Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: creativity
Friday, 16 March 2012 13:02

Creative Inspiration

Being a Manga artist is a job which demands a lot of sustained creative and imaginative output, in this section several of the artists discuss how they get their inspiration and how they are able to sustain creativity throughout their careers. Or as Chen Uen puts it "Amateurs talk about inspiration, professionals will tell you that you have to rely on life experiences accumulated".

“Writing comic books is like hatching some eggs: All sorts of birds will fly from the nest.”

CHEN Uen, whose real name is CHEN Jin-wen, worked for twelve different design companies before founding his own interior design company. His career was launched when he published his first comic The belligerent black panther, in the magazine China Times Weekly in 1984. Acclaimed by critics he immediately published two more comics which he illustrated with Chinese ink, and which were both inspired by real Chinese history accounts by Sima Qian. His style, painstakingly detailed and bold, rests upon a mastery of Chinese ink and Western illustration. His creations have a chivalrous, heroic, generous, and tender feel to them. In 1991, after publishing a very popular Chinese historical comic in Japan, he became the first foreign author in 20 years to receive the prize for excellence in manga creation from the Japanese manga association.

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Readers in mainland China can view here

“Comic books are mirrors in which I reveal myself”

Chi, whose real name is LIU Yi-chi (in mandarin it is pronounced like the numbers 617), was born in 1988 in Kaohsiung, in the South of Taiwan. As a student of art, she spent almost ten years learning about fine arts. The year before entering university she published her first comic book, and throughout her time studying, published a whole series of them. Chi belongs to a whole new generation of Taiwanese comic book artists; her mastery of graphics is surprising, her style covers children’s illustrations, the realistic American design, and even extends to Japanese aesthetics. Activities she is involved with include design, illustration, and photography, but most of her interest and creations still lie within the realms of comics and publication. Chi attempts to merge the beauty of design and art into her comics and illustrations. Her dream is to go on a trip around the world, and she hopes one day to be able to see that Northern Lights and the Loch Ness monster.

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Readers in mainland China can view here

“Comic books are life itself”

Born in Taipei in 1968, Chang Sheng graduated from the Fu-Hsin college of art and commerce, in the department of western painting. After working for 15 years in the advertising business, he realised one day that his childhood dream of becoming a comic book artist had never been realised. This is what pushed him to quit his job and launch into a new artistic career. For Chang, beautiful illustrations and a good plot are the basis for a fantastic science fiction story. A fan of cinema, Chang often bases his characters on real movie stars. Films, videogames, and alcohol or his favourite pastimes, but he is also interested in collecting figurines and in building models. When he is not so busy with drawing, he plans to dive into the world of cinema or writing.

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Readers in mainland China can view here

“For me, comic books are a way to accomplish what I was born to do: entertain people.”

Born in 1965, Loїc HSIAO arranges his comics with only one illustration per page. Amongst all the Chinese comic book artists to arrange their images this way, he is the most famous. He started his career by publishing The hidden side of fairy tales. This book, consisting of 30 individual vignettes, sold 500.000 copies, it’s a best-seller known all around the Chinese-speaking world. Loїc has a wide array of interests, and is involved in hosting TV shows, and acting in commercial spots amongst others. He is also a very active stage actor, and has founded his own silent theatre troupe, called House of Sugar. In 2010, he even created some lucky charm mascots for the Tourism Bureau to promote Taiwan North coast’s National Scenic Route. The Taiwanese edition of GQ called him “the most talented comic book artist of Taiwan”.

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Readers in mainland China can view here

Friday, 16 March 2012 12:48

Manga and Beyond

There are many preconceptions about what constitutes Manga and what lies beyond its confines, the artists in this section have attempted to use different media to overcome these self-imposed boundaries, Ah Tui bridging graphic design and Manga, and Evan Lee bringing Manga to 3D format.

