Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2003). International Dream Sharing Online.  Dream Time Cyberphile. Dream Time 19(1).


Cyberphile 19(1)

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International Dream Sharing Online

Richard Catlett Wilkerson

The Internet provides rich opportunities for international dream sharing by closing the distance between countries once separated by space and cultural differences. Just as there are dangers in working on dreams with those physically close and culturally similar to us, so there are also perils and problems with remote dreamwork. However, as with traditional dreamwork, the risks are outweighed by the gains.

In the 1999 Dream Time #16-3 (1) I mentioned a case of online dream sharing with a Serbian woman in Belgrade that took place during the Kosovo Crisis and suggested it may be a map to this kind of work. Now I would like flesh out the landscape of that map so that we can begin to assess the gains and risks of international dream sharing online from our hearts as well as our minds.

Dream Sharing with the Enemy

The dream group started out like many others we had been conducting online since 1994, with the participants following a fairly structured process. Modeled after the online work of John Herbert, Ph.D., (2) our groups allowed people in distant corners of the earth to all share dreams in a caring, thoughtful, and anonymous way. Each person in the group sent a dream in to the moderator who set the schedule. Each dream was processed for about a week, first with clarifying questions to the dreamer from the group. The dreamer could reply or not as he/she wished. The next phase was the comment phase where each participant took the dream as his or her own, in a style that Herbert modified from the Montague Ullman's Stage II, "If this were my dream…" Again, the dreamer sometimes replies to the comments, sometimes not.

The usual moderator whom I had asked to work with these groups, which we called DreamWheels (3, 4), became ill and I took over as moderator. Basically the moderator in the DreamWheel groups sets the pace, and sends out the instructions to everyone at each phase, often making general comments about the process as a whole, making it feel more cohesive. However, the moderator can also participate in the questions and comments.

We usually take one dream at a time, and in this group, we had worked together for a few weeks and had been through a couple of dreams. The next dreamer, who identified herself as "Branka," was about to share her dream when the Roumboullet meetings in France collapsed and a three-month war between NATO and the Serbian army broke out in Yugoslavia. Branka announced to the group that she was a Serbian woman living in Belgrade and didn't know if her Internet connection was going to stay up if bombing of the city started. Although Branka identified herself as a pacifist, there were participants that felt very uncomfortable sharing dreams with a Serbian.

I felt this was a unique opportunity to expand our dreamwork past our personal boundaries and suggested that we continue to work with Branka and her dream. Unlike other wars, the cultures in conflict were able to stay in touch over the Internet and people attempted to sift through the massive propaganda pouring out from both NATO and the Serbian held Milosevich government. Since one of the sites of propaganda is the soul, I reasoned, dreamwork should be able to go a long way in addressing these projections.

Not everyone agreed. Tempers often flared, and some left the group in protest. Branka often wavered and felt torn between her country and her larger values, between the desire to communicate, and her fears and vulnerability, "To be honest, after everything that Serbs were called to be in Western media, I feared to open myself to vulnerability dream work brings with it, especially in front of the group members that come from the countries in which these news are broadcasted."(5)
But Branka had been with the group through other dreams, and I feel had a sense of how this process might help her as well as us. Finally, she agreed to go ahead and share her dream with the group. Branka reported afterwards:

"And then, process started... questions began to come in. Crazy chaos my mind was floating in, surrounded with such intensified, intensified, intensified emotions, began to finally take structure and meaning. Just answering the questions triggered so needed order of my inner world to start forming." (5)

Over the next few weeks, the dreamwork that we all shared provided a different kind of experience of the war than was provided by CNN and other news networks. Part of this was continually processing Branka's dream imagery, and part of this was sharing day to day experiences with her. Many times during the bombings, the connection to Branka was lost, often for days. Other times Branka would connect with us, but was frazzled and emotionally depleted from all the air raids and bombs. But by the time we had reached the Comment Phase of the dream group, a new kind of inner structure and global yet immanent network had emerged. The soulful part of the connection is hard to describe, but out of this connectivity emerged a difficulty in polarizing the participants in the conflict. Branka recognized this:

