A young man, recently divorced but living with another woman, has this dream: He is is one hotel room and goes out, crosses the street to another hotel room. On the way, he's putting on his necktie and as he puts it on, he finds he has another tie underneath.
"He's not talking about neckties concretely, literally," says dream researcher Montague Ullman. "He's talking about them metaphorically. He's involved in a marital tie that has not yet been removed. And that's a visual metaphor of his predicament.
"When read correctly these images tell us who we are instead of who we think we are. letter unopened."
Each of us dreams four to five dreams in a night, in 90-minute cycles, with the last cycle the longest dream. In a year, that would be almost 1,825 dreams; in a lifetime, 127,750 (if you live till 70). That, say dream researchers, represents a wealth of psychological insight.
In dreamland, however, the dead letter box is overflowing. Most of us don't remember our dreams, and therefore claim that we don't dream. For others, dreams are so fragmentary that they are quickly forgotten.
Although significant dreams were in the past shared primarily with a therapist, today's dream interpretation is moving from the psychiatrist's couch and into the parlor. Just as we can learn to appreciate music and art, say dream researchers, we can learn to appreciate our dreams, in the company of friends.
Nonprofessional dream workers have started a mini-revolution of sorts, an offshoot of the self-help and wholeness movement. These major cities -- have both brought people closer together and provided them with an understanding of how they resolve important issues in their lives.
When 33-year-old woodworker Chris Hudson and his wife moved from New Hampshire to New York City in 1981, he felt very lonely. A local self-help hotline, gave him the name of the Brooklyn Dream Community. "A week later," says Hudson, "I found myself in a group of 15 strangers at this apartment in Brooklyn, where I volunteered to share a recent dream.
*with people all over the world," says Hudson, former editor of the Dream Network Bulletin, a newsletter for the nonprofessional dream worker (1,000 subscribers). "It was the sharing -- that I felt more related to people."
*professionals in dream leadership in Sweden alone, says the small group (6 to 8 persons) is the ideal setting.
dream, says Ullman, 69, because it provides support in bringing an honest perspective. Others, not personally involved in the dream, can read the metaphors more readily.
"If he the dreamer wants to connect with what's in that dream he has to socialize it. He has to share his psyche with other human beings in a safe environment," says Ullman, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded the Dream Laboratory at the Maimonides Medical Center, Brooklyn, N.Y. "The fullest realization of what a dream is all about requires a social support system, a social environment.
"There's a healing quality to dreams; and emotional healing is a social event just as emotional damage is a social event."
When his students share dreams, says Temple University professor Murray Halfond, willing to share a dream, Halfond will, "to show that I can take a risk."
A cardinal rule is that a student who volunteers a dream "can choose to disengage the process at any time." No one is ever forced to go further with the dream than they are comfortable. This is not a psychotherapy group, stresses Halfond, 60, but a dream workshop.
* "Dreaming and working with dreams is a very private thing," says a spokesperson for a Washington-area group that has been meeting for two years in a Virginia library. "Our group respects each person's privacy."
* It takes time and practice, however, to decipher what has been shared. The symbols mean different things for different people (which is why the use of dream dictionaries is discouraged). Some hints on the language of dreams:
Characters: Spouses, friends, bosses, parents often represent parts of ourselves. Many dream theorists believe that when we dream of different people we are dreaming of different aspects of ourselves. Ask not only why you are dreaming of a distant friend, but what aspect of yourself do these real-life dream characters represent.
Honesty: When we are awake, says Ullman, "it isn't easy for us to see ourselves with the same honest vision that our dream projects. We aren't like that jealous, greedy, aggressive character who happened to turn up in our dream."
Recurring dreams: Often present our psyche with some unresolved issue important to emotional health and well-being. What can be enlightening is to see how the present dream differs from earlier dreams about the same subject.
Awakening: Certain dreams wake us instantly while others never trouble our sleep. "The fact that the dream did not interrupt the cycle," says Ullman, "means that we have found some way of coping with the situation, and so that dream is less likely to be remembered than one in which more intense or unresolved feelings are mobilized."
"If you can remember the dream and work on it you've really got a handle on what the situation is and you can begin to do something about it," says writer and teacher Nan Zimmerman, 49, who collaborated with Ullman on the book Working With Dreams (J.P. Tarcher, 1985) and who contributed to the forthcoming The Variety of Dream Experience (Continuum, 1987). "The dream is the beginning. What you do in waking reality is the thing that will move you forward into a richer, freer life."
It is best, says Zimmerman, to work with a dream that occurred within the last 24 or 48 hours, "because a dream is telling me what is happening to me now. A dream will help us know what is our current problem and pinpoint it very specifically. We won't dream it if we're not ready to deal with it, and we won't dream it if it's not important to us."
A dream journal is the first step in working with your dreams, says Zimmerman, who started writing down her dreams about 20 or 25 years ago, "as part, of my journaling and inner growth process." She offers these guidelines for keeping a dream journal:
Put down everything that you can remember when you wake up from the dream, no matter what time of night it is. Don't depend on the morning to remember it.
Keep the pad by your bed and write down any little snippet, also the emotion that you had upon waking.
Write down your presleep thoughts and see if any of the emotions resemble those in the dream.
"People often forget that dreams are about emotions," says Zimmerman. "If you can get the feeling of the emotion in the dream and go back and tie that into the waking emotion, that's when you begin to get the connections."
Such connections can become more apparent because of group prompting. When Hudson participated in one of Ullman's dream leadership workshops, he shared a dream "about a rusty contraption in a field in my mother's home town. It used to run on propane. In the dream I was thinking, 'Maybe I can salvage it. No, it's just junk.' "
Punning -- one way dreams communicate multiple meanings -- became apparent during discussion of the dream.
"I have," says Hudson, "a psychologic bent toward pain -- pro-pain. It came on me like a flash. It had come from my mother. But you don't want to be 'pro-pain' anymore," he told himself. "I felt a tremendous relief that I could drop this."
Now, says Hudson, he goes out of his way to do things for himself that will bring him pleasure. "I had a dream I was flying down a mountain side on skis." He decided to take up skiing again. "The first day I went to the top of the largest ski area in the East (Killington). That night, "I was feeling so happy."
Some people are afraid to work with their dreams. Others doubt that dreams have any meaning at all. (Some neuroscientists claim that dreams are merely a neurological brain-cleaning operation.)
In any case, says Gallaudet philosophy professor Jane Hurst, 38, who conducts occasional dream workshops, when you begin to address dreamwork there will be some "experience of self-enhancement." Even if you're like one student she had in class. "At the beginning, he had terrible dreams. But by the end of the class, he had a dream that wasn't terrible." And that, she says, was progress.
"Know," says Zimmerman, "that nothing you dream is garbage. That it does have meaning if you want to use it. If you don't want to use it, don't worry about it."