Will You Dream For Me?

A Qualitative Study of the Dream Helper Ceremony

by

Larry James Walsh

M.S., Troy State University, 1996

Chapter I:  Introduction

It's very rare to meet anyone who has not had an interesting dream they remember and wonder what it was about.  Everyone dreams (Sechrist, 1968, p. 15), and with a little preparation, they can also remember their dreams (Ullman, Krippner, & Vaughn, 1973, p. 220).  Taking it a step further, sharing your dreams with other people can increase your understanding of dreams and their place in helping deal with life's troubling issues (Taylor, 1992, p. 152).

Why would we want to remember our dreams?  If you are King Nebuchadnezzar, it's to follow the divine guidance you believe the dream can provide.  If you're Daniel, it's to save the lives of your people because the King will have you killed if you can't provide an interpretation of the dream he could not remember (Holy Bible, 1978, p. 387).  If you are Mr. Average Citizen, what could your motivation be?  Divine guidance?  Perhaps.  Save the lives of your family?  Let's hope that's not a regular occurrence!  There are many people who believe there are several good reasons to remember your dreams (Richards, 1998, p. 97).  This study explores the possibility that remembering your dreams is not only useful, but that it can also be helpful to share and analyze your dreams with the help of others (Taylor, 1992, p. 132).

Dr. Henry Reed suggests that dreams can contain helpful information, and that we can influence our dreams by conscious acts.  Even further, he suggests that we can use that ability to help one another and benefit individually from mutual analysis of the dreams (Reed, 1989, pp. 240-247).  Dr. Reed makes no preposterous claims for potential riches or fame as an inducement to try the exercise, nor does he demand acceptance of a "Pagan God of Dreams" before sharing information about the process.  He simply suggests that you try the process for yourself and make up your own mind whether or not it's helpful.  At the very least, you might learn something about yourself and make a more personal connection with the people you choose to help with the experiment.  One group of thirty-nine people accepted Dr. Reed's invitation in August of 2001.  This study explores their personal experiences and reactions to what they encountered.

Problem Statement

Dreams have been a part of our human experience throughout recorded history and very likely throughout human existence (Stevens, 1949, p. 2; Frazer, 1890/1981, pp. 165-166).  Debates about the source and value of dreams label them as everything from divine guidance to the result of indigestion (Freud, 1900/1965, p. 56; Stevens, 1949, p. 12).  This study focuses on a more specific and practical application of dreams:  Can we deliberately influence our dreams with the intent of being helpful to another person?  The Dream Helper Ceremony (DHC) employs dreams to gain helpful insights through group cooperation focused on a target person.  Is the exercise helpful to the people who participate, and if so, how?  Does sharing dream experiences help us gain greater insight about the dreams and issues that may have inspired them?  Does sharing a dream help us feel closer to those with whom we share?  What impact does the experience have on the people who participate in deliberate dreaming and dream sharing?

Research Questions

1.  Do DHC participants believe they can dream for another person as revealed by their responses during a semi-structured interview about the seminar?

2.  Did people gain a personal benefit from participation in the exercise as revealed by their views expressed during a post-seminar interview?

Definition of Terms

Dream Helper Ceremony:  A group exercise where people deliberately solicit and recall a special dream for the purpose of providing insight about a personal issue of an individual seeking help from the group (Reed, 1989, pp. 240-247; Van de Castle, 1994, pp. 436-438).

Exercise:  Dream Helper Ceremony.

Insight:  An improved understanding of a personal situation, troubling issue, or life challenge.

Issue:  The event, decision, situation, or relationship viewed as the source of discomfort or distress by the target person.

Personal Benefit:  A desirable change in one's attitude, knowledge, or circumstances.

Target Person:  The individual seeking help from the group about a personal issue, who is selected to be the focus of the group's dreams during the Dream Helper Ceremony.