"When comments started pouring in, I was already in touch with my inner world again and felt much better. Confusion that I simply surrendered myself to prior the dream work was gone. It is probably not something that everybody would experience, but in the circumstances I was in, I want to say that participation in dream work had extremely positive influence on me. It helped me structure stirred emotions, many of which were so new to me, so horribly repulsive to me, that I was angry at myself for being able to even feel them!"(5)

Afterwards, Branka and the group decided to release the group transcript for public education. The transcript is online (5) but I wanted to repeat Branka's dream here:

'Radioactively Contaminated Uniform'

"I have entered the building in which my father lives. In this place where elevator is supposed to be, I see this military uniform on the hanger. In the pocket of a uniform, I see photos of Nikola Kojo's* family. Just as I get them out of the pocket, I become aware that uniform is radioactively contaminated. Huge wave of fear grabs the hold on me. I'm desperate. I am convinced I will surely die. " (5)

* Note: Nikola Kojo is a famous Yugoslavian movie star who often plays in military movies.

Comments on international dream sharing

We have noticed in the Electric Dreams community that international dream sharing provides a unique way to engage world politics and collective traumas and may be considered as one of the grassroots techniques of cross-cultural exchange in the service of mutual liberation. At one level the exchange allows participants to build psychological containers that can hold larger wider and more disparate views without collapsing into destructive conflict and prejudice on one side, or uncritical acceptance on the other.

One of the reasons it appears that dreamwork plays such a positive role on the sociopolitical psyche is that it takes time. In this dream time, propaganda is replace by polyvocal considerations. Psychological fascism is replaced by deterritorialized flows of association and relation. Nationalism is replaced multi-cultural awareness.

On of the big problems in our media society is that we are bombarded by signifiers and have little chance to fill in what these signs are really signifying for us, really connecting us to. During the media blitz after Princess Diana died, a woman said to me, "I don't have time do my own grieving. I see a news special report and before I can cope with what they have said, another report breaks in and there is more news. I can't stop watching to do my own grieving." (6) Branka said something similar before we began working with her dream, "Hysterically shifting from depression to anger, from anger to desperation, from desperation to fear, from fear to sadness, and from there to every other possible emotion, I felt totally unable to concentrate on anything but watching the news." (5)

Dreams slow things down. It takes time to recall dreams. It takes time to write dreams down. It takes time to share dreams and work with them.

I don't feel that online international dreamwork is the full answer to world peace. But dream sharing and other forms of international communication have now made it nearly impossible to dehumanize and demonize the Other. This has always been part of the impact of dreamwork on the personal level. Now these forms of dreamwork have digital network connecting them to one another and distributing them all across the full body of the earth.

There are many other ways in which dream sharing online can both benefit and distract from world peace. I'm hoping that Branka's story will begin an international dialogue around these and other factors.


(1) Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (1999 Summer). Cyberdreamwork of Robert Bosnak, Dream Sharing with Bosnia, How to start a dream group online. Updates, Events and Horizons. Dream Time Cyberphile. Dream Time 16(1&2).

(2) Herbert, John W. (2000) Group Dreamwork Utilizing Computer Mediated Communication: A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of Saybrook Graduate School in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology. Saybrook Graduate School.
Available on the World Wide Web: http://dreamgate.com/herbert/ 

(3) Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (Winter, 1997). A History of Dream Sharing in Cyberspace - Part I The Association for the Study of Dreams Newsletter 14(1). Available on the World Wide Web : http://dreamgate.com/dream/cyberphile/rcwasd05.htm 

(4) Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2000 April) A Brief History of the Electric Dreams DreamWheel. Electric Dreams 7(4). Retrieved March 1, 2002 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams 

(5) Wilkerson, Richard Catlett and Branka (1999 August). Special Section: Dream Sharing with Serbia: A Special Report of a Dream Group Held During the Crisis in Kosovo: Transcripts and Notes by Richard Wilkerson & Branka. Electric Dreams 6(8). Retrieved March 1, 2002 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/dream/serbia/ 

(6) Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (1997 September). Dreams and Princess Diana: A Special Section. Electric Dreams 4(9). Retrieved March 1, 2002 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams

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