The Dreamer Owns Her Dream: Or, Why Dream Images are Intrinsically Resistant to Psychology . . .
It is a fundamental feature of most contemporary groups that the dreamer owns her experience of the dream. We may have ideas, we may think we see things, and at the same time we are, like the dreamer, only witnesses of a process. And as witnesses, we are removed one step further. The Dreamer is the original observer or participant in the dream; privy to al the senses engaged in the dream: The sounds, the tactile sensations, the smells – even the felt sense of the dream. Sometimes the running narrative of the dream – itself removed a step from the experience – is merely a play-by-play of the visual cues in the dream.
Often, very specific or leading questions of the dreamer sometimes take away from the experience of the dream and may reveal more of a fantasy on behalf of the listener(s) than an accurate “interpretation” or psychologizing of the dream by the listeners. Dream Images hate that! We can scare them off with our own biases or with stupid questions! It is as though you are with a friend who says, “The Lost Puppy in your dream? That is so you. Just think about it, you’ve been looking for yourself in everything lately!” You might reply, “I’m not sure that feels right,” to which your friend might say, “Of course it’s you. That’s the problem, you’re so close to it you can’t see it.” A different response might be, “Does the Lost Puppy seem familiar to you?” You might answer, “You know, it does look like a dog I had when I was 14” or maybe “Funny as it sounds, it looks like the new guy at work!” These are two completely different conversations; the one in which the listener imposes meaning and the one in which the listener supports the curiosity and the point-of-view of the speaker.When we ask open ended questions, things open up. And when things open up that resonate with the dreamer, many other positive things can happen that disappear when our questions become narrow, diagnostic, or conspiratorial!
So it is with dreams; as Steve Aizenstat often observes, “A dream loves to be met in the way of dream” (bookmark above carefully stitched by Kathryn Lea for her father’s birthday!) Occasionally in a dream group I will hear from someone a feeding frenzy of staccato point-blank questions, fired off with machine like precision: “Was the man in the corner like your that guy who stalked you at the street fair yesterday?” or “Why were you in that forest to start with?” or “Did the hallway seem like it was concrete blocks?” I can tell from questions like these the listener has some specific notion about the dream that may be very far removed from the dreamer’s experience of the dream. Let us remember a few points about the experience of the dream and its retelling that set it apart from staccato questions of dream-killing specificity!
- Dreams have a “felt sense” that rejects interpretations that miss the mark; most often when people offer suggestions, those on target will evoke a ‘hit’ inside the dreamer as a point of connection;
- Dreams have their own ready-to-hand knowledge; and by that I mean you can instantly have an understanding of years’ worth of information contrary to waking experience, (like that 18 months you spent as a CIA operative in Lisbon undercover with an Italian supermodel . . . And a dog named ‘Strega…’ )
- This special body of knowledge, unique to the Dreamtime, may be one-off events of nearly infinite detail or may be a rhizome-like web from dream to dream, like a house or structure to which you return on successive nights, or a special power like flight, invisibility, or levitation that occurs in more than one dream, or a repetitive them like always being in airports but never actually getting on a plane in dream after dream. This inner architecture builds on itself, and a single dream auditor can never know all the dreamer has knowledge of in this way
- As “the body is always dreaming”, there is often carriage of affect in the body in the retelling of the dream; dreams are not merely an event occurring on a small stage in the brain, but engage the breath, the sweat glands, and the polyvagal network of afferent and efferent nerve signals and the chemical reactions and messages that occur throughout the body. Gesture in the retelling becomes important, as this is how the body may tell the story of which the mind or memory is not fully aware. Therefore it is not always just the words, but the embodiment of the dream that presents in the retelling.
Also, I have noticed there are times during which a group that knows the dreamer well sees something in the dream that the dreamer cannot see. I believe this to be different (and surprisingly rarer) than the case in which a group fantasy of perceived meaning runs wild. In the case of this blind spot on behalf of the dreamer, many things can happen. The dreamer may have the option to consider the feedback and to reject it, in which case the wise and patient group will not press any points. Also, the group may meet the dreamer in the dreamer’s own perceptions and curiosity; and when that happens the dreamer almost always arrives at a moving and insightful point, whether or not it encompasses all of the content perceived or imagined by the group. Clearly, nothing is gained by pressing a point, even if accurate, that is outside of the Dreamer’s awareness or ability to integrate. In these cases, as in most every other circumstance I can imagine, the most helpful tack is to let the image be the teacher. Images are dynamic: the information they carry lives and changes with the dreamer’s capacity to recognize or internalize different lessons or tasks. Images are autonomous; they do not require us to decode them, to psychologize them, or to toggle between manifest meaning and some latent, “real” meaning. In other words, we do not have the right to superimpose our understanding onto an image which is inherently wiser that are we. That is just as much a form of colonialism as bringing our band of religion to “save” a people while robbing them of their rain forests, their natural resources, or their way of life. We think we are so smart . . . until we bump up against a stronger, a wiser, or a more patient force.