Growing roots: Dreaming and relationship to land

I begin this essay by reflecting on my state of mind when we contemplated holding a Social Dreaming conference in Utopia. When the opportunity to go to Soapy Bore in Utopia presented itself I was tentative because we were going to dream on land that has had Native Title since 1973 and I was concerned about replicating or contributing to a process of colonialisation. I recall that I decided to take this risk because I trusted the word of our friend and colleague Karmananda Saraswati, who works as a General Practitioner in Utopia, that permission had been granted and we were welcome. I also trusted the process of dreaming: we had spent a year meeting on a monthly basis to share our dreams in a social dreaming matrix and we allowed the journey to emerge from this practice.

I am deeply grateful that I choose to trust social dreaming as a democratic and respectful practice because my experience at Soapy Bore touched me deeply and changed my relationship to Australia. In this chapter I will explore dreams as a way to gently find and form connection with land and country. Interweaving text with memories of dreams from and of the desert I intend to write about dreaming as a way of finding connection and belonging in a country that I cannot claim as my own.

My interest in attending this conference at Soapy Bore was grounded in a belief that in order to stay connected to the earth all people need to find connection with the land on which we walk. My initial motivation and the resulting experience of the Heart of Dreaming Conference provided me with a thesis of sorts: namely, that social dreaming can facilitate a relationship to land that is an alternative to colonial discourses and practices of owning land and of building borders and boundaries. In my exploration of this thesis I will reflect on how I was touched by the desert, the dreams, and the hospitality of the Alyaware Aboriginal Australians in Soapy Bore. Dreams are seen as a modality which enabled my connection to Australia as a Pakeha (New Zealander) to shift from a sensation of floating across concrete to being in relationship with this country and its people. Social dreaming partially enabled this shift in subjectivity. My dreams in Soapy Bore were however also touched by something sacred – sacred in part because it is undefinable and consequently rather than attempt to define it I turn to the words of Bill Neidji:

They want to know where the feeling coming from.
That thing now. You know ...
Another secret, another secret, another one secret,
Another one, another one ...
All that feeling e come to you, feeling ... now
Me or you or somebody else ... samething.
All same. (Bill Neidji 1989, p.79)
When one pins a butterfly in an attempt to capture the beauty of the butterfly one kills the butterfly, and in a similar fashion an attempt to define the sacred in terms of knowledge will suffocate that which is sacred. Contemplating the value of silence as that which holds and protects that which is sacred, I am reminded of a dream that I had directly after spending six nights and five days in the desert. On the night that we spent in Alice Springs before flying back to Melbourne:

I dream that I am seen by a number of different Aboriginal Australians, including a man I recognised from Soapy Bore. There are no words in this dream. There is a sense of being recognised and known. The dream is set in the desert and I am aware that this dreaming place is as real as waking life. This dream is simple in content. The sensation however, is of being held by land and seen by the custodians. It feels as if the dream lasts for the entire night. I have no defences, I do not need them. I feel as if my eyes and my entire being are open. There is absolute clarity, more so than I experience in waking life. I sense that where I was in this dream is more real than the complexity of waking life.

After flying back to Melbourne I have another dream that once again lasts for the entire night. The only difference is that now:

I am moving over the land and there is considerable space between the people who see me. Once again there are no words in this dream.

From the time spent in the desert and from the dreams I have had and those that have been shared something in me shifted. Country and those that know country seem to have seen me and I am left with a feeling of belonging in this country. This feeling remains with today.  At this time I had lived in Australia for approximately eleven years and I had felt disconnected from Australia during this time. I needed to sink my roots into the earth. The second night in the desert I had a dream that responded to this need:

I am lying in the sand in Utopia in the yoga pose Supta Baddha Konasana. Between my feet I have a dark green stone which is carved into a perfect sphere, there are rust coloured lines running through this stone ball. The colour of the warm sand is very vivid. The sensation is of being grounded, healed, and at peace.

The desert touched me in a way that was both subtle and profound. My vision was pixilated when I returned to Melbourne allowing me to see subtle patterns everywhere I looked. Although it was a beautiful way to see the world, I must admit that in the city this was also rather confusing and overwhelming. Going to the supermarket to purchase ‘nappysan’ in an attempt to return clothes that were now stained the colour of the desert back to white was a little challenging. After spending such a short time in the desert the city produced culture shock. In comparison being in the desert, despite the harsh physical conditions, produced no culture shock. Despite this slight disorientation after returning to Melbourne, I knew my relationship to Australia had changed.

