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The Creative Power of Dreams: conference report

31 May

With abject apologies to Ira Barouch, from whom I solicited this guest post, at long last I’m posting his report on the New England Regional Conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD)—which took place one long year (and a few days) ago. Two main reasons for my delay: The article happened to come to me just a few days after I had to move out of the apartment I had lived in for 26 years because my landlord needed to sell it (and I was still deep in trying to find a new place), so life was rather chaotic for quite a while. Also, a synchronistic typo occurred as I was doing a light edit of the piece. It occurred in the paragraph after the one on Kabbalah and dreams. Intending to type an em dash (Alt-0-1-5-1 on the number keypad when using Windows), I accidentally typed something I never have before or since: ק, a character I recognized as a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Because I’d heard of the Kabbalistic use of a numerology system called gematria, I emailed the friend who had told me about it for help in deciphering a potential gematria meaning of this little synchronicity. He was on his way out of the country, and at that point, I’m embarrassed to say, procrastination set in on both following up with him later and getting Ira’s post posted.

A small saving grace for me: Ira’s report has timeless relevance because of the subject matter. It also has timely relevance, because several of the people who presented at the New England conference will be presenting at IASD’s annual conference next week (June 3–8) in Berkeley, California: Linda Yael Schiller, Tzivia Gover, Curtiss Hoffman, and Deirdre Barrett. So Ira’s report can serve as a bit of a preview of the upcoming conference. Continue reading

Jews and Dreams

2 Apr

Having been absent from this blog for quite a while, I’m grateful to Ira Barouch for this guest post. My getting online at the end of Passover with a post inspired by a Chanukah workshop may seem out wildly out of sync, and I do apologize to Ira for my slowness (I’m still distracted by preparing for my upcoming move).

On the other hand, the timing has continuity: Around Chanukah, as Ira notes, the Jewish cycle of reading the Torah in small sections lands on the story of Joseph interpreting the dreams of Pharoah—a biblical event that facilitates the survival of Abraham’s descendents during widespread famine by bringing them to Egypt. Passover celebrates the Jews’ subsequent exodus from Egypt, the beginning of 40 years of miraculous survival in the desert on the way to the Promised Land.

Jews and Dreams

by Ira Barouch

For thousands of years the Jewish people have been fascinated by the notion of extracting valuable messages from dreams. Jewish culture has been in the forefront of the study and practice of dream interpretation, beginning with the ancient biblical prophesies of Jacob and his son Joseph in Genesis, to the “mysticism” of the medieval era’s berekhat (tractates, or sections of the Talmud), to the sexually charged instinctual wishes of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory that boldly ushered in the 20th century, and continuing all the way up to the trendy contemporary “Kabbalah” practices popularized by Madonna and other celebrities.

On a Saturday in early December my wife, Helen, and I attended a Chanukah retreat in White Plains, sponsored by Westchester Jewish Community Services. In addition to workshops that practiced mindful meditation, chanting, and yoga, the program included two fascinating presentations that illuminated the long Jewish tradition of dream interpretation. As a psychoanalyst, I was intrigued.

“Pharoah’s Dream,” digital pop art giclee print by Israeli artist Mike Darnell

 

Rabbi Molly Karp, religious school principal at Temple B’nai Chaim in Georgetown, CT, led a workshop entitled “Spirit Dreams: The Joseph Cycle,” referring to the section of the Torah traditionally studied around Chanukah. Our group, which included a few other local rabbis, sat around a large table and took turns reading and discussing portions of this ancient text. The narrative follows the spiritual development of Joseph through his uncannily insightful interpretations of his own and others’ dreams. The cycle features the two universally recognized dreams that so troubled the Egyptian Pharaoh, in which he envisioned “seven fat calves followed by seven lean calves.” Joseph had gained a reputation as a keen interpreter of dreams while falsely imprisoned in an Egyptian dungeon, and when he was summoned to interpret the Pharoah’s two dreams, he immediately understood them as a divine prophecy from God and warned that seven abundant years would be followed by seven extremely lean years. Continue reading

Howard Lerner: Myth and Metaphor (through July 7, 2012)

1 Jul

With having been away and previously getting ready to be away, I’m unfortunately rather late with this post. But there’s still a week left to see the incredible paintings and sculptures of New York artist  Howard Lerner at Synchronicity Fine Arts, 106 West 13th Street (between Fifth and Sixth avenues).

