive ideal of modern dream work. For a video demonstration, and a variety of papers related to the FSM, go to my DreamStar Institute website at

Demonstration of the FiveStar Method

Notice: I received a dream via email from someone (Kate), which was deleted somehow by mistake, so I was unable to read the dream thoroughly before losing it. Please resend it. Thank you!

Two years ago during the IASD Psiberconference, I did a presentation on the FiveStar method, which was published as an article in a recent issue of Dream Time. During the web exchanges with people who read my paper, I agreed to demonstrate the FSM by working on a dream posted by Tony Hawkins from England. Tony wrote out his dream, and posted it. I, in turn, worked on it without having any exchanges ahead of time with him. While this may seem overly ambitious and unwise in practice, I think the results indicate that the FSM can produce useful information for the dreamer even when real-time exchanges are not possible.

Tony shared the following dream:
I am in the grounds of beautiful old college buildings. I step onto a gravel driveway as a tall beautiful, dark-haired young woman in flowing dress walking merrily away from a gathering of people, some sort of celebration, hands me cellophane wrapper from which she has just taken what I sense must be really big a bunch of flowers. I have a sense of white, full round heads. “This is for you.” some words like that as she hands me the empty wrapping. I hold it up against the sky looking into its transparent emptiness. There are scattered small grey flower-head or plant images on the wrapper, otherwise it is empty, perhaps a sense of tiny plant detritis. I have my arm in side. I turn to the right and walk into another old stone college building, enter its pristine courtyard, with immaculate lawns and square trimmed hedges. On the exquisite grass, against the exquisite hedge is an old bicycle standing, not really leaning, just terribly upright, straight wheels, as though it ought not to be there and somebody might come at any moment and remove it. Sitting before the grass, on the grass, on a bench, it’s not clear, are two prestigious looking women in earnest conversation. They are sensibly dressed. As I pass them I have taken four small branches with leaves, a bit dead looking, from the formerly empty wrapper. I tossed them down in a bunch/heap at the corner of the crisp lawn and hedge saying “Adding a little bit to the decoration” and keep walking. One of the women glances around looking very slightly puzzled and perturbed by this unwanted interruption to her conversation. The few sticks were, unlike the bicycle, in an untidy configuration and looking, even more than the bicycle, as though they were only fit to be removed. I kept walking lest I was called back to remove them myself. There was nothing about my offering which improved the look of the place.
Here is my work with Tony's dream, using the Five Star Method, which was posted as a response on Psiberconference's web board:

I read your dream when I awoke to meditate at 4:30 am, and thought about it quite a bit before I went back to sleep. I even had a dream that seemed related to it. But let me apply the FSM, and show you what it might reveal. Of course, I would prefer to be in dialogue with you as we worked on it together, but I will do my best to remain true to the model. As you will see, I can say a whole lot without engaging in "intrusive projections," which is more likely to happen in a content-focused, interpretive approach. But of course, without you present, my associations will be limited.
First I would ask you to retell the dream in the present tense, but since you're not here, I will proceed with your past-tense dream.

Step One: Feelings
I experience yearning, sadness, loneliness, annoyance, anger (toward the women), defensiveness, and excitement (as I look at the bicycle). You might not have these feelings, of course, but they came up in me.

I will share the rest of my work with Tony's dream, including his response to my work, but first try your own hand. What do you think is the theme, or process narrative for Tony's dream? If you don't know how to formulate a theme, take a look at the summary of the FSM, as follows, and see if you can come up with one. I will post the rest of my analysis of Tony's dream in a couple of days.

I. Share dream and feelings
Dreamer shares the dream in the first-person, present tense. Dream worker(s) identifies with the dreamer’s experience, and shares feelings that may arise. Dreamer also shares feelings provoked by the dream, too.

II. Formulate the theme
In collaboration with the dreamer, the dream worker(s) summarizes the action in the form of a
succinct theme. Avoid mention of specific images and names. Use generic nouns like “someone,”
“something,” or “somewhere” to replace specifics names, objects and places. Example:
“Someone is trying to get somewhere, and encounters an array of obstacles blocking his way.”

III. Highlight and troubleshoot dreamer responses
In collaboration with the dreamer, the dream worker(s) highlight and troubleshoot the dreamer’s responses to the dream content. Highlight the responses (i.e. assumptions and reactions) that
were made by the dreamer. Ask, “Where did the dreamer respond or react to the dream situations and characters?” Follow up with questions such as these,“Do you respond this way in other areas of your life?” “Is this a new response, or is it familiar?” “What was constructive about the dreamer’s response?” “What was unfortunate about the dreamer’s response?” “How could the dreamer have responded differently?” and “What do you think would have happened?”

IV. Analyze the imagery
The dreamer shares his or her associations with the images (amplification). The dream worker(s) can also provide associations and ideas, as well. As an added step, have the dreamer dialogue (role play) with dream images in order to enhance awareness and deepen the relationship with that part of himself/herself. The goal is to clarify the generic issue or unconscious agenda represented by the dream content. Also, the dream worker(s) and dreamer discuss any changes that may have occurred in the dream images in the course of the dream, and how those changes may have related to the dreamer’s responses.

V. Apply the dream
Ask the dreamer, “What would you like to do differently if this dream, or one that presents you
with a similar situation, should arise again? How do you think that affect the outcome?” Also ask
the dreamer, “Where else in your life can this new response be helpful? Where are you willing to
enact this new response?”

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