For twelve months – the last twelve months I was living in Glastonbury, England – I was a member of a dreaming group. We met once a month in a sizeable yurt, surrounded by the symbols of the zodiac. In the winter months the fire would likely be going.
The purpose of the dreaming group was to talk about our dreams. In the same way that a writing group might share examples of the things they’d been reading that month, we would share an example of something we’d dreamed. And then, as a group, we’d discuss it.
I am interested in dreams anyway as someone who delights in the absurd and the surprising things that our imaginations present us with. Personally, I have had experiences with hypnagogic states and sleep paralysis that, despite my deeply ingrained scepticism, I cannot but count as spiritual experiences. Like many people who picked up a dream dictionary in their teens and found themselves disillusioned by its supposed ‘analysis’ of the symbols therein, however, I’d become resistant to the thought of reading too much into them.
On joining the group, two things happened: firstly, I found I recalled a lot more from my dreams, and more vividly. Knowing I had a group of people expecting to hear what I’d dreamed gave me that extra need to recall it. Even just a fragment of a dream or a solitary image was sometimes enough to get a whole discussion out of, and often, we found we remembered more as we began talking about it.
Secondly, we all found that we noticed things about each other’s dreams that the dreamer themselves was ignoring. Sometimes that came in the form of the other group members asking the right questions. Maybe they’d ask what the room was like that the dream was taking place in, and suddenly the dreamer had a wealth of rich detail that wasn’t mentioned before. Also, on several occasions group members had recurring motifs in their dreams that they hadn’t noticed – these could be glaringly obvious to the rest of us – for example, one dreamer brought different dreams that featured swimming to an island with lots of other people several months in a row, and hadn’t realised that they were describing the same thing for a third time!
These experiences together made me think that perhaps this kind of group sharing is what dreams are ‘for’. The moment where a dreamer ‘unlocked’ the dream – got the point of it, so to speak – would often be a revelation accompanied by elation or certainly a ‘wow’. And it would invariably be something that we were peripherally almost conscious of; dismissive of before we started talking about it.
One personal example – I had a dream which featured a gravestone with the name ‘JARWOOD’ on it. I told the group that I’d thought about it but that that name didn’t mean anything in particular to me. One of the other group members asked me to focus on that name, surely it must mean something? ‘Oh no’, I said – ‘the only vague connection I can make is that years ago I was nominated to apply for a scholarship from an organisation called Jerwood, and I got turned down…’ of course, suddenly in that moment, it was obvious to me that what I was looking at in the dream was a cemetery of lost opportunities.
Before we had TV and all manner of such entertainment, I can hardly imagine that our ancestors would not have gathered around a fire and shared the strange images they’d seen in their sleep, in this way. Find a group of like-minded people and talk about your dreams: it’s what they’re for.
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