I’m looking forward to seeing the movie Inception. Judging by the advance notices, the director, and the cast, I expect it to be brilliant. I have one reservation. It’s not about the movie itself. It’s about the problematic use of a term, and how this relates to a larger problem of understanding.
The problem, simply stated, is this. Powers of dreaming that are natural, fun and healing are (1) dismissed as illusory by academic “experts” who don’t keep journals and don’t seem to do much dreaming, and by hard-boiled reporters who follow their lead while at the same time (2) those same natural powers are presented by Hollywood as science fiction in which dreaming abilities are often the perquisite of drug-fueled Dark Side psychic warriors.
The problematic term is “shared dreaming.” In the movie promos, “shared dreaming” appears to be the learned technique of psychic spies and mind manipulators tasked to extract information from other people’s dreaming minds, or implant thoughts in them.
Such things are certainly possible outside of science fiction, but they are more properly described as psychic intrusion or dream sending (a term I’ll explain in a later article). Off-screen, shared dreaming may be a wholly benign and energizing consensual adventure, part of a spectrum of options for what I call social dreaming.
While we tend to think of dreams as private and personal, dreaming is actually a highly social activity. Many of us, indeed, are far more gregarious in our dreams than in our ordinary daily lives.
As we share dreams with friends and family on a regular basis, we may notice that sometimes our dreams overlap rather closely. We may have been dreaming on the same theme, or visiting the same dreamscape, on the same night. Sometimes we have shared adventures, though (more often than not) only one of the dreamers remembers exactly what was going on.
We are drawn together in dreams in the same ways that we are drawn to each other in waking life: by family ties, by shared interest, by common concerns, by love and sexual attraction, by the need for healing or the desire for fun and adventure
As we become Active Dreamers, we can develop the practice of embarking on conscious interactive dream journeys with focused intention. We can do this up close or at any distance. We can learn to enter shared dreaming with an intimate partner who shares our bed, with a group of friends in a living room, or with a network of dreamers in other parts of the world.
Let’s pause to define the varieties of social dreaming:
Synchronous or concurrent dreams are those in which two or more dreamers have very similar dream experiences at the same time. They may or may not see each other inside the dreams.
Interactive or mutual dreams are those in which two or more dreamers are aware of each other and interact with each other in a shared dreamscape. In terms of ordinary time, their experiences may or may not be synchronous.
Shared dreaming, in my lexicon, is the practice of embarking on intentional interactive dream travels with one or more partners.
Group dreaming or group dream travel is shared dreaming conducted with a whole circle or network of participants.
Director Christopher Nolan said in an interview with the New York Times: “What Inception deals with is a science fiction concept in which…you and I are able to experience the same dream at the same time. Once you remove the privacy, you’ve created an infinite number of alternate universes in which people can meaningfully interact – with validity, with weight, with dramatic consequences.”
Yes, it’s a great idea for a movie. And far from being only a science fiction concept, interactive or social dreaming is a real phenomenon in our lives that may go on every night. Shared dreaming is a practice that can be learned – without chemicals or psywar trainers – and developed as both a home entertainment system and a method of gaining first-hand data on the nature of life in the multiverse. We’ll see how in the next article.
Next: Shared Dreaming as Home Entertainment
A thought for any day, inspired by a participant in the Dream Teacher Training that I led over the past week on the Connecticut shore.
Savannah surfaced from a night of elusive dreams with little recall, but with this statement clear in her mind:
Stay on the line. A dream will be calling shortly.
This delighted our whole group when she shared it during our breakfast dream-swapping. We thought about the ways a dream can call outside the hours of sleep – for example, through a sudden flash of intuition or a symbolic pop-up or chance encounter in regular life. The birds were notably actively over the land and sea beyond the windows that morning. The flight patterns of hawk and osprey, crow and seagull, punctuated our session and often gave us the sense that a dream was calling, on feathered wings.
I thought of Savannah’s guidance when I woke early this morning with sketchy dream memories that seemed rather bland and dull. I decided to allow myself some extra time in bed and “stay on the line”.
During my second sleep, I came home to a rambling house that seemed to be a composite of two previous homes, one of them a farm. At the back of this dream house was a lovely dappled wood set two stories below the main living area. At the front was a room-sized screen porch that projected from the house like a pier.
As I walked through this house towards the master bedroom, I felt a thrill of excitement because I sensed that my bear was at home. I called for him, and he came bounding in through a side door – a shaggy black bear, maybe 300 pounds. I petted him like a dog and nuzzled his face. We rolled around and played together on the floor. Then I heard voices at the front door. I hurried towards it, in time to catch a couple of mail carriers who were about to leave because they needed a signature and thought no one was at home.They handed over a large bundle of letters, packages and special delivery envelopes on that jetty-like porch. I was keen to read my mail, but first I had catching up to do with my bear. He had gone out into the woods, and I followed him there, eager for adventure. I’ll have a go at reading my dream mail later on, and I won’t have to go to the Office of Lost and Found Dreams to do that. I’ll just imagine myself stepping back inside my dream house, where my bear is waiting.
