Sharing deep similarities with many ancient practices of dreamwork, social dreaming was “re-discovered” in 1982 by Gordon Lawrence, a British social scientist affiliated with the Tavistock Institute for Human Relations. Since then, social dreaming has been successfully used as a standalone activity as well as in conjunction with training programs and organizational consultation in realms as diverse as education, medicine, government, business, religion, and the arts.
What happens in social dreaming?
Social dreaming is a fairly simple process that can lead to creative and complex results. Participants gather together to share dreams, to associate to dreams, to find patterns among dreams, and to connect dream patterns to the social world. In addition to participants, social dreaming is facilitated by a host whose task is to help participants think and talk about dreams by linking common elements in dreams and by asking for associations to dream elements.
Two main features of social dreaming make it a unique form of dreamwork. First, in social dreaming the focus is on the dream, rather than the dreamer; dreams are not used as a means to discover something about the individual dreamer’s wishes, personality or relationships. Second and related, in social dreaming, dreams are used as a means for expanding our ability to think about the shared social world in which we all live. To contribute to this, participants are encouraged to associate to each dream as if it was their own, in order to explore the way that dreams capture something commonly shared among members of a community.
Social dreaming takes place in a special form of group called a matrix. The social dreaming matrix is generally open-ended, process-oriented, and non-directive. Besides the primary task of social dreaming (to share and think about dreams) there is no set topic or agenda. We go where the dreams and associations lead us.
In contrast to some other forms of process-oriented group work, where attention is given to the relationships between individual members or between individual members and the group as a whole, the social dreaming matrix highlights how we are all always-already connected with one another through the myriad aspects of our existence that we share: the biology of our physical bodies, the geography and ecology of our physical world, the laws and politics of our governments, the images and customs of our cultures, the contemporary historical moment at which we live, etc. While we each occupy a separate position, we live together in a common matrix of existence. In social dreaming, participants are invited to discover how dreaming (something that happens to almost everybody almost every night) reveals new insights into the common matrix of existence.
Who should participate?
Social dreaming is an appropriate activity for anybody interested in learning the wisdom of dreams or in practicing non-linear, non-goal directed forms of thinking. Social dreaming is an opportunity to connect and collaborate with others on a different, potentially deeper, level of interaction than many social activities promote. Participants often find it comforting and inspiring to discover how their dream-life is both similar to and different from that of other people.
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