Saturday, June 29, 2013

I just returned from the annual conference of the IASD. What a great conference, and what great friends! Each year, the conference experience becomes richer and richer as I get to know fellow dream workers better, and follow their work as it develops.

After attending more presentations than I ever have, and delivering two of my own, I have decided to incorporate a modification into the FSM: a projective dream work segment. In my efforts to make the FSM client-centered, and process oriented (non-interpretive), I believe that I may have unwittingly limited the method, at least when it comes to group applications.

So...it's a simple modification. When the group has done its disciplined work in steps 1-3, which by the way includes the provision for "If this were my dream, I would have responded..." in step three (but in terms of response, not interpretation), I will suggest that the group be encouraged to engage in "vicarious appropriation" during steps 4 and 5, as long as the dreamer goes first in step 4. Jung was pretty adamant in saying that amplification is a relational process, given our connection on a collective level, even though the primary source of associations should be the dreamer. So the dialogue should enrichen the process.

It's always a matter of respect, and good leadership, regardless of the "rules" of a given method. As Henry Reed so aptly and provocatively said during his presentation at IASD, "no one's safe." With that in mind, we can do our best to create a methodology that is as safe as its deeply interpersonal.

I will be describing this in more detail in the certification course in the next few weeks, and creating a video of this process as soon as I can manage to do so. I'm teach a course on Advanced Techniques in Counseling in July, and will be introducing the FSM for individual and group work, and I hope to be able to video one of our sessions. Of course, confidentiality is an issue, so I've got to work that out.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Against Interpretation

In Susan Sontag's most famous essay, "Against Interpretation," she wrote,

Interpretation is a radical strategy for conserving an old text, which is thought too precious to repudiate, by revamping it. The interpreter, without actually erasing or rewriting the text, is altering it. But he can't admit to doing this. He claims to be only making it intelligible, by disclosing its true meaning.

Most approaches to dream analysis uphold the idea that the dreamer, rather than the dream worker, is the ultimate authority on the meaning of the dream.  While leaving the interpretation up to the dreamer is on the surface a good way to avoid the biases or "projections" of the dream worker, it doesn't solve the underlying problem that gives rise to invasive projections. Sontag argues that the deeper fallacy is to  pursue interpretation in the first place. That is, she says that the real error is treating art (and dreams) as equivalent to their "content," and then setting about to reveal what that content is. The content is usually thought of as the dream's assumed "symbolized" meaning. For Freud, it was the disguised hedonistic desire to express some unacceptable sexual or aggressive impulses. For Jung, it was the individuation urge expressing itself through archetypes, or the compensating function of the psyche attempting to restore balance. For art, it's the artist's conscious or unconscious message that they intend to convey through the form. But regardless it has to be "revealed," and that's where interpretation comes in.

It is very hard to overturn two millenia of thinking about understanding dreams. The mind synthesizes what it sees and renders it meaningful if it can. But there is an alternative to the revelation of the dream's underlying content. It is simply put, an exploration of the relationship between dreamer and dream imagery. This dimension is already largely revealed by the story or narrative that the dreamer reports upon awakening, but is largely overlooked when the intent of the analyticial process is to reveal something that is not already manifest. By focusing on the relationship, we stay  tethered to what is actually there, and what is actually happening. When we add our associations to the imagery, using noninvasive methods such as amplification or Gestalt dialoguing in the larger context of exploring the dreamer-dream relationships, we arrive at a holistic approach that is phenomenologically congruent with the dreamer's own experience. We don't abandon the dreamer's story or alter it with our analytical brilliance, all in the name of "disclosing it's true meaning." To put it in Sontag's words again:

What the overemphasis on the idea of content entails is the perennial, never consummated project of interpretation.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Dreamer's Global Response Set--Very Important Concept

The distinction between content-focused dream work and process-oriented dream analysis that the former focuses on visual content, and latter examines the dreamer-dream relationship. Questions that were never asked now become central in the "cocreative paradigm." I have recently introduced the term "imagery change analysis" to describe how our work with dream imagery needs to reflect the constant changes in the content that are mirrored by the changes in dreamer response. Which comes first? Since the dreamer is our "client," not the imagery, we would do well always to make the dreamer's response the "first cause" in the creation of the dream. But, of course, in any real relationship, the circular or reciprocal dynamic between participants is in constant motion.

