Electric Dreams


Donald Broadribb


Victoria Quinton

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  Quinton, Victoria (1997 December). Interview: Donald Broadribb. Electric Dreams 4(12). Retrieved July 26, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.deramgate.com/electric-dreams

VQ: Hello Donald

DB: Hello Victoria,

I'd rather you called me Don, rather than Donald; the shorter form sounds better to me, (maybe because in Australian pronunciation it is identical with dawn and gives a nice feeling).

VQ: Do you subscribe to Electric Dreams?

DB: No; the reason is that I don't have general Internet access, only e-mail. I live in Beverley, which is a tiny tiny town in WA, and the long distance rates to any of the ISPs are too high for me to manage, except for the brief time periods necessary to collect and send e-mail once or twice a day.

VQ: Does the tiny tiny town enter your dreamscape too?

DB: Interestingly, no. It has never yet, to my recollection, been the locale in any of my dreams, in the three years I have lived in Beverley. My dream locales are almost always in a city, either Perth or some other city I have lived in, usually; or on a university campus.

VQ: I have found e-mail to be an ideal medium for interviews, as both parties can have their own "thinking space". have two young children ( a daughter who is 3 and a half now and a 6 month old son) and hence I often "type on the run".

DB:You are busy and on the run indeed, then!! My kids are grown up now (Cheryl 29, Peter 24) so I have peace in the house. But I love young children, and despite all the fuss, ages 3 and a half and 6 months are wonderful. (Of course, I'd say that no matter what ages the children are...)

VQ: Have you been interested in dreams for most of your life?

DB: Since my early teens. I came across Freud's "Interpretation of Dreams" when I was around 12 or 13, and I was very impressed by it though I found it next to impossible to apply. I kept going back to it, though, for many years. My serious interest in dreams started when I was about 23, when I had a roommate who gave me a copy of Jung's "Modern Man in Search of a Soul."

VQ: Have you a memorable dream fragment remaining from your childhood?

DB: Yes, and not at all a pleasant one. It's the dream discussed on pages 20-21 of "The Dream Story." The one about floating in the bowl of a spoon. -- That's the only dream I remember from childhood.

VQ: Has any of your work dealt with children and dreams? (Don answered after reading copies of my earlier interviews on this topic. http://www.alphalink.com.au/~mermaid/childdrm.htm)

DB: Only sporadically. There are various children's dreams in "The Dream Story ". I have had occasional child patients, but by and large the sessions have not involved dreams. My own kids are no longer kids, of course; but when they were, we used to talk about their dreams quite often. There never was any beginning to the process; my own experience is that children talk about dreams along with everything else they experience, from as soon as they start to talk. So I just talked about their dreams along with everything else. This is also true of the various small children I have met and talked with, in general.

If the child is too young to make any clear distinction between reality and dreams (even adults sometimes don't!), I just talk with them the same as about anything else they may say that is obviously made up. Which is to take it in the same way it is presented: jokingly if presented as humor, serious if presented as serious, etc. Whether a child says "there's an elephant on the porch" to fool me, or says "I saw an elephant on the porch, last night" as a dream, the response is much the same: to go along with what the child says and see what it leads to. Fun, in the one case; dream work, in the other case.

This is at least in large part because of my conviction that the content of a dream should be treated as if real, for the purpose of understanding the dream. I don't go in much for symbolism, most of symbol interpretation seems to me to be very suspect; I leave it to the last and usually ignore it altogether.

So I find Linton Hutchinson's comment (by the way, I found what he had to say quite interesting and thought provoking) that "Children seem to understand the feeling tone of the dream rather than the symbolic meaning contained in the pictorial icon represented by the dream. " to be true, but I don't find symbolic meaning contained in the pictorial icon represented by the dream to be of much value, very often - unless the word "symbolic" is stretched extremely wide to include emotional frameworks in general rather than specific "meanings". For instance, a dinosaur is probably not symbolic, in a child's dream, unless you mean by that it represents the possibility of a threat -- though many children, maybe most, do not feel dinosaurs as threats but exciting and to be learned about.

VQ: Is this your opinions about people's dreams at all ages or just of children's dreams?

DB: I have gradually come to feel that it is true of people's dreams at all ages.

I do have to point out that some of the matter may be conflict over what the word "symbolic" means. For instance, in an adult's dream the image of a white elephant could, perhaps, refer to the metaphorical meaning of "white elephant" = something useless, without value. I say "perhaps " because I don't remember ever having run into any white elephants in anyone's dream, though I certainly have found ordinary grey elephants in dreams. No doubt white elephants do turn up in someone's dreams...

I would distinguish between such ordinary metaphorical imagery and symbols proper (Freudian or Jungian) which I do not find a very profitable area for everyday dream interpretation. This is not to say it is _never_ warranted, particularly in dreams of psychotic patients and in other highly disturbed states, and occasional though very unusual analytical situations.

