Some friends and I started a dream group on a lark one summer. 16 years later, we are still meeting every week to discuss our dreams. Somewhere along the way we stopped thinking of dreams as our mind's idle chatter, and began to be deeply affected by what we found in these nighttime visions.
None of us were experts. We had read one book about starting dream groups, Jeremy Taylor's excellent Where People Fly and Water Runs Uphill. Some of us had knowledge of myths and symbols, a couple of us had a strong spiritual orientation, none of us knew much about psychology. What we did in the beginning could be described as hunt-and-peck dreamwork: every so often we had an insight into a dream, but mostly it took a very long time to find any meaning at all in our dreams.
Then an amazing thing happened. Those rare moments of illumination began affecting us so deeply that they changed our life paths. One of us had dreams which spurred her to become a teacher. Another started taking herself seriously as an artist. My dreams guided me to become a dream consultant. Dreams have helped us write novels, deal with family crises, find jobs, make decisions about where to move, avert health emergencies, and much more. After 16 years we all know a great deal about dreams now, and find it hard to imagine life without our precious weekly meetings.
Starting a dream group is quite simple and requires no formal training. By following a few simple guidelines, you and 3-4 friends can start your own group and begin to reap some of the benefits of regular dream sharing.
1) Dream groups vary widely in structure and schedule. Once you have a core group of people, decide how often you want to meet. Some groups meet every week for around 2 hours, while others meet once a month for a longer session. With more time you can work on more dreams, but shorter, more frequent meetings give the group a consistency that deepens your work.
2) Decide whether you want to hire someone experienced to lead the group, or go it alone. Many groups pay a dream consultant to sit in with the group once a year and contribute ideas, suggestions, and different points of view. This can provided a much-needed boost of inspiration.
3) Invest in a couple dream books or symbol dictionaries. I have some favorites, but the key is to find what works for you, and not to rely on just one resource.
4) Give your new group a limited lifespan. With just 2-3 months of meetings, you will know whether the group is a good mix of personalities and styles. If conflicts come up, instead of taking all the group's time to address the issues you can simply let the term expire and the group dissolve. Then try again with a new, modified group and see if it is successful. Once you have found the right chemistry, take a chance and make it an ongoing group!
5) Go for open-minded, rather than like-minded, people. Diversity of opinion and belief is beneficial in dreamwork, as it is often the outlying perspective that produces the greatest "aha" moments in a dream. However, make sure that there is mutual respect for opposing viewpoints. Dreams always bring up our shadow prejudices, and with the support of an open-minded group, we can all make great strides in transforming these limiting viewpoints.
6) Have fun. When in doubt, focus on the beauty of a dream. Remember the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, and before saying anything about another person's dream ask yourself, "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" The compassion and awareness we cultivate through working on other people's dreams will come back to us many times over as we consider our own dreams. In the end, that is the real treasure of this simple, yet infinitely complex and rewarding practice.