DreamTime, Vol. 29, No. 1, p. 8-10. January 2012.
by William R. Stimson
A long-time member of my ongoing Ullman dream group in Taiwan’s southern city of Kaohsiung, brought along her younger cousin, Yu-lan, who had never before attended a dream group. Younger than the others present, Yu-lan sat in the circle innocent-looking, quiet, and intelligently observant. She spoke better English than most who were in the group. When introducing herself, she told us she studied at the nearby Ursuline English-language college.
I asked if anyone had a dream they wished to share.
“I have a dream,” Yu-lan said almost before I finished my sentence. Her cousin must have forewarned her that anyone with a really pressing dream they wanted to work on, had best come forward with it right away.
“When did you have this dream?” I asked.
“Three weeks ago,” she said.
“Tell us your dream,” I said.
She hadn’t written it down, so related it from memory:
I dream about one day everybody accuse me that I am a murderer. I kill one person. But I can’t remember the whole process. I don’t know I killed the person. And I don’t want to find out the truth. Finally I run away.
Asked if any of the people in the dream were real people in her life, she said:
All the people in the dream are real people. They’re my friends, my classmates, my parents, and my family.
Asked if she recalled what she felt in the dream, she said:
In the dream I am terrified. I’m afraid I really killed a person but don’t want to confess it so I run away.
She sat back to listen while group members took her dream as their own and fleshed out the feelings and metaphors they found in it. Afterwards, she responded:
I realized, I take the person who I killed, I take it as my future.
I want to be a journalist. My father, my friends, they think I can’t do that. I kill my future and I run away because I don’t know if I can realize my dream.
I think I run away because I can’t face my ability. I don’t know if I can make it so I run away.
It does make me feel guilty because I think I cannot believe myself. So I killed my future.
We’d barely begun the Ullman process; but this complete novice with dreams had already popped the dream wide open and discovered what is inside. Her heart’s desire is to become a journalist but she let her family and friends convince her against taking that path in life. She gave in to them because she doubted her ability. She feels guilty of an unpardonable crime against herself.
Such is the verdict of her dream, which arises from a depth in her that already knows what every child discovers about her storybook heroes and every scholar of myths learns from her ancient texts. The seemingly ordinary person receives a calling. Whether or not she has the ability is irrelevant. How can she possibly have it before she runs up against the succession of challenges and difficulties along the way that call it eventually forth from within her? Others may receive the same calling, but they don’t answer it. What distinguishes those great ones amongst us, whose stories end up in children’s books and whose lives become the myths we moderns measure ourselves by – and what is responsible for the remarkable ability these few end up developing – is that they do answer the call. Yu-lan’s guilt reveals that deep down she recognizes herself as one of those but has let others convince her to act as if she were not.
“We might go deeper with this dream,” I suggested. “Would you like to move on to the next stage of the Ulman process?”
“Yes,” she said.
We set the dream aside to take a look at her life at the time she had it.
She remembered the day before the dream, even though it was three weeks back, because:
March 1st was the first day we began the semester. I want to get back from my vacation and begin school. I feel pressured.
About what she did after school, she said:
I went home after school and did nothing, had dinner.
I didn’t want to do any homework. I just wanted to take a rest.
She came home from the first day of school and instead of turning eagerly to the semester’s first assignments, went right to bed.
I asked her if she wanted to say anything about the last thoughts going through her mind that night, just before she dozed off to sleep.
My last thought before going to sleep was: “I hope that the next day to school I would feel happy, relaxed. I chose to sleep early.
Already we can sniff out the path along which she is headed, and need only ask an open-ended question that will invite her to go further in that general direction. She didn’t say, “I was glad to see all my friends again on the first day of school and to meet my new teachers.” She didn’t say, “I was excited and interested in all my new courses.” She didn’t say, “I was eager to leaf through my new text books.” She said she just wanted to go right to sleep and she hoped the next day at school would be happy and relaxed. The question that leaps forth is, “If you’re hoping the second day at school will be happy and relaxed, what was the first day like?” Of course, those of us who use the Ullman dream group method know not to ask information-demanding questions like that, which demand that the dreamer give us information. We take great care to restrict our questions to information-eliciting questions, which allow the dreamer complete control over the information she divulges and assure that the inquiry being pursued is under her control, not ours. A more appropriate question for us would sound something like, “Would you care to say anything about school during this period before the dream?” This is an open-ended question that lets her go in whatever direction she chooses and it’s the question we asked.
If the question’s right, the dreamer opens up. Yu-lan did just that:
I’m a 5 year college student. Now I’m in my 4th year. Next year: big test. I have to decide which college to go to. I have to choose which major I want to take next (e.g. business, teacher).