The dreamer's response is more than what he or she does in the dream. It's always everything that the dreamer brings to the relationship. I have recently termed it the dreamers' "global response set" in order to get beyond the connotation that the dreamer's responses are merely behavioral. What we want to do is to encourage the dreamer to examine his or her beliefs, feelings, fears, assumptions, etc. that predispose the dream ego to take a particular stance in relationship to what is emerging in the dream imagery. This is a fertile line of inquiry, because it opens the dreamer's eyes to how he or she "sets up" the dreamer-dream relationship. For instance, if a dreamer--once becoming lucid--always flies away from conflict (as one client once reported), the dream worker can examine the assumptions that give rise to this behavior. What fears, desires, etc. prompt her to do that? What experiences in her life form the backdrop to this predictable response? It may turn out that someone who reflexively avoids the dream encounter has been mistreated in some way, and still suffers wounds that have not healed. This analysis, rather than "blaming the dreamer" allows the dream work to assume a compassionate attitude toward any non-constructive behavior, since it seeks to find the reason that such action seems to still make sense to the dream ego.

I have written about "chronic adaptive responses" in a paper that is posted on the DreamStar site. It's titled, "Understanding Adaptive Responses in the Analysis of Dreams from the Standpoint of Cocreative Dream Theory," and forms part of the curriculum for the new Certificate of Dream Study program. Understanding how repetitive dream responses can be traced to early experience is a very valuable tool in helping the dreamer expand beyond a narrow range of relational capacity. Please take a look at this paper at http://www.dreamanalysistraining.com/offsite/offsite-8/page30/page30.html



DreamStar Training Now Set Up in Moodle

I have been working for some time at setting up a comprehensive training program in Moodle, which is a learning management system used by countless universities. I have installed Moodle as a separate partition on my website, and will hereafter host all of my courses. The training program consists of two options--one leading to a Certificate of Dream Study, and another which is almost the same (except for the omission of a practicum) for students who want CEUs only. The program is almost complete, with only the quizzes yet to be constructed. However, the course ready for review if you'd like to see it at http://dreamanalysistraining.com/moodle2/.

When you get to the home page, just click on a course title, and then use "guest123" as your password. You can then open all of the modules and see the approach I'm taking to the DreamStar training.

The good new is that the Certificate of Dream Study training will only cost $495 now. The CEU-only version will cost $195, and can be upgraded later by simply paying the difference.

Scott

Monday, April 22, 2013

More on Imagery Change Analysis

I had this dream the other night, which illustrates the value of imagery change analysis.

I was in a dark house, and looking into a cage. There is a bird in the cage, but I cannot identify it. I think at first it could be Birdita (my pet dove), but I recall that she is "at large" in the house. I reach into the darkness and carefully take the bird, and bring it into the light. It is an Inca dove (as is Birdita), but it looks robust and wild--larger, too. I immediately decide to release it, so I head for the front door. I walk outside and hold the bird up in the air, allowing it to stand on my palm. I expect it to fly away, but it only "rouses" and settles back onto my hand. I realize that it does not want to go free. So I take it back into the house, and begin looking for a cage that I can use for the bird. It seems that there is a cage in the attic, so I ask Ryan and Julie to help me retrieve it (since I am holding the bird). We cannot seem to find it, so I decide, once again, that the bird should go free. At first I try to return to the front door, but I cannot find my way through a maze of furniture. It seems that I am in a mall now, and a retaurant is between me and the front door. As I try to slip through the chairs, I notice a leg portruding from my arms. I realize that I am carrying an infant! I finally give up trying to get through the barriers to the front door, and I walk toward the back door. Now I feel what I believe to be the bird standing on my shoulders, as Birdita does when she is most affectionate. I reach up to feel the bird as we approach the back door, but I feel a person's arm! I turn around and see that an ugly woman has been riding on my back. I put her down, and lean over and kiss her goodbye. She seems surprised, and taken aback that I would kiss her. But it seems somehow important. I turn around and see Birdita perched nearby. I take her up and go in search of her cage.

