Experiences in Social Dreaming

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Social Dreaming is the name given to a method of working with dreams that are shared and associated within a gathering of people, coming together for this purpose. In the first chapter, he outlines some ideas on this phenomenon. Here follows a wide-ranging collection of essays on the experiences of various practitioners, either personal or what they have found when taking this phenomenon into the wider social arena, such as the church, schools, consultancy and working with children.

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CHAPTER ONE: The social dreaming phenomenon

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W. Gordon Lawrence

The purposes of this chapter are (1) to describe the phenomenon of social dreaming and (2) to consider the relevant theories of dreaming in the light of this experience. I shall approach these through presenting working hypotheses. A working hypothesis is a sketch of the emergent reality which illumines it that reality. If the sketch is found wanting, another working hypothesis can be substituted that better fits the reality that is always in the process of becoming.

The chapter is structured in three parts:

•  The phenomenon of the social dreaming matrix

•  Towards a new way of understanding dreams: the epistemic theory

•  Social dreaming @ work.

The phenomenon of the social dreaming matrix

1. The dream is always enlarging the space of the possible. Through the dream we are brought into the tension between the finite (that which we know) and the infinite (that which is beyond our ken). In the context of social dreaming, I am persuaded that the terms “infi nite” and “finite” be used instead of the terms “conscious” and “the unconscious”. The infinite is a mental space that contains all that has ever been thought and is capable of being thought. This space is not “outside” us but is contained in our inner worlds. All thinking begins from no-thought, from an absence, which we experience in our inner world. We make the thought present from first recognizing that it is not there.

 

CHAPTER TWO: Social dreaming: report on the workshops held in Mauriburg, Raissa, and Clarice Town

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Claudio Neri

Social dreaming is a method that focuses on dreaming with a view to understanding not the “inner world” of dreamers but the social and institutional reality in which they live. According to Gordon Lawrence (1998b), who propounded this technique, dreams contain fundamental information on the situation in which people are living at the time they dream. Social dreaming does not challenge the great value of the traditional psychoanalytic approach to dreams but tries to emphasize their social dimension.

This chapter illustrates some experiences conducted according to the social dreaming technique and draws some methodological, theoretical, and clinical suggestions from them. The first sections provide some practical information on social dreaming sessions and on how the method can be used to explore and improve the way an institution or organization works. Subsequent sections look at the origins of social dreaming and place it within a historical framework. The final sections offer accounts of some practical experiences.

 

CHAPTER THREE: Dreaming the future

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John Clare

If heaven I cannot bend, Then
Hell I will arouse.

Virgil, Aeneid. Vii 313

Dreaming the future

For twelve months a group of people meet in a room and share their dreams. Many of the dreams are violent; some are about a forthcoming catastrophe that cannot be averted. There is a sense of powerlessness, for politicians are remote, inept, and preoccupied with presentation. Despite the sense of impending doom, these social dreamers take pleasure at the freedom of expression in a discourse with comparative strangers. They are surprised at their facility to think together. Then one day, almost a year after they began meeting, the towers of the World Trade Centre are attacked by terrorists, there is international alarm, and people start to talk of apocalypse now. The dreamers continue to dream (presumably like everyone else), but there is no sense of surprise in their dreams. It is as if they have known all along the inevitability of this catastrophe, which kills over 3,000 people and begins a war against a Third World country.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Not two and not one

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Alastair Bain

The first social dreaming conference in Australia was held in September 1989 at Janet Clarke Hall, University of Melbourne. Gordon Lawrence was the director of the conference. Suzanne Leigh Ross (the author of chapter five) and I were on the consultant staff, together with Susan Long and Ann Morgan.

