Note: An illustrated, hard copy edition of this essay is available at Hermes Home Press
Dreams are very personal and usually thought to be relevant for the dreamer only. Those who do believe that dreams have meaning have come to understand that dreams are generally meant to reflect upon the dreamer's own personal experiences and perhaps to guide the dreamer's life. According to previous surveys, however, dreams are also the most common arena of personal experience with a transpersonal dimension in life, a factor beyond the limits of time and space that transcends the personal.18, 29 The transpersonal aspect of dreaming has largely been explored by studies of information exchange through dream telepathy.25 In this paper we will describe a novel experimental paradigm involving a group ceremony for soliciting help from transpersonal dreaming. It demonstrates that ordinary dreams can contain guidance for someone in addition to the dreamer. Let us first describe the procedure as you might experience it for yourself.
The Initiation of Transpersonal Dreaming
Imagine attending a "Dream Helper Ceremony." You find yourself among a group of people, mostly strangers, who are gathered together for an overnight healing service. The conductor of the ceremony explains, "tonight, most of you will not be dreaming for yourself, but for someone else. You will discover your telepathic healing ability by putting it to work serving the needs of someone in distress."
"Who among you is feeling particularly troubled," asks the conductor, "or is dealing with a specific life crisis and would be willing to ask this group for its help? You will not be asked to disclose the nature of your problem tonight. On the contrary, you would keep it a secret for now. Tomorrow morning, after we give you our dreams, you may tell us something about it. In the meantime, we will ask you to think about your problem as we meditate together. Then, while we sleep, you will have the opportunity to open yourself to the healing energy of this group.
"Consider carefully whether or not you would like to be the focus of this healing service. Keep in mind that our dreams will go beyond the surface level of your problem. If you ask for our help, be sincerely willing to examine the deeper roots of your concern."
If more than one person signals or steps forward to indicate their desire to be the focus of the group's healing energy, a cast of lots determines who will be selected. As a prayer to bless the synchronicity of the draw, the conductor petitions, "May that person most in need who can best be helped by the type of healing service offered this evening be the one chosen."
The one who is chosen as the target person is later asked to search through any personal belongings for several items such as jewelry, clothing, a key or a comb that could be loaned to the dream helpers to sleep on that night. The target person is also asked to secretly write out on a piece of paper the question or problem for which help is sought, and to put that written petition under their pillow to sleep on that night. The group is asked to maintain silence and to prepare for a period of meditation. The target person leads the group in some form of meditation and afterwards distributes the personal objects to the dream helpers.
The conductor provides little explanation for how to obtain a helpful dream for a stranger in need. "Take the object our target person has given you and sleep on it to help your dreams better tune into that person's energy. Don't lose any of those dreams, nor should you censor any dream material you may recall. Even trivial details may very well prove important to helping the target person with their problem, whatever it may be."
If you can imagine being in such a dream helper group, you can appreciate how it might feel preparing for bed on such an occasion. You don't know what the person's problem is, but you are certainly curious and are trying to feel it out. You want to be helpful, but you just can't believe it would be possible for you to produce a psychic dream. That sense of doubt is certainly part of the experience.
Origins of the Ceremony
As part of the evening's preparation, however, the conductor does explain the history of how the Dream Helper ceremony came to be. This explanation helps provide a framework for the healing service. It also gives the participants some sense of the possibility of being able to help out with their dreams. We will give you a small bit of that history.
The story of this ceremony goes back to when I was conducting research on dream incubation at the summer camp for "young people" sponsored by the Association for Research and Enlightenment of Virginia Beach. I was using a special "dream tent" as a sanctuary to help people solicit dreams of guidance.14, 17 Although the incubation tent was originally designed and presented as an individual and private healing ritual, the "incubant" sleeping in the dream tent sometimes became an unintentional focus for other people's dreams.
Sometimes these "bystander dreams" would appear to be a reflection of the dreamer's identification with the incubant. Other dreams would contain material which was indeed informative or helpful, as if such a dream were a commentary on the incubant's problem. It was easy to regard these bystander dreams as natural extensions of the supportive group atmosphere, involving normal, although extraordinarily intuitive, processes of interpersonal perception. Occasionally, however, a dream would portray in such explicit detail a facet of the incubant's situation that had never been revealed to anyone, yet something apparently unrelated to anything in the dreamer's own life, that a telepathic or clairvoyant interpretation seemed unavoidable.