Chapter II:  Review of the Literature

Research Focus

Dreams have played a major role in many societies throughout history.  Dreams have been reported as the source of prophetic visions that were the basis of many of today's world religions.  Joseph learned of Mary's immaculate conception, Buddha's mother also learned of her immaculate conception in a dream, and much of the Koran was revealed to Muhammad in his dreams over several years.  Including a more modern reference, Joseph Smith learned of the Book of Mormon from an angel in a dream in 1823 (Van de Castle, 1994, pp. 39-41).   

This study narrows the focus of dream research to a group of individuals who tested for themselves the hypothesis that we can dream for each other and gain personal benefits from the experience.  References from currently available literature are presented that shed light on research or information relevant to this project.

Explanation of the Problem

"Different strokes for different folks."  That clich' very succinctly conveys a basic truism: What works for one person may not necessarily work for another.  Even if it does work, it may not work as well.  When one person finds a helpful process from which others could also benefit, how can it be presented in a way that will be well received--especially when the process employs concepts outside the bounds of commonly accepted knowledge?  Making others aware of the process and its potential benefits can pose significant obstacles to communication when it's beyond the experience or understanding of potential beneficiaries.  From the layman standpoint of this author, putting neat labels on the concepts employed by the Dream Helper Ceremony (Reed, 1989, p. 240) was a much more difficult task than actual participation in the exercise.

Fortunately, neatly arrayed scientific labels and orderly replicated laboratory experiments are not the goal of this research.  Just as a novice driver doesn't need the in-depth understanding of internal combustion engines afforded by an advanced degree in physics, neither does an individual who wants to help a friend, need the understanding of the subconscious mind attained by a Carl Jung.  The mechanics of the Dream Helper Ceremony are complex, difficult to express, and hard for most people to accept at face value.  An adequate explanation of those processes and presentation of compelling scientific proof in support of each is certainly beyond the scope of this research.  Several participants did share their personal understanding of the processes, and readers may find those explanations helpful (see interview responses in appendices B and C). 

However, the required components that make up a successful Dream Helper Ceremony are not complex.  They are simply a small group of people who have a sincere desire and willingness to help another person.  The problems inherent in such an undertaking aren't to be overcome by extensive training, but by simply being receptive to some intriguing possibilities:  Can we invite, recall, and benefit from sharing a dream that helps provide insight about another individual's personal issue?

Theoretical Framework

Dream Helper Ceremony participants are asked to enter the exercise with an open mind and be willing to test for themselves the following propositions:  Dreams are real mental events that can contain helpful information.  Dreams are influenced by events in our lives, and also by our desires and emotions.  We communicate on more than just conscious levels.  Sharing a dream with others increases understanding of the dream.  The Dream Helper Ceremony developed by Dr. Henry Reed and Dr. Robert Van de Castle provides a structure that allows people to test that framework for themselves.

What the Literature Shows

          There are many books available on the subject of dreams that explore them from several perspectives.  An April 2002, search of the Amazon.com web site using "dreams" as the key word yielded 1,164 children's books, another 850 titles categorized as "Health, Mind and Body," and an additional 595 in the "Religion and Spirituality" category.  The Internet link to the Bay County, Florida library reveals an assortment of 240 book titles available on the subject of dreams as of this writing.

Books constitute only part of the readily available resources.  A quick "Google" search-engine sample of the World Wide Web produced more than 650,000 sites such as, "Are your dreams puzzling?  Get a professional interpretation -- Fee for each analysis -- www.dreameducator.com."  Including "free" in the "dream analysis" search string reduced the number of potential sites to a little over 400,000.  

          Dreams contain helpful information.  There are helpful inventions, practical advice, and even classic literature as a result of dream inspiration.  Elias Howe saw the correct placement of the needle eye in the tip to perfect the sewing machine (Ullman et al, 1973, p. 219).  Golfing legend Jack Nicklaus cured a slump by trying a new grip, "When I came to the course yesterday morning, I tried it the way I did in my dream and it worked'I feel kind of foolish admitting it, but it really happened in a dream" (Van de Castle, 1994, p. 15).  Well-known author Robert Louis Stevenson credits his dreams with literary inspiration for much of his work, including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Stevens, 1949, p. 14).  Tanner reports that dreams were highly regarded historically and quotes the religious scholar, Reverend John Sanford, "Every major writer in the first four centuries of Christianity regarded dreams as one way that God offered healing and guidance to mankind" (1988, p. 30).  Dreams always come to reveal new information and promote health and wholeness through further development (Taylor, 1992, p. 132).