“Comic books may seem excessively surreal, but life itself is even crazier”

The celebrated Taiwanese comic artist Ah Tui was born in Hsinchu in 1962. His favourite style is science fiction, but not just any science fiction. His is a science fiction that moves away from convention, full of western influences and references, and with a technique which demonstrates tremendous attention to detail. This helps pique the curiosity of the readers, who feel like they are trapped in a puzzle they must decipher. Later on, he diversified his work by moving into the design of illustrations and toys, all kinds of media surrounding comic books, street fashion and travel diaries. He has also worked as a graphic advertiser for many brands, such as Nike, Sony, Adidas, Nokia, EPSON, 7-11, etc. Ah Tui is frequently invited by fashion magazines to write articles in their specialized sections.

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Readers in Mainland China can watch here

“A silent weapon defying and opposing the values of society, that is what comic books are.”

Evan Lee is a contemporary Taiwanese illustrator who specializes in western art. He has published seven pieces of work since the start of his career. He became famous after creating a very original set of tarot cards. He has mastered numerous techniques, such as gilding, pastels, acrylics and watercolours, which he then combines with new IT (such as computer graphics), to produce his illustrations. He created his 78-card set with a particularly developed style. Since 2008, he has collaborated with the artist 3D RICK to develop the first Taiwanese illustrated book which allows for 3D viewing without requiring glasses, thanks to a specific method of refracting rays. Other than developing books, Evan Lee presents his creations in individual or joint exhibitions, both in Taiwan and abroad. He often gives televised or written interviews discussing graphic techniques.

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Readers in Mainland China can watch here


Wednesday, 15 February 2012 17:57

An Actor's Life for Me

Chen Xinhong (26), is an actor affiliated with the Golden Bough Theatre Troupe  (5 years of stage experience, 1 year at Golden Bough Theatre Troupe)

I am from Taizhong and I went to Taizhong First Senior High School, where I always got good grades and I enjoyed studying. However, after joining the school’s National Music Club and learning how to play zhongruan (Chinese alto lute), because of my deep commitment to the club’s affairs, I gradually drifted away from the world of books. In my 3rd grade, when I didn’t feel like studying anymore, I saw this drama course at the National Taiwan University of Arts. At the time I wasn’t even very clear about what it was, but I registered for entry exams anyway, and as a result, I passed them! In fact, before that time I had never seen a single stage play.

After joining the drama department, I found that moved afar from my expectations and speculations. Once, after going through a rough patch, I suspended my studies. In my first year there were virtually no performances and until the second semester we hardly touched things relevant to the course, so I decided to work at a movie theatre. In the second grade I thought I should give myself a bit of challenge, so I took up an acting job outside the school, thanks to which I gradually developed an interest for stage performance. Actually, most of the students from our department have gone through a similar process of fumbling our way through the dark. Most of us felt quite confused, so we actively tried doing many different things. Anyway, the proportion of my classmates going into theatre after graduation was not high at all, only roughly 30 or 40%.

Learning to Play off the Audience

An actor’s professional skills are accumulated from everyday self-training. We have to learn to multitask, to watch our appearance and posture anytime and anywhere. Let’s take me as an example. Because I have a habit of hunching, I have to make sure that I hold my head high and upright at all times. It is similar to practicing reading a newspaper aloud while holding a pen in your mouth. Biting a pen helps you to get used to straining your lips while speaking. Or let’s take learning how to “cry”. I am in fact a very easily moved person, but on a stage I could never weep. Thus I attempted to train myself to tear easier. Only later I have discovered that the reason why I couldn’t cry on the stage was because I was not concentrated enough, I didn’t enter my character’s mental state deep enough. However, when I devote myself wholeheartedly during the entire play, the emotions are coming out naturally. Before, I wasn’t experienced enough to understand this principle. I was trying to find ways to think of something sad in order to help myself, but my efforts were always to no avail. It is because emotions that are faked can be easily seen through and can’t touch anybody.


