Dream Capture & Decoding Techniques, Dreams and Dreaming

The Power of Dream Groups – Unleashing Imagination in a Living Room

Starting a dream group in 1990 really kicked off my ability to drop into the imaginal state. I wasn’t expecting that would be the case.

I went into the group thinking it was going to be very analytical, if I could just remember everything Jung said, I would be o.k. That didn’t work very well because what I had in my Jungian toolbox (faulty memory) wasn’t that helpful. Plus, although they never complained, I got the impression that people in the group didn’t want me mouthing Jung. Jung quietly took a back seat in a corner of the room.

A few months into the dream group I discovered that my ability to listen to people’s dreams as they retold them, rose sharply.  I could sit quietly, lean forward both literally and with my attention and—tune in. In this process my awareness of other things decreased and my own self checking (i.e. focus on myself; concern about how things were going; concern about what people thought of me), fell away. Simple concentration on the dream story being told, took hold.

With that much concentration, other people’s dreams came alive in my head. Alive in the dream group session, the next day, even months later when I was thinking about something similar to someone’s  dream story. To a large extent, their night dreams became my waking dreams. I worked hard to stay with them every step of the way as they entered houses, jumped over brick walls, discovered hidden books/rooms/people/rings/passages, talked with old friends/new lovers/the deceased, and wondered about why they were back in their childhood homes and schools.

Slowly, very, very slowly, as I traveled within their dream stories, I started feeling for the subtext. What was the feeling within a particular dream room, or what was the feeling aura around a dreamed object, character, place, or event?  What could my waking world heart and guts tell me about this dream?  Was a faint emotional message mingled in the dream story the real intent of this inner drama? Did my intestines know something that I could share with the dreamer that my mind could have never seen?

Obviously, even with careful, open listening, something of my own was being added to the dreamer’s dream. Each time I visualized their dream story, I constructed the dream using the materials already found in my imagination. Perhaps it was extremely accurate account, their black cat lined up with my knowledge of black cats, but maybe not. Many a time I assumed I knew what they were describing to find out their idea of what an object was was way different from my own. Being a dream group, numerous members would jump in and give their observations created in their own heads and we would quickly have this swirling flood of imagination on top of imagination on top of imagination. But no one got hurt.  Everyone loved it. All of us were swimming in the river of imagination.

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Within a few months of bi-weekly meetings, in my simple living room, with a quickly assembled collection of friends and strangers, I got enlarged. My ears grew huge in terms of my ability to listen to dreams and thereby, story, myth, and poetry.  The connective wires from my heart and guts to my head were broadened and strengthened.  My daily, struggling self, grew in ability to stand out of the way when the time is right to let imagination come washing forward.

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How to Start a Dream Group – You don’t have to be a dream expert start one. See these guidelines and these and then cut loose. (Also see this NY Times article on dream groups.)

How to Join a Dream Group – Put out the word that you are looking. Check Meetup.com, check local Jung groups, bookstores, coffee shops, and Craig’s List.  If you don’t find one, see above – How to Start a Dream Group.

Relaxing to Visualize & Imagine, Uncategorized

Easy Starts: How to Jump Into Meditation

I’m frequently asked what are the best books for starting mediation. I have settled on a short list of resources. Two of them are listed here:

The Calm Technique: Meditation Without Magic or Mysticism – Australian Paul Wilson came out with this book some time ago but it remains one of my favorites because it is so clear, simple, and precise in its introduction to breathing and mantra meditation. You will find this highly valuable book priced from 1 cent to about 2 bucks. Amazon link

Unplug for an Hour, a Day, or a Weekend: Create a Home Sanctuary with 32 Contemplation Cards, Companion Guidebook, 2 CDs of Guided Meditations is a complete look at mindfulness meditation. It comes in a fun format of: a booklet, two CDs, and “contemplation cards”. Perhaps I’m a sucker for this sort of packaging but it helps make the whole thing feel like an all encompassing experience. At any rate, this box of meditation is grossly under priced ($10) given what Sharon Salzberg includes in her instruction. Amazon link

Imagination Examined

Meditation versus Imagination

Early in most of my workshops/trainings I go right to this point:  imagination is different than meditation. The reason I start off there is because some people come to imagination work with meditation techniques. That is not the best way or the fastest way to get into one’s imagination. Classical meditation makes the assumption that we are too connected to our thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and other things going on inside of us. To counter this over connection, meditation masters long ago developed methods to: shut down inner chatter; slow down thinking; move away from our emotions; and let our bodies run in the background with limited attention. Not all meditation methods are the same but on the whole, most follow this pattern of disengagement. I use the metaphor of “emptying the cup”, that is, emptying ourselves of much of our daily content.

