Dreams, Creativity and Intuition

by on Wednesday, 23 March 2011 Comments

A Time of Dizzying Change

We’re rushing up the ever-steeper incline of an exponential explosion in technological innovation that is leaving not a single aspect of our lives unaffected.  Our economies, our jobs, our environments, our illnesses, the nations we live in, their forms of government – nothing has escaped change, nothing remains unaffected.  If we turn around from where we are today and look back, we catch a breath-taking sweep of the past, so high have we gotten on the upward sweep of this powerful curve.  In some crucial areas, the last year has seen more change than the last ten years, the last ten have seen more change than the last hundred, and the last hundred have seen more than the last thousand.  The exhilarating prospect sweeps far, far back into the past where, compared to our frenzied and fascinating pace of change today, nothing much seemed to have altered for the longest stretches.  Into the distant past the curve looks from where we stand like a flat line.  Those times are gone by, the long boring tail of the exponential curve that got us to this explosion of newness we know today.  Filled with anticipation of all that is yet to come in our own lifetimes, we turn eagerly around to continue our ascent – only to find a few paces ahead the curve shoots almost straight up as far as we can see.

Daunting as it is, this two-dimensional representation does scant justice to our real situation – because it makes it look as though we know in what direction we are headed.  In truth, nobody today can be sure what new discovery will pop us off in a different direction entirely – not just in a hundred years, or ten years, or one year; but next week, tomorrow.  What’s more, no place is immune anymore from what happens next door or on the other side of the world.  In an important sense the concept of place, which reigned supreme in the human mind for millennia, is faltering.  Increasingly, any place is more and more like everywhere, and every place is more and more like anywhere.  Will our sense of time be next to go?  Nobody knows what’s going next, or what’s coming.

To survive in China, to survive in the West, or to survive anywhere, we’re called upon like never before to re-invent what we do, to re-invent how we do it – and even to re-invent who we are.  Not once, not twice – but on an ongoing basis.  This is true for countries, it is true for industries, and it is true for individuals.  Innovators like Google’s Sergey Brin, and Apple Computer’s Steve Job are the dazzling stars of our time.  The country or industry that can produce more of this kind of man will own the future.

Who Will Own The Future?

How to train people to be innovative, to be creative, and to succeed in a world so unpredictable?  Universities around the world, purporting to train students to meet the future, are schooling them in ways that no longer even fit the present.   It isn’t enough today to be intelligent and to be stuffed with the necessary knowledge.  Those who go out to succeed in today’s world already need to hone their abilities to deal with the unknown.  More and more in the future they will certainly need to deal with the unknowable.  To do this what they will need is intuition, creativity, and faith.  Of the three, faith is most important because it leads to the other two.  Faith doesn’t mean they have to gulp some outdated dogma down whole and for the rest of their lives resist any impulse from their heart or soul to chuck it up and be rid of it.  Faith means to have been given a way to find out for themselves there is that within them that knows better than they can, loves deeper than they know how, and is more true than they can ever be – and if they only move their own petty ideas aside and listen to it, they will acquire, not from an outside source, but from inside their own deepest nature, all the intuition and creativity they will ever need in their lives.

In Taiwan for these past years my wife and I have, each in our own way, been implementing a method of instruction that accomplishes these aims.  It requires no advanced expertise or expensive equipment to implement, utilizes existing facilities and staff, and is as practicable in the poorest most undeveloped areas of the world today as in the richest most developed ones.  It’s a simple course in dreams.  Not a course about dreams.  The course isn’t based on lectures, it doesn’t involve studying some textbook or outside material, and the students aren’t tested with exams.  In this course the students discover faith in themselves and learn to bring out and hone their own innate intuitive and creative capabilities by working in class on their own dreams and those of their classmates using the Montague Ullman experiential dream group method.  Of the methods I know for working with dreams, this one alone is safe, fun, and exciting for graduate students and undergraduates alike. (For a description of the method, see http://www.billstimson.com/writing/The_Process.htm).

