Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Is it really you? The ultimate identity of a dream character

One of the most persistent and unresolved questions in the field of dream study is, "When I dream of you, is it really you?" Standard answers range from "No, it's a part of you," to "Yes, if there is a 'felt sense' that it's really you," to "Of course." Most psychotherapists are loathe to venture beyond the first answer, fearing that to do so would encourage a client to project onto others, who might already have a tendency ascribe his or her own issues to others. But in the case of lucid dreaming, the vividness and interpersonal "otherness" that dreamers often report challenges the strictly "internal" source of dream imagery.

A more sophisticated answer, which emulates the principle of indeterminacy in physics goes something like this: The image is a not an object, nor a symbol, nor an aspect of dream "content," but rather a mutable interface between the dream ego and the unseen, intrusive content that is surfacing in the dream. The source of the content can be "local" or "nonlocal," or a combination of both. That is, the
dreamer may be accessing a memory, or may be receiving information/essence beyond the boundaries of the self. In the act of perception, the dream observer sees clearly, or perceives through filters that distort the incoming content, thus co-creating an image that changes constantly as the perceiver's response to it shifts in real time. So that's where I arrive at the term "mutable interface" to describe what the dreamer actually sees. The image is a moment-to-moment vectoring of the dreamer-dream content interaction.

So the question, "Is it really you?" necessitates a deconstruction of the image into "projected" and "received" components. If the dreamer can say that he or she is open to the dream character, and has no distorting feelings that can be projected upon the person, then the essence of the person may be free to express itself through the mediating image. But this is rarely true. We almost always have impressions, biases, fears, needs, etc., that are projected onto the significant others in our lives. So the resulting image is likely to be a "cocreated" product that has to be analyzed as such.

I dreamt of my deceased mother in a lucid dream two nights ago. She appeared younger than she was when she died, and her face was lit up in a golden light. At first I felt that she was soulfully present, but then her face began to look less familiar, and so I concluded in the dream that her essence was fading away, leaving behind an inaccurate rendition of my mother's actual self.

But then again, who can ever know the answer to this question? Van Eeeden, the first lucid dream theorist ("A Study of Dreams,"1913--you can find it on the web), believed that a "felt sense" is the only way to know if a dream character's soul is manifesting through the dream imagery. But this criterion is highly subjective, and not likely to satisfy a more empirically minded researcher. Henry Fielding's words from his book Tom Jones come to mind: "Until they produce the authority by which they are constituted judges, I shall not plead their jurisdiction." In the domain of the soul, empiricists can never really compete, because there is no foundation upon which they can base their conclusions.

So is it really you? Only I can say.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Tantric Principle in Lucid Dreaming

An aspect of my own lucid dreaming experience has been the concurrent activation of powerful energy and sound, which in the East is referred to as the kundalini. Just two nights ago, I meditated at 5 am, and then returned to bed for a while. As I drifted into a half-sleep, the energy awakened. At first it sounded like wind coming in waves, as usual. But as I meditated on it, it increased in intensity and became a constant flow, flattening out instead of coming in pulses. (When I was younger, this would be uncomfortable, but at this stage in my life, it is quite pleasant.) As I meditated on the energy, trying to put aside my ego assessment of what was happening, I noticed that my field of vision was brightening and revealing a subtle lattice-like pattern as it became whiter and whiter. Meanwhile, I was aware of dreaming, as well. I was lying down on the slope of a hill, with a couple of colleagues who were waiting with me for entrance into a conference where we would speak or teach.

When I was younger, the activation of this sound-energy would often escalate into a full-blown kundalini activation. That is, a full-body vibratory experience of light and ecstasy. This still happens, but not as often. More recently, the activation has usually stopped with the flat flowing sound. At the moment that it flattens out, I discover that I can roll out of my body and enter into a fully conscious lucid dream/out of body experience. Robert Monroe, in his book Journeys Out of the Body, said that without first awakening this sound/energy, he could not leave his body. I have found this to be so true.

