Friday, July 31, 2009

Playing with Dreams

“On the seashores of endless worlds, children play.”

In his book Playing and Reality, the British pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott took the quote above from the Indian mystic Tagore. In the book he introduced the concept of transitional space for the play area between the me and the not me, where objects are neither found nor created but simply become as if emerging from the sea. This sea of transitional space is similar to the quantum mist of infinite potential out of which subatomic particles emerge like dreams. Dreams are grown-up play.

Transitional space, like the quantum mist, has creative energy, chaos as Winnicott calls it, and dreams manifest this energy just as do subatomic particles. Freud introduced psychic energy, which had the limitations of nineteenth-century classical physics, while Jung spoke of archetypal energy, which reflected the quantum theory that he learned from Wolfgang Pauli. Archetypes like the opposite-sex anima and animus, the ego’s dark shadow and the divine Self emerge from the collective unconscious like subatomic particles from the quantum mist or like transitional objects in dreamplay. When they appear in dreams, the archetypes have the energy of a nuclear reaction or even the Divine.

The formless play of dreams has access to this infinite creative energy, divine energy, which for millennia has been tapped in spiritual and healing practices. Shamanism is based on dreamplay. Play is transforming and healing for children, as are dreams for adults. Once I dreamed that I flew over the sea to Hawaii and met with a group to discuss dreams. I insisted that dreams are not to be analyzed but are just for the fun of it, like play. On the seashore.

Dreamplay can be done alone. The dream doesn’t have to be remembered; “the play’s the thing,” to quote Hamlet. Dreamplay accesses the formless, quantum energy, perhaps divine, out of which both night dreams and the daytime reality is manifest. James Grotstein, in his book Who Is the Dreamer Who Dreams the Dream, offers an “ineffable subject of the unconscious” who dreams the dream and a dreamer who understands the dream as the receiver. The two dreamers don’t need the ego, but can play together on their own.

In therapy the dreamer has a playmate. Winnicott called therapy two people playing together, like mother and child originally, as the therapist becomes the dreamer who understands the dream, or resonates with it. Freud’s evenly hovering attention and Bion’s reverie are the therapist’s efforts to join the dreamer in the formless, quantum state and play.

The players increase in a dream-sharing group, but the process is the same. Montague Ullman, a pioneer in dream telepathy and sharing, has compared the group experience to the quantum physicist David Bohm’s implicate order, the mist of infinite potential out of which reality is manifest like subatomic particles. In a group the individual dream becomes communal as each listener resonates as if it were their dream, enhancing access to Jung’s collective unconscious.

In the shamanic tradition dreams are a source of community guidance. Shamans were the community therapists before Freud and before the priests. Dreamplay is part of the energy work in the shamanic tradition, including vision quests and soul journeying. Quantum physicists have noted the similarities between the mist of infinite potential out of which reality is manifest and the energy work of indigenous shamans.

Playing with dreams is like childplay, alone, with another or in a group. Play, like quantum phenomena, requires both intention and attention, which enable spontaneous creativity to manifest like subatomic particles from the quantum mist. In dreamplay the spontaneous response can be imaginal, poetic or metaphoric; a memory, Freudian association or Jungian amplification. Playing with dreams is like jazz improvisation, intimate dance or harmony. It depends on spontaneity, not a deterministic script, like quantum theory versus classical physics. Dreamplay, like childplay, is transformational and healing.


  1. I like the connection between dream play and child play. What fun.

  2. Dreaming is timeless, so we are forever young there.