The course is a boon to the professor because it involves no arduous preparation of lectures, no tedious grading of papers or exams, and mostly because in the Ullman process the professor, as leader of the group, is not the one in control (the dreamer is in control) but merely another group member – who obtains from each and every class the same benefits as the students.  The course is a boon for the students because it’s the first time in their lives that most of them ever experienced real education.  In the words of one student:

This course woke me up.  I can’t pretend anymore I enjoy my Ph.D. training.  I need something more enlightening in the way of education or I’ll wither.

Or, as another put it:

Except for knowledge from books, I don’t know what else I got in my other classes.  Maybe I learned to understand what people were talking about, but none of it touched my heart.  Now I don’t know how much of all that is real and how much I should believe.  By working with dreams in this class I got inside my own heart and I also got a chance to look deep inside the hearts of others.

The way the Montague Ullman experiential dream group process works is as follows.  The dreamer tells the group a dream she had that to her looks strange and nonsensical.  It doesn’t seem to have any relation to her life.  As the group goes through the various stages of the Ullman process it begins to become clear that from the perspective of the dream it is the waking life that is nonsensical, because it ignores certain important feelings in the dreamer’s heart.  The dreamer comes to appreciate how accurately the dream really represents her life as she begins to discover those exact same feelings in recent walking-life events.  When these “missing” or “underrepresented” feelings emerge to the fore, the waking life of the dreamer takes on a different shape and becomes more authentic.  Subsequent dreams carry the dreamer forward, rounding her life out more and more and making her more and more of a whole person.

The way all this relates to a real life situation at work is as follows.  Let’s say two individuals try out for the same job.  The job has several aspects.  The individual who has not worked with her dreams and who has not become more of a full person may be lacking in one or more of the personal aspects required by the job.  A zone of professional incompetence may mar her work.   But the individual who has worked with her dreams and gotten more in touch with all her feelings and various inner talents will more likely have the subtler aspects of the skill set the job requires.  Her performance will display no zone of incompetence.  She will approach everything she does with her whole self, like an artist.

This all seems very hypothetical.  It is not.  M.I.T. researcher Donald A. Schön conducted research on the way professionals in quite a number of different fields approached their work.  In one after another, he found that best-of-their-class professionals in essence invented their approach to each project much in the way an artist does.  Each job taught these superior professionals how to approach that particular job.  They learned by doing (Schön called this the epistemology of reflective practice).  In contrast, the mediocre professionals applied to every different job the method or methods they’d been trained in (Schön called this the epistemology of technical rationality).  They learned, and then they went out to do, in every situation they met, what they’d been trained to do.  The difference between these two ways of working is that the one is intuitive and creative, the other is neither.  An issue among educators since Schön published his findings has been how to arrive at a method of teaching that could make professionals into “reflective practitioners.”  What my wife and I have discovered in Taiwan these past years is that the Montague Ullman experiential dream group is the perfect method.

Schön’s discoveries are terribly important today.  Yesterday an engineer could be an engineer and get away with it, a scientist could be a scientist and escape scot free, without censure.  Not today.  Not just the engineer, not just the scientist – but every kind of professional needs to approach his work also as an art.  There is an art to dentistry, as anybody knows who has sat in a dentist’s chair.  There is an art to teaching, as anyone knows who’s sat in a classroom.  And there is an art to computer science – as Steve Jobs has shown us all, becoming in the process one of the richest men around.

How do you train a software engineer to approach what he does as an art?  Give him classes in oil painting?  No.  Abraham Maslow studied may different individuals and found, overall, that those who practiced their work as an art had more of a tendency to be whole people than those whose approach to their work was less enlightened, more rote.  This is why dreams can figure so importantly in training such individuals.  Working like an artist enables one to do fuller justice to the demands of a job because it involves more fully all the aspects of the self.  Apple computer had many competitors.  Steve Jobs always won out because the solution he came up with always did more justice to the product. Thus the product was more satisfying to consumers.

