Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Social dreaming

The idea (prevalent in Western psychology, when it values dreams at all) that dreams are primarily products of the personal subconscious would puzzle dreamers in most ancient and indigenous cultures, for whom the most interesting dreams are social and transpersonal. Certainly dreams surface a great amount of material from our personal psyches, which is why it is often productive to ask the question, of any and every element in a dream, "What part of me does that represent?"

Yet our dreams often take us far beyond the boundaries of the personal unconscious. In dreams, we make journeys and we receive visitations. Some of us are far more social in our dreams than in regular life. So when we think about what happened in a dream, it may be more relevant to ask "Who was I with?" and "Where did I go last night?" than "What part of me?" was involved.

I am thinking about social dreaming - a phrase I would like to see in our vocabulary - because my friend Wanda Burch just shared a delightful example of a dream experience she shared with her husband. Their dream recall was triggered by a TV commercial that offered a potted orchid as a gift for buyers of a certain product. Wanda said to her husband Ron: "I was in a room - I don't recall where I was or how I got there - but I know I was with two people and one of them was you. I don't know where we were going but I looked to the left and there were large yellow orchids on a table and then I looked to the end of this long room -"

Looking startled Ron finished her statement "- and there was a single arching grey orchid, more stunning in its placement than the yellow ones."

"Yes," Wanda confirmed, "and it was displayed like an old Japanese painting, slightly to the right -"
"- of a chair," Ron again filled in the blank.

In almost identical speech, they both added, "with filtered light coming through the slats of some sort of dark wooden blind or window covering."

They could not identify the third person in the dream, someone who had a magic touch with orchids. But they shared the most vivid and precise recollection of a space they had entered only in dreaming.

I like this account for its everyday simplicity. I know that Wanda is no slouch at social dreaming because she has often participated in dream adventures with me, in which the locales have ranged from conference venues and vacation homes to far-flung countries and imaginal realms. Wanda was present, as an observer, in one of the most important dreams of my life, and her exact account of what took place around a certain purple fire, in a circle of ancient warrior chiefs, was vital confirmation for me of the objective reality of that experience.

In my Active Dreaming workshops, I often guide participants on adventures in social dreaming that are conscious and intentional. Last weekend, for example, we went on a group journey - powered and focused by shamanic drumming - to a fascinating location in the imaginal realm that I call the House of Time, which offers many portals for time travel, the investigation of past and future life experiences, and a library where master teachers sometimes make themselves available. I give directions for this journey in my Dream Gates CD series and also in Dreamgates the book (which contains material beyond the audio series). In the workshops we also learn to travel inside each other's dreamspace as dream trackers.

What the shared orchid dream brings home is just how natural the experience of social dreaming may be. Since in dreaming we are not confined to the body or the rules of Newtonian physics, why would it be strange for us to share experiences, according to our interests and our passions, with those who are connected with us? Of course, in dreaming we may discover that we belong to an extended family vastly greater than our regular family, whose members are not confined to one world or one time!


Wanda said...

I would like to add a comment on what we all have experienced in social dreams - how thrilling it is when a shared or social dream continues to play out in a waking discussion or, if appropriate, in the honoring of some part of it. I loved the interplay of discovering that I had shared an identical dream space with Ron and that we had both felt an identical reaction to the scene with the orchids, including a shared thought that we would mention to one another later how beautiful the orchid in the window was and how surprised we were at seeing it in this unknown person's house. In the same way, I loved continuing the exploration of the purple fire in waking discussions that have focused on that dream in several different contexts. Such sharing brings both the dream and the dreamers into special places with one another and confirms the flexibility of the night-scape in allowing us to continue to communicate in expansive creative ways with one another.

One of my favorite childhood memories is my mother sharing a story of a shared dream with the man who would become her husband and my father. They both dreamed of them walking into a department store and finding a yellow linen dress that was perfect for my mom. They bought the dress in the dream. They had laughed about this dream because this was a wartime dream and they had to have tokens and coupons for any purchase and the purchase of a dress would have required giving up a bag of flour, a piece of meat or some other needed item. Well, just days later they walked into a store and both of them - together - at the same moment - recognized the dream dress. They traded precious coupons with another shopper and my soon-to-be dad bought my mom the dress. I played in that dress for years before it finally became tatters. I always loved the memory of a shared social dream honored by my parents in such a special way.

Thea said...

I have also experienced shared social dreaming in the context of one of Robert's workshops. In groups of four, one participant would pose a question of importance to them - and the other three journeyed for this individual to bring back information in answer to their question.

The individual with the question wanted to know what direction his career should go, since he was at a crossroads and was not sure which path to take. I was new to journeying with others and we were all excited to find out that we had experienced an almost identical image of the direction that this individual's career could go. It was in image of exciting possibilities that tied up all the various choices that faced this individual. I have since communicated with him and he has commented on the power of this vision of a possible future for him to guide him in choices he makes in the moment.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

There is a wonderful grassroots project focused on social dreaming that has sprung up in San Francisco, called the Oneironauticum. A brief description from Jennifer: "Derived from the Greek oneiro, or dream, the Oneironauticum brings together dreamers on the last Saturday of every month to explore an oneirogen: anything that promotes dreaming. A core group of us sleeps in the same place, and people world wide participate remotely."
The project can be found at:
and a great article about it at:
As a dreamer, I think other dreamers who read this blog would be interested. And I believe our culture would benefit from more "Slumber Parties" where afterwards, over a nice brunch, we can collectively share our shared dreams.

Robin O'Neal said...

I know I have recently found myself automatically upon waking asking the question, "Now WHERE was I?" as I grapple to re-surface the dream story. It reminds me, actually, of the feeling I have when I walk into a room while awake, knowing that I came on a mission and then momentarily forgetting what it was. I freeze in time asking, "Now why did I come here?" which is often my next question to myself regarding a dream (WHEN I can recall WHERE I was, that is!)
I look forward to increased and improved capacity for social dreaming and LOVE the "slumber party" concept. Thanks, Justin!

Robert Moss said...

The "slumber party" is regular practice in some indigenous cultures, where group intentions are set for a whole flight of dreamers as they prepare to enter the dreamspace together. The Andaman islanders construct a shared energy web as a structure for this type of communal dreaming by techniques we have tested in some of my advanced workshops. We have also experimented with other approaches to group dreaming, which may be as simple as lying down together in a cartwheel formation in front of the great hearth at one of our favorite retreat centers and setting some clear intentions for the night. Of course, it is not necessary to be in the same physical space in order to participate in intentional group or social dreaming. The dreambody is quite mobile!