Sacred Dream Circles
A Guide to Facilitating Jungian Dream Groups
224 pages, ISBN 978-3-85630-731-8
This is a handbook about participating in group dream modalities. Practical exercises included in each chapter anchor the step-by-step instructions given for running a safe, yet deep and meaningful group process with or without a professional facilitator. Care is taken to discuss shadow projection, clear communication, and confidentiality issues. Topics include: nightmares, recurring dreams, childhood dreams, and synchronicity. Creating the tribal dream, where participants interweave their dream material in a complex yet boundary-safe fabric is the quintessential goal of this companion volume to the author’s previous book, Threads, Knots, Tapestries.
I have been leading dream groups since January 1987, and they still fascinate me with their mystery, their synchronicities, and their power to change people through love’s medicine. I have witnessed romantic love bloom, friendship flower, and the love between a teacher and pupil form a solid foundation for group dream work. Some of the magic that has occurred has actually been hard to believe. I am simply a witness, one of many, and from stories about other dream groups, I know that the same happens everywhere.
Dream circles can take place in jails, nursing homes, or at junior high schools; they can be done in a dormitory, an office or in a family, and these are only a few of the possibilities. Many others have written about dream groups. What I offer is a Jungian analyst’s approach: working with dreams from analytical, anthropological and cultural perspectives. I have included guidelines, most of which I learned the hard way, by making mistakes. Over the years, I have seen more than one dream circle member run out of the room screaming and crying, and several have disappeared without giving any indication of the reason for leaving. I have known members to scapegoat another member, or myself. These have all been learning experiences, valuable in the context of group process, though destructive in a dream circle. There are good reasons why dream circles require different rules than a group therapy process, and they cannot be over-emphasized. Lacking clear rules, dream circles can quickly become destructive and totally counter-productive.
When working with dreams, a circle member is laid bare, whether one realizes it or not. Dreams come from a deep and vulnerable place in the psyche. When exploring the imagery within a dream, a dreamer begins to probe elements of her unconscious that are tender and struggle to come to consciousness. The new material, as well as the one who dreams it, must be cared for like a green shoot in the first days of spring. Those of you who already work with dreams know this to be true; if you are skeptical, I can only ask that you trust my ideas. It is unethical to bring someone into a dream group, only to subject her to criticism, judgment and advice. Imagine treating a new artist with a first canvas this way. The process can fall apart quickly, and all of the courage and resolve it took to join a dream circle and to share a dream might be chased away, perhaps never to return.
Some Jungians have cautioned against group work. The reason is important: concern about “psychic infection,” in which one person’s unconscious affects another’s to such a degree that multiple psyches seem to overlap and bleed together, and it is hard to determine one’s personal boundaries. Because Jungians are trained in the importance of the process of individuation (the slow, painful and ultimately revitalizing process of discovering one’s unique, authentic self), group dream “layering” is considered neither safe nor desirable. When psychic infection occurs, it can be terribly destructive. War is one haunting reality, but on a smaller scale, one ghastly example occurred some years ago, when a group in California all committed suicide together, believing they would be transported into outer space to board the “mother ship.”
In one case in my private practice, an analysand “caught” a psychological disturbance from another patient at the hospital where they were both in-patients. One was a “cutter” (one who practices self-injury), and the other, who had not seen or heard about “cutting” before started doing it, too, when she learned about that behavior. Clearly, some psychic processes are contagious. In dream circle, one can defend against such disturbing outcomes by practicing the guidelines outlined in this book. While there can be no guarantees, because there are too many variable factors, most misfortunes can be avoided by developing a structure that provides a strong enough container that dream circles can focus instead on increasing their understanding, and developing connections between their members. This is the fascination of dream circles.
The magic can take a number of forms, and I am sure there are many I have not yet seen. Especially astounding are the synchronicities that can happen. They emerge with regularity in every possible venue: within the dream material, inside the content being discussed, outside or inside group, in parallels of dress, and in other surprises. Synchronicity is a subject that will be revisited several times throughout this book.
The nascent core of this work is the inspiration I received from the Native American people of the plains, the Lakota. This nation approaches unconscious material from a spiritual, relational and tribal viewpoint. It is my hypothesis that this element is crucially lacking in therapeutic dream work, spiritual direction, church and temple experience, group therapy, family systems work and other group situations, including traditional analysis, where analyst and analysand create a contained, closed temenos for healing and insight.
I call this missing element the “tribal unconscious.” In Jungian terms, this aspect of the unconscious resides between the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. I see it as a significant, interactive field that is often ignored by traditional psychology. Jung touched on it, but did not fully articulate the point in his Dream Seminar Notes, when he differentiated between the subjective and objective dream. The subjective dream is just about the dreamer, and characters in the dream are all parts of himself. The objective dream contains material that is “accurate” in the waking world; these dreams present us with objective data that is realistic and informative. Some of these dreams are remarkable, providing predictive, insightful information that solves dilemmas or aids the dreamer in other ways. Others are synchronistic, providing the dreamer with startling coincidences that can alter his consciousness. Still other objective dreams are corrective: if I have too low an opinion of someone, I might dream in a compensatory way that corrects my attitude about that individual.
Part of the modern soul-less problem is the loss of tribal life and customs. Tribal consciousness is almost impossible for post-modern people to conceptualize or relate to, sort of like trying to imagine what it would be like to be an identical twin. The Boy Scouts, church, your neighborhood and the local Jung Society are not even close to living with others in such a community of perhaps one hundred teepees and souls who share your religion, dress, diet, customs, rites of passage and personal history. The tribe broadened this reverberating interconnectedness further when the Sun Dance brought together many tribes, distant cousins and new alliances in a phenomenal, deeply woven tapestry of history and shared tradition.
We have lost this sense of profound belonging. Political parties, the Bach society, the sailing club, none even begins to deal with the modern loss of soul and sense of existential alienation that have encouraged suicide, violence, drug use and a general weakening of depth and meaning in our society.
Bringing the tribal field into consciousness may be a small step in the direction of healing individuals, relationships, groups and cultures, but it is where the dream world first takes us.