I say I want to be a journalist.
Most students in our class choose business. If you combine business with language, makes you successful.
My parents want me to have a better future, make more money.
Journalist pays little.
They say journalist is not a good job.
It helped me to change my dream. And I’m confused now.
I think to be a journalist you can show the true things to anybody.
I don’t think that money is very important.
I didn’t give up to be a journalist. I just stop here. I just don’t want to study.
If I want to be a journalist I have to read book about news. Because I am confused I stopped reading those books.
I’m also interested in psychology, books like how to be a journalist, what is news.
I think I stop but I begin to read some books about business and mathematics because I want to follow the road my parents want me to go.
The feeling is not very good.
I think how graduate school is now very difficult to me because everyone has their dream, their parents support their dream. Everyone is working hard on this. Because now I’m not doing the things I really want to do, so I don’t want to go to school, I don’t want to face the truth. I want to work hard too, I don’t know what – I don’t know how to say my feeling.
I want to show the truth because I want to do something that is good for this society.
This is just like a crime in our society. Is just simple. I want to say something with truth.
When we turn on the TV and see the news, most of the news is wrong.
So if I can be a better journalist so I can report something is real and positive to everybody.
Her family and friends see journalism as a job. They object that it wouldn’t bring in nearly as high a salary as a career in business. But Yu-lan never looked at journalism as a job. When she tells us, “I want to be a journalist,” she says it in a voice that confesses a passion, a calling; and lets us know that for her journalism is the path that calls out to her with the promise that it will lead her to discover who she really is and to develop her specific and unique talents as a human being. “I don’t think that money is very important,” she says. It is not her main priority to get rich; but to live in a way that makes Taiwan a richer place. “So if I can be a better journalist so I can report something that is real and positive to everybody.”
Open, free, and democratic, Taiwan is not caught up in the same paroxysm of lies and falsehoods as grips China. But it’s no secret that Taiwan doesn’t have a free press. What passes itself off as news in the media is propaganda that is often at odds with the views that prevail in Taiwan’s southern metropolis Kaoshiung, where Yu-lan lives. “This is just like a crime in our society,” Yu-lan says. “When we turn on the TV and see the news most of the news is wrong.” Yu-lan’s dream is to change that. “I want to show the truth because I want to do something that is good for this society.”
A man new to the group asked Yu-lan, “What is the most important thing in your life?” Before I had a chance to intervene and explain that the question was information-demanding and therefore inappropriate, Yu-lan answered, “Family.”
From the answer Yu-lan gave, though, and from how quick her answer came – it was obvious the questioner was on to something, even though he framed his question in the wrong way. The Ullman dream group is so natural, creative, and organic a process that the right direction inevitably tends to kick in, even if occasionally it violates the rules of the process to do so. In any creative process, mistakes can prove useful. The work with dreams is no exception.
Yu-lan tried reading books about business – only to find them tedious and boring. Studying something she doesn’t care about, she can’t bring herself to work as diligently as classmates studying what they love. She doubts she’ll get into graduate school, or be able to stay if she does. Giving up her passion to pursue what her family thinks best hasn’t worked. “Because now I’m not doing the things I really want to do,” she tells us, “I don’t want to go to school, I don’t want to face the truth.”
“I don’t want to face the truth” is a startling admission from someone who describes her passion in these words, “I want to show the truth.”
Does she have opposite attitudes towards the truth? Or are there two truths operative here? We needed more information. It was time to turn back to the dream.
Asked if she would like to go to the next stage of the Ullman process, the playback, in which she looks again at the dream’s images in light of everything she’s now told us, Yu-lan said, “Yes.”
As a prelude to the dream’s first image, I reminded her of the situation that gave rise to the dream. “You went home after the first day of the new semester, had dinner and then didn’t want to do any homework. You went right to bed. And then you had this dream….” Before I had a chance to go on and read the first scene of the dream, Yu-lan interrupted:
I slept earlier because I want to evade my real life.
So the truth she doesn’t want to face is the one she’s colluding with family and friends to impose upon herself, the one they have convinced her to view as “real life” (Success = $). The truth she previously told us she has a passion for is the one spontaneously arising in her heart (Success = Truth), having grown up in the south of Taiwan, where the Kuomintang dictatorship that for many years dominated Taiwan was never quite so successful as it was in the north in eradicating the native Taiwanese language and murdering off Taiwan’s home-grown intelligentsia. In southern Taiwan there is widespread distrust of the media, which after all these years still remain predominantly under the control, if not the outright ownership, of the Kuomingtang Party, one of the richest political parties in the world, with many incentives to keep the truth of what it’s doing from the people. It’s this truth not portrayed in Taiwan’s media that Yu-lan feels a passion to express.
