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See that bird there!

Our brains conditioned by Western society are trained to organize every strange phenomenon as soon as possible into meaningful categories. In the search of meanings and explanations, the typical way to try to understand a dream is to categorize it by interpreting it.

Concerning the manner of approaching dreams, the experiential dream group process can be divided into two main parts. During the phases of the former part the group is asking open-ended questions, which do not contain any ready-made choices for the dreamer to choose from. This maximizes the amount of information the group is getting from the dreamer, not from their own theories about the dream.

Only the latter part; the orchestration, is dedicated to straightforward offerings about the meaning of dream to the dreamer.

Is it a sparrow or a nightingale?

The harmfulness of "either/or" type question is easy to see.  This kind of question is not a question but a suggestion, which incorporates the interpretation. "Is the man in your dream your father or your husband" is a guaranteed way to exclude any other directions coercing the dreamer to a "this or that" multiple-choice test which most likely misses the true, richer contents of the image.

Which species is it?

"Is this dilapidated house the symbol of your inner individual mental state, your relation with your spouse, your family, your whole present life situation or your relation to the God" is a question which seems to leave all kinds of alternatives between heaven and earth, but it is not an open question either. It allows more choices, but how multiple they may be, they are always limited. They cannot include the poetical limitlessness of the dream. Perhaps the species of the bird is not important at all but its behavior, its placement in the scenery etc.

Why is it sitting there?


This type of question is very common. It seems to be very open, non-intrusive question, but it is not. How the dreamer could know why? If he knew, he did not need the group. "Why" is a demanding command, which orders the dreamer to answer something, "I do not know" at least. Instead of helping him to enter more deeply into the atmosphere of the dream image, we pull him out of it with our "why"-bombardments, which raise his anxiety about not being sensitive enough to satisfy the group.

"Why" contains implicitly the assumption of one-dimensional causality of the dream image. But dream images are multi-dimensional. "Why" signals the desire to reduce the disturbing indeterminability of the image into one easily interpretable "one cause - one effect" phenomenon. "Why" is the sign of the intellect holding its analytical position trying to strip the dream work of art of its living multidimensionality reducing it to an explanation.

See that bird there!


Leading questions (i.e. which contain embedded, hidden interpretations) restrict the awareness of the dreamer pushing him to analyze the alternatives the question has pointed to. Discussion about the properties of the bird misses the immediacy of the bird itself. By our efforts to apply our earlier knowledge about birds to it, we miss the life sparkling right now in just this bird. This kind of analyzing operates as a disturbing filter between the dream and the dreamer.

Non-directive, open questions, on the contrary, allow much greater freedom for the dreamer. By not pushing the dreamer into the group's favorite directions, his feeling acts as radar, scanning full-circle pattern, not only the sectors the group may happen to be interested in. To draw the dreamer's attention to the details of the dream without any further suggestions about their nature is more effective way to allow the richest dream material to surface. We only point at the bird there, and the dreamer takes care of the rest, finding answers we never had found ourselves.


When we have found all the material from the dreamer in the time frame available, only then, not before, begins the last part of the dream process; the orchestration, where the group at last has an opportunity to present all their own views about the bird.  Now is the time to project all our own thoughts about the bird and its possible meanings to the dreamer. If we had given those projections to the dreamer during the earlier phases of the process, we had lost the truest nature of the bird there.

Markku Siivola