What can we make of this energy experience as a component of the lucid dream? As early as 1974, when I wrote my master's thesis on lucid dreaming, I suggested that lucidity and the white light were subjective and objective aspects of the same thing; that is, heightened consciousness. The Tibetan tantric system gives us more insight into the relationship between consciousness and energy by stating that the two are interchangeable, or reciprocally related. This means that any movement in consciousness has a corresponding movement in energy, and vice versa. Lucid dreamers do not always report a concurrent energy experience. Indeed, in my experience, it is relatively rare. Perhaps some lucid dreamers simply do not experience the energy as much as others do. But in the tibetan tradition, dream yoga is considered one of six accelerated yogas - accelerated because they involve activation of the kundalini. Well, this is good news and bad news, because the kundalini awakens dormant memories, some of which are disturbing and heretofore repressed or at least forgotten. Thus the energy component "forces the issue" into consciousness, and thus can result in destabilization of the ego as it confronts necessary unfinished business and emerging archetypal forces. All good in the long run, certainly. But in the short term, it can awaken fear as the ego struggles to retain is supremacy.

In the Tibetan tradition, meditation is treated as a slower, but less destabilizing approach to enlightenment. By focusing on awareness, the energy awakens, but only a a byproduct of mental activity. This approach (mahamuudra) is advocated unless the seeker has a guru who can oversee the dynamic process of kundalini awakening.

For myself, I believe I've had a rather rough ride over the past 40 years of meditation, lucid dreaming, and kundalini awakening. I wouldn't trade it for anything, but I have grown to respect the power of unseen forces, and counsel  others to take a more cautious approach, especially if their journey includes frequent kundalini awakenings alongside the quest for lucidity.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Lucid Dreaming Course Coming this Winter

I am working with Ryan Hurd (of dreamstudies.org) and Alice Grinda (www.aliceinwakedreamland.com) to launch an intensive lucid dreaming training program on Shadow | Community of Dreamers this winter. Shadow will be launching a smartphone app that works wirelessly with a sensor that will awaken you when you are dreaming, and allow you to dictate your dreams into your phone, and then have them converted to text and uploaded to a cloud server. In addition, Shadow will be creating a vast online community of dreamers who will be able to share dreams, learn from each other, and be able to participate in training programs such as the one that we are developing. I Skyped with Ryan and Alice for the first time last Wednesday, and we have started to pool our knowledge and experience in order to create a dynamic month-long program. I will be announcing the program as we get closer to the launch sometime in February. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Darkness in Dreams

Last week, I was an invited guest at Craig Webb's online dream class. I have known Craig for several years as a fellow IASD member, and a serious lucid dreamer. He wanted me to be available to his class as a lucid dream pioneer. It was a great meeting, and I had a chance to review a great deal of my own history in the field. One class member, whose name was Jim, asked me about a phenomenon that has recently concerned him--darkness in his dreams. He described being in darkness, unable to see anything. I immediately connected with him, saying that for the past several years, many of my dreams have been characterized by darkness. While the darkness may suddenly shift to bright settings, I spend a great deal of my time "groping" through dark scenes.

I am finding that darkness is a phenomenon that many people experience. I saw a woman for the first time in therapy three days ago, who told me a recurring dream that has worried her. She is on a mountain road, with sheer drop-offs on both sides, and a very narrow passage between the cliffs. Suddenly, it becomes pitch dark, and she does know how to make it through safely. It's important to know that she faces two severe existential issues: the normally fatal disease of scleroderma (now in remission, thankfully), and an adult daughter who has suffered a psychotic break and now lives the streets of LA. My client is deeply aggrieved by her daughter's predicament, and by her inability to help her. As if the narrow mountain passage is bad enough, lacking any way to gain feedback from the situation so she can negotiate the challenge has brought her to a standstill.

Darkness in dreams may represent, simply, a sense of feeling alone and lost in life. From a deeper perspective, it may signify the beginning of trusting another source of support, which is, as yet, not evident. Sometimes we have to be brought to standstill before we learn to rely on deeper resources. I am inclined to have hope for my client, as I have hope for myself. Perhaps we are poised on the threshold of a new life that bears little resemblance to the one that preceded it. Regardless, I am there for her, and so at least there is another voice in the darkness.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Free Course on the Five Star Method Available from DreamStar

If you're interested in learning the FiveStar Method of dream analysis, but aren't interested in receiving CEs or the Certificate in Dream Study, you can take the free version that can be found in the course management area of the DreamStar site, at www.dreamanalysistraining.com/moodle2. You can login to the 7-module course without cost, and participate fully in the learning process, which includes posting in the DreamStar Cafe--the course discussion forum. I hope you will join me there!

