Start Your Own Dream Group
Many years ago I had the great good fortune of corresponding with Dr. Montague Ullman. Monte was a pioneer of dream work. He was a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst, an author and a friend. I adored him. He endorsed my work and encouraged my plans. We shared phone conversations and letters. Dr Ullman was an avid promoter of what he called Dream Sharing, which could be done with or without a professional leader. He told me that he had never felt more loved than when he was sharing in a dream group. He encouraged me to take my work international and offered me contacts and support in other countries. Monte was 91 when he passed in 2008; he was a hero of dream research. In his honor I’d like to extend instructions for creating your own dream group.
(What I share here are my own parameters regarding dream groups from my own experience. If you would like to pursue the brilliant work of Montague Ullman, MD I suggest you begin with his book titled: Appreciating Dreams. Additionally there are several organizations and facilitators using his specific method that you can easily find.)
I have facilitated dream circles in Northern and Southern California, in New Jersey, New York, Florida, and in Sedona and Scottsdale, Arizona. Every time we gather for this purpose, I come away feeling deeply blessed and grateful. And I hope that you will as well.
I suggest that you invite a few friends, neighbors and or relatives who you know are interested in understanding the messages of their dreams. Six to 12 people is a good number. Allowing two to three hours will give everyone a chance to share and receive. In the beginning do not worry about how often you will meet or about any other structure. You are flushing out the idea looking for open-minded participants. By the way, the people you invite need not be like-minded; in fact diversity of beliefs is helpful. My groups typically meet once a month. Once a week seems a luxury these days, however if you can make that happen, it would be great. We meet in someone’s living room and simple refreshments are served. It is fun to socialize a bit before the dream group as people relax and catch up with personal news leaving them settled and ready for the dream work.
There are very few actual rules to dream group. These sessions can adapt to the needs and desires of those involved. However one rule is ironclad and that is confidentiality. What happens in dream group stays in dream group. Each participant needs to feel comfortable sharing the intimate details of their dreams in order to get the full benefit of their meanings. Confidentiality means that no one in the group shares anything that was said with anyone else, ever, period. This is a sacred oath. Once the group is up and running, if a new member is allowed to participate this rule must be explained to him or her and they must agree to it.
Sit in a circle if possible so that everyone can see each other. Each person gets a turn. He or she can share a dream, ask or pose a dream question or topic for group discussion or share a past dream experience. Ideally as the group continues most will have had a recent dream that they choose to share with the group.
You can hire a dream expert or therapist to assist in guiding the group or appoint a person in your group to be your leader. If you choose a professional facilitator there will be a fee involved. Most groups divide the amount and each participant chips in. Sometimes the host pays the fee as a gift for her guests. Even if you have an expert present it is a great idea to have a couple of dream books available as well.
The association given in the dream dictionary may not resonate with the dreamer, but it is a starting point for discussion. I own at least 75 dream books and love the work of so many of the authors, but two of my favorites for the purpose of dream groups are The Dream Encyclopedia by James Lewis and The Dream Book, Symbols for Understanding by Betty Bethards. Lewis has a more traditional approach and Bethards a more spiritual one, so these give you a nice balance to work with.
Allow each participant to share her dream uninterrupted. If she wishes, allow her to share what she associates with the dream, what it means to her.
Good questions to gently ask in order to glean more meaning from the dream include:
- What title would you give the dream?
- What was going on, out of the ordinary, in your waking life when you had the dream?
- What were you concerned about at that time?
- How did you feel when you woke from the dream?
- Where in your life do you experience similar feelings?
- Did anyone in the dream remind you of anyone in your waking state?
You may think of other questions as you listen to the dream and the answers to the questions above. You might ask what the significance is of a number or color in the dream or how old someone was in the dream. It is fine to ask questions that help bring out the details, but not okay to project your own thoughts about what happened in the dream.
It is important to be kind and supportive when offering suggestions regarding the meaning of a dream. Remember that each of us only has our own perspective based on our life experiences to filter other people’s dreams through. Dreams are very personal on one level. A kitten to one person may have an entirely different meaning to another person. While at the same time a kitten in the Universal sense may represent a new, fragile and innocent life, or a feminine being. (Dogs, in the language of dreams are often associated with masculine energy while cats or felines are often associated with the feminine.)
An interesting observance with respect to dream group is that participants will remember each other’s dreams, even when the dreamer has forgotten. The rest of the group may make a connection between prior dreams and the one presented at the meeting seeing a theme. This objective reflection can be very helpful.
Days after the dreamer has listened to the questions, thoughts and suggestions of the other participants and the leader, she may realize additional associations and meanings, so the first 15 or 20 minutes of the next dream group might be devoted to anything that was realized after the previous meeting ended. I have received deep additional insights years after I had a dream! These can come in meditation, during a walk or even in a new dream. These revelations feel like a gift, bringing the dream suddenly back to mind. The feeling is much like randomly thinking of a friend, with a familiar sense and a wish for their wellbeing. When a past dream pops back into mind, it means that you can benefit from the meaning of the dream at that time in your life.
I strongly suggest that each participant keep a dream journal, and in addition to recording dreams, record interpretations and additional thoughts. This way when you want to take your dream work to the next level and incubate dreams for problem solving or stimulating creativity you’ll have a fertile foundation and connection to the language of your subconscious mind.
Occasionally someone just isn’t a good fit for your group. Maybe they take over and tell people what their dream means instead of asking questions. Perhaps they show up and pay for their part of the fee but never have a dream and use their time to joke or make fun of other dreamers. If for any reason it is felt that a person does not fit, a private conversation needs to take place. This is best done by the leader or therapist. If the offending person changes their behavior they can continue to participate, sometimes people just need to understand the rules on a more personal level.
Dream group is entertaining and helpful. It bonds friendships and is immensely helpful for personal growth. I invite you to try it and let me know how you like it. If you’d like to include me in your dream group, or for the first session to get you started, just give me a call or email to discuss logistics and fees.