I had a grand time at the recent conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD) in Chicago. IASD brings together dream researchers and enthusiasts for dreams from across the whole spectrum, from clinical psychiatrists to artists and shamanic healers. Stan Krippner, professor of psychology at Saybrook Institute and for decades a pioneer and generous patron of research into shamanism and ESP, gave a splendid account of why everyone who dreams "partakes of shamanism", drawing on his personal experiences in the worlds of indigenous dreamers.
Patricia Garfield, who blazed a trail for dream creators with her watershed book Creative Dreaming back in the 1970s, gave a wonderful account of dreaming in the life of a moviemaker. Fellini was a cartoonist before he became a film director, and his copious dream journals - the published edition weighs 7 pounds - look like a vast graphic novel. When he was struggling to make his movie "8 1/2", and deeply disaffected from the project, Picasso appeared as a dream guide to push him forward. The dream Picasso started by whipping up a 12-egg omelette for the director. Later in the drteam, Fellini found himself far out on a dark and stormy sea. He wanted to turn back, but then Picasso's bald pate rose from the deep, and Picasso shouted, "No! Go further out!" This Fellini proceeded to do, producing one of his best-loved films.
IASD had set the theme of "Earth Dreaming" for this year's conference, and this was honored in many presentations that drew from indigenous and ancestral traditions. Valley Reed - who had flown to Chicago the same day she graduated from the first level of my own Dream Teacher Training, at a lovely retreat center on the Connecticut shore - captivated her audience by recounting a series of personal dreams in which she seemed to be in deep connection with Earth energies. I spoke about my own experiences with the red-tailed hawk, starting from the moment when a hawk's spiral dive - and the wing feather it dropped between my legs - inspired me to purchase the land where I started dreaming of an ancient Native woman shaman, and found the courage to embark on the path of a dream teacher.
One of my favorite encounters at the conference involved someone who was not officially part of it. When I arrived at the conference hotel near lunchtime last Saturday, my first date was with the pool. That's my deal with my body: whenever I travel, I spend as much time swimming as I can manage. The hotel's outdoor pool was large, and often I had it to myself, so I was able to swim in neverending loops or double spirals. I swam like this for two hours before I found my way to registration. Having skipped lunch, I was hungry after the first afternoon panels, so I went to the bar for a snack and a glass of Goose Island beer.
The Mexican bartender wanted to know about the conference. "What do you do with dreams?" I explained that conference presenters had many different approaches, but for me - as for most human cultures, as far back as we can track - one of the important things to do with dreams is to look for clues to the possible future.
"I do that," said the bartender. "When I see turbulent water in a dream - like dirty water, or flooding - I watch out for trouble ahead. When I see calm water, I know things will go well."
"Did you discuss dreams in your family?"
"Always," he nodded. "My grandmother was a very big dreamer. She comes to me in my dreams now she's passed on. When that happens, I pay attention, because I know it's important. My mother is a dreamer too. She had two boys and two girls. Before my brother was born, she dreamed of an airplane. When she dreamed of an airplane again, before I was born, she knew I would be a boy too, because she figured out that in her dreams, a plane meant a boy. Before she gave birth to my two sisters, she dreamed of cakes. So she knew they would be girls. I guess it wasn't so hard to figure out that a cake would mean a girl."
I smiled at this account of how a Mexican woman had constructed her personal dictionary of dream symbols from her own experience, incomparably better than any of those dream dictionaries on sale in the stores.
I went back for another beer later in the conference. The bartender was eager to continue the conversation. "Do you ever have that experience of doing something in a dream you'd like to go on doing, except you're waking up?"
"Well, I've figured out how to handle that. I like to eat cake. So I'll be eating cake, and starting to wake up. But I force myself to stay in the dream until I've finished eating the cake."
That's a great technique - learning to stay with the dream when there is something you want to continue doing, which could be even more delightful than finishing your favorite cake. I was struck, once again, by how much "ordinary" people know about dreams that sometimes escapes those the Brits call the "talking classes." The man from Mexico City, serving nachos and beer, knew that we dream the future, and have dream communication with the departed, and can go on with a dream, if we make that intention. Very good things to know, and to live by.