Although it was fascinating to observe such happenings, it was unclear how to further research these events. In the summer of 1975 Bob Van de Castle entered the scene, with his background not only in dream telepathy experiments, but also in the psi aspects of Native American Indian ceremonies which proved to be particularly helpful.27, 28 Bob also had found that the A.R.E. Camp atmosphere favored rich parapsychological interactions among the participants.26 We discussed how to translate these phenomena into a suitable experiment.
We reflected on our past experience together as members of A.R.E.'s Research Advisory Committee. The committee's task had been to determine how to meet Edgar Cayce's ideal of making research as enlightening for the participants as it was for the researchers. The committee recognized that the observer and the observed affect one another and wanted to design an approach to research that put both the researchers and the subjects into a cooperative venture of discovery.20 Grappling with this perplexing issue faced by the committee, I had a very special dream:
"We are gathered together for research and enlightenment. We are standing in the dark, not knowing how to proceed. Suddenly, we begin dancing together, each of us displaying an individual symbol. As we greet and celebrate one another in turn, we realize we have found our method, because the dance itself generates a fountain of sparks to light our path."1
At the time of this dream, the research committee had regarded it as an apt image of the ideal research paradigm being sought. Sometime later, when Bob and I were together at A.R.E.'s camp pondering how to create a meaningful experiment out of the raw experiences we had observed there, we realized that my dream spoke to our immediate situation. This dream portrayed people using mutual self-revelation in the form of symbols to effect a common goal. If an occasional camper could spontaneously dream about someone sleeping in the dream tent, it seemed possible to specifically ask members of a group to intentionally adopt a person's problems as its common focus. Henry's dream of the "research dance," therefore, seemed to suggest that the spontaneous "bystander" dreaming might be brought under the umbrella of an intentional community event. And thus we designed the experimental "Dream Helper Ceremony".15
That's the brief dream history behind the ceremony. After we have told this story to the assembled group, if Bob is present, he shares the personal history behind his involvement as a participant in several dream telepathy projects.25 He also tells many amusing anecdotes to illustrate the important message that those frequently embarrassing details in a dream, seemingly initially irrelevant, often turn out to contain the biggest telepathic payoff.
Explaining this dream history and personal background in telepathic dream research brings some credibility to the bizarre experiment being proposed to the group. Batcheldor has proposed that a group will be more successful in a psi task when "witness inhibition" and "ownership resistance" is overcome: "... an idea of a goal state (levitation, etc.) must occur together with a moment of total belief that it will occur.'1 Geisler has utilized these sitter group principles of "suggestion" to explain psi effects in his research studies of shamanism in Brazil.6 If you can imagine now being a dream helper, there is still probably some doubt, but also some curiosity and anticipation as well. We believe that this mental set is part of the induction process: the helpers are curious about the target person's problem, but can only surmise its nature. The helpers have also committed themselves to help the target person. These factors create a strong sense of "unfinished business," or "need for dream completion" at bedtime, leaving it to the helpers' dreams to resolve the matter through some form of connecting with the target person.4
The Dream Sharing
The next morning the dreamers gather together after breakfast. There is a sense of subdued excitement in the air, as we are all anxious to see what is in the dreams. Yet when asked, very few people think they have had dreams related to the target person. Not until all the dreams have been told, and their common elements noted, do people begin to suspect that their dreams contain something meaningful for the task at hand.
After all the dreams have been told and their commonalities discussed, the group formulates a hypothesis concerning the nature of the target person's question or concern and the general drift of the dreams' apparent guidance on that issue. At that point, the target person reveals his or her question by reading a statement that had been written out the night before. The target person responds to the individual dreams, noting resemblances to situations, patterns or themes in his or her personal life. The group then discusses the dreams in relation to how they may contain guidance for the target person. If there is time available, the dreamers also interpret their dreams in relation to themselves and see if the themes emerging in this interpretive work has relevance for the target person.
The method of dream sharing can be better appreciated in the context of looking at two case examples.
Two Case Studies
The composite dreams emerging from the Dream Helper ceremony can be processed at various levels of depth and with differing degrees of interaction among the helpers. Our first case study will involve a rather limited level of group interaction. This involved a group in which Bob was the conductor. Time pressures forced a rather tight schedule upon the group and they were not able to follow through on all the possible implications of their psi-detected information.
The target person, whom we will call Patricia, was an engaging, extraverted woman in her early fifties. Jumping ahead in our account, the problem she sought help for involved a career decision: should I pursue a different vocational path? It has been our repeated experience that intellectual questions of this type do not elicit any clear answers about vocational decisions, but instead the target person is provided with dream images that deal with earlier and deeper strata of emotional significance which presumably must be faced and dealt with before the target person can meaningfully evaluate any contemporary concerns. That is what happened in Patricia's group.