FYI, the FiveStar Method originated in my early work in lucid dreaming back in the 70s, and evolved in the context of doing psychotherapy since the early 80s. Of course, I think it's the best approach around, but if you're a therapist or coach, I think you will find it especially conducive to the competency-based orientation of modern therapy and coaching. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Galantamine and Meditation-induced Lucid Dreams


For over a year now, I have been using galantamine––an extract of the snow drop lily––along with meditation as a catalyst for lucid dreaming. I have found that the combination of the two results in a lucid dream almost 100% of the time. Dreams have been long, visually stunning, and sometimes full of light and deep interpersonal connectedness. But not always. In the past three years, I’ve experienced darkness in most of my longer, more memorable dreams. Whether lucid or not, darkness has been a predominant quality of my dream life. I have wondered whether it was an existential element, signifying decline and the approaching end-of-life, or whether it was, from alchemical standpoint, the deepening of the mystery my journey. I often find myself groping through dreams of darkness trying to find my way, only to suddenly see a brilliant light that dwarfs the previous darkness. It may signify that I have come to a point in my life where there is no clear authority, no clear direction. I’m reminded of Dante’s opening statement to his Divine Comedy which goes something like: "In the middle of the road of my life, I awoke in a dark wood, and the true way was wholly lost."  Here are a few other lucid dream highlights of the past month and a half. With all of these have followed ingestion of 8 mg of galantamine, usually in the latter half of the night.

 In one dream that lasts a very long time, I find myself in a beautiful setting surrounded by old buildings that are exquisitely beautiful.  As I have often thought of late during such lucid dreams, the texture of the visual imagery is so rich and complex that I reflect on how impossible it seems that my mind alone could be creating it. I seem to cross a threshold into an area where there is more of a gathering of people in some kind of deeply purposeful activity. I’ve since forgotten all that I experienced, but the experience seemed to last for an hour. I do recall being with some artists  who were creating the most exquisitely beautiful jewelry and sculpture that was mounted on the wall and hanging from the ceiling. Some of it was constructed from precious jewels of bright and vibrant colors, and the light shone through it in a spellbinding way.

In another one, I become aware that I’m dreaming and I go and look for light or encounters with higher beings. I find a small village in the countryside, and walk-through the village for a while before concluding that what I’m looking for is not there. I turn and push off and begin flying up through the trees toward the south and come upon a old cathedral or castle. I find myself inside this huge stone enclosure, which has windows that are not rectangular, but more the shape of a keyhole or some curvilinear opening. However, I cannot pass through the windows nor do I find any doorway through which I can gain access to the outside again. I hear voices and look in through a window, and see people milling around below me. I’m up high as if on the second floor or near the ceiling of his stone building. I finally decided since I’m dreaming, I will simply go through the wall and so I do. As I passed through the southern wall I enter a dark wood, which only has a slight greenness to the darkness, and a slight mottled quality to the otherwise amorphous dark field. I grope through the darkness looking for the master. Suddenly I feel an arm and I’m shocked by the presence of another person. I can suddenly see, and see that there is a woman between me and Julie, who was sleeping. The woman is unknown to me, so I asked her who she is. She tells me her name which I’ve since forgotten. I asked her why she is there. She says that she’s come to make sure that robots do not take over the earth. She goes on to tell me that she’s from another star system and introduces me to a small group of people who have come from her star system to visit our world. When I expressed interest in visiting her world, I’m told that it’s best that I remain where I am because my work is here not there. In another experience, I am drifting off to sleep after meditation. I hear the energy, which I’ve heard all my life when I’m on the verge of leaving my body. The Tibetan Buddhists refer to it as the “gift waves,” and believe that it signifies the presence of a master. Robert Monroe, author of Journeys out of the Body said that he could not leave his body if the energy was not present. It’s been happening quite often lately as a byproduct of the meditation-plus-galantamine regimen that I’ve been doing about once or twice a week. Anyway, when the energy rises, it comes in waves as if a valve is opening and closing. But it responds to my state of mind, and if I meditate upon it, it becomes more intense and eventually flattens out into a constant stream of energy. I do this, and as the energy increases, I feel pressure on my back as if someone is clinging to my back. He or she seems to hold on more and more tightly, so I whisper to it, “I’m not afraid of you.” I feel absolutely no fear at all, a fact which I marvel at.  The being says something to me, which I cannot understand through the sound of the energy. Then I reach up and grab it with my hand and pull it over my shoulder. It tumbles off the bed onto the floor and so do I. I see that it’s a small black cuddly animal of some sort, resembling a small bear or pig with fur.  It seems startled that I have been so bold, and it scurries away before I can take it in hand. Julie is sleeping nearby, and the dream ends.

