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The Orchestration - Letting the Dream Speak

Montague Ullman

Dream Appreciation Newsletter vol 3 nr 1, Winter 1998

If I were to sum up the process I use to help a dreamer work on a dream in a group context, it could be done in two sentences. First, let us do everything we can to stimulate the flow of thoughts and feelings the dreamer can bring to the imagery. Second, after listening to all that the dreamer has shared, and all the questions that should be asked have been asked, then and only then may the group offer their ideas about the connections between the dream imagery and the waking reality of the dreamer. These are offered as "orchestrating projections." It takes a little doing to get a dream to speak in its own voice both to the dreamer and the group.

It is this last stage that is often so important for the dreamer and yet is so difficult to teach. It often seems to me to be like a mysteriously spontaneous leap of faith. I have come to the conclusion it is impossible to teach. Experience with the process is of course essential, as is the mastery of the essential skills of listening to the dreamer and learning how to put questions to the dreamer that are helpful without being intrusive. But how does one teach empathy, intuition, sensitivity to metaphor?

The dreamer brings a dream to a group because he or she is having difficulty maneuvering in the emotional currents that resulted in the dream. Can you, by virtue of what you are able to give back to the dreamer in response to all you have been given by the dreamer, transform this floundering into an alignment with the direction of the tide, thus enabling the dreamer to swim to the safety of the shore?

When I participate in a dream group, my orchestrating projections do not always result in this kind of a transformation. They do so often enough, however, to make me feel there must be some way I can communicate to others what I feel when I do succeed. I began by saying it is impossible to teach. Perhaps I should have added by any ordinary way of teaching, that is, by increasing your knowledge. It requires a change in attitude.

I'll begin with a feeling I always have when I do succeed in bringing the dream to life for the dreamer. The feeling is that I am not doing anything. True enough I am talking to the dreamer, but it is as if I am just a vehicle for thoughts that are forming themselves. Or, to put it another way: I know they are my thoughts but they seem to be coming from a place somewhere between the dreamer and myself. It is as if the feelings the group managed to elicit from the dreamer in the course of our work sets up an emotional field to which we all react to a greater or lesser extent. It takes very careful listening to tune into that field.

It also takes another ingredient which is hard to define. The closest I can get to it is to so distance myself from what I think I know about dreams generally and this particular dream specifically so that all a priori assumptions are drained out of my system. Only then do I feel properly prepared to receive what is being conveyed to me from the dreamer. This is not particularly easy to do. It involves the attitudinal change I referred to.

I'm not just talking figuratively when I refer to the emotional field that comes into being as the dreamer works on a dream. It is something palpable, but only if two conditions are met. Both derive from the fact that feelings when they ring true are the connective tissue that bind us together. To what extent have we helped the dreamer recover feelings that ring true in the way they convey to the dreamer awake the feelings that shaped the dream when he or she was asleep?

Secondly, to what extent do we come up with feelings, that ring true in us arising out of the way we juxtapose what the dreamer gave to us on to the dream itself? When there is a meeting in this way, there is also a merging. It is this merging that leaves me with the feeling that the words I utter are not exclusively my own. They are jointly authored through the merger. It is this merging that comes into being when orchestrations reach their mark. Then I know I have succeeded in being as honest with the dreamer as the dreamer has been in connecting with the dream.

When that level of honesty emerges in a group, the dream is sure to come into its own and to speak to us in a voice that is loud and clear.