Stay on the line. A dream will be calling shortly. That’s good advice for any day.
Related posts: How to Break a Dream Drought
Photo of a lighthouse on Long Island Sound by Savannah M. Caitlin.
Our dreams tell us what is going on inside our bodies. This can help us avoid medical problems. When we do have a problem, our dreams can be a reliable source of diagnosis. Here is Janice’s story of a dream that helped to alert her and her doctor to a problem he had missed:
When I was in my late twenties. I went to the doctor for my annual check up. My doctor gave me a clean bill of health. The night after my visit to his office, I had the following dream:
I am screaming at the doctor, “I told you to check my arm. Now, look! You had to cut it off.” As I’m screaming at the doctor, I am looking at my right arm which has been cut off above the elbow. My arm is wrapped in gauze.
Upon waking from my dream, I had a very troubling, heavy feeling that I could not shake off. I immediately called my doctor and told him – not a request – that I would be coming in that very day to have him check my right arm. He insisted that I was fine. I told him about my dream, and insisted that no matter what I was coming in to see him.
When I got to the office my doctor checked my arm. After examining my arm the doctor said, “You know, your arm doesn’t look right.” There was a slight purplish hue to a part of my skin, the size of mosquito bite. The doctor suggested that I see a surgeon. I went to the surgeon who decided to remove the little bump. The little bump however, turned out to be a tumor the size of a very large green grape that was hidden deep under my skin. The tumor had begun to change and, fortunately, it was fully encapsulated when removed.
I have a scar on my right arm an inch above the elbow, at exactly the place where my arm had been cut off in my dream. I’m grateful for that scar, because it is a daily reminder of the importance of paying attention to dreams.
I look forward to the day when our doctors are schooled to look to dreams, along with other resources, for diagnosis of complaints, as they were in the ancient world.
Aristotle noted that the most successful physicians paid close attention to their patients’ dreams. Throughout the Hippocratic corpus – the large body of ancient medical texts attributed to Hippocrates, the great early physician from whom the oath of our medical profession is derived – the diagnostic value of dreams is recognized again and again. The author of the Hippocratic treatise On Regimen [fourth century BCE] tracks dreams that foreshadow physical symptoms and reveal their progress. He maintains that in sleep “the soul becomes its own mistress” and is able to tour its bodily residence without distractions. In the morning, it leaves the dreamer some pictures from its nightly tours. To read the diagnostic meaning of these souvenirs, we need to recognize that inside the body is a whole world. Thus earth, in a dream, may represent the body as a whole. A river may be the blood, a tree (for a man) or a spring (for a woman) the reproductive system.
Second only to Hippocrates, Galen (128-210) was the most important person in the rise of Western medicine. As he recorded medical case histories, Galen paid close attention to the appearances of the god Asklepios in diagnosing and prescribing for different ailments, and in facilitating direct healing. He was in no way superstitious. It would have been irrational, from his perspective, not to work with a friendly god who could fix the parts other medicine could not reach – and demonstrated this again and again. The surviving text of Galen’s essay On Diagnosis from Dreams shows his no-nonsense approach. He explains that dreams can provide accurate diagnosis because during sleep the soul travels inside the body and checks out what is going on.
Notes on dream diagnosis in ancient Greek medicine are adapted from my Secret History of Dreaming (New World Library, 2009).
Joshua, 11 years old, lives in California and loves baseball. He is
quite good but had never hit a home run until this weekend. Joshua
participated in the play-offs for championship title for his team as
the all-stars for his age group in Northern California. It was really a
big deal. Saturday was the big day and the last game.
Saturday morning, Joshua told his mom that he dreamed he had hit a home
run. He was really pleased because the dream was so real that he now knew what it felt
like to hit a home run. He seemed satisfied that the dream had given
him this fabulous experience. They didn’t talk about the possibility
that he could actually hit a home run on the baseball field.
in the big game later on Saturday, Joshua’s team is behind. Joshua, not
being a star hitter, had been kept back. All the bases are loaded, and
Joshua’s team is running out of good hitters. Finally they are left
with Joshua and think they have lost.
“Joshua gets up and smashes
a ball harder and farther than he’s ever done. He’s hit a home run and
he’s given his team the championship. The team goes wild, screaming
and yelling as they carry Joshua around on their shoulders. Joshua calls
me full of excitement. He’s so happy that reality can measure up to the
Bravo for Joshua, who is clearly an all-star of
Little League and of dreaming! This a terrific story to share with
sports-minded parents who may not have woken up to how dreaming can
help us to hit home runs (in many senses) and produce winning teams. Compare this report with Wanda’s previous account of a psychic dream of her son Evan – Joshua’s father – when he was very young, and you’ll see how the practice of dreaming can be nurtured and grown in a family from generation to generation.