Ray Bradbury follows the approach of the imagination worker:

“We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”

In imagination work we tip the cup over and see what is there. We don’t try to distance ourselves from it. Whatever it is: emotions, wanderings, thinking, dreams, fantasies, troubling and repetitive thoughts, etc. we let down the barriers and we open to it. Imagination works in a circular way. First it releases our ability to see what’s inside of us and then it frees the contents. This freeing in turns deepens our vision of the unconscious. Our enhanced vision increases more freeing as our unconscious trusts us with more content and delights in our interest. And on goes that cycle.

Summary:  Imagination fills the cup. Meditation empties the cup.

Relaxing to Visualize & Imagine

The Smile Powerhouse

Photos of smiling nuns taken when they came into religious service when they were in their early 20s, reveal which will live the longest. The right type of smile, wrong type of smile, it makes a difference.

While conducting research on the physiology of facial expressions in the mid-19th century, french physician Guillaume Duchenne identified two distinct types of smiles. A “Duchenne smile” involves contraction of both the zygomatic major muscle (which raises the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi muscle (which raises the cheeks and forms crow’s feet around the eyes). A non-Duchenne smile involves only the zygomatic major muscle.  Many researchers believe that Duchenne smiles indicate genuine spontaneous emotions since most people cannot voluntarily contract the outer portion of the orbicularis oculi muscle. The young women who were fated to be long-living and healthier nuns, wore the Duchenne smiles in their entry photos.

Fake smiles, on the other hand point a person in the direction of greater stress and greater illness. “A study of city bus drivers led by a Michigan State University business scholar found that the drivers who fake smiles at work worsen their mood throughout their day, which in turn affects their productivity. The problem is that smiling for the sake of smiling can lead to emotional exhaustion and withdrawal. Women were hurt more than men by the fake smiles, which the researchers attribute to the fact that women are both expected to and do show greater emotional intensity and expressiveness than men.” Link to article

Meditation masters have picked up on the power of the smile. Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hanh makes a simple smile part of his basic mindfulness practice (link to article)  Modern Taoist and teacher, Mantak Chia carries smiling instruction further by having us smile to the many parts of our body using an actual smile and our mind’s eye. Each part gets a smile and the opportunity to bath in good will and relaxation. Link to article on Chia’s methods  Link to Chia’s book, The Inner Smile

Relaxing to Visualize & Imagine

Go Wide Focus – An instant stress reduction technique – [Post: Visualize]

This is an instant stress reduction technique in that it can be brought out, anywhere, anytime and–if practiced–will bring stress levels down very quickly. Stress comes down, but not to zero but to a level where you will have more wiggle room.

There are two secrets to this technique. First, it goes completely opposite of what your body and mind has been created to do when you are under a little or a lot of stress. Stress involves a narrowing of our focus. Our work shrinks down to what is of greatest interest to us at the moment. That can be worry, jumping out of the way of a bus, or trying to decide: “Do I flee, fight, or freeze?”

If you are jumping out of the way of a bus there is little you can do to control your stress narrowing of the mind. Nor would you want to! You are on a mission to save your life. If you are in less dire situations such as about to go into a job interview/review or are caught in the web of worry, then this is a good time to take your mind in the opposite direction.  Widening your focus, even for a few moments, will have an impact. Your attention will open up and your mind will open up. Then you might see a new way, or you might be able to catch your breath which will give you a chance to ground yourself in the moment and in your personal values.

The Technique

Right now, stop reading and expand your awareness to the space around you. You can either listen to or see actual things in the space or you can use your memory to flit from one point in the room and then to another and to another. This latter approach, gives you a sense of how big the space is. As you bring up memories to various points in the room such as the lamp in the corner behind you, the desk across the room, the doorway to the left, and the ceiling, your mind throws in details such as distance from you to these objects. This provides an approximation of the size of the space.

Hold that awareness for a few seconds or longer if you can. How do you feel? Your narrowed stress focus will be tugging at you to go back to where it was but just keep working the technique. Eventually, you probably will hit a balance of narrowed focus and Go Wide Focus.

You can go even wider if you have the chance. Think of a larger area just outside, perhaps the building, or the block. Or really open things up and think of the size of the sky. Anything to break you from the fixation of your stress-induced narrowed focus.

Look for a preferred way of doing this. You might find getting a fix on your immediate surroundings is the more powerful and effective way to go. Others will prefer very grand vistas (either visible or in the mind’s eye). Find yours.

