Taichung Dream Group
Amazingly enough, Taichung, which seems to have everything for the entertainment seeker, now also has a place for the deeper sorts -- those rare spirits who care to probe the inner workings of the human heart through the exploration of dreams. Taichung's new dream group meets on Sundays in a beautiful traditional tea house. As might be expected, the group is small. Sitting around in a circle on the floor and working with dreams is not for the common crowd. Those drawn to this endeavor are that tiny minority who somehow are able to get beyond the ordinary reaction to dreams and glimpse in them instead the portal to a truer life, a fuller way of knowing and being.
To gain contact with the depths of their own spirit, so as to enrich and empower their life and the lives of those around them, rare souls since the dawn of history have employed all sorts of methods. The Sioux brave hung suspended through the night from bone hooks embedded in the flesh of his chest so that he might attain his vision and know himself. Shamans in the Mexican highlands today still ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms or cacti to obtain the same result. So as to induce the special dreams they desired, the ancient Greeks spent the night sleeping on the dirt floor of dark underground caves crawling with venomous snakes. The premise of all these extreme practices is that you have not become a man or woman, you're somehow not yet truly human, and your life cannot be real until you touch its deepest vein and meet face to face, somehow or other, its ultimate source. If there weren't truth to this, the practices wouldn't be so ubiquitous in all indigenous cultures everywhere. Jesus Christ, in the secret Gospel of Thomas, re-discovered in Egypt in 1945, put it this way "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." In this remarkable passage Jesus is not telling us what to believe, in the way the church does, but urging us instead to discover what lies hidden within ourselves. This is central to all wisdom traditions and religions in their truest form.
In modern times this mode of self-discovery was largely taken over by psychotherapy. It's significant that Sigmund Freud felt his greatest book was "The Interpretation of Dreams." Working with dreams was central to Freud's work because dreams are the one part of us that is totally spontaneous, out of our conscious control and, thus, utterly truthful. The premise of this work is that to know the self is healing. In one of his most famous cases of hysteria Freud actually caused a woman who had been in a wheelchair for years to stand up and walk again.
Freud's most promising student, C.G. Jung, came to feel in later years that Freud took too narrow, and sexual, an approach to the analysis of dreams and to psychology. Jung rediscovered in dreams a spiritual dimension. He probed the writings of the alchemists, Eastern wisdom traditions, and early Christian motifs in order to understand the inner workings of the modern mind. Significantly, he wrote a book entitled "Modern Man in Search of a Soul" and its very first chapter was "Dream Analysis and Its Practical Application." Dreams had come back closer to their beginnings, to the intent of the Sioux brave hanging from the bone hooks, the Mexican shaman with his peyote buttons, and the teachings of Jesus Christ as contained in the lost Gospel of Thomas.
Yet, even with C.G. Jung, the dream remained squarely in the hands of the trained specialist. It was only a few decades ago was that the American psychiatrist Montague Ullman, M.D. was invited to Sweden to train psychiatric medical students to work with dreams. In trying to devise a way to do this, he developed the experiential dream group process. What he found, somewhat to his surprise, was that the process worked as well with laypeople as it did with the young doctors. In fact, in many cases it worked better because they had less dogma about dreams stuffed into their heads and so it was easier for them to come to an appreciation of what a dream was really saying.
Here in Taiwan, for example, a highly acclaimed Taiwanese university professor and the loving mother of a gifted boy, came to a dream group Dr. Shuyuan Wang and I held at Chaoyang University of Technology with a dream that she was poisoning her son. She hotly denied doing anything of the sort. Work with the dream, however, brought out the extent to which she'd been forcing her son to conform to her own values as a scholar when the boy actually had the temperament of an artist. He painted. He sang. He played the violin so well. The dream, she saw in the end, informed her that her incessant nagging of the poor child about his homework and school performance was toxic to his creativity and damaging to his genius. With tears in her eyes, she realized what the gifted boy needed from her was not another scolding teacher, but a mother who could understand his unique gift and help him, in whatever way possible, to develop it.
To enable this dreamer to arrive at a result like this, no one in the group needed to be an expert in mental illness or anything like that. There was no mental illness involved here. Any one of us, in the course of our busy lives and as a result of the complex demands placed upon us, may go too far in one direction or the other. It happens all the time to the best people. The unique feature of dreams is that they contain the innumerable strands of information we take in all the time without even knowing it. The vast majority of learning is unconscious. Dreams simply present to us what we ourselves already know without knowing we know it. Hence, their tremendous usefulness.
In another dream group of ours, an enterprising industrialist broke down crying when he introduced himself to the dream group. He said he had such horrible nightmares that he couldn't get to sleep at night without drugging himself into oblivion with alcohol every night. The nightmares still didn't go away and his family suffered from his heavy drinking and bizarre schedule. Work with one of the nightmares in the dream group returned him to some alarming early experience of family violence and tragedy but it also brought him to understand the nature of dreams and their positive purpose. He began to re-experience his dreams in a healing and fertile way. The life-long nightmares vanished. Within a year, he stopped drinking. His whole appearance and manner changed for the better and he embarked upon a creative and profitable new venture in his business. That man's life is changed now and so is his family life and business life. He attributes it directly to the work done in the group with his dream. He never was a sick individual. He didn't have a diseased mind. What he needed was in his own dream. All the group provided was a way to bring it out in a form that made sense to him and that he could understand. There is something truly revolutionary in this kind of work, which returns normal, healthy people to the power they have in their own hearts and enables them to transform their lives from within. It's especially amazing to me that we are doing it in a Chinese culture.
I sense, although I have little evidence except for the dreams we've worked with since we came here, that deep down in the lives of individual people here in Taiwan, Chinese culture is taking an important step forward. This island nation is a real hot spot, but not in the way the world thinks. The whole money-hungry world is greedily focused on the huge market potential of Mainland China. How much more fascinating are the creative, cultural, spiritual, and human developments underway in tiny Taiwan. This little nation that these people here have forged from nothing has the makings of a real world leader that can deliver the authentic genius of Chinese culture up out of the sad swamp of official corruption, bureaucratic rigidity and social tyranny that it has gotten mired down in.
In the dream group we see each individual life, under Taiwan's new freedoms, move forward just a pace, maybe two. But the feeling that comes after working on dream after dream is that the cumulative effect of these individual Taiwanese steps is amounting to something really big. The world sees the economic Taiwan, maybe even the political one. But all that is only the tip of the iceberg. The biggest part of what is happening here on this island is below the surface. You see it when you get down into the dreams here. Then you know what an amazing people these are and what a really powerful country they are building.
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William R. Stimson, Ph.D., a founder of the Dream Network and former editor of the Dream Network Bulletin, worked with dreams and dream groups in New York City for over twenty-five years. Dr. Stimson and his wife, Dr. Shuyuan Wang, who is on the faculty of Taiwan's National Chi Nan University, both trained in the experiential dream group method under Dr. Montague Ullman himself. Before coming to Taiwan they led dream groups in New York City. Here on the island they've helped introduce this work into the curriculum of the prestigious National Yang Ming Medical University, Chaoyang University of Technology in Wufong, and Puli's National Chi Nan University. At Dr. Ullman's urging, they've also conducted programs to train Taiwanese professionals to lead these groups themselves in Chinese. They hold a Sunday dream group in a centrally-located traditional tea shop in Taichung. There is no charge for this dream group. Participants split the cost of reserving a private room in the tea shop. Tea and snacks are included in this price. For further information: e-mail billstimson[at]mac.com or phone 0910579016.