Six of the eight group members recalled dreams the morning after they had agreed to serve as dream helpers. When their dreams were shared, several recurrent themes were apparent. The most striking images literally dealt with striking activities. One dreamer, who claimed to almost never dream of violence, reported a dream in which he was repeatedly hitting someone over the head with a hammer until they were dead. Another dreamer reported a boxing match, two young men, stiff-arming each other, and some young accident victims from a car crash. One helper dreamed about a guide drawing a group's attention to a brick at a Roman ruins dripping blood and another mentioned "a gorey scene" from a film called "The Young Ones" about animals in the jungle. One of the other helpers awoke because she was horrified and disgusted by the image of rats running out of a cage. Animals also were present in one of the dreams of the "hammer murderer." He found some snakes in his back yard and then "I'm suddenly in about a foot of water with ducks in it. Many are dead and there are many ducklings." This last image later turned out to be very relevant for the target person.
Once the dreams are reported, the group quickly notices some common elements. It is the presence of commonalities among the dreams that encourages the helpers to accept the possibility that their individual dreams may be related to the target person.
From the dreams described so far, a strong case could be made that a theme of physical violence seems to be relevant for the target person. Besides the obvious images of blood, gore, murder, boxing, stiff-arming, and accident victims, the presence of so many animal figures also suggested that aggression might be involved. Bob has found, in a different research context, that aggression is more likely to occur in dreams when the incidence of animals characters in them increases.30
Several other sub-themes were woven into the helpers' dreams. One involved mother and child relationships. One male helper mentioned that, in his dream, when his mother arrived at a movie theater with a young boy, an argument developed when another young boy occupying one of their seats refused to give the seat up and the dreamer had to intervene. A female helper saw her mother and described her as "in one of her most superficial moods and out of touch with her real feelings and not in touch with how the other person thinks or feels because of her usual self-absorption and self-centeredness." Other comments by the dreamer denounced the mother's callousness and addressed how lonely and unloved the dreamer felt. Only two maternal figures were present in the helpers' dreams; when they appeared, either an argument ensued or the dreamer felt cruelly rejected.
In fact, with the exception of one kindly aunt, who was mentioned but not physically present in the dream, none of the adult female figures present in the helpers' dreams are cast in supportive roles. One of these women is "bossy" and "has no idea who or what I am really like," one is "upset," one makes the dreamer "unhappy" inItially because of her inappropriate behavior in buying movie tickets and when the dreamer later "protests" because the film has been changed, she explains that it has been changed for "a late night show that has received excellent reviews" (referring to the Dream Helper ceremony?) The dreamer subsequently is "put off even more" when he learns "a gorey scene" is involved. Another dreamer saw "a woman in a purple turban with her face completely covered, with the exception of her eyes." The dreamer thought the woman should "take that face covering off" but then awoke horrified when an image immediately appeared of rats running out of a cage.
Two other sub-themes will be briefly noted. The first involved the concept of mental imbalance; one dreamer awoke in panic when she stepped backward and "nearly lost her balance," another dreamed of "nuts" being cracked, and another helper was in a mental hospital. The second sub-theme involved dirtiness and disarray. One dreamer said it was "garbage day and a few full cans are nearby," another talked about "cleaning up the mess," and blood dripping from the brick in the ruins was noted earlier.
Patricia was rather startled to hear these dreams from her helpers. After they made a few preliminary efforts to weave these themes together, she volunteered to share some personal information about the "garbage" accumulated during her childhood. Her mother had suffered from significant psychiatric problems and Patricia perceived her as rather distant and aloof. Patricia often endured physical abuse from her and on one occasion her mother had actually tried to kill her by placing her in a tub of hot water. The dream helper who had reported suddenly finding himself in a foot of water with many dead ducks and ducklings seemed to have tuned into this tragic event. It was possible for Patricia to relate to the idea of feeling like a "dead duck," or an "ugly duckling" because of the rejection she so often experienced from her mother. Patricia said she had spent many years in therapy trying to overcome these traumatic experiences from her childhood years.
Time constraints limited the ability of the dream helpers to further explore the ramifications of Patricia's background for her current vocational concerns and the dream helpers were not able to examine the various aspects of their own background which would have created the personalized dream imagery that paralleled certain features of Patricia's underlying and apparently only partially resolved emotional issues.
On other occasions when time was not so limited, it was possible to utilize the fuller dimensions of the Dream Helper ceremony. By way of example, we will describe some of the results of a dream helper group, conducted by Henry, that was dreaming for a 21-year old woman, whom we'll call Mary.