Of course, you can flit between being in the narrowed focus to the Going Wide Focus and back again. You will not lose track with what’s going on around you or what you are there to do. What you will appreciate is the sudden easing of the stress so you can think and feel a bit more freely and be ready to explore new options when they pop up in your mind or appear before you.

Found Additional Resources:

Big Sky Meditation with Bells – Spirit Rock/Dharma Seed recording for streaming and downloading – go to Website – This presenter uses the Going Wide Focus technique and applies it to a meditation retreat surrounding for an extended time period.

Imagination Examined

Forms of Imagination Practice – [Post: Imagine]

“What’s the difference between Jung’s Active Imagination and guided imagery,” that was the question put to me the other day. A good question. Let’s look at the various types of Imagery Practice out there.

Guided, From Heavy to Very Light
When people think about imagery they go to the “see a beach, you are walking on a beach” form of imagery work. Certainly that is the most used form most people have been exposed to. It is an important and easy practice to work with. If we are instructed in an imagery experience with very specific guidance on the location for our imagery, what we are to see/hear/taste/touch/smell once we draw the place up in our mind, what we are to do there, and why we are doing it—this is heavily-guided imagery work. Good stuff but there is more as your abilities grow and our interest in going deeper expands.

In the middle range of guided imagery is guidance that lays many details for us out but also leaves a fair amount unspecified. It is up to us to fill the gap with what we want to add. For instance, using the beach again, we can be guided to go to that place and open our all of our senses to soak up this or that. Next, we can be cut loose to explore the beach and to go in search of a note in a bottle. “Take a few minutes to head off and explore. Let me know when you have found the bottle,” would be typical instructions for middle-range guided imagery.

Lighty-guided imagery practice usually involves working out what you want to do in an imagery session before that session begins. In other words, you pick a theme, an event, an idea, or other thing to work on and your guide will give the time and freedom to do that. Your guide (in-person; on Skype; or on a recording) takes on: talking you into deeper relaxation, asking you to find a place of your choosing, and then reminding you of what you want to work on.  They may also, from time to time ask you : “What are experiencing now? Or let me know if we want me to take some notes so we are sure to capture the ideas and insights that pop-up.” The guide is also watching the clock and at the time you picked to end the session, the guide will guide you out of the experience. Very open and with light touches, that is lightly guided imagery work.

Of course, there is unguided imagery. The work is on our own shoulders to determine what works for us and what we want to do once you get into imagination. Typically, most of us have started off with guided imagery so we have developed a habit of borrowing from that form. For instance, we may always start off on some beach or in some “safe” place and then depart from there to do free exploring of the experience of being in touch with the unconscious or exploration of themes, ideas, events, etc.

The freest form of open imagination is simply closing our eyes, getting in touch with the imagination, and hanging out and observing what is coming up at that moment. Simple observing can include: noting images, hearing words, getting in touch with sensations in the body, maybe even being moved to make some sort of physical gesture, feeling feelings, watching ideas/concerns pop up.  The unconscious is always busy at work cooking up something to respond to a conscious concern or an unconscious reaction to something that has happened or might be coming up, or to resolve something that has been left undone. In other words, in this form we go into the “unconscious factory” to see what is being created for us today.  We can go with the flow, simply observing as your images/sensations/feelings rapid change or one or two might grab your interest and you can decide to focus on those. Focusing on them will require “holding” them in imagination and restraining new imagery from taking over. Either way, this is free-form imagery work.

There is a form that is a bit of lightly-guided and free form imagery work.  This sounds like a contradiction but it isn’t. practitioners of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) lead clients into relaxation and then they play specific selections of music during the session. GIM gives the guide the responsibility of moving the person into relaxation, selecting the right music for the session based upon what the client wants to do, asking the client from time to time “What are you experiencing right now?” and bringing the client out of imagination at the end of the session. The middle part of the session, when the music is playing, it is up to the client to experience it as they wish. GIM people see that the real guide of the session is the music itself.

Drumming remains a popular way to help people to go into imagination. The drumming tradition says that we need to find specific inner helpers, objects, and locations and sets us free to do that as we get carried with the specific beat that many people find imagination inducing. Here we have two guides: the goal we carry with us as we are imagination (i.e. find a power animal) and the power of the drumbeat.

Back to the Question
“What’s the difference between Jung’s Active Imagination and guided imagery?” Well, Jung mainly had his clients use moderately or lightly guided imagery when he worked with them. Over time, though, he expected many people to get good at free-form imagery work and to use that between sessions and when they left his care.

That’s a start on answering this question, but we will look further at Active Imagination in another blog post here, entitled: Target Imagery.