In this inaugural episode, Dr. Scott Sparrow introduces co-creative dreamwork, the basis of the FiveStar Method, his signature dreamwork methodology.
“DreamStar Institute Presents, Dreamwork with Dr. Scott Sparrow”
Dr. Scott Sparrow:
Hello, I'm Dr. Scott Sparrow, the founder of DreamStar institute at dreamstarinstitute.com, and the developer of the Five-Star Method of dream analysis. The purpose of this podcast is twofold. First of all, it's to introduce you to an approach, to dream analysis that I've developed over the course of 50 years, based on what's been called co-creative dream theory. The second purpose of the podcast is to introduce you to a variety of perspectives as espoused by colleagues and experts in the field. I will be presenting concepts and methods myself, but also in dialogue with other experts and professionals. So sometimes I'll be working alone and talking to you directly. At other times, I will be inviting experts on board so that we can have vigorous conversations about cutting edge issues in the field of dream theory and dream analysis. During this first podcast, I like to introduce you to co-creative dream theory and give you an overview of the Five-Star Method.
The origins of the co-creative approach to dream analysis can be traced to the early 1970s. in 1971 as a freshman at the university of Texas, I had my first lucid dream, and it completely turned me around. I began to meditate every day and study dreaming and dream analysis. And within a couple of years, I wrote the first master's thesis on lucid dreaming, which, in turn, became a small book that was the first book on lucid dreaming in North America, titled Lucid Dreaming, Dawning of the Clear Light. And then in 1983, I completed a research dissertation on lucid dream induction at the college of William and Mary. I became licensed at that time and started a practice in psychotherapy, hoping to bring lucid dreaming as a therapeutic intervention into therapy. I soon introduced the idea to many of my clients who were, as a rule, unable to have their own lucid dreams.
They were so caught up in their own life struggles that having a lucid dream was kind of like winning the lottery--not likely to happen for them. While I was disappointed that most of my clients could not have lucid dreams. I discovered something at about that time that opened my eyes to an even more profound possibility. I read the book called Dreams and the Growth of Personality by Ernest Rossi. Rossi discovered in his work with a single that ordinary dreams contain within them, significant amount of dreamer reflectiveness, and free will. Rossi’s work confirmed my own observations that dreams are not fixed from the outset and the dreamers are not necessarily passive, but were actually active in most every dream -- exercising choices, reflecting on possibilities and bringing about a variety of possible outcomes based on their subjective stance.
Instead of continue talking in the abstract, let's take a look at two different dreams that are very similar from the outset, but unfold differently based on the dreamers’ responses. The first dream was told to me when I was in my twenties by a good friend of mine in the room, she was outside looking at the nighttime sky and saw UFO is approaching from the North spewing fire out of their undersides. She assumed that they'd come to destroy the world panicked and ran inside her childhood home, ran into her bedroom and crawled under the bed. She woke in terror. When she shared the dream with me, she asked an obvious question based on traditional views of dreams as messages. She said, basically, what is this dream here to tell me about what is it here to warn me off? Now take another dream. Very similar up to a point. The dreamer shared that he was in his childhood home, looking out the window and saw UFO's approaching with fire spewing out of their undersides very similar to the first dream.
But in this dream, instead of running for, for safety, he said to himself, there's really no place to hide. He thought to himself, maybe they would stop their aggression if they knew people on the earth were spiritual or seekers. So he closed his eyes and meditated hoping to make contact with them psychically. After a while he opened his eyes and saw that the UFO's were hovering, but the fire was no longer being admitted. The next thing he remembers is walking with hundreds of people toward the UFOs that have now landed on a beach. People were coming out of the UFO's and they were obviously enlightened beings, very tall dressed in saffron robes with shaved heads. And they were from the star system Osage. Now the first dreamer did not realize that perhaps she could have responded differently and achieved a different outcome.
No, she was operating according to the traditional assumption that the dream is a given that it couldn't have been anything other than it was. But when you look at the second dream, you begin to wonder, you begin to ask different questions. So instead of asking, what is the UFO warn me about, or what am I being warned about in terms of a threat in my life? The questions changed radically to such things as what would have happened. If the dreamer had responded, this kind of inquiry is the heart of the co-created method. Instead of assuming the dream is the way it should be, or the only way it could be. We look at the dreamer's reaction to it as determinative of its outcome. Not that the dreamer makes it completely out of whole cloth, but that the dreamer's reaction to what is being presented modifies it somewhat.
