Wellcome Library – Tavistock Institute
Social Dreaming Matrix No. 4
28th November 2018, 2.00 – 3.30
Facilitators: Rachel Kelly and Tazi Smith
The last of a series of four Social Dreaming Matrices held in the Reading Room at the Wellcome Library during November, where members of the public met together to reveal their dreams and relate them to the world around us.
Dreams were plentiful in this matrix of approximately 16 participants, of which 11 were female, 5 male. Both younger people (including students) and older people were in this group. Participants shared dreams of the past week, some shared recurring dreams that have been very much part of their lives and other participants shared dreams of long-ago that are still impacting them today.
A total of 11 dreams were shared and 47 associations were made. Various themes arose from the associations: life-death-resurrection; polarities between flying and being squashed; being in a maze and being lost; being in the wrong or right place and finding one’s own path; the elder’s wisdom being ignored; the mysticism of Simorgh birds (benevolent, mythical female birds in Persian literature) was discussed in relation to spiritual journeys juxtaposed with the narrative of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales amidst frequent references to Calcutta for several dreamers.
There was a question of where are we? Are we in one room or another? Is it a fantasy that we really know someone? This related to the notion of whether we know someone but at the same time, don’t know them at all. In fact, is it necessary to know everything about one person? The kindness of being interested in and knowing someone. There was a recurrent theme of BREXIT and the presence of #metoo – gender issues.
Do our dreams provide a peaceful balm from which new introspective life begins? Is there a place of wholeness to our dreams? Are we seeking wholeness and is everything a spiritual journey?
The first dream offered was of a baby being drowned and then resurrected, somehow mentioning France, Germany and Scandinavia. Sense-making of this dream was that possibly, even though there is death, there is new life which elicited the idea of home and safety.
Next a dream of a mother with a 9 month old baby seeing her baby again as a 2 year old and realising that she doesn’t recognise him.
A recurring dream of the polarity between flying and being squashed by a lowering ceiling. Are we feeling at a loss as to whether we can find common ground to bring ideas together? And a search for us to find our freedom. This feeling of loss was analogous to a maze but the usual anxiety of this maze was not felt, in fact, the feeling within the maze was described as having a velvet warmth, in which he could glide through the maze without being impinged.
This contribution provided the impetus for another recent dream also including a maze. The dreamer’s grandmother tells her she is going in the wrong direction but she ignores her. Instead she makes her own path.
Subsequently, a participant talked about the mythical Simorgh birds – these birds represent truth. A sufi poet, Attar, wrote a poem in the C12 about the birds of the world gathering to decide who is to be their king, as they have none. It’s suggested that they should find the legendary Simorgh. The 30 birds (each of whom represent a human fault which prevents man from attaining enlightenment) reach the dwelling place of the Simorgh, but all they find is a lake in which they see their own reflection (the Persian expression for “thirty birds” is also si morgh).
Are we looking for a leader? Perhaps we already have our own internal authority, ready to be taken up. This led to the notion of having a bird’s eye view – being able to see the bigger picture from further away, giving ourselves space in order to understand what is going on from the outside. And what is truth and how do we find it?
Another participant shared what turned out to be an uncanny dream. He described being in church with a female friend who began singing Christian hymns in Bengali. He turned around and said, ‘I know you’; ‘you know me’. The friend was a patient of his and the dream ended with them both remembering events of a long time ago. He left the church feeling blessed that this had happened – there was peace in the puzzle or was there a piece to the puzzle that had emerged? Synchronicity as in reality, in the matrix, this participant got up to leave later on, only for one of the facilitators to recognise and greet him, as they actually did know each other from a long time ago.
This part of the matrix led to around five separate associations to Calcutta – one participant said it was due to Calcutta that he was ‘here’ in the matrix. What significance had Calcutta to play on the boundary of the last social dreaming matrix in this series?
Another participant shared a dream of being on the way to Canterbury University but the person she was due to meet wasn’t there but should have been making her way to Essex. The dream was anxiety provoking, about being in the wrong place. This contribution set the context for associations with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and going on a spiritual journey – amidst this, there was the balm of a blessing. The need to take the lead and the hope resting in children – the next generation, children representing the birth of new ideas.
Another dreamer described how he was in a prison but friendly with the guards and suddenly he saw a prisoner attacking a guard. This prisoner took out a sword to stab the dreamer but he suddenly woke up feeling frustrated by not knowing whether he had died or not. Thus, associations were made by others in the group of having ‘close to death’ dream experiences and almost always waking up before death in the dream happens. Another association – in the film Jumanji – swinging on a chandelier with crocodiles below waiting to eat you – and the opposite: swinging on the chandeliers at a wild party. A feeling of being close to death. The idea of dreaming of dead people and the dream not being negative but a positive experience of their kindness. Discussions of this dream led to reflective questions as to whether being in a dream state is preferable to the reality that we are in – a desire to be (in the) unconscious.
References to dreams that contained dream paralysis and the notion of light vs darkness. Someone suggested that we need the darkness for light to exist and shadows provide three-dimensionality. An association about the value of communities. The discussion developed around what is deemed morally wrong and right and a previous era where women always kept quiet about what was happening to them which then moved to associations with Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein and the #metoo movement and the shame previously located in the victim now being transferred to the perpetrator. No simple polarities like good or bad? Do we need both positive and negative energies, as in a battery, to give life? When we talk, how much is it personal and how much is it social – this paradox also applies to dreams.
These dreams and associations led participants to muse philosophically around whether as a society we are in the polarity of either being open and wanting to join in or contracting and being squashed thus resonating with the movement of breath – inhaling and exhaling. Are we waiting to exhale? Another polarity in the world, where there is a lot of war and corruption and at the same time an expanding conscious awareness. Both are getting stronger and this was related to many recurring dreams of waking up in the middle of a dream within which one is dying – a nightmare. From the first dream of a baby being resurrected and the last dream of another baby, there was a circular theme of the promise of freedom: Trying to give birth to something during which strong contractions are undertaken of labour: the required work to give birth.
8 participants remained (5 women and 3 men). Overall participants felt that it was both strange and comforting to come together with individuals previously unknown to them and to have such a meaningful conversation together. Part way through the matrix, a phalanx of participants had to leave the group (they had indicated previously that this is what they had to do). Remainers in the matrix felt that even though many participants left, that the matrix could still carry on without too much disruption. Again Brexit was referred to – at the same time the idea that the social might be being forced. There was an acknowledgement that we would all have to say goodbye after the review finished.
One participant who had attended all the social dreaming matrices said that she felt that she wanted to attend more and that although the dreams shared had darkness – she had really enjoyed the matrices. Another felt that the cycle of life was replicated in the conversation: Life, death and after-death which was in keeping with the idea of a resurrected baby.
Another participant said that he would like to invite us all home with him and he reflected on the difficulties of saying goodbye – fitting as 2 pairs of the matrix remained in the Reading Room some 45 minutes after the matrix had ended, in animated conversation as the facilitators were writing their notes.