Most people laugh dreams off as impractical or whimsical.  Academics, even in the university where I work, tend to be averse to having a dream course in the curriculum.  They feel it is unprofessional and lowers the standards.  They ask how I grade the students.  They don’t seem to care about what the students learn, perhaps because they assume the students learn nothing.  When I invite them to come participate in the dream group to see for themselves, they decline.  These are individuals whose training blinds them to the connection in any field, and in every field, between professional excellence and authenticity.  Every one of them, though, would love to be a Steve Jobs and make the money he does.  But let’s look at what Steve Jobs tells us is behind his success:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Steve Jobs faced the computer industry.  He changed the computer industry.  He faced the music industry.  He changed the music industry.  He faced the telecommunications industry.  He changed the telecommunications industry.  Though he’s now ill, some think he might already have changed the book publishing industry, and who knows how many others.  He could have told us so much about innovation, about technology, about strategy.  We would have perched on the edge of our seats to grab every hint he cared to throw out at us.  Instead, he turns around 180° and points into the distant past.  It was Socrates, back down that long, flat tail of our exponential curve, who some 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece, gave the advice Steve Jobs gives us today, “Know thyself” and it was Lao Tzu in ancient China who around the same time hinted why this is so important, “At the center of your being you have the answer; you know.” Some five hundred years after these sages passed from the scene, the Gospel of Thomas quotes Jesus as saying, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” Today every nation is frantic to put more math, science, and engineering into their schools so they can follow China’s lead into the future.  Steven Jobs instead sides with Socrates, Lao Tzu, and Jesus – schools aren’t the issue:  what we need is already inside us.  Our task is to access it.  The value of dreams is that they give us the freedom to do this.

(Photo: Jim Hansen)


 

hartwig_dreams_value_stimson

The Value of Dreams

The surprising thing about so many of us is the extent we’ve let others decide for us what we believe, what we want, what we feel, and even who we are.  Dreams arise from a part of ourselves that might listen to all that rubbish too, if only it didn’t know better.  It knows better because it was more fully present than we were every time throughout the long course of our life we ever felt a true love, were moved by a real passion, every time there welled up within us the recognition of an authentic worship.  More often than not we allowed ourselves to get distracted by what doesn’t matter and were not even aware of these powerful transformative moments – the real treasures of our life.  Hidden away inside us though, out of our sight, it did register them and it glowed stronger and stronger with inner enlightenment.  Where in us did it hide away these treasures?

In our hands and in our arms, in our legs and in our feet, in our organs and in our immune system, in our skin and in our blood, in our chest and in our gut, in our brain and in our genitals – it tucked them away wherever it could find to tuck them away, and with them it tucked itself away, quietly, inside us, the real person that we are, and the real knowledge of who that is, the truth at the center of a web of lies, the purity of the lotus flower rising up out of the muddy pond to open its unsullied blossom.  The moment we fall asleep it unfurls itself into the rich play of dreams.  Like a child inventing a story, or a Shakespeare penning a masterpiece, it fills out its creation with an appropriate cast of characters and settings.  Each is who it is.  None are all it is.  They may recombine and reconfigure from dream to dream.  The story told is always the same truth; yet always it takes a completely new form.  The creativity, the inventiveness of a Steve Jobs is not at all rare or special, or hard to find.  In our dreams we all have it.  It’s spontaneous.  It’s natural.  It happens the moment we relax control.

A problem most of us have is that we don’t readily understand its language.  It doesn’t much care to bother with ours, or try to compete with the cacophony of our outside world.  Yet it never stops whispering to us in a deeper, quicker idiom that came before that, a dialect of immediate knowing – a language of the senses, the emotions, the intuitions; one that, like the scientist sticking to his data, never strays far from its pictures.  These are, every one of them, complex and rich metaphors, and each has meaning on many levels.  They speak the way poets do, artists, and those whose lives have been brushed by the sacred.  They speak of things that cannot be told otherwise than the way they tell them.

It’s not a mode of expression that can be translated into words.  We attend to it, and if we attend closely we might just possibly translate it into being.  Dreams can change our lives.  They do that, quite simply, by showing us who we are.  To them this is nothing.  It comes easy to them, just as it comes easy to a mirror to reflect our image.  But to us what a dream reflects back to us can come as a big surprise, so far does our self-concept tend to stray from the truth.

