Electric Dreams

Dreaming Deep & Surfacing - Group Work with Dreams in Cyber-Space

Jeremy Taylor 

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Taylor, Jeremy (1996 April). Dreaming Deep & Surfacing - Group Work with Dreams in Cyber-Space. Electric Dreams 3(3). Retrieved from Electric Dreams July 27, 2000 on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams  

A little while ago, I was approached by "America On-Line" (AOL) to host a regular, "live", real time, "virtual dream group", Monday through Friday, starting at 9:00 am Eastern Time. I agreed to give it try, even though it means that I have to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in front of my computer at 6:00 am, Pacific Time, (which up 'til now has not been my habit.)

Initially, I had some reservations about working dreams through this distinctly "cool" and physically isolating medium of the internet. When I imagined as carefully as I could what it might be like, I was particularly concerned that the "flat" and highly compressed computer communication format might inhibit the flow of imagination, relational intimacy, and mutual respect so necessary for good dream work.

I decided to undertake a couple of "trial runs" before I agreed to host the "show" for AOL. Barbara Viglizzo, a colleague and former student of mine, offered to set up trial "meetings" in cyber-space, and recruited several interested, computer-competent dreamers. (Thanks, Barbara!) As we all "met" in cyber-space and began to do "...if it were my dream" style dream work, I was tremendously pleased and excited to discover that my fears were, if not groundless, at least exaggerated out of all realistic proportion. In fact, the emotionally and physically "flat" format of simultaneous computer "chat" among people in widely separated geographic locations appears to enhance many important elements that make group exploration of dreams so productive.

The fact that every participant appears on the screen identified only by his or her "cyber-handle" means that the sense of safety and protected anonymity so necessary for productive dream work is completely assured from the outset. My experience also convinces me that the necessity of compressing our questions and comments into to two-line "sound bites" in order to send them to the communal screen regularly serves to discourage needless verbosity. The compressed computer screen format tends to draw us all into the work at a deeper level, more quickly than is sometimes the case in face-to-face dream groups.

I am also very impressed with the sense of emotional equality that is created by everyone's comments appearing on the screen in the same bland type-face, with same spacing and "inflection". In face-to-face dream work, the comments of participants are always "weighted", to some unconscious degree or another, by our responses to their physical appearance and the timbre and quality of their voices. Different people have different prejudices about who they want to listen to and take seriously, and who they tend to "tune out" and dismiss. On the screen, all that is gently wiped away; all comments appear initially as "equal", and all the participants are much freer to discover the potential "aha" of insight for themselves in the various remarks, without unconscious pre-judging of the person making the comment.

This egalitarian anonymity is simply a given when the work is undertaken through connected computers, and that alone makes "virtual dream groups" in cyber space a particularly good place to explore the multiple meanings of dreams that always lie below the surface of appearance and "manifest content." As in face-to-face dream work, the different ideas and multiple perspectives offered by the many different people who constitute the virtual dream group, make it even more likely that many more of the dream's multiple levels of meaning and significance will be touched on and explored in the work, than would be likely to be touched working in solitude, or even working on-to-one with a skilled dream worker.

I regularly find myself musing more freely and "speaking" more openly as I sit comfortably in my computer chair, sipping my morning coffee, physically much more comfortable and relaxed than I sometimes am, (sitting in metal folding chairs in drafty church basements), doing face-to-face dream work. I can only imagine that this "relaxation factor" has a positive effect on all the other participants as well. Presumably, we are all comfortably ensconced in our own private, safe, comfy, computer chairs, free from the judgement of others, and thus more able to think and intuit creatively and sensitively about our own imagined versions of the dreams being worked.

In the virtual dream group, people are free to come and go as their interest and energy dictates, without distracting or giving offense to other participants. By the same token, people are much freer to simply watch and listen and generate their own "aha's" of insight without participating directly in the work. (In the cyber-world, such people are commonly known as "lurkers", and "lurking" is a perfectly acceptable activity in this context.)

In the virtual dream group, the "host" has even more influence over the process than in a face-to-face group, since he or she has the power to determine which comments go to the screen for all to read, and which will be "dumped". This has both positive and negative implications. All the usual problems of differing levels of sophistication and seriousness among participants that sometimes arise in face-to-face dream work still exist in cyber-space, but the computer format allows the host to keep people from interrupting each other, or "hogging" the space with ponderous monologues, as sometimes occurs in face-to-face dream work groups. Balanced against this, of course, is the problem of the host/ facilitator's "counter-transference" issues. The unconscious biases and assumptions of the host have even more influence over the productivity of the group process than in face-to-face dream work, precisely because the host has so much more influence and control over the flow of communication among the participants.

Albert Einstein was fond of saying that "if you can't explain what you are doing to an intelligent ten year old, you probably don't don't know what you are doing..." This principle of simplifying and clarifying even the most abstruse and emerging intuitive understandings regularly comes into play in computer connected dream work. Some of the lyric poetry may be lost in the process, but the "haiku" remain.

If you, or anyone you know, is interested in participating in this fascinating new way of exploring the multiple meanings and possibilities of your dreams, here's how you can pull the group up on your screen:
- log on to A.O.L.
- go to KEYWORD: HUB
- choose ENTER
- choose DREAM GROUP

The "dream show" also has a 24-hour "bulletin board", where you can leave your dreams, comments, questions, and what-have-you, at any time. I check the bulletin board regularly for material to work with during the regular daily "live" dream group.