So the relationship between the dreamer and the dream content either evolves or regresses over the course of the dream. This is a very big idea, a revolutionary premise in dream analysis. So to summarize, the underlying premise of the co-creative paradigm is that dreams are indeterminant from the outset, and co-created through the interaction between the dreamer or the dream ego and the emergent content such that the resulting dream is one of many possible outcomes based on many possible subjective responses. So a dream can be obviously regressive in the sense that the dreamer responds in a kind of predictable or habitual way, or it can be developmental. In which case the dreamer may respond creatively, taking time to try something new or be more courageous than ordinarily. Now, obviously this approach has therapeutic implications because it puts a focus on what the dreamer is doing or not doing in the dream and allows us to map that response onto the waking state, in order to understand perhaps how the dreamer or the waking person is setting up certain situations and responding to them in a similar fashion. This new response can be immensely therapeutic--if a person has, for instance, suffered trauma and a series of nightmares over time that keeps repeating the unresolved traumatic memory to them.
Take for instance, a dreamer that was abused as a child. She dreams that she's laying on a bed and looks up and there's a hole in the ceiling of the room. Rats start pouring through the hole onto the bed. She becomes terrified and jumps out of the bed. And then she runs up the stairs in order to get away from them. As she approaches the top of the stairs, she turns around to see if the rats are still following her. And she sees a giant rat lumbering up the stairs just behind her instead of turning around and running. She becomes suddenly transfixed by the beauty of the fur of the rat. And instead of running away, she actually leans down to get a closer look until finally, she actually reaches out and touches the rats for as the rat stands there, looking at her as soon as her finger touches the fur the rat transforms into a snow leopard and she wakes up suddenly in shock.
Now the compelling images of this dream have obvious meaning to the dreamer. And we were able to unpack that meaning later on, but the most significant aspect of the dream from the standpoint of the co-creative paradigm is what the dreamer did or didn't do. In this case. She did the expected thing at first, which was to try to get away from the rats. This is an ordinary nightmare up to up to a certain point, isn't it? When she's on the stairs, she turns around and does something remarkable. She arrests her flight and considers what is following her. She takes a deeper look. She responds to it in an entirely unexpected way. And consequently, the imagery of the dream transforms based on her response. Indeed, it's pretty hard to ignore the conclusion that the snow leopard would not have appeared unless the dreamer had done what she did.
So we have a sense that the content of the dream is tethered to the dreamer's response, not entirely created by the dreamer's response, but certainly modified by the quality of engagement on the part of the dreamer. This woman was nearing the end of her psychotherapy. And within a month or two, after this one significant dream, she dreamt again of an animal. She was standing in her kitchen by herself, and a noise came to the back door. She looked through the screen door and saw of all things, a hyena instead of running from it, as she did the rat, she thought that Heidi was hungry. And so she prepared some food on a tray and slipped it through the door. And the hyena ate that dream signified. And once again, a new relationship to her own animal side or instinctual nature, a beautiful reconciliation with her own sense of instinct.
Now, obviously such dreams are unusual. We're more likely to see a dreamer present us with a dream in which they run away from something that's frightening, such as the UFO or the rats. And we may not raise the question--What could you have done differently--unless we embrace this view of possibilities and begin to convey it to our clients. If they can see, as we have seen that possibilities are inherent in the dream encounter that haven't been exploited because the dreamer is still locked down into a repetitive or chronic reaction, then we can coach them toward a breakthrough that can happen both in the dream state, as well as when they're dealing with similar situations while awake. The Five-Star Method is a method that I've developed over about 50 years of personal and professional dream work. And the whole method is based on applying the co-creative paradigm in practical dream analysis.
The first step that we do is not unusual within contemporary dreamwork practice. That's to get the dreamer to retell the dream in the present tense as if it's happening right now. This creates an emotional environment that the dream worker and the dreamer can share as they reflect on the dream as here and now experience. The second step of the Five-Star Method is somewhat different from traditional dream work. This is called finding the theme or the process narrative back in the 1970s, when my colleague Mark Thurston and I developed this approach, it was simply to try to reduce a complicated dream to a very generic, clear statement about what's happening--just what's going on independent of the content itself. The theme is exceedingly hard to extract for most people because most people enter into dreamwork thinking that it's the content, it's the images, it's the symbols that we need to interpret--but the theme throws all of that specific content out temporarily.