What gives you the biggest sense of accomplishment as an actor is when the audience either laughs or cries after your performance, it is really touching. While standing on the stage during a performance, you can actually feel the mood of the audience, although it’s very subtle. In a theatre, the play’s plot is fictional, but the emotions definitely must be real; the audience that is watching a play is real, but sometimes we must pretend that they’re not there at all; because we must often direct our bodies toward the audience in order to make the reception easier for them, our dialogues and postures are also not realistic, because a usual dialogue does not look like that. It is thus a constant transformation between fictional and genuine. To sum up, while on a stage it is impossible not to feel the audience and so it is impossible for the audience not to feel the actors, and what is really interesting is the communication between them.

For instance, today you are performing slipping after stepping on a banana peel. If the whole room bursts into laughter, it can give you a huge boost. However if you fail to entertain the audience and they remain awkwardly silent, it can also influence your next performance. When I first came across such a situation I was completely devastated, but now it’s not so bad; if they don’t find a joke funny you just need to continue the show.

Determination that is Keener with Every Setback

In my acting career I had one major setback. I was never very good at acting and after going through a long period of fumbling and practicing, only in the second semester of my fourth grade I got things straight in my head. It was like suddenly I knew what acting is all about. My classmates and teachers say that I improved a lot and my self-confidence also started building slowly at that time. Nevertheless, during the last class of some course the teacher gathered everyone to sit in a circle to talk about our plans after graduation and said: “I think that among the 12 students in our course there are only two people suited for performing”. I was not among the two people that the teacher had mentioned. It brought me, originally full of confidence, straight from heaven down to hell in a flash; at once I felt really depressed. Later I thought I should have said to him: “you say I am not suited to acting, but I will prove it to you and one day I will be good enough to perform with you”. As a result, to this day I have always carried within me an unwillingness to admit defeat and a passion for acting.

After retiring, I participated in a casting for The First Lily, staged by the Ping Fong Acting Troupe at the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo, and as a result I was successfully recruited. Out of my acting experiences, this was up till now the most accomplishing and the most beautiful one. Although I only played a supporting role as a clan warrior, the play was staged almost 200 times, which cultivated in the entire team a profound revolutionary spirit, and the whole staff felt like a family. The best thing is that thanks to that play I have met a Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe. They often took us, Han people, to perform traditional aboriginal ritual dances and songs. From their bodies I could see their love for own traditions and a sense of mission to pass on the aboriginal culture. It was very touching to me and it also influenced my later decision to join the Golden Bough Theatre.

The Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe made me realize that I should probably also make effort for the sake of my own culture. I am Taiwanese, yet I can’t speak the Taiwanese language (Hoklo), and the Golden Bough Theatre requires its members to speak good Taiwanese and to perform local Taiwanese stories. I really need to work harder on these things; it is what I expect from myself for the future.

Translated from the Chinese by Witek Chudy

Tuesday, 17 May 2011 14:33


One thing that I couldn't brush from our eyes during the NoNuke preparation and enaction of the 4/30 anti-nuclear power demonstrations, was the formidable displays of innovation and DIY creativity. Following the conclusion of their first major manifestation on the 30th April, NoNuke understandably didn't want the momentum to slip. Within a week of the 4/30 manifestation, they held an exhibition combining ten works from different artists, divided up between and held simultaneously at three separate galleries. Once again it showed the incredible organizational skills of this young yet maturing movement.

Don't Brush off What You See (不可小覷) was a way of keeping the spirit of the movement alive, meanwhile documenting the efforts of the anti-nuclear movement over the past 18 months and allowing individuals participating in the movement resting time to reflect on themselves and let their creative spirits flow. For curator Esther Lu it was also an experiment,

"to weave artistic production into social movement to shift the sociality of art. Quite opposite to the form social intervention, it is a social practice of artists as citizens to participate in the ongoing social debates with their own artistic research and practice that address reality with different visibility. They may reshape and diminish the conventions and collective ideologies of a demonstration, and create dynamic flux in social movement."