There were nine people serving as helpers, but three people recalled no dreams. One helper dreamed of going to a supermarket. Another dreamed of going to a drugstore to purchase a "pocket shower kit," but encountered difficulty paying for it. This helper also dreamed of going to a library. Another dreamed of a "Jewish Mother" who never believed her child was well. Another helper dreamed of holding hands in communion with Mary, of going to a piano recital, and of a boy diving very deep into a pool of clear water. Another dreamed of being under water, emerging to fly over our retreat, where she saw Mary, and heard a doctor's voice declare, "her diet is too tight--water is very important." This helper also dreamed of being at a fashionable poolside party.
Henry was a helper in this group, and his dreams will be reported in more detail. First, he dreamed that he was lying on the deck of a sinking ship. The water level was rising slowly, but was beginning to enter his mouth. He began to choke, and woke up abruptly, with the inexplicable impression that Mary had been ill and almost died.
Second, he dreamed he was in his childhood home, and he heard "Mom" playing on the piano. He also saw her in the bathroom taking a shower. Then he saw her standing in the kitchen, dripping from the shower, talking on the telephone to someone about how her piano playing was always interrupted. He also saw "Dad" lounging in the living room in his pajamas. (Quotes are used around "Mom" and "Dad" because he said they didn't look like his parents at all.) Then he went outside to return a book to the library. On the lawn was his personal library--it was being soaked by a lawn sprinkler!
Those were the dreams for Mary. Before hearing from Mary the group tried to find common themes to form some hypothesis about Mary's problem: shopping, the library, mother, and piano were repeated images. But especially was the image of water repeated, often in conjunction with a health theme. Putting our dreams together to form a pattern that might suggest the nature of Mary's problem, we speculated that Mary's problem concerned health, for which water might be a critical factor.
Mary was obviously stirred by the dreams, and responded excitedly, saying something to the effect that the group was wrong about the problem, but otherwise more right than they knew. She read from her pillow letter how the problem concerned her recently cancelled wedding. None of the group's dreams reflected a marriage theme, but two did touch on matters which were involved in the breakup. Mary recognized the dream of the poolside party as the type of social function she frequently had to attend with her ex-fianc' and his family. She and he came from disparate social backgrounds, and this difference created problems for them. She said that the dream of the Jewish mother also reminded her of her ex-fianc', for he had once been very ill, and his mother continued to treat him like a sick little boy. Beyond these two correspondences, she saw little in the dreams pertaining to her question about the cancelled wedding. Mary said that what so impressed her was to find so much in the dreams that was nevertheless directly related to many other problems that confronted her.
To the water imagery and health theme in the dreams, Mary responded strongly with an account of her medical history, a story she had not previously shared with anyone because of embarrassment. Mary had a chronic, epileptic-like condition, with seizure-like episodes brought on by tension. She said the themes of being under water reminded her of how she would feel "flooded" prior to a seizure, an image she had been concerned with during her stay at this A.R.E. camp retreat. She said that Henry's drowning dream was a good image of what had happened to her during a recent stay in the hospital. As an unexpected side effect to some medication she had received for her condition, she developed a temporary partial paralysis in her sleep. As a result, while sleeping on her back, her saliva was not swallowed, but instead filled her throat, choking her, and she almost died from suffocation. Henry's dream of going down with the ship seemed to be just the sort of nightmare of helplessness that might be provoked by an event in sleep such as Mary's. He wrote, "the resemblance startled me, because there was an unusual quality to my dream, and considering my impression upon awakening, I couldn't help but feel that I had somehow experienced Mary's hospital trauma." Be that as it may, we couldn't see how his dream could be of any help to her.
There was perhaps more help to be found in that other underwater dream, in which the dreamer emerged to fly over the retreat, see Mary, and hear a doctor comment on Mary's condition. Mary explained that her doctors had not yet diagnosed her condition to their satisfaction, and various treatment programs had been attempted. As a method of treatment, diet had not been explored. The phrase, "diet too tight" reminded Mary of a related component of her medical condition--fluid retention--and she wondered if perhaps diet might indeed be a potential mode of therapy. Since Mary was anxious to reduce medication, perhaps this dream contained a needed clue for her treatment.
There were other areas of correspondence. Mary said that the image of a library had recently been on her mind. It related to her ambivalence about going back to school, because her parents would have to bear the expense. She frequently wondered why she couldn't learn what she really needed by reading in a library. It was interesting that Henry noted that his personal library, the one being watered in his dream, was actually born out of just the sort of fantasy Mary had been entertaining. Concerning the piano theme, Mary said that everyone in her family was musical except her. She frequently went to piano recitals with her family. Her mother played the piano, but found the responsibilities of the home disruptive of her practice.