I previously wrote a post about “The Mystical Meaning of Jacob’s Ladder,” so at the opening for Howard’s current show, I was especially interested in a painting I hadn’t seen before, Jacob Dreaming, already so evocative in its own right.

"Jacob Dreaming," by Howard Lerner

“Jacob Dreaming,” by Howard Lerner

Continue reading

Tikkun olam TV

24 May

It’s Thursday night, which has been a great TV-viewing night for me this season. First at 8 p.m. Eastern Time, Missing on ABC (channel 7 in NYC), with Ashley Judd as a middle-aged ex-CIA operative kicking butt all over Europe to find her kidnapped teenage son, without (implausibly) having lost any of her dexterity, quickness, or endurance. Then at 9 p.m., Touch, Fox’s (channel 5’s) new Kiefer Sutherland vehicle, in which he’s the rather morose and insecure (i.e., anti–Jack Bauer) father of an autistic 12-year-old, Jake. And finally, at 10 p.m. on NBC (channel 4), Awake, a superbly imaginative cop show starring Jason Isaacs.

Missing aired its season finale last week. It has neither New York nor dream content, so enough said here about that series. Awake takes place in L.A., but hey, the LAPD detectives put an ex–New York couple into witness protection in one episode, and anyway, Awake is all about dreams.

Awake, or not?

"Awake," on NBC: Jason Isaacs, Laura Allen, Dylan Minnette

“Awake,” on NBC: Jason Isaacs, Laura Allen, Dylan Minnette

His shrinks say not, he says always. Detective Britten has been in an accident that has killed either his wife or his teenage son. Carrying on with life, he wakes up with his wife, goes to sleep, wakes up having his son alive. Always alternating. The psychiatrist in his wife-survived reality tell him, “I assure you, this isn’t a dream,” and he replies, “That’s exactly what the other shrink says”—the psychiatrist in the son-survived reality. Both shrinks keep urging him to accept that his other “existence” is just a dream, a way of denying the loss. “I have no interest in getting better,” he tells them; as it is now, he still has his wife and he still has his son—just not at the same time Continue reading

In the wake of my Hollis hip-hop post

24 Apr

Except where noted, all of this happened on April 18, the day of my most recent post, about a dream that led me to watch a DVD about the Queens neighorhood of Hollis, birthplace of hip-hop (“What my German great-aunt and Run-DMC have in common“).

Sketch of a plate on a desk in my November 11, 2010, dream

Sketch of a plate on a desk in my November 11, 2010, dream, which reminded me of a radio studio turntable

"2 Turntables and a Microphone: The Life and Death of Jam Master Jay"

(image from Amazon.com)

What happened between the time I started writing that post earlier in the day and the time I published it is an example of the small coincidences that can add up to a complex web of synchronicity:

"Free Stylin': How Hip Hop Changed the Fashion Industry," by Elena Romero

(image from Amazon.com)

  • I turned on the TV while I worked out and came in on the middle of a movie (Tell Seconds to Hell) about German soldiers in Berlin at the end of World War II forming a bomb disposal squad to rid the city of unexploded bombsContinue reading

Montague Ullman’s influence lingers at publication parties

11 Mar

On what’s probably the last day of vaguely winter weather of 2011–2012’s vaguely winter season, I’m getting back to work here by writing about a holiday party I attended at the other end of the season, in December.  More to the point, about the books I received from the party host, Cosimo.

Appreciating Dreams, by Montague Ullman

Cosimo, a specialty publisher in New York City (whose owner is a Dutch expat),  does “publishing on demand” in several categories. In 2006, Cosimo republished Appreciating Dreams,

in connection with a seminal 2005 talk by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Montague Ullman (1916–2008). The Ullman Method of group dreamwork has widely influenced how people work together to understand their dreams. Appreciating Dreams is the “manual” for the Ullman Method.