In 1991, Suzanne Ross and I decided to offer a social dreaming programme for the public. In fact, the matrix turned out to be a network of people connected in some way with myself, with Suzanne Ross, or with the Australian Institute of Socio-Analysis. The matrix met for twenty-three 90-minute sessions, with reflection sessions every three or four weeks, and there was a one-day event during the year. Eighteen members participated in the programme for all or part of the year. When we began, we were thinking that it would be similar to a group experience, with a time limit that would mark its ending. However, it did not develop that way. The matrix seemed to have a life of its own, and it continued in 1992 with four of the same members plus two new members who joined during the year. We found that the matrix was viable with as few as five members. In 1993 two participants who had been in the matrix since it began continued, two participants who were in the 1991 matrix re-joined, one participant from the 1992 matrix re-joined for part of the year, and there were two new members. The primary task of the matrix was: “To associate to one’s own and other members’ dreams, and to make connections.”

 

CHAPTER FIVE: The science, spirit, chaos, and order of social dreaming

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Suzanne Leigh Ross

In 1989, I was invited to be a staff member on the first Australian Social Dreaming Conference directed by Gordon Lawrence. Since then I have been involved in social dreaming in a variety of ways: a matrix member at the Spa conference in Belgium in 1991; as a co-consultant to a long-term matrix with Alastair Bain, from 1991 onwards, and as co-director of the social dreaming matrix with Lawrence at the International Group Relations and Scientific Conference in Lorne, Australia, in 1993.

Through these varied experiences across task, role, duration, membership, and focus of the matrices, I have become increasingly convinced that social dreaming is not new; it has a very ancient base in many cultures. For the Australian Aborigine, “In the beginning was the dreaming” (Lawlor, 1991, p. 13). This ancient connection has been suggested by many, including Lawrence himself. Our experiences from a long-term matrix parallel the archetypal aspects found in many writings of past cultures alongside the theoretical parallel, which I feel confirms this position.

 

CHAPTER SIX: The discovery of social dreaming

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Laura Ambrosiano

Traditionally, we think that dreams are private, that they are the personal expression of intimate experiences that take place inside the individual mind. We hold on to this hypothesis even when, with Bion, we question these spatial definitions and consider the mind as a function that goes beyond the psychic borders of an individual, a function that develops from the dynamic relationship of container–contained, maternal reverie–child experience, group–individual.

The interpretation of the dream is linked to our way of conceiving subjectivity; the theoretical transformations of the notion of subject transform the way in which we comprehend and interpret dreams. The psychoanalytic orthodoxy defines the internal world of the subject as its privileged observation nucleus and sees the dream as a distorted representation of the ambivalent and conflicting desire (Freud, 1900a).

The studies on object relations describe the internal world as the stage where the objects relate to each other, and the privileged observation nucleus moves on to the analytic relationship. From this point of view, the dream is regarded as an expression of thoughts on the vicissitudes of the relationship between patient and analyst, on the potentialities of transformation, and on the difficulties and deadness that the patient is undergoing at that moment.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: Relationship and relatedness between the elementary school as a system and its violent parts

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Hanna Biran

During a period of six months, from January to June 1997, I directed a workshop under the aegis of the Israeli Ministry of Education. I met once a week with a group of professionals, eight of whom were educational psychologists and the other eight educational consultants. They represented sixteen different schools from the central districts of Israel, mainly from areas experiencin economic and cultural stress. The professionals willingly chose to attend the workshop in order to enhance their skills in dealing with violence at school. Eight people, from each discipline, were selected in order to enable a dialogue and mutual learning. These two professions are crucial for schools, and a lot of pressure from both teachers and parents is put on them. The primary task was to explore the phenomenon of violence in schools and to find new ways for dealing with it. The primary task was defined before the beginning of the workshop and was sent in a letter to all participants.