Mary's reactions to the dreams is typical of a target person's initial response. No obvious "answer" is perceived, but many correspondences to related critical areas in the target person's life are recognized in the dreams. The purpose of the ceremony, however, is to be helpful, not merely to spot isolated facts in a person's life.
Edgar Cayce consistently maintained that behind apparent psychic phenomena in a dream, there is always an immediate and important purpose being served for the dreamer.11 To discover this purpose, we drew upon the insight of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis and a closet parapsychologist:
"I have often had the impression, in the course of experiments in my private circle, that strongly emotionally colored recollections can be successfully transferred without much difficulty. If one has the courage to submit to an analytical examination the associations of the person to whom the thoughts are supposed to be transferred, correspondences often come to light which would otherwise have remained undiscovered".5
Subsequent psychoanalytic research into parapsychological dreaming indicates that if an apparent telepathic dream is also interpreted from the dreamer's point of view, then the underlying meaning of the dream will help point to the purpose being served by the psychic correspondences.3 What purpose was being served by our dreams for Mary?
Henry began the uncovering process by sharing his personal feelings about his own dreams. In going over with Mary his dream of being back in his childhood home, they discovered that although their home situations had some commonalities, the dream depicted her home more than his. Both their mothers played the piano, and both complained about their playing being so often interrupted. The physical description Henry gave of the mother in his dream was unlike his own, but fit Mary's mother very well. In Henry's childhood home there was only one phone, in a vestibule; but in Mary's home there were several, of which her mother used only the one in the kitchen. Whereas his mother used the telephone only rarely, Mary said her mother was frequently in the kitchen talking on the telephone. Similarly, the description Henry gave of the father in the dream was unlike his own, but fit Mary's father well. The resemblance included his habit of lounging in the living room in his pajamas, something Henry didn't recall his own father ever doing. Henry's dream thus had the curious quality of being a literal representation of an aspect of Mary's home, but also portraying an emotional situation they both could recognize. If the literal details of the dream applied to Mary, we wondered if the emotional significance that might be revealed in the meaning of the dream might also be relevant to her. Henry therefore began to work on the dream relative to himself, to see if Mary would respond to any of his self-analysis.
The most salient aspect of the dream for Henry was seeing mother in the shower. This dream image recalled to mind an old childhood memory of walking in on his mother while she was taking a bath. He said he recalled her getting terribly upset, complaining about her lack of privacy, and making him feel very guilty about invading her life. This memory seemed to have a strong emotional connection with memories surrounding his mother's piano playing. Listening to her play, he said, gave him that "oceanic feeling of bliss." If she were to be interrupted, and get upset, he would somehow feel guilty, as if he were the source of her frustrations. He said that from the years he had spent in psychotherapy, he could recognize how such memories had been incorporated into his particular "mother complex." One aspect was an unresolved dependency which was both disguised and fed by guilt feelings about being the cause of mother's unhappiness. He related that it had been with the task of "watering his books," a metaphor for adding a dimension of feelings to his storehouse of thinking patterns, that he had been led to resolve this dependency.
Mary responded very intently to his self-analysis. She explained that her mother's frustrations were a frequent source of friction in the home. Mary realized that she too, like Henry, assumed that she was somehow to blame for her mother's unhappiness, and the discord between her parents. Mary also now realized how her guilt feelings paradoxically inhibited any tendency to leave home and begin a life of her own, thereby prolonging that dependency. Mary indicated that recognizing the relationship between her guilt feelings and her emotional dependency was a new realization for her.
Three other dream helpers supported this analysis by finding similar guilt and dependency themes reflected in their dreams. For example, the helper who dreamed of having difficulty paying for the pocket shower kit at the drugstore discovered that the theme of "paying for what you get" was exactly how she had to deal with her own difficulty in outgrowing her dependency on her mother. Mary responded to her by indicating that the library theme, which this helper had also dreamed about, represented the same type of problem for Mary, as she had not been able to face up to the responsibility of paying for her own education.
What emerged from the discussion was a definite pattern, reflected in the collection of dreams, revealing a hypothesis that Mary found very meaningful. Besides the possibility that diet might be a contributory factor in her medical situation, there was also a suggestion that there might be a psychosomatic component as well. Her feeling image of being flooded, prior to seizure, echoed her style of dealing with emotional tensions, especially conflicts associated with guilt. Fantasies of guilt concerning her mother perhaps served to help Mary avoid assuming the responsibility for resolving her need for dependence upon her mother. Further discussion revealed that Mary's ex-fianc'e had a similar dependency conflict, a commonality with Mary which seemed to have played a strong role in the breaking off of their engagement.