VQ: And somewhere in between the individual dreamer may find a workable "interpretation", possibly in retrospect.

DB: Usually in retrospect. Discussion of a dream sometimes leads to great clarity immediately, but more often it is only when looking back on it that the "Aha!" experience comes. -- More often, it is more of an "Ah, yes" than an "Aha!", to be sure. That is partly because dreams are normally part of an on-going process, and like bricks in a building all the other dreams are necessary in order to see the overall significance.

Hutchinson comments: "Asking questions about the creation that the child is involved in can be beneficial to the child but only as a secondary function for working with the dream. How do you feel when you see yourself in your picture? If you could draw this dream again, what might you create to make you feel safe?"

Theoretically I agree with much of what he says in that paragraph, including this. But personally, I would try not to ask any questions. I would in a natural way just lead the child into a discussion of the dream. If a nightmare, "someone is trying to get in through the window ;, my natural reaction would be maybe , ;Oh! Maybe if the window is locked tight, they won't be able to get in. ; The child would respond to that, and we would discuss the dream event as if it were or could be real.

The focus would be to figure out between us, at the child's level of understanding, how such a situation could be dealt with in a way that would preserve the child's integrity and security. -- This same technique works well for adults with nightmares, too.

Similarly, it would generally not occur to me to ask someone, child or adult, "how did you feel in the dream?" My natural reaction to hearing a nightmare would be to pick up the dreamer's mood from the telling and say "Gee, that was scary!" or "Oh my God!" or some such thing, or even "God, I'd hate to have something like that happen!" If I have somehow misfelt the mood of the dream, the dreamer will correct me; they always do, if my overall attitude is that I am ready to accept corrections without a fuss.

This seems to be different from Linton Hutchinson's method: "We usually reenter these dreams and rescript those dreams using helpers if the dreams too scary or creating ways of self-protection i.e., being invisible, being able to create millions of armies, becoming bionic etc...." That method involves a lot of non-real methods and "helpers";. I would stick to something realistic: what could really be done in the situation portrayed in the nightmare. But then, I have not generally found superheroes, being invisible, armies, being bionic, etc., necessary methods of dealing with situations that have turned up in children's dream I have personally encountered. I wonder if nightmares with such situations are really very common, or whether like "archetypal"dreams, they are in reality extremely rare. Unless, of course, the parent or analyst herself usually thinks in such "supernatural "terms, and conveys to the dreamer that that is they sort of dream that should be dreamed! (Parents and analysts do determine guise a dream takes quite a lot by the way they deal with dreams in discussion.)

John Suler's discussion of his daughter's "coonie" dream is well handled, though I would not put in the religious nuance that he does: "Coonie (God?) is not a single entity, but an all-surrounding presence." In the dream, she is immersed in the "oceanic oneness" that many mystics associate with God. I think that is going a bit too far, even for a theoretical analysis of her dream.

As a non-theist, I would more likely say that the mystics mean by "God" an "oceanic oneness " but I doubt that that particular dream had that in mind. More likely the equation would simply be: multiple "Coonies" = confidence in being able not to drown by now knowing how to swim.

VQ: I have just picked up "The Mystic Chorus: Jung and the Religious Dimension" from Robinson's ( a local bookshop) and have scanned some of the contents. I think it may be helpful to point out that your choice to categorise yourself as "non theist" was anything but an overnight decision.

You have looked at many organised religions "from the inside", as you mention in the introduction to "The Mystical Chorus" and in academic terms, have an M. Div from Union Theological Seminary in New York, a Ph.D from the University of Melbourne, where you taught comparative religions for ten years, and a Diploma in Analytical Psychology from the CG Jung Institute in Zurich.

Just by reading those first few introductory pages, I am reminded of my own recurring thoughts; that I am an "outsider " to all groups ,and feel both exhilarated and scared at the possibility of needing to take responsibility "just for myself " without expecting "something out there" to either rescue me or to be an emotional scapegoat.

Could "non theist" also be called humanist/humanitarian? I can feel the compassion of your approach to people.

DB: To a certain extent, though humanists etc. generally don't go in for philosophy much, and I do.
I have quite a strong background in philosophy; also my sister lectures in philosophy at the University of Florida (she's Marilyn Holly, who wrote one of the chapters in "The Mystical Chorus";) and we have quite a vigorous correspondence by e-mail on philosophical issues among other things.

I agree that " the possibility of needing to take responsibility 'just for myself' without expecting 'something out there' to either rescue me or to be an emotional scapegoat" can be very scary. It's not a feeling I have had myself, but I can understand it when it turns up in other people.