In this dream, the imagery emerges out of darkness, and takes on several forms in the course of my searching for a solution for the "burden" of the wild dove. At first the imagery is ambiguous, shrouded in darkness. My own expectations can be seen as "determining" the image of the bird that emerges from the darkness. My commitment to its freedom seems noble and appropriate, but it doesn't match the dove's intent. So something that I believe belongs in nature, and apart from me, seems intent on staying with me. I accept that, and shift to accommodating it. But I cannot find an appropriate way to accommodate its presence in my life, so I shift back toward releasing it. Then the image changes to a baby; that is, something that one would not "release" into the world. It needs nurturing and support before it can stand on its own. But then it changes into a hag, which of course is the mythological bearer of truth for a man. Instead of reacting to her ugliness, I kiss her, and then let her go. This act seems to bring me full circle--to the point where I'm only caring for my old companion Birdita (a wounded dove that I have had for over 10 years).

Regardless of the fact that this was my dream, I think it's clear that the dreamer is struggling with whether to free something or to keep something that would depend on him. Whenever we employ imagery change analysis, it's important to see each change as contingent on what the dreamer felt, thought or did just prior to its transformation. As it becomes clear that the dreamer intends to keep the bird, the level of responsibility grows considerably when it turns into a baby. Then it assumes a further "burdensome" appearance in the form of the hag. But the dreamer does not reject the obligation to care for her. This was a very big moment, a turning point, in which the dreamer's willingness to accept the "hideous damsel" allows everything apparently to return to normal. But is it? Of course not. The dreamer kissed the hag, and we must infer from that action that the dreamer and whatever the hag represents have come into alignment and are now (at least for now) congruent and one.

As a class of imagery, we can infer that the dreamer was dealing with his emotional nature, in particular with the issue of dependency? All of the dreamer/dream exchanges connote different aspects of relational or emotional dependency. First the dreamer is willing to reach into the darkness and embrace the visitor, which can be seen as some newly emergent aspect of his feeling nature. If I was in therapy, I would of course explore my associations to these issues, and have plenty to say. I am newly married, and my son lives with me, to cite two obvious parallels. But regardless of the dream-waking parallels, suffice to say that I am happy with what the dreamer did in response to this "initation" into deeper obligation and relational intimacy. So should those who depend on me, and I them.

As for something I would encourage you to "get" from this example, it's this: The imagery evolves or regresses in response to the dreamer's moment-to-moment feelings, thoughts and attitudes. Whenever the dreamer exhibits a resilient response to the dream, the imagery tends to shift accordingly. If the dreamer locks down and fails to respond positively, the imagery will shift to the negative. By tracking this process with a dreamer, the dream worker can naturally encourage the dreamer to reflect on waking life parallels, and troubleshoot current patterns of response.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Carl Sagan's opinion of my work

It was interesting to find out today that the late Carl Sagan cited my work in his book The Demon Haunted World, which was published a year before his death. The reference to "demons" refers to me, of course, as a so-called believer in non-empirical reality. When I read the passage--a rather lengthy one--I was amazed that such rant could pass for prose. But then again, I am not a famous scientist.

When I was writing my book, I Am with You Always: True Stories of Encounters with Jesus, an engineer friend asked me, with obvious agitation, "How do you know if the experiences are real?" I was silent, having nothing to say. I could see that my friend and I lived in different worlds. For me, a person's experience is never real in the sense that he wanted it to be. I gave up years ago expecting anything of enduring meaning to be measurable. I love. Is that real? I dream. Is that real? Once you surrender the need for empirical reality, there's a still a lot left that's far from demonic. I pay my taxes, I change my oil, and I gaze at the stars, but that's not where I live. The longing I feel when I gaze at the stars is the place where I live. I don't understand how anyone can presume to dismiss that felt sense of meaning that cannot ever be produced on demand.

I struck what I considered to be a rather even approach to the religious experiences that I reported in IAWYA, and in Blessed Among Women, both of which have been republished under Ave Maria Press under different titles (See www.spiritualmentoring.com). I assumed a phenomenological stance, but I let my reader know that I had had my own mystical experiences. If Carl Sagan had ever experienced his first out-of-body experience, or just a single encounter with Light, he would have softened his attack on those who believe in something they cannot see through the lens of a telescope. When I hear today of parallel universes, and of other mystical-sounding realities at the edge of the known universe, I cannot understand why Sagan would dismiss without hesitation the foundation upon which so many people, of so many faiths, live meaningful lives.