The case of dreaming for Mary provides a good example of what can happen in one of our experimental Dream Helper ceremonies. Besides helping Mary, the helpers also felt that they had been helped. They received a new appreciation of the potentiality they possessed to be of service to others. Also present as by-products for the dream helpers were some fresh insights into their own problems. Since their dreams were dedicated to Mary, they worked very hard to recall them for her. It was as if they were guarding her personal property--they wanted to make sure that her proprietary dream rights were protected. By so completely disowning these dreams, it enabled the helpers to be much freer to let come through whatever was pressing for expression, and often they discovered that this was material pertaining to their own problems. But now that this previously suppressed material had been tricked into revealing itself, they had received some bonus items to work with in their own quest for better self understanding.
The group discussion takes on a definite therapeutic tone. Although the original intent of the dreaming was to help the target person, the emotional sharing reveals how the dreams are relevant both to the target person's critical situation and to unresolved aspects of the dreamers' own lives as well. It is as if before going to sleep, each person engages their instinctive, projective empathy to intuit that aspect of the target person's undisclosed problem that corresponds, naturally, with an unreconciled issue within the person's own life; then, having been reminded of that issue, the person's dreams perform their usual work of reconciliation, using both the person's own experiences and images telepathically received from the target person's life. In such a manner, the group's dreams collaborate on a common problem as perceived from individual perspectives.
Not all ceremonies, of course, result in such a clearly demonstrated confluence of what we might call "telepathic counter-transference." Because of time constraints, the group often does not process the dreams so completely as to ascertain the counter-transference meanings in the dreams, but focuses primarily on what the dreams mean to the target person. Yet even at this level, where not all of the possibilities of transpersonal interactions can be revealed, the ceremony provides meaningful material for the target person's concerns.
Astonishment, delight, and awe often emerge as the group marvels at what they have accomplished through their combined dream talents. One helper likened a group's efforts to composing a group symphony that was made possible by splicing their dream tapes together. Helpers generally feel that they have been so successful because they were not attempting to gain something for themselves; they were engaged in a healing service nourished from a sense of love. This attitude was movingly expressed in a note appended to the written dream report that one helper turned over to a target person: "May these dreams bring help to you for as long as you need it...may our dream group be a memory source of strength when you need it...may you come to not need it."
Evaluating the Results
Turning a critical eye, however, to the meaning of the results of these dream helper ceremonies, we might question whether the dreams and their interpretations actually contain pertinent information for the target person, or if we are reading into the dreams things that we want to see? Is it possible that we are creating meaningful correspondences rather than discovering them? Although creating meaning is often as valid and necessary as discovering it, we would feel more confident if that meaning were supported by something other than our own subjective experience.
We have found what we believe to be a workable approach to this dilemma. If there are enough people present at a ceremony, we can divide them into two groups, each dreaming for a different target person. We can then compare the dreams between the two groups. The occurrence of distinct commonalities in the dreams of one group, as contrasted with the other group, suggests that the dreams are in fact being focused on something specific to each target person.
In Mary's group, for example, several of the dreams contained the image of water. Water is a very common dream image, so we might expect it to occur in several of the dreams. However, at the same time I was involved with Mary's group, Bob was involved with another group, dreaming for a different woman. In that group's dreams, the image of water did not appear even once! Instead, that group had several dreams containing the theme of black vs. white and of related polarities. As it turned out, that target woman was concerned about a bi-racial romance. There were no black-white or polarity themes in the dreams for Mary. Although both women were concerned with relationship issues, the common dream themes for each woman were definitely distinct and different.
We have learned that when two groups of Dream Helpers are conducted simultaneously, it is easy to see how the dreams are focused and specific to the concerns of the target person. What can account for these differences except for the fact that the dreamers are focusing on the individual attributes of the target person?
Sometimes, this type of difference can be critical to the healing potential of the ceremony. For example, Henry once was in a group dreaming for a woman whose problem concerned her repeated failures in career. The dreams for her contained repeated references to aggression, assaults, forbidden sex, young girls and daughters. The target person revealed suspicions of being sexually molested as a child. One of the group's dreams correctly envisioned the suspected circumstances of this event, in the cellar of the home. The central theme of the group's ensuing discussion had to do with how self-doubt and feelings of shame (in the target woman's case, related to the incidence of sexual abuse) contribute to blocks in creativity, an issue with which several people in the group were actively struggling.