The workshop methodology

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: Childreamatrix: dreaming with preschool children— or, bootlegging dreams into the school years

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Ron Balamuth

The impetus for starting a social dreaming matrix with children came after participating in a social dreaming matrix led by Gordon Lawrence. I could not have anticipated how radically my understanding of dreams and dreaming would change. Over years of listening and telling dreams with patients and colleagues, psychoanalysts accumulate many procedural assumptions. I entered the matrix believing that dreams are very much a personal creation, an individual idiom, and an expression of a person’s essential self, a bit like a psychic fingerprint. For me, it crystallizes the dreamer’s preoccupations, the conscious and unconscious life into a summary image or narrative. While I was attracted to Jung’s formulations about the collective unconscious and its expression in humans’ dreams and waking life, I could not find immediate application to those notions in my clinical work. The next three days of sharing dreams with my colleagues in the matrix were like a gradual process of relaxing the grasp of the old analytic convictions about dreams. Most supportive of this process of surrendering and letting go was the gradual appreciation of the life of the matrix, a grouping that becomes like a sensitive and intelligent instrument of thinking and finding connections. The difference between interpreting dreams and associating to dreams may appear subtle on the page, but in the dream matrix it made all the difference for me and for the other analysts and therapists. There was no need to be more clever than the dreams nor than the dreamer. As we gradually let go of our habitual analytic algorithms, a new appreciation of the aesthetic coherence of the matrix was shared, leading to feelings of joy in discovering new meanings.

 

CHAPTER NINE: Deep calls unto deep: can we experience the transcendent infinite?

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Thomas Michael

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your cataracts, and all your waves, all your breakers sweep over me.

Revised English Bible, Psalms, 42:6

And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

Revised Standard Version, Genesis, 1:2

This chapter is based on a social dreaming matrix I conduct in a mainline Protestant church with which I am associated. It is a congregation of fewer than 150 members, located in an upper-middle-class suburban neighbourhood. The social dreaming matrix was scheduled for three weekly sessions as a part of an adult education forum series.

The purpose of the matrix was to seek for new insight into the direction the congregation should follow. There has been a long-term decline in membership, and there is concern for its future. It is a lively fellowship with excellent programs, but attempts to reach out for new members have not been encouraging. It seemed clear that we needed to find new approaches to mission. Accordingly, I proposed that we institute social dreaming as a possible way to discover some new directions. This was inspired by Gordon Lawrence’s idea that there is emerging a politics of revelation to replace a politics of salvation (Lawrence, 2000a, pp. 165ff.).

 

CHAPTER TEN: Sliding houses in the Promised Land: unstable reality worked through dreams

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Mira Erlich-Ginor

“All life is but a dream, and every man, I see, dreams all his deeds and nature. The king dreams he is king, and deeply sunk in such a dream, commands and rules and governs, and all to him are subject. And yet his fortune to dust is turned by, which, also as a dream, forever threatens him. Of their wealth the rich dreams, and death yet they have no peace. To the contrary, the poor on earth dream of his bondage and distress. He dreams who starts to rise, who is afraid and runs, who loves and is afire with hate. Thus in this wide world what all are, that they dream, although not one discerns this, indeed, all life is but a dream, and even dreams are just a dream.”

Pedro Calderon de la Barka, 1636

The following is the first multi-faceted dream contributed to a social dreaming matrixthat took place in the shadow of the first year of the “El-akza Intifada”.

I am on my way between a hospital [in Hebrew literally: “house of the sick”] and a hotel [“house of sleep”]. A neighbour is constantly renovating. Her husband, the lawyer, is proud of her. They lost $10,000, can’t find where they put it. But never mind—they have plenty more.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Social dreaming and the senior managers’ programme

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Peter Tatham

Twice yearly since 1998, I have led a social dreaming matrix on three days during the final week of a development programme for senior managers from the British NHS and, on occasion, from elsewhere. This five-week-long senior managers’ programme (SMP), spread out over four months is organized by the King’s Fund Leadership Directorate and is currently led by Valerie James, a psychotherapist and fellow of the King’s Fund. SMP has been in existence, as well as evolving in nature, since 1994. It is a temporary learning community, of twenty-four members, designed to help participants make sense of the increasing complexities of their work situation while enabling them still to find creative ways forward.