Perhaps, before too long, I will be able to have a conversation with Dr. Sagan about empirical vs. non-empirical reality. I predict he and I will we be a lot smarter then.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Essential Frameworks

In my dream analysis training, I emphasize the dreamer's "global response set" as a co-creative or co-determining influence. We focus on what the dreamer feels, thinks, and does as a determining influence in the dream's unfoldment, seeing the dream as a "branching" experience--that is, one of many possible outcomes. This permits the client to view the dream as a process that mirrors the waking response to life, rather than as an event to be interpreted.

This emphasis on the dreamer's subjectivity and actions may seem overdone, especially in light of how I actually work with dreams in practice. Working with the imagery is very important to me.

What are the essential frameworks that I use? Years ago, I immersed myself in two different systems: Jung's archetypes, and the Eastern chakras. If one can acquire a sophisticated understanding of these two systems, the dream worker will possess a comprehensive backdrop to an ostensible process-oriented approach to dreams. This gives rise to a rich, relational approach that appreciates the depth and mystery of the imagery, but provides some general understandings of what the imagery might relate to.

The imagery is rarely fixed, and even if it appears to be stable over the course of a dream, we nonetheless view the imagery as "mutable" and responsive to the dreamer's changing response set. Rather than changing arbitrarily, the imagery usually fluctuates within a given category, showing regression or progression in refinement based on the dreamer's evolving or regressing responses. Since the imagery usually stays within a given category, then it is important to 1) understand the nature of that category, but 2) understand the range of possible expressions within a given category. For example, if the category is related to the third chakra (power, fight and flight), it's important to be able to work with a dreamer to ascertain the differences between "Holly, my pet cat who I had to put down recently" and "a Tibetan snow leopard." These animals occupy the same category, but the imagery obviously points to very different, client-conditioned understandings of a momentary snapshot of that influence in his or her life.

If you really want to master the Jungian archetypal system, the work of contemporary Jungians such as Robert Johnson and Marion Woodman may be more useful than the original works of Jung himself.  Or if you're like me, you may want to hear it from the "horse's mouth." Volume 9, 1 of Jung's collected works (The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious) provides a good immersion into his own thinking. As an overview, you might want to read Man and His Symbols. Regardless, eing able to work competently with shadow imagery (and having done one's own shadow work, as well) is very important. Also, you need to be completely comfortable with the anima-animus concept.

 As for an introduction to the chakras, Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism is a very sophisticated approach. But Edgar Cayce's readings on the seven centers can be very useful, if also a bit abstruse.

Monday, April 1, 2013

New paper to be published soon

I just completed a new paper that will be published in the International Journal of Dream Research in an upcoming issue, if not the next one. It is is entitled, "A New Method of Dream Analysis Congruent with Contemporary Counseling Approaches." I have posted an unedited draft on my DreamStar website, at www.dreamanalysistraining.com.

The paper is at http://www.dreamanalysistraining.com/offsite/offsite-9/styled-15/page66.html

I will also be posting a research paper that Mark Thurston and I have been working on, titled,
"Dream Reliving and Meditation as a Way to Enhance Reflectiveness and Constructive Engagement in Dreams: A Pilot Study" in the next few days. We will make the unedited author's draft available (as soon as we've finalized the report) at the DreamStar site. We're very excited about this tandem induction method, and will be following it up with a more rigorously controlled study.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Imagery Change Analysis

People often ask me, if the dream is indeterminate from the outset, and the dreamer's responses co-create the dream as it unfolds, what do we make of the imagery? If it is, as I've said elsewhere, a "mutable interface" between the dreamer and the emergent novelty of the dream, or a "moment-to-moment vectoring" of the dreamer-dream relationship, how do we analyze it for its meaning? I am working on a paper about this very question, but I want to say a few things that might help you in analyzing imagery from this perspective.

Instead of asking, "What does this image mean?" which implies that the image is fixed, and has a fixed meaning, you might ask, "How does this image change in the course of the dream?" and "How does the imagery's changes reflect the dreamer's changes in belief, attitude or response?" Through such questioning, you can assist the dreamer in understanding how the reciprocal relationship between dreamer and dream content is a growing, or regressing process--that the dreamer is either moving toward integration of some issue, or moving away from it.  Also, when you focus on imagery changes, you end up analyzing two or more discrete images that, while different, may fit within a broad class of images. Take for instance a dream of a 48-year-old woman that I worked with yesterday. Without telling you the whole dream, consider the fact that she started by driving a car, then was on foot and nearly run over by a tractor trailer, then was in a hotel awaiting the departure of a sea cruise on an ocean liner. When she reflected on the change of imagery, she was able to see that the car, the tractor trailer and ocean liner were all ways to get somewhere, all means of transportation--and that they were moving from smaller to larger, and from smaller capacity to greater capacity. She also reflected on how the movement reflected a letting go and depending on others. Her willingness to shift from an individualistic to a relational agenda was reflected in the shift of imagery from car to ocean liner. Significantly, while she was largely alone at the beginning of the dream, or with people who did not seem to have any direction or agenda, she was with her boyfriend at the end, waiting for their ship to come in.

Focusing on how images change will naturally guide the conversation toward classes of images and away from specificity. This helps the dreamer see that a series of outwardly disparate images can actually refer to a general life issue rather than to one specific situation. Those of you familiar with various hierarchical systems of life domains, such as the Eastern concept of chakras,  or Maslow's hieracrchy of needs, will find that this shift from specific to general imagery will help the dreamer understand that a dream may reflect a struggle /and or a resolution of a basic problem related to survival, affiliation, power, service, or any of the other main dimensions of life that have been defined in such comprehensive systems. This may seem overly complicated, but in actual practice it comes across as a natural, client-centered form of inquiry. To show you how imagery change analysis fits comfortably into co-creative dream practice, I will be posting a video of working with the woman and the dream that I have mentioned here.


This video, which I have just published on YouTube, was done to support a paper that I wrote for the recent IASD PsiberDreaming Conference, titled "Imagery Change Analysis: Working with Imagery in Co-Creative Dream Work. I did it specifically to demonstrate Imagery Change Analysis, which is an important component of the FiveStar Method, even though it demonstrates all of the steps of the FSM, and can be studied as a representative dream work session using the FSM.



http://youtu.be/Id1BDWN-Fqc

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, so...here 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.
Tony

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, http://dreamstudies.org:

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 dreamanalysistraining.com.

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:

Tony,
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?”

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Integration or the Tolerance of Incompleteness

I am in conversation with Massimo Shinco, a fellow Board member of the International Assn. for the Study of Dreams, about presenting together at the Berkeley conference in June. Our ideas have followed a similar evolution, leading us both to acknowledge the futility of such concepts as enlightenment or even integration. In the west, we tend to project ourselves into some ideal final state, and then to imagine that life and dreams are pushing us toward those end points. However, they never seem to arrive, do they? Our notions of success of the ordinary kind (money, status, the right person) are all end-state fantasies, as well. This yearning for completeness may rob us of the rich discovery process that is always unfolding. Of course, we can endeavor to follow our highest ideals in all we do, but that should not obscure the existential fact that we somehow never arrive, except perhaps in our final breath in which we might, as Steve Jobs did, simply exclaim "Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow!" In light of this, what does life offer? Where is the dream "going?" Perhaps toward a place within the soul where the unfolding process is enough, where the journey is everything as the Zen Buddhists say, or where samsara actually does become nirvana. Perhaps the journey is all we ever have, not just a focus to distract us from a there-and-then more desirable end point, but a way of coming into a radical acceptance of our incompleteness as sufficient. What does the surrender of enlightenment give us? Relationships with others and ourselves that are no longer compared with something we will never experience, anyway, in this life. Of course, some of us leverage the process to include some final state called heaven. But that, we know, is an article of faith. If you need that, then so be it. But I would rather find peace with the people and situations that are in my immediate field of attention. By acknowledging my inevitable incompleteness, life effloresces, and lead turns to gold because I give it everything, because it has become everything. If am wrong, I will find out, but in the mean time, the present will not suffer my premature loss.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

If you'd like me to comment on your dream in this blog, I would be glad to do so. While I cannot tell you what your dream means to you, the FiveStar Method allows a dream work facilitator to be actively involved in the dream discussion without violating the dreamer's autonomy. Since the FSM focuses on the dreamer's actions within the dream, and the impact of his/her responses on the dream imagery (and vice versa on in a reciprocal loop), most of our discussion is centered on "what is," rather than engaging speculative leaps of interpretive "brilliance." Focusing on analyzing content, and the underlying so-called meaning of the dream makes dream interpretation, as it's often practiced, hazardous to your emotional health. But by focusing on dreamer-dream interactive process, the dream worker can work with the dream safely and effectively, even in the absence of the dreamer. Of course, it would be better to have you present, but a lot of good work can be done without the dreamer. I hope to show you how.

Send the dream via email to me at gscotspar@gmail.com and I will

Monday, November 14, 2011

Dreams and Systems Theory, pt. 1

A woman dreamt that she was standing near a low sea wall and the ocean tide began to rise. Waves began to lap over the top of the wall. So she laid a row of stones along the top of the wall, which took care of the problem...until the tide rose even further. She continued to lay additional layers of stone until the wall was 10 feet tall. Still, the tide rose, until waves were breaking over the top of the wall.

In systems theory, this is called a runaway dynamic. It escalates until the system breaks down. We've all experienced it in various relationships in which two parties hold on to their respective positions, while the situation only gets worse. In theory, it's based on the premise articulated by Einstein, who defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result."

This is not only a dynamic between people, but it's a familiar dynamic WITHIN the psyche and in the confines of the dream. Indeed, we are often fighting battles to resist the expression of some legitimate urge or awareness, and only making it worse, because the "solution" that we impose only resists the expression of something that will not cease and desist. Finally, our efforts go bankrupt, and things usually get better (after the crisis is over!).

In co-creative dream theory, upon which the FiveStar Method is based, the dream is, simply put, a relational field, in which the dreamer interacts with a variety of aspects of self and others toward eventual integration, as the positions expressed by both clash, enter into dialogue, and eventually synthesize into new identity. Hegel is known for his elegant formula for the evolution of consciousness: "thesis, antithesis, synthesis." One can observe this process occurring in all areas of life, especially in dreams where unfinished business, orphaned aspects of self, and legitimate others (of indeterminate origin) enter into our psychic field and clamor for attention in the spirit of enlarging our perspective on life. Fortunately, the tide keeps rising no matter how committed we are to "non-solutions," that is, the repetition of self-preserving actions meant to end the conflict.

In our relational work with dreams, (See Step 3 in the FSM), we become sensitized to runaway dynamics, and thereby coach dreamers toward adopting more adaptive responses to the challenges presented. If the dreamer in the above dream had stopped building the seawall, she would have never faced the prospect of a cataclysmic collapse. The water would have flowed over her boundaries at a lower level of intensity, and she may have even enjoyed it! But dreamers tend to repeat old patterns which simply make the situation progressively worse.

Most of what we resist would fulfill us if we let it. That's the good news that we can bring into to our work with dreamers, who tend to view challenges through the narrow aperture of the ego's status quo. Fear and habit keeps us from receiving the gifts the dream brings us. Until we shift our perspective, the dream will do us a favor by ramping up the intensity of the encounter until we see the light of a new way of responding. The FSM is designed to encourage dreamers to perceive the oft-unacknowledged gifts of our dreams, and to welcome them.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Existential Dream

Dreamt last night that I was on a journey in Europe with some friends. A woman who is with us goes off and gets separated from the group. It comes time to return home, and I discover that my wallet is almost empty. Then I realize that I have a round trip ticket! I am trying to find my way to the train with my small carry-on roller bag, and a man who is a native and who knows me well helps me find my way. I know that our female companion knows the area, and that she will have no problem find her way home. I step onto the train just in time. It is one-car train, more like a bus. But it is very dark. But I am relieved that I am headed home. The conductor is aware of me, and kindly disposed.

I turned 60 today, and the dream is a beautiful statement of existential issues that face any aging person. Am I lost? Can I find my way? Will I be united with the ones I love? Will I have help? Do I have enough left to make it? Dream provide a beautiful centerpiece to the discussion about meaning, destiny, and love. There is no better way to preface a depth conversation than with a dream that captures all of the issues, and alludes to mysteries not yet plumbed, such the identity of the wayshower, the kindness of the train conductor, the choices that will insure reunion with one's companions.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

New blog format

Hi Friends,

In an attempt to consolidate some of my website assets, I have moved my old blog into my websites, and will begin to blog more regularly on dream topics, spirituality, and psychotherapy. I hope you will make comments to my postings. I will be monitoring my blog, so I will respond to your comments and questions. Thanks -- Scott

  I've just launched a new podcast, titled DreamStar Institute Presents "Dreamwork with Dr. Scott Sparrow." My first episode i...