Do dreams arise from some supposed “unconscious?”  Those who meditate become somewhat more conscious of the part of themselves that dreams arise from, as do those who work in Ullman dream groups.  Yes, there is the greater part of us that we are not conscious of at any given time.  But the problem with us is really that generally we are too insensitive, or distracted by the plodding mechanisms of thought, to register the quicker, more subtle awareness impinging on us in the moment.  So we miss the present, and incarcerate ourselves in the past.  What we call “unconscious” is really the part of us that, instant by instant, does register the complete truth each second of our lives.  Usually we don’t listen to that part.  To work with a dream in an Ullman group is to listen.  The value of listening to dreams, and working with them, which means listening to them even more deeply, is that they contain important information we otherwise miss.

But that’s not all.  The Ullman dream group process, by which we get that information from dreams, changes us in important ways.  Because this information is so vital, sometimes devilishly scandalous, usually deeply intimate, frequently profoundly touching, and always innocent, beautiful and pure – like the heart of a child or the wisdom of a saint – it really is exceedingly interesting.  Each member of the dream group gets deeply involved with the most intimate life of the dreamer, like some Sherlock Holmes with his magnifying glass.  Getting close to the dream like that, and staying close to it for so long, each person finds that some of the dream’s qualities rub off on him, like magnetism can rub off on a piece of iron from a magnet.  The group members, and of course the dreamer too, walk away from the process each time a bit more intuitive, a bit more creative, a bit more truthful to themselves, a bit more connected to and concerned with others and the environment, and a bit closer to the inwardly enlightened part of themselves.  They come away with faith in themselves because they know themselves a little better.  That faith can spill over into a faith in others and in everything.  This empowers them to engage meaningfully and to bring the deepest parts of themselves into whatever they do.

(Photo: Hartwig HKD)


seth_anderson_dreams_free

The Future Belongs to The Free And The Creatively Alive

In 1845 Elias Howe struggled unsuccessfully to invent a machine that could sew.  Then one day, exhausted, he dozed off at his workbench and dreamed he was in the African jungle, captured by cannibals.  They put him in a big cooking pot, filled it with water, lit a fire under it, and stood around pointing their spears at him so he couldn’t escape.  He awoke in alarm.  The image from the dream that lingered in his mind and struck him as odd was that the blades of the spears the cannibals pointed at him were all pierced by holes near the tip.  It suddenly dawned on him that what had been holding him back in his invention was the set idea in his mind that the needle in his machine needed to have the hole for the thread at the opposite end from its pointy tip, like a conventional sewing needle did.  He saw that if he put the hole instead at the tip of the needle he could immediately envision a mechanism for his machine to sew.  That very year he came forth with the world’s first sewing machine.

The power of dreams is their ability to democratize information and free us from what we think we know.  What we most need to learn isn’t something we don’t already know, like people assume.  Rather it’s something we do know, but know wrong.  The insidious hold that indoctrination, censorship, dogma, and ideology has over an entire culture and every individual in that culture – and also the insidious hold that even our own personal experience and common sense can have over us – is that they establish as unquestionable what in fact is very questionable.  Elias Howe awake would never think to question that the eye of a needle had to be at the opposite end from its sharp point.  This had been the case through the entire course of human history, since the first cavewomen carved from some bone the first sewing needle.  But for Howe to invent the sewing machine he had to be able to envision that this didn’t necessarily always have to be the case.  Awake, he lacked the capacity.  Few of us have the kind of intuition, creativity, or freedom of mind to question what we assume, or have been taught, is unquestionable.  But all of us, in our dreams, do have this ability – just as Howe did.