Montague Ullman, on his site maintained by Markku Siivola

Montague Ullman, on his site maintained by Markku Siivola's

Understanding Dreams, by Markku SiivolaCosimo gave out gift bags at the party, and some of the bags included a just-published book by Finnish psychologist Markku Siivola, a friend and student of Monte Ullman’s. That book is a restatement and introduction of the Ullman Method, titled Understanding Dreams: The Gateway to Dreams Without Dream Interpretation. Markku and I met at one of the weekend-long dream group dream leadership trainings that Monte used to conduct in his home in Ardsley, New York. That weekend afforded a convincing demonstration of the Ullman Method’s ability to be just as insight-inducing and satisfying for group members as for the person whose dream they’re working on: at some point in using the Ullman Method on a dream I’d brought, both Markku and I were deeply affected, each for our own reasons. So I’m particularly looking forward to reading his take on the method. Continue reading

The mystical meaning of Jacob’s ladder

12 Dec

"El sueño de Jacob," by José de Ribera [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“El sueño de Jacob,” by José de Ribera [Public domain]

Dr. Eitan Fishbane is a prolific professor (three books published in the past month or so) at The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. His specialty is the history of mysticism, including medieval Kabbalah.

In recent months I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot about JTS, which is how I became aware of Dr. Fishbane’s December 8 article in The Huffington Post,From Darkness to Light: Entering Holy Time.” It’s a powerful and lovely commentary on “Divinity as Light . . . an idea that has been developed extensively in the history of religion and in the history of mysticism in particular. Mystics of many different religions (including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism) have described God as a radiant Being, a force that shines and illuminates all of reality.” Thus the fall and winter festivals of light—such as Hannukah, Christmas, and Diwali—have implications of our inner struggle against darkness as much as our primal, physical fear of daylight’s disappearance.

This concept played a pivotal part in my own opening to other dimensions of consciousness many years ago, before such topics had their own huge sections in the  average bookstore—an openness that allowed me eventually to accept the possibility of psi dreaming, and later to experience dreams of seemingly paranormal origin extensively. I was taking an undergraduate, rocks-for-jocks–level undergraduate course on the theory of relativity, and I wrote my final paper on the theory’s epistemological implications—a process that shook up my understanding of reality so drastically that I was physically shaking the whole weekend I worked on it. What I realized was that if two points in time can coexist, as suggested by Einstein’s thought experiment of two clocks showing valid but different times, then all points in time can coexist. It was true only at the speed of light—and according to the mystics, God is Light. Or (And?), some say: Consciousness. Continue reading

Dreams from and of the Holocaust

27 Jan

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Many Holocaust survivors found their way to the New York area, of course, and New York has its own  excellent Holocaust museum in Battery Park City.

At the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD) conference in Chicago in 2009, David L. Kahn gave a riveting presentation titled “20th Century Nightmare: Dreams of the Holocaust by Survivors, Their Children, and Everyday People in Modern Times.” Rereading his abstract online, I’m reminded that one of David’s sources is  The Shoah Dream Project. Another is the master’s thesis research of Yifat Erlich. At IASD’s 2010 conference, in Asheville, N.C., David reprised with a presentation I didn’t get to, “While the World Slept: Dreams of Rwandan Genocide Survivors.”

IASD Past President Deirdre Barrett, who’ll be speaking on a different topic at the Rubin Museum on March 5, edited the book Trauma and Dreams, which has a chapter titled “Sleep, Dreaming, and Coping Style in Holocaust Survivors,” by Peretz Lavie and Hanna Kaminer.

Although not Jewish, I’ve had several intensely disturbing dreams that I associate with the Holocaust. Mostly they’ve been from a viewpoint I associate with the persecuted. In the most explicitly connected one, however, I’m horrified to discover—via a framed photo—that my father (most certainly not my waking-life father) was an SS officer. I’m not aware of research specifically into the genocide dreams of those who have no personal connection to genocide, but I imagine such dreams are somewhat common, as well, given the level of media exposure.

20th Century Nightmare: Dreams of the Holocaust by Survivors, Their Children, and Everyday People in Modern Times