While not necessarily the most visually enticing art exhibition I've ever been too, it was full of energy and creativity to change and influence the way people and society think about energy issues. It was clear that the artists had considered many facets of the nuclear question and were certainly not uninformed extremists. The exhibition was full of innovative concepts, combining performance art, design, cinematography, some conceptual inventions and even organic urban regeneration. For example, the Plum Tree Creek group presented a comprehensive urban re-planning for the Zhuwei community in New Taipei City. While this exhibition was perhaps fired off by the Fukishima explosions in March, the works as a whole did not simply enclose themselves in an oversimplified nor purely nuclear framework. Instead, they opened up a dialogue with the rest of society and between themselves in the movement, suggesting alternative ways of living, in order to tackle the imminent environmental and energy crises without the use of dangerous nuclear fuel.

The Nuclear Waste Terrorists, provided documentation of their performance art, in which they carried fake barrels of nuclear waste in downtown Taipei,  before having an 'accident' which they were left trying to contain. After securing the perimeter they proceeded to pour what one could only assume was iodine salts to bring the radiotion levels under control. This use of terror was certainly an effective way to make onlookers wonder - just how prepared are we to deal with nuclear waste disposal and nuclear leaks? This doubt was further backed up by the work 'We never expected this to happen' in which they made a model representation of a nuclear power plant which they filmed blowing up, they further invited the visitors to make their own model power plants. Another work was of the classroom science invention type, The Red Eyes of Tom Boy, showing how tomato juice could be use to power a home-made battery.

Being Taiwan, their had to be some cuter artistic representations - Wu Qiyu, with his work 'Number 1 and the Dog'. certainly met the requirements.  He used film to portray the demise of an alpha male dog, once with a body of steel, who sees his strength waning after eating infected fish from the waters nearby Taiwan's first nuclear power station. The dog first has a headache, then he feels nauseous, eventually he violently coughs up his brains, jaw and even his teeth.

One work, We Create Power really sums up the greater meaning of this exhibition. The work stipulates that all energy eventually stems from human creativity. Indeed, human energy creates possibilities; superhuman energy can create problems...

Wednesday, 23 March 2011 00:00

Dreams, Creativity and Intuition

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

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)



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)


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


Tuesday, 15 March 2011 16:01


We quite spontaneously equate “teambuilding” with “leadership.”  This might be a misperception. In the teambuilding process each team member is a team builder, and nothing can be achieved without the active participation of all people involved.  Both team spirit and the fruits of the project on which the team works belong to all those who participated in it.  You may say that in every collective project there are two things created at the same time: the work that is accomplished (a rocket, a magazine, a building, a new medication…) and the team that has produced the work.

However, it is true that, in every team, there are people whose specific service is to ensure the cohesion and wellbeing of the team as a human group. This is a service like another one, as can be the one of cooking, doing accounting or conducting research. Team builders are “leaders’ only in the sense that they empower each and every member to be one of the team builders, that they intuit where the difficulties come from, and invent ways to heal the body divided against itself when conflicts and misunderstandings occur.

The New Testament offers to us two figures of great team builders: Jesus and Paul.  Jesus did not create an “institution”, he shaped the men and women who were following him. But he shaped them as part of a living community. During his final march towards Jerusalem he was leading a group of disciples bitterly divided among themselves. They were quarrelling over who was the greatest among them. Dissensions linked to differences in background, political opinions and appreciation of the situation were obviously growing. During the Last Supper, Jesus shares the bread and the chalice with people who seem to feel confused, angry and bitter.

They will eventually unite, first around the absence of Jesus and then – decisively – around the Risen One. The Acts of the Apostles tell us how they creatively start to build a community with others, in the recollection of the example of teambuilding that Jesus gave them. Paul will continue such work, building local churches and exhorting them, often with tears, to conduct themselves in justice and charity, and to renounce everything that causes divisions.

May we likewise overcome our ego and its limitations, so as to all become the “living stones’ of the teams we work in, and – looking even farther – of an ever-growing human community.

Photo by B.V.

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