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Dreams in a Time of Pandemic


A few nights ago, I met Jim Burklo.

I dreamed I was walking down a scruffy downtown street, and passed by a dingy storefront with a dirty glass door, behind which was an old steelcase desk with a map of the world pasted onto the front. On each country of the world was pasted somebody’s last name.  One of the names was “Burklo”.  Intrigued, and with a bit of trepidation, I entered the door and encountered a young couple: a smiling woman and a grinning man.  I told them I was fascinated by the map on the desk.  I leaned over the desk to shake the young man’s hand and introduce myself:  “Jim Burklo”.  “Yes!” he answered.  After a moment of awkward confusion, we realized that we were both named Jim Burklo.  We then had a lively chat about our shared heritage.

I shared this dream with the other members of the Dream Analysis Campfire I lead for students at the University of Southern California.  I have led groups like this for students in the past.  But since the pandemic, the subject of nighttime dreams has come up a lot in my chats with students by Zoom and on the phone.  So I realized this might be a great time to run a dream group again.

And indeed that has been the case.  With all that is going on in the world, there’s plenty happening in people’s heads these days.  And it is processed creatively in our dreams.

I started leading dream analysis groups when I was the pastor of College Heights Church in San Mateo, CA.  We followed the format developed by Jeremy Taylor, a Jungian psychoanalyst and Unitarian pastor.  Taylor taught that the images and events in dreams have no fixed meanings.  And this free-form aspect of dreaming is its magic:  so much can be discovered about our inner lives by exploring the many possible portents in the elements of our dreams.

When I lead dream groups, we follow this system:  The first person shares a dream.  Then other participants ask the dreamer questions – no comments or cross-talk.  Then, one by one, the other participants answer this question, followed by questions:  “If it were my dream, this is the significance it would have for me….”  When circle is complete, first dreamer reflects on responses of the others.  Then the next person shares a dream.  Whatever is shared is kept confidential:  when somebody shares a dream, often they have little idea at first about how much they’ve revealed about themselves.  The vulnerability that happens in these groups creates a strong connection among the participants:  it’s a really powerful way for people to bond at a deep level.

Nearly every time a dream is shared, the dreamer gains a new insight from the questions of other participants and from the ways that others appropriate the dream for themselves.  And when a person “takes on” another person’s dream as if it were her or his own, very often that person has an “aha” moment, as well.

In the church setting, we kept our group going for many months, and after a while, an element of one person’s dream would show up a few weeks later in someone else’s dream – but with a completely different meaning or significance.  We were “seeding” each other’s dreams – a very special kind of spiritual communion!

Our current student dream group has revealed a lot about how we are affected by the pandemic.  And we have exposed much else about ourselves, while holding each other’s vulnerability with reverent gentleness.  In their appropriations of my dream, students gave me insight about meeting another Jim Burklo. One of them asked if I have been questioning my own identity lately.  That was an “aha” for me: the answer is yes!  The current upheaval is forcing me to re-evaluate who I am and how I want to do life.

And who are you, in this identity-shattering era through which we’re living?  Journaling your dreams and sharing them with others might help you answer that question….



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