 In last night’s dream, I was supposed to be speaking on dream work in front of an audience of about 100 people.  The meeting room was very tastefully done, and part of a larger community center comprised of many such auditoriums. I leave the room for a few minutes for some reason, but when I try to return I cannot find the room that I’m supposed to be in. I open two doors, only to find that there are other classes or presentations underway. I am confused and lost in this rather rich interpersonal setting. People are everywhere, and I simply milled through the crowd looking for the place that I’m supposed to be in. At some point, I become aware that I’m dreaming. I continue walking about exploring and observing the interpersonal dynamics around me the buildings in the rooms. I go through several doors, only to find myself increasingly unattractive and tiny rooms. I finally decide simply to fly through the wall and leave the place, and so I do. As I pushed to the wall, I find myself up high as if I’m on the third floor of a building flying over a very attractive grassy open expanse. Below me I see many people who are visiting and enjoying each other in a kind of unorganized social setting. I go down to be with them, and I playfully show them that I can fly. I then go up in the air higher and higher looking for the light, which I do not see in this dream.

Would I recommend using galantamine?  On one hand, all that it does is to increase acetylcholine, which is a necessary neurotransmitter that increases cognitive performance.  It’s not a controlled substance, and has no serious side effects. You may experience headaches and indigestion if you're a sensitive type (like me), but that’s about it. It has been used effectively to treat mild to moderate dementia in Europe, so if you're forgetting things, hey, you might reap a double benefit. The prescription Alzheimer's drug Aricep accomplishes the same thing (i.e. it's a cholinesterase inhibitor, or impedes the breakdown of acetylcholine), and has been shown to induce lucid dreams in a very high percentage of people who take it, as reported recently in Stumbrys, Erlacher, Shadlich, and Shredl's important survey of lucid dream induction method (Consciousness and Cognition, 21 (2012)), which is available online at www.elsevier.com/locate/concog.

I believe that any artificial means for inducing lucid dreams needs to be paired with spiritual practice. My wife asked me just the other day, for instance, what was the purpose of becoming lucid?  Good question!! I mean, what's wrong with ordinary life? Since the very beginning of my work with lucid dreaming back in the early 1970s, I have always been concerned about the wholesale promotion of lucid dreaming without regard for a higher purpose for the journey. So, if you’re going to use galantamine, I recommend pairing it with some form of spiritual practice so that whatever it stimulates or awakens in your dream life occurs in a context of seeking something above and beyond your own ego’s desires. If the ego is at the helm, all kinds of detractors will rise up to challenge you. But if the master is driving the ship, well, you're in much better hands whether on sunny beaches or in the midst of a cyclone. But once you feel satisfied that the endeavor is legitimate, you might want to try 8 mg of gulantamine in the middle of the night. I usually take it around 4:00 AM, meditate for 20 to 30 minutes, and then returned to sleep for a couple of hours. As I’ve said, it works almost 100% of the time for me. But then again, I don’t do it every night. It’s been found that the effect of gulantamine  wears off if you use it too often. A good source is HealthSupplement Wholesalers.com. Let me know how you do!
By the way, please take advantage of my free course on learning to use the FiveStar Method of dream analysis--an approach to dreams based on my early research into lucid dreaming--at www.dreamanalysistraining.com/moodle2. I have just launched the Course Management System, which includes the Certificate of Dream Study training program.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Importance of Not Seeing too Directly into the Beauty of the Soul

I introduced my lucid dream about the veiled women to raise the question, Why the veiling of their presumed beauty? The first wore a dark mask, the second a blue fabric veil. It reminds me of Robert Johnson's analysis of the myth of Tristan and Isolde in his book We. Johnson argues that the relationship with the anima (or animus) should remain "chaste" and not eroticized. As you may recall, Tristan's fate all turns on whether he will have sex with Isolde the Fair, King Mark's queen. Well, they do, and all hell breaks loose. Until then, the relationship is magical and potent; but afterward war breaks out and Tristan's future is dark.

If the relationship to the inner self becomes eroticized and exploited, then the image of the soul is projected onto the world, and becomes identified with a real person. This is a burdemsome, impossible mission for the carrier of the projection, and she/he will surely fail in living out that expectation. Johnson says that by maintining a chaste relationship with the inner self, and by having a sexual relationship with a "real" person (Isolde the White), the Tristan within us lives out a balanced life in which his soulfulness gets expressed in creativity, feeling, imagination, and the like.

