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Two goals of dream groups

Among the different goals we as individuals have, one goal seems to be among the most important ones in dream groups: to open up dreams.

We know how healing the opening up of dreams can be. Nothing unusual in this. That's the reason we come to dream groups, isn't it? That's what the dream groups are for? To open up dreams!

But there may be a small serpent in Paradise. What if the dream does not open up at all? What if we work hard for two hours or so, but nothing we've suggested has resonated with the dreamer.  -- This kind of almost total uncommunicativeness of the dream is a relatively rare occurrence, but when it happens, then we have the best possibility to catch a nagging feeling inside us. Haven't we then felt us a little bit frustrated, sensed a little bit of anxiety wondering about what went wrong. Weren't we as dreamer's helpers sensitive enough? Or has the culprit been the dreamer? From where this feeling of uneasiness is coming from?

Known and unknown goal

This may be viewed from many angles; one of them is the angle of goals.

Goals are absolutely necessary for everyday life, to get food and shelter, to raise the kids. Goals are tools by which we manage our outer life. To be able to set a goal we are aiming our effort to something we ourselves have defined. But on the mental realm predefined goals obscure the immediate experiencing of wholeness.

Goals can be utilized elastically; as different tools for different tasks. But when goals are clung to, they become rigid; petrified. They change into norms and standards. When understanding a dream changes into a norm, then an open listening changes to achieving that norm; to the competitive challenge of the ego.

Having a finite goal to understand an infinite human soul is absurd. Every goal is the variation of the already known, not the everchanging freshness of life, which is unknown. We cannot choose unknown as a goal. Many religions may claim to have done just that, but it is not unknown. They are reaching only their own known mental image of the unknown. We are easily mixing our own projected anticipations with the reality, seemingly reaching our goals thinking that we have got what we wanted. In a tragic way it is true. We can see it in innumerous belief systems; 'we have found what we wanted', without seeing that just that what we have wanted and accordingly found is very insignificant, only a pale shadow, a theory, a narrow interpretation of life, a fixed shape of the water container, not water itself.

To have a goal creates a coercive pressure to attain it. To pursue it. To use will power to reach it. This reminds of the general societal trend to win, to attain, to get, to have more. It is the ego-centered, societal reflex, the challenge, hurdle which must be leapt over. Dreams cannot always be opened because of various reasons (which are not dealt with in this article). That's why to have an opening of the dream as primary goal leads inevitably to disappointments. To open the dream may create an almost invisible competition between dream group members meaning that we do not work in unison but are influenced by the Western values to be better than the fellow man, to prove one's psychological superiority by presenting skillful dream interpretations. It is a competition with oneself, too, one's own self-esteem as a stake, an anxiety about not to reach self-defined goals. This may have an influence to the dreamer who may sense that the satisfaction of the others is too much dependent on his success at understanding his own dream, which forces him to yield to the social pressure causing him to make false positive statements about his "understanding" of the dream.


By choosing the opening of dreams as a goal we have a known goal. By trying to reach the goal, it draws our attention away from the whole, which is heard only by listening to it without any predefined mind sets. Like Montague Ullman, the creator of the experiential dream group process, puts it:

"...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."

When we repeatedly see the negative effects of goal setting, the meaninglessness of it becomes more apparent. -- But what to do instead? To choose another goal? Yes. The other goal is to have no goal, not even the goal to free oneself from one's goals. This goal cannot be attained at will (which were only a new goal), but this goalless goal is developing by itself when we begin to see the power of unconditional listening.

The best solution for these very usual, very human side effects of the dream group (and of the whole life, of course) is the dream group itself. Especially in dream groups with the help of dreams we are more able to see more clearly, that in the ordinary waking life we are behaving like this; competing with ourselves and with the others almost all the time without even noticing it in the grip of our societal values. Just in dream groups it is easiest to see these negative forces in action and find our long forgotten innocence again, that innocence inside us in which state we are wondering the life openly, incapable of lying, like a child in Hans Christian Andersen's story, seeing that the Emperor of our day consciousness does not have any clothes at all.

When there is no goal, there is no disappointment when the goal is not attained. Then there is a relaxed state of listening to what the unknowingness of the life brings forth next to us, receiving and accepting what is given. Then the dreamer, too, feels himself so relaxed that his conscious efforts do not disturb the dream rising towards the surface of consciousness. In this effortless state we are able to help the dreamer without stressing him at any level. Then our journey through dreams and through life is not any more leading towards the predefined goals but changes into a fantastic journey towards a goalless, unknown mystery of life.

The difference of these two goals reminds me of the difference between praying and meditation - as I happen to define those two, very loaded words. For me the essential part of the prayer is the object of the prayer. This means that the goal of prayer is known, whereas meditation has no object, no goal. Meditation does not beg for anything but is the silence of the mind listening to everything what is happening around. Meditation is consciousness without a specific object.

In dream groups it is very instructive to become disappointed. Especially in dream groups it is easiest to see the cause of the disappointment; our ego, which is setting all the time its more or less hidden goals in the hope to be primus inter pares. We cannot rid ourselves from it completely, but when we have seen it, it cannot poison our life so much any more.

When we have entered into the realms of the dream, listening to it, helping the dreamer the best way we can, humbly following the dream, without prejudices, without anticipations about the dream group members, without interpretations, without goals, then whatever which happens is all right, in the atmosphere of freedom to be what one is, without masks and facades, a little human being on his path through his life - the most touching, healing vision of innocence.

Markku Siivola