Social Dreaming at the Barcelona Congress of the IAAP

Peter Tatham
Totnes, Devon, UK
Association of Analytical Psychologists

Helen Morgan
London, England, UK
British Association of Psychotherapists – Jungian Section

Amelie Noack
London, England, UK
Association of Jungian Analysts

Michael Whan
Redbourne, Hertfordshire, UK
Independent Group of Analytical Psychologists

The activity known as a ‘Social Dreaming Matrix’ has been provided for the last three Congresses of the IAAP (Zurich, Florence, Cambridge), at the suggestion of Helen Morgan and Peter Tatham. For Barcelona, we had been asked, in advance, to provide the same activity, and had happily accepted the invitation, while including two other presenters as well: Amelie Noack (AJA) and Michael Whan (IGAP).

In retrospect, one outcome of this was that we had now become an ‘official’ part of the programme which may have altered our own attitude, as well as for any participants who might have known of our new-won status. Such knowledge may therefore have affected the matrix itself, consciously as well as unconsciously.

Just as on previous occasions, we started on the first day with about one hundred people and many dreams were shared, often without any clear connection to what had gone before. It felt difficult to make sense of it all, since it seemed that people were more inclined to talk about their dreams rather than to follow or explore any chains of associations to what they heard, or to which one of the convenors might draw attention. Such associations are the ‘lifeblood’ of social dreaming, while attending to such connections forms one of the convenors’ tasks (as well as recording all dreams and keeping the time framework).

Periodically, each of our first two days felt like a rather unsatisfactory struggle to find appropriate ‘meanings’ in what was being shared. We could only reflect back that perhaps the title of the Congress with its emphasis upon ‘boundaries’, the ‘edges of experience’ and an ‘emergence of novelty’ from what lay ‘beyond’ and therefore ‘unknown’ inescapably involved anxiety and a tendency for retreat towards what was known, familiar, and, therefore ‘safe and unthreatening’. Perhaps this reflected a similar antimony between being an ‘official’ part of the programme (even if it were mostly only we who knew that) rather than when social dreaming had been experienced as a more ‘subversive’ element ‘in the basement’, able to comment upon the above ground intellectual current of the lectures, seminars and workshops in the main programme.

If this were so, then the fact that numbers attending the matrix markedly diminished after the second morning might have been an unconsciously acted out comment upon this state of dissatisfaction. People ‘wanted’ to be at the edge of experience that social dreaming should provide, at all times – even when it was wavering over such a state of imbalance that can lead to withdrawal.

On the one hand, the matrix was ‘hungry’ for any emergence that must always be novel, unexpected and even anxiety-making. But, at the same time we were also expressing a natural tendency to back away from such ‘borderlines’ for the sake of finding familiarity, once again, in what was ‘known’ and therefore officially sanctioned (collectively, or for each individual). Some responsibility for any such retreat into safety must lie with the convenors and their failure to comment upon it. We might have been resting, a bit, upon old laurels from the experience of previous Congresses.

On the third day, as already mentioned, the number of people who attended was markedly less, which seemed, paradoxically, to make things easier and more creative as well. It was interesting that the empty seats now tended to be on the outside of the group of chairs, as if the centre felt a safer and more supported place to be – rather than some state of ‘edginess’ situated at the periphery. Three years earlier, at Cambridge, it was the centre that was felt to be unsafe, with what was termed ‘the plughole’ threatening to draw people down, into itself. But, might we be avoiding the edges of experience, by huddling together?

There were also a number of references to the rejection of a new analytic group applying for membership in the IAAP: one that had included the word ‘spirituality’ in its name. As far as this rejection was a concern for the matrix, what were we ourselves excluding – among our members and their deliberations? What was being kept out of the room? On the other hand, paradoxically, had the spirit of social dreaming been banished from the matrix and denied membership? Had we been freewheeling, till now, while avoiding the dangerous edges of our experience, as expressed in the dreams? Or, on the other hand, was a fear of, as well as an uncertainty with, the emergence of novelty and inclusion of ‘spirit’ (to which all of us analysts must be consciously committed) expressing itself? We were indeed at the edge and it could feel like a threatening invasion, to be defended against, rather than any satisfying inclusiveness or emergent novelty (however risky). It was possible to express some of this within the matrix, by means of the dreams now shared.

Then it was the fourth and final day and the colour yellow was felt to be important. It was remarked as the colour of the Sun God, therefore describing intellectual consciousness. Someone else remarked on the alchemical ‘yellowing of the work’ that would lead to gold that was now the ‘aurum non vulgum’ of alchemy: an un-common, psychic, gold. Another person spoke of the artist Miro and his brightly coloured mobiles casting shadows as they twisted and turned. “People are not showing their true colours”, she said; and in the notes of one convenor, this appeared (appropriately enough, perhaps) as: ‘not sowing their true colours’. Perhaps we were all afraid of ‘coming out’, or of ‘coming clean’; but, then again, any move seemed to be from a single hue towards a ‘coat of many colours’.

Within the matrix, we had struggled to hold the tensions implied in several pairs of opposites: official and subversive; centre and periphery (the edge); emergence of novelty versus a retreat into certainty; as well as intellectual fare to be countered by the shared emotional images of the dreams. Of such is the nature and function of any Congress (and rightly so). And yet in all ways social dreaming had also performed its allotted task well. Permitting as well as exploring, by means of the associations to the dreams, a movement from beneath and within, which is the vitally important work that this method of working with dreams provides so well and so creatively. It was felt to be a satisfactory and worthwhile ending to an uncertain, though familiar, struggle of finding meaning within the matrix.