Meanwhile, by way of contrast, Bob was in a different group, dreaming for a woman whose question concerned the fate of her dead son. He had died under unusual circumstances and suspicions had been cast upon a person within the family unit. Although no evidence was ever obtained, and the death was ruled accidental, the cloud of doubt had persisted over the two years since the event. None of the dreams for this woman contained any images whatsoever of aggression, assault or foul play. Instead, there were several dreams involving tripping and accidents, and many references to natural disasters, but no sexual dreams were reported. The majority of the dreams also contained references to sons (but none to daughters), and there were references to crying and grief, questionable evidence, fires to put out and poor communications. What this group concluded was that the ruling of accidental death needed to be accepted so that the family could renew open communications and go on with its life.
When our two groups met together to compare notes, Bob's target person was much impressed by the noticeable differences in the two sets of dreams. Whereas in Henry's group there were many instances of aggression and foul play, not a single dream reflected that theme in her group, where accidents and natural disasters predominated. That comparison helped her accept the validity of her group's suggestion that her son died accidentally.
Another way of telling if the dreams are helpful, or if we are simply spinning webs of illusion, would be in the long-range impact of the ceremony upon the target person. In Mary's case, for example, she wrote back a year later, indicating that she had found an apartment for herself. She was now on a special diet and off medication. She had lost several pounds. Most significantly, she was in a therapy group with her mother to work on their relationship. Her successful application of the ideas given in the dreams "proved" their worth.
In the case of the woman whose child died under mysterious circumstances, she wrote a letter to Bob indicating that she felt a great load had been lifted off her mind after the ceremony's conclusion. When she returned home she discussed the matter with the family, for the first time since the death two years ago, and they were now on the road to recovery from this tragic accident. This type of feedback seems to support the validity of the type of help that comes from the ceremony.
Dream Helper is a useful group exercise in several respects, as suggested by the results of one study, based on observations of a month-long residential group.12 The experimenter collected all dreams from the month, totaling 450, and analyzed them for content. The results indicated that Dream Helper orients the dreams of the group toward the group members. On any other night, references in dreams to other group members averaged 8.2 occurrences. On the evening that dream helper was conducted, there were 48 dream references to members of the group!
The ceremony also stimulates dream recall. On the average, 37 dreams were produced each night. On the evening of the ceremony, 57 dreams were produced.
The ceremony also focuses the group's dreams toward specific themes. On the night of Dream Helper, there were, for example, five images of seafood in the 57 dreams, which is ten times as frequent as that found in normative samples.8
The ceremony also gives a group an opportunity to function as an intuitive consultant to help someone in distress. In one special study of a dream helper ceremony, the dream helpers' dreams proved to be more helpful and "on target" than a reading from a professional intuitive hired to participate in the research. The dreams also proved superior to the efforts of a professional counselor who was hired to uncover the historical background of the target person's presenting problem.2
The Dream Helper ceremony has been conducted on several occasions (and by other conductors) with similar results:
- most dreamers believe that their dreams are not "on target" when they first recall them, before the group meets to discuss the dreams.
- The occasional dreamer has an extraordinary dream, involving lucidity, hearing voices, or some other factor related to transcendent dreaming.
- A group image appears in some of the dreams, and the target person appears in some of the dreams.
- The collection of dreams contain several sets of common elements and themes that the dream helpers can readily identify.
- The target person can identify elements in most of the dreams that touch upon the target person's life as well as upon the undisclosed problem area.
- Numerous elements of correspondences between the helpers' dreams and the target person are sources of surprise for the group--their reaction is that there is evidence for ostensible psi.
- If the dream helpers go through the process of analyzing their dreams in terms of their own life situations, further areas of correspondence are discovered.
- The target person may be uncertain as to whether or not the dreams, and ensuing discussion, have helped with the problem, but almost invariably the target person believes that the helpers definitely "tuned in" with their dreams.10
The ceremony thus provides a repeatable demonstration of transpersonal dreaming, with many of the characteristics of spontaneous cases of ostensibly telepathic dreams. In this regard, the ceremony replicates the observations made by Montague Ullman in his group approach to dreamwork, wherein he finds many examples of correspondances in the dreams and life experiences of group members, suggestive of telepathic interaction.22
But does the Dream Helper ceremony really demonstrate dream telepathy? The distinct and focused set of correspondences in the collection of the group's dreams could certainly be scored as "hits," or apparently accurate psychic perceptions. But are these correspondences more than coincidental? Traditionally, scientific parapsychology would focus on a statistical answer to this question. The number of "hits" in a collection of dreams for a target person would be compared, for example, to the number of "hits" in a collection of dreams that were actually unrelated to the target person.25 In fact, positive, significant results have been obtained with Dream Helper in this manner.