I presented her with the first image of the dream:
“You dream about one day everybody accuse you that you are a murderer.”
The future I killed is they want me to be a businessman but I killed it so I run away. But it is the future they want, not the future I want. So I killed it.
Earlier in the process she had told us, “All the people in the dream are real people. They’re my friends, my classmates, my parents, and my family.” It’s these [“everybody”] who in the dream accuse her of murder. The murder they would accuse her of would be the murder of the person they want her to be. So this is a different murder than the one she’d told us about previously.
Just as she uncovered two truths, now she’s finding two murders. The first time she looked at the dream she saw how she killed the self that rose up from her own deepest nature, the one unacceptable to family and friends. Now she discovers she doesn’t have it in her to be the one they want her to be. She just can’t do it, not someone like her; and so, without meaning to, she has also laid to rest the self that they want her to be, along with the future it would have. Her predicament, then, is much more complicated, than it first seemed.
I presented Yu-lan with the next image of her dream:
“You kill one person. But you can’t remember the whole process.”
I think I don’t remember because I don’t think that I do something wrong.
This may be the most important piece of data in the dream, that she didn’t do anything wrong. In order to see exactly what it meant we needed to go forward to the dream’s next image.
I presented her with the image:
“You don’t know you killed the person. And you don’t want to find out the truth.”
Sometimes you like your family and you respect them and you want to do whatever they want.
But the truth is the real you want to do things you really want to do.
So in my dream I tried to do myself so I killed the future they want me to have.
So in my dream I feel guilty, I feel bad, but I don’t feel angry.
The first time she looked at her dream she found she felt guilty for not believing in herself. Now she discovers that she feels guilty because she can’t be who others want her to be. So in the same way there are two truths and two murders, there are also two guilts.
I presented her with the next image of her dream:
“Finally you run away.”
Run away is just like what I’m doing now. I stopped reading the book I really want to read. I start to learn something my parents want me to learn.
After I run away I feel release.
She intimated before that by following what others want for her, she’s running away from herself. “I think I run away because I can’t face my ability. I don’t know if I can make it so I run away.” She’d told us this didn’t feel good. “It does make me feel guilty because I think I cannot believe myself. So I killed my future.”
So the running away she’s talking about now, the running away that feels like a release, must involve a different running away that she’s doing at the same time – a running away from what they want for her, running away from her schoolwork, running away into sleep.
So, along with two truths, two murders and two guilts, there are also two running aways. Small wonder she discovers, “I’m confused now.” Family and friends have undertaken to turn her against her own nature and have only succeeded in tearing her apart. They don’t want her to be who she is and, being naturally truthful to herself, she can’t be who they want.
Asked if she wished to go to the final stage of the Ullman process, the orchestration, in which members of the group reflect back to her what they felt they’d heard her say, and also offer any ideas of their own, Yu-lan said “Yes.”
There wasn’t much anyone could add to what she had already said. Though it was her first time ever in a dream group, Yu-lan had, all by herself, grasped the complicated picture presented by the dream. Integrity was basic to her nature; and yet she’d allowed others and herself to turn her against the truth of who she was. She had to follow her heart. She was not the type of person who could be what others wanted. One day, when she was successful and made a name for herself – it might not end in her being a journalist, she might become a psychologist or a writer, but it had to start with her going in the direction she felt right for herself – they would be grateful for what she’d done for the family, and proud; just as the family of Taiwan’s famous Taiwanese film director Ang Lee was in the end made proud, though they had opposed him pursuing a career in film.
In this way of working with dreams we don’t offer suggestions to the dreamer. The group serves merely to help the dreamer connect with the imagery of her own dream. In this particular case, though, I broke the rule and suggested maybe she might want to share this dream with her family and friends and tell them the understandings of her situation she’d arrived at by working with it in the group.
In the Ullman group, the dreamer always has the last word. Yu-lan said:
I just want to thank everybody give me a lot of ideas.
After the discussion I thought this dream is very important. It give me power. I know I have to be myself and achieve my dream.
So I will take Bill’s advice and talk to my friends and my family.
* * *
William R. Stimson, Ph.D. trained for many years under Montague Ullman, M.D., who originated the Ullman experiential dream group process. Besides his weekly Wednesday evening dream group at National Chi Nan University in Puli, he leads monthly Saturday dream groups (in English) in Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung.