Dreamwork and Social Change

jan 26, 2023

Dreamwork and Social Change

What do dreams from sleep have to do with social change?

Well, a big claim that I made in a previous article was that dreamwork in a community setting enhances self-awareness and compassion toward others. At this juncture in our evolution, if social change is going to be truly good for humanity and the planet as a whole, it would have to arise out of a certain depth that is beyond one’s daily unexamined and unconscious attitudes. Technological advancements, if pointed in the wrong direction, can only make us more efficient at doing the wrong thing. One can see that the industrial revolution, given the zoomed out lens of the past two centuries, indeed led to enormous social change, but also led to the destruction of nature on an unimaginable scale. Based on this line of thought, our next big social change will hopefully come from a depth of awareness towards self and others, as well as compassion toward all living things.

The most powerful example about dreams and social change I have come to know is from the year 1969, when my teacher Jeremy Taylor was working in a community organizing project in northern California dedicated to overcoming racism.

The particular aim of this project was to promote self-empowerment and self-improvement in minority communities, particularly black neighborhoods. Unfortunately, reactions from these communities that were supposedly the beneficiaries of this grass-roots level effort were largely negative. Their indignant feedback was many of the volunteers from the community organizing project had themselves held racist attitudes. Despite these volunteers’ conscious commitment to the cause of eradicating racism and its injustices, they failed in their ability to relate and communicate with the very people they were supposed to help.

On the verge of giving up, my teacher Jeremy Taylor decided to ask this group of volunteers to talk about their dreams, especially the ones that have people of color in them. Jeremy’s very unusual decision actually arose out of his experience and discovery that the habit of sharing dreams with his wife over the years helped immensely in the evolution of their relationship with each other, particularly in the area of unconscious sexist attitudes they each held. Recalling the specific benefit of expanded self-awareness and discovery of one’s unconscious attitudes through the act of sharing dreams, Jeremy’s instinct led him to make a last ditch effort and see if dreamwork with these volunteers would help them uncover and transcend the handicap of their own unconscious behaviors. Jeremy’s working assumption was that the racist attitudes these volunteers were being accused of were largely unconscious.

The results of discussing dreams with the volunteers, to Jeremy’s surprise, were nearly instantaneously transformative. The patterns of interaction within the volunteer group were far from harmonious and unified in their analysis of what they had to change in order to effectively accomplish what they’ve come to do. How the simple act of dream-sharing turned the group energy from pessimistic, antagonistic, and cynical to optimistic, compassionate, and hopeful made it obvious that they should continue down the path share more of their dreams with themes related to race and racism.

The volunteers became much more able to be authentic and vulnerable in their interactions with the members of the minority community thanks to the dreamwork being done between themselves. By engaging with the repressed emotions and judgments they have against the aspects of their own personality through dreamwork, the volunteers became more “whole” as a person and therefore more able to relate to the suffering and rage of others.

The hoped for result, realized through this unforeseen turn of event, was that the local residents began to welcome the volunteer’s efforts to re-engage with them. Self-empowerment and self-improvement gradually became a reality for these minority communities. The relationship the volunteers built with them allowed for those communities to organize better and take leadership roles themselves. Finally, the positive changes that took place were there to stay as my teacher Jeremy Taylor observed thirty-plus years after the fact. Jeremy had been able to stay in touch with the local communities as he still lived in an area not far from where the community organizing work was done in 1969.

The above real life story is how my teacher Jeremy Taylor first discovered the potential for social change that dream-sharing can bring about. Social change in its essence is about individuals changing their attitudes and behaviors en masse, which can be either externally driven or internally driven. An internally driven shift happens through a profound and stable expansion in one’s awareness in the role(s) one plays to exacerbate and reinforce the entrenched ideas that are the causes of our most pernicious problems. Compassion, on the other hand, is the path to realize how much we are the same and how interconnected our lives are, and how our collective fate depends on our ability to care for each other. Dreamwork in community naturally brings about a recognition that we are essentially the same by shining the light of consciousness on the ways we blind ourselves to our common humanity.

Illustration Credits: Peter Goes

H. D. Lee

Article by H.D. Lee

Founder of Nomadic School. Committed to the spiritual adventure of his own life and the role of midwifing beauty, goodness, and truth into the world, H.D. Lee is here to share what he has learned through his teachers and peers in transpersonal psychology, spirituality, and the arts. Read more