To be able to bring out and put to effective use what we know, even before we are able, or have the time, to go back and figure out exactly by what logical pathway we arrived at that knowledge – this is the faultless intuition of a Steve Jobs.  Who can guess by what means men such as him developed this ability.  But by using dreams all of us can do the same.  The feeling it gives when it starts to make itself felt in our life is positively uncanny.  The depth psychologist C. G. Jung developed the concept of synchronicity to explore the way in which a completely new sense of things can come about in our awareness when this happens.  We notice what we otherwise wouldn’t.  We see things others don’t.  The connections between things jump out at us, even though we don’t at first know exactly why.  Working with dreams gives us what it takes to recognize those instances when waking reality isn’t, after all, that terribly different from what we experience in dreams.  By working with dreams we develop the talent to navigate those moments in reality that to others and to ourselves are seemingly inexplicable and unknowable.  Others get stopped dead in their tracks.  From what we learned in the dream group we somehow muddle our way through to a path that gives to the situation an explanation and makes it knowable in an entirely unsuspected way.

The Culture of Freedom

Those who get stopped dead in their tracks and turn back to take refuge in the ways of tradition live in and perpetuate a culture that is dead, bygone, and stagnant.  But the ones who feel inwardly impelled to muddle their way through confusion, failure, loss, and censure somehow manage to rekindle out of that same dead and stagnant culture one that is free, vibrant, and alive.  They are the real artists of a culture, whether laborers, shopkeepers, or housewives.  By re-inventing themselves and re-inventing whatever work they do, they reinvent their culture.  The new free culture they invent, though, is not in fact different from the old stagnant one.  It’s the same living culture as has always hidden latent in the ossified conventional one.  Only now, each time it resuscitates an artist – in the form of any ordinary person capable of approaching their life and work in a creative and intuitive way – it is given new life.

A dying culture is one that can no longer mediate this re-creation of the whole of itself and instead devolves into a sad caricature of its more undeveloped aspect – imposed by authoritarian rule from above.  A living culture is one that can still facilitate the breakthrough of the individual to the culture’s flip, or creative and regenerative, side.  In this flip side, the culture and the creative individual become, in a sense, indistinguishable. They form one fused and vibrant living entity.  Thus the culture keeps re-creating individuals capable of re-creating the culture.  It’s like boiling water.  The bubbles come up from below.  They’re not imposed from above.

In these basic essentials, the Chinese individual and culture in Taiwan certainly do not differ from individuals and cultures the world over.  Thus there is no reason to suppose that the experiment my wife and I have begun in a Taiwanese university of using dreams to bring alive intuitive and creative individuals isn’t as relevant in every culture as it is in this one.

(Photo: Seth Anderson)

William R. Stimson, Ph.D. trained for many years under Montague Ullman, M.D.  who originated the Ullman experiential dream group process.  Besides his dream group at the university, he leads monthly Saturday dream groups (in English) in Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung.  There is no charge for these dream groups.  For locations and schedules:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Read more on dreams and their interpretation:
Stimson, William R. (2009) Using dreams to train the reflective practitioner: the Ullman dream group in social work education, Reflective Practice Vol. 10, No. 5, 577–587
Stimson, William R. (2010) The hidden dimension of Chinese culture as seen in the dream of a Taiwanese woman, Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 13: 5, 485 — 512
Ullman, M. (1996). Appreciating dreams — a group approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Wang, Shuyuan (2007) Chinese translation of Montague Ullman’s Appreciating dreams – a group approach.  Psychological Publishing Co., Ltd. Taipei, Taiwan

 

William R. Stimson (史汀森)

William R. Stimson博士,目前於台灣埔里的國立暨南大學語文教學研究中心英語角(English Corner),主持每星期三晚間的讀夢團體(dream group)英語應用課程。除此之外,每個星期六他分別在台北、台中和高雄也分別主持讀夢團體英語應用課程。讀夢團體為免費活動,歡迎有興趣的朋友加入! 詢問讀夢團體的詳細地點與時間表請來信至bstimson[a]gmail.com

William R. Stimson, Ph.D. lives in Taiwan where he leads a Wednesday evening dream group at the English Corner, National Chi Nan University in Puli. Besides the weekly dream group at the university, he leads monthly Saturday dream groups (in English) in Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung. There is no charge for these dream groups. Anyone interested in dreams is welcome. For locations and schedules: bstimson[at]gmail.com

Website: www.billstimson.com/dream_group/the_dream_group.htm

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