In this experiment, 244 dream helpers were recruited through the mail and served as remote dreamers to avoid any sensory contact between them and the target persons. Four months in advance of choosing the target persons, the helpers were asked to submit their most recent dream. These dreams were later used as control dreams. Two target persons were recruited in the experimenter's locality and randomly assigned to the dream helpers. Each dream helper received the name of the target person and was asked to try to dream something helpful for this person, who had a specific (undisclosed) problem. The resulting "helpful" dreams, and the control dreams, were typed on index cards and coded. The target persons were each given a package of these dreams, containing both their helpers' "helpful" dreams and the control dreams produced by those same helpers. The target persons were asked to decide for each dream whether or not it contained any resemblance to the question being asked ("direct hit") or to any aspect of the target person's life ("indirect hit"). An independent judge was also asked to perform the same task, looking for "direct hits" only. When the number of judged hits for the dreams of the experimental night were compared to the number of judged hits for the control dreams, the "helpful" dreams were favored to a significant degree for one target person, whereas for the second target person, "helpful" dreams and control dreams were equally likely to be judged as "hits."
The experimenter followed up the statistical analysis by determining if any of the "helpful" dreams were actually helpful to the target person, who was suffering from a skin ailment. On the morning of the interview with the target person, the experimenter dreamed of the target person, saw that her rash had healed, and asked her if she had noticed all the dreams that dealt with diet. Upon interviewing the target person, they examined the "helpful" dreams, and found 14 that dealt with diet. She agreed to work with her diet, returned in another month, and her rash had cleared.21
Taking the traditional research approach to investigating Dream Helper, especially if that were to mean focusing on statistics at the expense of working with the dreams themselves and trying to gain help from them, may not be the most fruitful avenue of discovery. Ullman and his colleagues, for example, found that as they focused on achieving a statistical effect, there was a significant decline in their enthusiasm for the dream connection and the telepathic effect suffered as a consequence.24 Indeed, whereas typical telepathy experiments increase people's ego-involvement by focusing their attention on scoring statistical "hits," we had followed the advice of Edgar Cayce and others that more meaningful telepathy would occur if we were to create a more ego-transcendent orientation by focusing on putting the ESP into serving the needs of others.7 The ceremony does provide an excellent experience in "transcendent" ESP; i.e., psychic dreaming motivated by a concern beyond the self.7 Dream Helper consequently does reveal a larger, holistic pattern of cooperative telepathy in the service of mutual problem-solving.
One of the most lasting effects of our participation in Dream Helper ceremonies, as conductors, as dream helpers and as target persons, is to question the limits we usually place on the interpretation of dreams. To discover that your "ordinary"" dream actually contains meaningful and significant images from another person's experiences makes you wonder just how personal and private your dreamtime actually is. Although our dreams nevertheless serve our own personal needs, we may be intertwined while we dream more often than we would ordinarily suspect.
Rechtschaffen gives some examples of striking correspondences that he obtained when one subject (agent) was hypnotized and told to dream about a specific topic and the percipient attempted to dream about the agent's dream. He carried out one project involving six pairs of subjects that yielded 47 pairs of dreams.13 Rechtschaffen noted that "When they were hits, they were were quite good" and a refined technique was not needed to detect them. He went on to observe that "a hit does not reveal the degree of the hit. A simple matching procedure does not take into account the very unlikely probability of such a specific correspondence". Rechtschaffen found that his early results were very exciting and "We thought that maybe the question is not so much what do dreams mean, but whose dream are you having?" (pgs. 89-92).
The results of Dream Helper also reveal how much commonality we share as human beings struggling with life issues. We suspect, in fact, that the Dream Helper ceremony will someday find its natural place within families,19 work groups and intentional communities.9 As portrayed in Henry's dream of the "research dance," people sharing of themselves with one another can create a fountain of enlightenment, even if the sparks are hard to catch and pin down for scientific verification. Perhaps it is relatively meaningless to attempt to discern just how many psi "hits" are obtained through this novel way of working with telepathic dreams. The Dream Helper ceremony is no doubt a situation where telepathy and subliminal perception are combined and used in an applied manner. The application is in terms of personal growth for all those who are willing to open themselves up to others and to share simultaneously the same psychological spaces. If we all possess healing power, and if dream telepathy is a means of silently and deeply communicating with each other, then we have available to us in the Dream Helper ceremony a powerful approach for sharing our combined healing potential every evening of our lives.23 As an experiment in transpersonal cooperation, the Dream Helper ceremony awaits further exploration.
Read More About It!
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