I guess my drift to being a "non theist" was too gradual to be much of a shock to me, if any. Also, I can't remember ever taking God seriously as an emotional support or threat. Sort of like Santa Claus -- I early figured out that Santa Claus did not exist; I didn't connect God with the Santa Claus myth for many, many years, till I was an adult, but I seem to have put God in much the same category without realizing it. Except for one strange thing: all through my childhood I was convinced that if I appealed to God, God would keep the rain away while I was walking to or from school -- since it was an hour's walk to school, and rain protection gear was pretty poor in those pre-plastic days, my concern was very real. And strangely enough, I was convinced the rain did hold off for me! I can't remember when this all ended, somewhere by the time I was 16 and finished high school, definitely; and I don't remember ever trying to link it with my otherwise very vague notions about God.

Religious teachings were confined to church or Sunday School. Outside that one hour a week, the subject of religion never came up in my family. So I guess I sort of believed, but mostly could not understand, the strange adult talk about God, for the one hour of church a week, and put it out of my mind the rest of the time. I grew disgusted with Sunday School by the time I was 6 or 7, concluding (probably rightly) that I knew more about history and society than the Sunday School teachers did; so I made a deal with my mother that if I went to the church service instead, I could get off going to Sunday School. As for what was said about God, in church, it sounded like all the rest of the unfathomable stuff adults rabbited on about, nothing to do with real life. I had no reason to disbelieve it, because it didn't affect me one way or another.

I was taught to pray every night, and I did so for many years - again until the time I finished high school, or perhaps a few years earlier or later, I don't remember quite when. Then the nightly prayers gradually became more infrequent and eventually just faded away completely. I still prayed occasionally while I was at theological school, but I was rather doubtful about it much of the time.

I had read Plato a lot while in high school -- the interest had been strengthened by my sister, who, being five years ahead of me, was already formally studying philosophy at university. So I was familiar with the fact that there are very respectable different religious notions than the ones taught in church.

So the idea of accusing God, or shifting the blame on him, never came to me; nor the idea of supposing that God was behind anything good that happened, either. God was just a concept they talked about in church, no connection with everyday life. So I guess I never took seriously the idea of "something out there " and still don't.

Obviously a very different set of experiences than yours.

VQ Have you been more influenced by book theories or by word of mouth theories?

DB: By and large I have not found books of any particular help in working with dreams. I have read them till they sprouted out of my ears, but in the long run, other people's approaches to dreams never work for me. Approaches to dreams are too much a matter of the individual person's personality. Just listen to the dreamer, interact with the dreamer, be natural, try to avoid any methods or interpretative scheme, and almost inevitably in the course of the conversation the dreamer will come out with what has every appearance of being a resolution to the dream, whether it is an interpretation or meaning or something else. Eventually as you do this with many people, you will come to an approach that is uniquely you and very successful for you, even if not for somebody else trying to imitate you. VQ: I have had one or two dreams in the past where I have seen myself as an old wise MAN in a room full of books.

DB: Of course we are taught from birth to make that association.

VQ: So would it be reasonable of me to say that though you are a trained Jungian analyst, you are an individual first and aiming to help others on their way to individuation?

DB:I think that's a fair statement, yes.

Though I view analysis first and foremost as a therapy for mental disturbances, and only secondarily for individuation purposes as we usually think of them.

VQ: What is your opinion of email-based dream discussion groups?

DB:I have no experience at all of them. But, given that I have found in-person dream discussion groups very valuable, I should think e-mail based dream discussion groups would be equally valuable.

You comment: I guess I feel guilty about wanting to pursue largely solitary "intellectual pursuits" Our social tradition has traditionally accepted such a life for males and refused it to females -- with various spectacular exceptions of course-- and makes it extremely hard to buck the tradition. That is the meaning behind Jung's claim that the animus is "logos" (which in Greek meant intellectual pursuits), along with sex. Guilt feelings (In Freudian jargon, Superego) are one of the big clubs with which individuals are beaten into submission. How to deal with guilt feelings is one of the biggest problems anyone faces; and inevitably we have also gotten so involved in commitments to everybody under the sun that practical problems often become almost insuperable.

VQ:Don and I began a discussion about Active Imagination. I mentioned that I have a soft spot for my inner characters Sam the erudite snail and Esmerelda, the flying pig who becomes a flying unicorn if allowed freedom of thought.

DB: An excellent image for your feelings about yourself: the notion that you could be free seems to you about as likely as the notion that pigs can fly; but if you could, you would be a flying unicorn, which is a beautiful image, considering the history of the unicorn image in art.

VQ:It is hard to speak of talking to the characters without confirming anyone's suspicions that you are off your rocker...

DB:I guess the whole idea of AI is very foreign to most adults. Strange, because it is a natural part of every child's life and nobody much seems to be surprised or taken aback at it then.

I wonder if adult sheep, who do not dream, consider dreaming to be childish ("lambish") and look askance at those few adult sheep who do still dream??

(Lambs dream, but somehow they lose the ability when they grow up to be sheep. Or so the REM-researchers claim.)

Victoria Quinton