A key feature and the containing bedrock of the programme’s design is groupwork, which takes place in two separate forums: eighteen sessions of a large group for the whole community, as well as the same number of sessions in two small groups. These are not therapy groups for individual members but are seen as microcosms of NHS organization in which participants can discover how such emotions as envy, rivalry, and affiliation can intrude upon delivery of the primary task. They also provide participants with a space in which to reflect upon and integrate their emotional and intellectual responses to the various other activities of the programme. The interventions of the current directors, which are informed by a variety of different approaches—deriving from post-Foulksian theory, as well as insights from Jung and Bion—are intended to enhance understanding of the unconscious processes of the group as they unfold.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: Dream intelligence: tapping conscious and non-attended sources of intelligence in organizations

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Marc Maltz and E. Martin Walker

Innovation is the product of free thinking—the creative process of generating ideas that occurs when we suspend the binds of daily life and allow our dreams to be expressed and discussed. An aspiration of most organizations, innovation is forever searched for, rarely achieved, yet ever-present. Many organizations try to enhance their creative process through activities that attempt to break the organization’s members out of their normal routine in order to create new ways of working, new products, new ways of serving markets, and so forth. These processes, though, are usually unsuccessful because they do not allow the participants the opportunity to break from the social and psychological restrictions that inhibit them from contributing to such an effort.

Gordon Lawrence has written many examples over the years of how dreams have been the starting point for innovative thinking (see also chapter one herein). The authors in their own writing (Maltz & Walker, 1998) and work with dreams have witnessed the capacity of organizations to understand, to learn, and to break through traditional knowledge management in order to create new and innovative approaches to work and develop a deeper understanding of what is occurring.

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Paul Lippman interview

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E. Martin Walker

MARTIN WALKER: I guess I’ll just start by getting a sense of what your general impressions were from attending that event [a social dreaming matrix at the William Alanson White Institute in New York City].

PAUL LIPPMAN: I was, throughout, of two minds about the weekend. On the one hand, I was ready to join in the proceedings, to learn about this approach to dreaming in a social context, to meet with persons in the organizational program, and to have a good time with colleagues. I liked the idea of thinking about dreams in a context in which I was more a learning participant than responsible teacher. The evening prior to the beginning of the workshop, I had participated in a lovely programme at the White Institute featuring Lynn Gamwell and her slide-talk on dreams, art, and the hundredth anniversary of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. So I was in a dreamy mood and happy to be at White taking part in what I understood to be an interesting dream-sharing experience. I recognized some to the participants and felt happy and ready to join in.

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: The confusion of dreams between selves and the other: non-linear continuities in the social dreaming experience

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E. Martin Walker

Ferenczi’s “Confusion of Tongues between Adults and the Child” (1933) reformulated prevailing Freudian ideas on symbolic material, or fantasies, in ways that remind me of Lawrence’s (1998c) reformulation of dreaming as a social experience.

In this chapter, I begin by describing social dreaming in the context of contemporary interpersonal/relational psychoanalytic theory. I then elaborate on the “confusion” of dreams with a cross-cultural perspective on individual versus collectivist views of the self and apply dynamic systems theory to dreaming socially. I conclude the chapter by presenting a dream narrative from a social dreaming matrix that lends itself to the self-organizing emergence of meaning creation in a social context.

Social dreaming and contemporary psychoanalysis

In Ferenczi’s “Confusion of Tongues”, now an icon of relational psychoanalysis, Ferenczi challenged the idea that childhood images of abuse were fantasies and that transference was necessarily the “replay of infantile and childhood conflict” (quoted in Zaslow, 1988, p. 213). Ferenczi suggested that, in both cases, these were based on actual events in a person’s lived experience of the world. In the first instance, he departed from Freud’s seduction theory by proposing that memories of sexual abuse were based on real experiences, and in the second he proposed that transference included a …” commentary on the experienced person of the analyst.” (in Zaslow, 1988, p.213) Finally, Ferenczi suggested that the analytic exploration of transference and sexual abuse revealed interpersonal links between self and others, both inside and outside the consulting-room, that are normally outside awareness.