So the dream about the UFO, the first one might've been reduced in this way: Someone is becoming aware of something that appears to be threatening and tries to avoid it. Notice that I don't mention specifically UFO or childhood home or fire. We leave all of that out of this step later on, we'll get back to it, but we have to postpone the consideration of specific content in order to see this clear storyline through the course of the dream, the theme of the second year of our dream is similar up to a point. Someone is aware of something that appears to be threatening. And instead of trying to avoid, it tries to relate to the source of it in order to resolve the differences. The theme of the dream helps the dreamer to map the dream onto the waking state. Obviously it's hard to find a parallel for UFO's, right, but it's easy to find a parallel for something that's appears to be threatening.
So the generic process narrative or theme helps the dreamer see the dream as a pattern versus a story with content. The third step of the Five-Star Method is to examine the dreamer’s responses, their feelings, their assumptions, their biases, their behavioral reactions. We were looking at the general response stance of the dreamer, that is, what the dream is bringing to the experience. And we ask the dreamer in the conversation, how did you feel about your responses? Did you like what you did? Would you prefer to have done something different? What would have happened if you'd done this rather than that? So this stage is looking at the dreamer's responses and alternatives to the responses that may have produced a different outcome. This is the heart of the co-creative paradigm in practice, examining the dreamer's responses to the dream, as well as the impact they have on the imagery in step four, the Five-Star Method.
We finally get around to analyzing the dream symbols or images. We want to use a non-invasive approaches such Jungian amplification, which asks the dreamer. “Tell us more about this person or this thing. Tell us about UFO's. What are your associations to this image? What is your association to your childhood home, or to rats?” Eliciting these personal connotations help us understand why the dream is employing these images, in particular, and what meaning they have for him personally. We don't want to impose some kind of outside expert wisdom about the meaning of rats or UFO's, but we may contribute our own views by qualifying our associations, as follows: “If this were my dream, a rat would mean…” or “if this were my experience, I think a UFO would make me think of God or some kind of higher power.”
So Step 4 doesn't involve only the dreamer’s associations. It can also involve the dreamworker’s and the dream group members’ associations, as long as we qualify our contributions as our personal beliefs or our personal experiences. It reveals a lot about the person contributing that view. The group begins to evolve interpersonally, as people begin to provide their own personal associations. It's not to be seen as a bad thing, but we have to condition those contributions to make sure people don't feel pressured to accept our personal views of things. In step four, we can use any non-invasive approach to dream imagery analysis. In particular, we may want to use gestalt dialoguing, wherein we asked the dreamer to become an image and to speak as though they were that person or our object or animal for that matter. This kind of conversation between the dream image and the dreamer can awaken all kinds of insight and awarenesses and feelings that lead the dreamer to the threshold of integration.
We might also want to analyze the image as representing a metaphor, which renders concretely a particular domain rather than a specific referent in the waking state. What domain does it render? These discussions may also involve archetypes or chakras--domains of experience that have been categorized and systematized in religious and psychological traditions. This may help the dreamer understand the general domain of life that the dream is referring to and keep the dreamer from locking down to specifically on one particular association to the waking state.
You might ask how the co-creative paradigm is represented in step four, if what we're doing is analyzing images as we do in traditional dream work. Well, it's a little different because we have the understanding that the image could be evolving or regressing in the course of the dream. So instead interpreting or analyzing the image as it appears only, we ask the question, “What is the dream image becoming, or what could it become in a different environment where the dreamer was responding differently?”
In step five, we aske the question, “Now that you understand the relational pattern of this dream and how the responses of the dreamer are influencing the outcome, can you see how new responses in your waking life could help you deal with a similar kind of situation?” In other words, we inquire into the parallel process between the dream and the waking state. In conventional content-oriented dreamwork, we ask, What is the parallel content? That is, Who or what does this image refer to? But in the co-creative paradigm, we're more likely to ask questions such as, “Where is this dynamic or this relational pattern occurring in your waking state? And how could your response in the waking state be modified to improve that relationship going forward?” And secondarily, “If you had the dream again, what would you like to do differently?” This is called dream reliving, and we engage dreamers in fantasy about future dreams by imagining new responses to similar situations. So then, we’ve briefly covered the Five-Star Method, as well as reviewed the basic premises of co-creative dream analysis. I hope you will join me again in future episodes of “Dreamwork with Dr. Scott Sparrow.”