I have found that in my deepest lucid dreams, my feelings for the characters (who are, sometim, esperhaps actual souls) are hard to describe: they are so deep, so timeless. Holding the woman in the black mask gave me a feeling of having "come home." But it was not my home, at least for now. By not being able to see her, some degree of mystery remained, and a necessary distance was preserved. Johnson might say that I was fortunate not to see the face, for I may have overly personalized that moment. The lucid dream in all of its intensity and felt reality could have effectively fixated me on the image of her face. That connection with the soul, while being perhaps the "best thing we have," may also be the rocks upon which our ship goes to ground. In the Odyseus, Ulysses wants to hear the song of the sirens, but he is wise enough to have his men tie him to the mast of the ship. Without that grounding, the relationship with the anima can overwhelm the ego and find its expression in the external world, to our detriment. So it is grace itself that inserts a certain obliqueness into the relationship with the inner self, in order to keep our attention oriented to the real world, and committed to real relationships that can afford us what we need in this world of form and necessary compromise. If Tristan could only have been content with Isolde the White, his wife, it would have been a near-perfect world, but the vision of the anima lured him into thinking it could be a perfect world, and that is always an ill-fated belief.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Why Are Some Dreams Veiled?

Freud believed that dreams were purposefully obscure, distorted by an array of defenses that would permit the reprehensible urges of the id to be vented through the avenue of the dream while protecting the dream ego from the stark truth.  This view of dreams has been largely overturned by the "continuity hypothesis," in which research has shown that dreams generally parallel waking state content. But if dreams are, as Jung said, "the message," and not some oblique reference to the truth, then why do some dreams seem to veil the truth? I think we have to turn to Robert Johnson's work to understand the following dream.

As a backdrop, I have been having a series of hour-long lucid dreams during the past couple of months. They are very deep and beautiful, full of darkness and radiance. The following one was particularly memorable and raises the possibility, once again, that the dream protects the dreamer from a direct apprehension of the truth. Here is the dream. Note the "veiling" of the female figures.

I am in darkness. I seem to be on a rocky ledge next to a stone or cement wall. I run my hands up and down the wall, and sense that it curves around to the left, perhaps defining a circular room. I reach up and feel the top of the wall. It’s about a foot wide, and has some loose stones on top. I push some of the loose rubble over the other side, and hear it hit water on the other side. I come down off the ledge and find myself with a woman in the darkness, with whom I immediately feel a profound, resonance. It’s as if we belong together for all eternity. Just being with her brings me unutterable joy and solace. We lie beside each other, holding each other in the dark. As the room becomes brighter, I look at her face and I’m shocked to see that it’s pitch black. I look more closely and see that her face is covered by what appears to be a black leather, close-fitting mask. I think, it doesn’t matter how she looks beneath the mask: I love her anyway. Then I am lucid and exploring a rich nighttime setting. I enter a room full of people, who know that I do not belong there. A woman, who seems to be their leader, challenges me. I decide to prove that I am dreaming, and from another plane, so I manage to levitate after overcoming my mental resistance to believing that I can. As I float up to the ceiling and float back down, the people are impressed, and no longer challenge me. Another woman appears, who says to me that the second woman made a mistake, and didn’t realize who I was. I feel deeply connected to the new woman, but in a different way. She seems to be my guide in this realm, and she begins to lead me through an array of settings. Sometimes she seems to be with me, and sometimes she leaves me for a while. At one point, I am in a room full of brilliant jewels and light sources, so I try to commune with the light. But as before, every time I stare at a light source, it shuts down. So I see a lamp-like light source to my left, so instead of looking directly at it, I get close to it, turn my eyes down and close them. I try to open myself to it, and my vision starts to brighten until my whole visual field is bright white with a subtle pattern throughout. The woman reappears, and I notice that she is shrouded in a blue veil, which is a medium blue with a dark blue thread of subtle design running through it. I ask her how she manages to remain covered. She laughs and says that it’s necessary for now, and that don’t worry--she can kiss and eat! The blue veil is actually very beautiful. I am alone again amid a lot of people. I realize that I’ve been in the lucid dream for a very long time, and wonder when it will come to an end. Suddenly, the people take on a uniform pale appearance and begin to sing a dirge-like song. The woman appears right before my face, and kisses me goodbye. Then I find myself back in bed.

I will comment on this dream in the next couple of days. But in the meantime, you might ask yourself, "why the veiling?" Was it somehow necessary for the dreamer's protection, and further development? Why? I have my own ideas, but since I'm the dreamer, I might be the best judge, not matter what people say about the dreamer being the ultimate authority on the dream. Dreams come to illuminate our blind spots. I am not sure that makes the dreamer the best judge!

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.


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.


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.

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