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Theatre of dreams: social dreaming as ritual/yoga/literature machine

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Stephen Fitzpatrick

Is not sleep perhaps the true home of the self, like the sea from which mankind first emerged at the dawn of time …? But if that is so, how can man re-enter that other life and yet remain awake enough to know it?

Gabriel Josipovici (1979, p. 4)

The truth of art lies in its power to break the monopoly of established reality … to define what is real.

Herbert Marcuse (1977, p. 9)

What is social dreaming?

I shall try to clear a space and occupy a ground in which this liminal object—social dreaming—can come more clearly into view. To do so I have deliberately “bracketed off” and put aside the putative meanings of any given set of themes made available in any given matrix. I have made this manoeuvre—foregrounding the structural, functional, and experiential/transformational aspects of social dreaming while recessing the epistemological—in order to attend not to the traces left by the process of social dreaming but to the object itself. Furthermore, the eventual process that is social dreaming in fact problematizes any attempt to fix and stabilize meaning(s) generated by matrix. According to this reading of social dreaming, the medium is the message.

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Social dreaming: a paradox accepted (a psychoanalyst’s condensed thoughts on social dreaming)

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Judit Szekacs

“… paradox accepted can have positive value.”

D. W. Winnicott

Who has a dream?—as a matter of fact we all do, but we are not used to answering such a question! Dreams are, as they often say, “silly, mysterious, embarrassing, amazing”, but in the first place they are personal.

The idea might sound like a surrealistic image from Bunuel’s film Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, where adding to the escalating sense of madness there comes a character announcing—out of the blue— that he wants to share his dream with the ladies and gentlemen.

Nearly a hundred years ago, Freud carved a passage through social resistance to paying serious attention to dreams by recognizing them as highly precious media carrying valid psychosocial meaning. He made dreams acceptable and available for two-person investigations in the analytic space: delegates from distinct regions of the unconscious speaking a forgotten language that we all know. Sharing dreams in the analytic process became known as “the royal road to the unconscious”—a formidable and indispensable instrument for uncovering and understanding transference and countertransference processes and possible ways of elaboration.

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Associations and reflections on social dreaming

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Lilia Baglioni

What … will take that great mass which everyone calls “the dreadful horror” and break it up into these tiny, precious particles? art cannot replace faith: Art lacks the power for the task, nor does it pretend to posses this power: Nonetheless, by its very nature, art constantly challenges the process by which the individual is reduced to anonymity.

Appelfeld, Beyond Despair (1994)

A social dreaming matrix, a participant once said, is “a social gathering where dreams are divorced from the personality of their authors and shared freely”, with the common goal of freely associating thoughts and other dreams to the dream presented so as to find links and discover connections to socially relevant elements (Bion’s “thoughts without a thinker”, Bollas’s, “the unthought known”) in the environment. Thereby participants are given a glimpse of the otherwise invisible web of connectivity between nocturnal dreaming and the greater world of reality. In so doing, a transitional space (Winnicott) comes into existence, which could also be described as a mental state close to reverie.

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Social dreaming: dreams in search of a dreamer

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Franca Fubini

A while ago I was called by a small firm to work on improving communication and cohesion between staff and management at a time of crisis. Reality was that the existing staff was in the process of being selected because at least a third of them had to be dismissed. Time for this project was very limited, and I decided to use in it social dreaming matrices and small discussion groups. The first matrix was scheduled for staff only, without the four managers. The room was organized with the chairs in a snowflake shape; people arrived and were told that the task for the next hour and a half was to associate one’s dreams with those of the others, so as to create links and connections.

After initial ironical comments of the kind “First they give us the sack, then they send the psychoanalyst to sweeten the pill”, dreams came out, mostly full of anxiety because of missed or failed examinations, invalidated degrees, shut doors, missed trains, and so on. The associations to their work situation became quite clear. They were able to talk freely about the anxiety of the moment, the uncertainty of the future.

 

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