Dreams can be influenced.  The content of dreams can be influenced by incubation.  Dream incubation involves "'the ritual of going to sleep in a sacred place in anticipation of receiving a divinely inspired dream" (Reed, 1985, p. 56).  Dream temples of the Greek god, Aesculapius, provide a classic example from ancient Greece where dreams were procured for healing or to answer important problems.  These temples began as centers of worship and became the first hospitals (Tanner, 1988, p. 9).  Native American youth of the Ojibwa would go into the Great Lakes wilderness and fast until a dream revealed their gifts, signifying their passage into adulthood (Reed, 1985, p. 57).  Sumerian Cuneiform texts describe King Gudea's dreams in 2200 B.C., in which he prayed to get a better understanding of a previous dream.  His god, Nin-Girsu then appeared in another dream and promised him a sign (Van de Castle, 1994, p. 49).

          Communication occurs in dreams.  Several scientific studies have explored various aspects of dreams, including telepathy.  The Maimonides Project started in 1962, is probably the most significant experiment in dream telepathy to date (Van de Castle, 1994, pp. 414-416).  The study began with the purpose of collecting data on sleep cycles and related dream activity associated with rapid eye movement (REM) periods.  It took on a different note when a bored observer decided to "liven up" the work of watching someone sleep by "sending" an account of the Clay-Liston boxing match.  The sleeper reported a rambling dream of walking around a college campus and entering a building where he watched a boxing match in progress, and then returned to his stroll around the campus (Ullman et al, 1973, p. 139). 

The most basic finding from the Maimonides study was the confirmation of Freud's statement:  "'sleep creates favorable conditions for telepathy" (Ullman et al, 1973, p. 209).  Carl Jung had no doubts about telepathy as a source of dream content:  "I have found by experience that telepathy does in fact influence dreams, as has been asserted since ancient times" (Van de Castle, 1994, p. 173).  Sechrist lists the subconscious of another as one of the four primary sources of dreams (1968, p.13).  Incentive is also a significant factor affecting telepathy.  Holroyd reports how a student recruited to participate in controlled laboratory experiments in telepathy scored a statistically significant 7.4 correct guesses on the order of appearance of a deck of 25 Zener Cards (five correct is chance level).  In one of the 250 runs, the researcher offered the star subject $100 for each correct guess.  He got all 25 cards right  (1976, p. 75).

          Sharing dreams is beneficial.  Dream sharing is an active pursuit at several levels of modern society, and was also practiced in Biblical times.  Consulting a Bible concordance for dream references will give you several instances of dream sharing such as the one found in Judges 7, verses 13 and 14: "'there was a man that told a dream unto his fellow'  And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save'" (Holy Bible, 1978, p. 122).  Informal dream sharing ranges from casual conversation over a morning cup of coffee (Moss, 1996, p. 112) to regularly scheduled group meetings for the purpose of sharing dreams (Taylor, 1992, p. 262).  Professional dream analysis ranges from the incidental analysis that might occur as part of on-going psychiatric treatment pioneered by Sigmund Freud and refined by Carl Jung  (Sechrist, 1968, p. 10), to "dream professionals" who have chosen to concentrate on helping others understand their dreams as their life's work. 

Every dream is different, and different people will see different meaning in the same dream (Tanner, 1988, p. 29; Taylor, 1992, p. 131; Sechrist; 1968, p. 12; Stevens, 1949, p. 26).  Depending on the dream, the dreamer's reaction can be one of interest, amusement, fear, disgust, excitement, or any one of dozens.  Fornari, Rombaldini, and Picknett advise that even a recurring symbol can have a different meaning at a different time and "'should be adjusted in the light of particular circumstances affecting your life at the time a dream comes to you" (1988, p. 3).  Jeremy Taylor advises that the cumulative insights of all the group members are most important, not just the insights the individual dreamer is aware of at the time (1992, p. 152).  As an added incentive for romantic couples (often of "opposite types"), he also explains that working together in dream groups can bring them to a much fuller appreciation of each other's basic psychology (Taylor, 1992, p. 154).

Summary

          There is ample evidence in both current and ancient literature to support assertions that helpful information can come from dreams.  There are also several sources that confirm the ability to influence dream content or incubate a special dream if desired.  Communication in dreams is anecdotal in historical references and a "Finding" in modern scientific experiments.  It's probably safe to assume that many individuals find dream sharing helpful or they would neither risk ridicule from a friend, nor spend money on professional dream analysis.  There are sufficient examples to conclude that the theoretical framework making up the assumptions for a successful Dream Helper Ceremony is widely supported in the literature.

Chapter III:  Method

Setting

The Dream Helper Ceremony was presented as one portion of a week-long seminar on techniques of "Channeling Your Higher Self" (Reed, 1989).  The seminar was conducted at an adult retreat in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia, during August of 2001.  For approximately two hours each morning, participants received instruction about processes and techniques for obtaining information from their Higher Self.  The rest of the daily schedule was filled with typical camp activities such as crafts, singing, hiking, swimming, or just enjoying the natural beauty of the pristine surroundings afforded by the quiet mountain valley.

Participants

Study participants were a majority sample of the people who attended the August seminar.  The number of seminar participants varied from 28 to 39 and consisted of tuition-paying attendees and retreat staff.  No seminar attendee who was asked declined an interview request.

The Dream Helper Ceremony was the first exercise of the week-long seminar.  Dr. Reed coached the participants on how to incubate and recall a dream, placing emphasis on the spiritual intent to be helpful to another person who had expressed a genuine desire to be helped by the group.  Four focus people (seekers) were selected from eleven volunteers and each seeker was assigned a group of seven to ten helpers.  Everyone then attempted to dream during the night and record their dreams the following morning.  The helpers and seekers reassembled into their assigned groups after breakfast and shared their nocturnal dream experiences.  Each group's seeker then shared his or her issue within the group and all group members analyzed the relevancy of the dreams to the seeker's issue.  

Data Collection

Data was collected through semi-structured interviews that allowed for individual comments.  All interviews were audiotape recorded with the permission of the interviewees.  Some of the information and impressions was recorded by the author as participant observer, and the remainder was obtained during the voluntary interviews granted by other seminar participants.  Interviews were conducted during available free time around other camp activities and duties during the remainder of the week.  Although not a purely random sample, the seemingly random processes of synchronistic events limited the availability of some of the seminar participants for interview at any given time.  The last interview was conducted as the camper loaded his car in the final minutes before departing.  Other attendees promised to make themselves available if additional interviews were required.

Interview questions were adapted slightly for the different perspectives between the focus person and helpers.  All four seekers and sixteen of the dream helpers were interviewed from the four groups.  Both helpers and seekers were asked about their personal experience and about their perception of whether or not the focus person was helped.

Researcher Bias

          Prior to conducting this study, I heard Dr. Reed describe the Dream Helper Ceremony and it's potential benefits during a lecture given in Panama City, Florida during October of 2000.  After reporting what I'd learned to my weekly spiritual study group, we tried the DHC experiment for ourselves on several different occasions.  Our successes ranged from mediocre to excellent.  As a result of my personal experiences on those occasions and also during the retreat last August, I'm very strongly prejudiced about the process and would answer a resounding "Yes!" to both of the research questions.  I do not believe my prejudices affected the interviews as I took special care to ensure that I did not "lead" the interviewees toward a conclusion one way or the other.  The interview transcripts are provided as appendices B and C, so feel free to judge the validity of my "Unaffected by Personal Bias" study claim for yourself.     

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* A Research Paper submitted to the Department of Professional Studies, Curriculum and Instruction. Curriculum and Diversity Studies, The University of West Florida. In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of, Doctor of Education, May 2, 2002


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