I felt blessed to have been given permission to spend time in such a beautiful place and was convinced that it was my dreams in and of the desert that provided me with a feeling of being at home in Australia. It is the earth that sustains us and to connect with the earth is to be at home. I am convinced that there is a strong relationship between land and dreams and that social dreaming can facilitate this connection. This is what I would now like to explore.

In order to explore the connection between land and dreams I would like to suggest that dreaming is relational. In other words, dreams work to make connections between people and objects.  Dreams are by nature expansive in their effort to make connections. Dreams seek to move towards and be in relationship whoever or whatever attends to the dream. Attending to a dream may occur in the form of analysis, associations, or through the practice of holding.

In psychoanalysis the client’s dreams are used to discuss the transference relationship between the client and the psychoanalyst. Through this process of analysis the meanings of dreams shift from the meaning a client may first make of their dream upon waking from sleep to that made during therapy. Indeed, the meaning shifts as a result of the therapeutic relationship. In social dreaming the meaning of a dream shifts as members of the matrix associate to the dream. Free association to dreams ensures that this is a democratic space (Lawrence 2003). I would like to suggest that if one attributes agency to the dreams rather than the dreamer, then dreams could be seen to be motivated by the associations they are in relationship with during the social dreaming matrix. Connections are formed that pull the dream in unexpected directions. It is as if the dream dances with the associations and through this resonates with the unexpected and changes form. Dreaming becomes a collective rather than individual process. This is different from the analysis of dreams in psychoanalysis where despite being used to discuss the transference relationship the meaning of the dream is still connected to the individual dreamer. In saying this I do not wish to devalue psychoanalytic understandings of dreams. Contemplating, for example, the role of associations in social dreaming it is worth recalling that indeed it was Freud (1900) that first discusses the use of free association as a method to analyse dreams. In social dreaming the associations seem however, to have a greater freedom in that they are not pinned to the individual that had the dream.

I am drawing on Donald Winnicott’s concept of ‘holding’ in suggesting that holding is one way of attending to dreams and that dreams exist in relationship to that which holds them. Originally used to discuss the way a mother holds her infant in the developmental stage prior to the time when the infant emerges as a separate person, the concept of holding is also used to describe a method in which the psychotherapist holds ‘her’ client. In the original sense of the term Winnicott (1960) writes that holding involves the management of the infant’s experiences of existence through the empathy and awareness of the mother.  Within psychotherapy holding refers to a process of “enabling the tendencies that are at work within the individual, leading to a natural evolution based on growth” (Winnicott cited in Davis and Wallbridge 1981, p.109).

Dreams can be seen as a tendency inherent within all individuals that leads to natural evolution based on growth. Holding is a process that can facilitate the natural evolution towards growth in dreaming. In exploring the relationship of holding and dreams I first turn my attention to the fact that fundamentally it is the land that supports the dreamer while they sleep. The dreamer may rest on a bed, but the bed is supported by the floor of a house that rests on the land. Applying the idea of dreams being in relationship to that which holds them I would like to suggest that when defences are softened the land can impact on the dreams and dreams can then move towards the land in both content and inclination.

My dreams have always been affected by each house, town, city or country in which in sleep. I do not have the same dreams in one city as I do in another. In some locations it is easy to dream, whereas in others it is as if my dreams are swept away by the wind. This has always been the case but regardless it was only after spending time at a social dreaming conference in the desert that the land in Australia was able to impact me deeply, in a way that I have identified as holding. Social dreaming played a role in this. 

I believe that social dreaming can facilitate a respect for how the land holds dreams and dreaming. Associations are not the only mitigating factor in the growth and development of dreams in social dreaming. Here the matrix, which consists of: a) the participants who are sharing their dreams b) the shape of the matrix and c) the environment in which the matrix is conducted, plays an important role in shaping the dream. In social dreaming the dreams are no longer the property of the dreamer, the dreamer lets go of the dream and offers it into the matrix. The dreamer does not hold the dream, the matrix holds the dream. In social dreaming there is already a collective relationship to the dream as a result of associations shifting the meaning of the dream and because it is the physical and energetic structure of the matrix rather than an individual person that holds the dreams.

Furthermore, I would like to suggest that the natural environment is not only a component that impacts on the physical and energetic structure of the social dreaming matrix but that land holds the matrix and that this can be felt when all of the participating dreamers collectively drop their defences. The democratic and socially levelling benefits of social dreaming can remind us of our vulnerability and absolute dependence on the earth to sustain and heal us. Without land we are nothing.

At this point I wish to acknowledge the sacred beauty of Soapy Bore and the generosity of the Alyaware Aboriginal Australians who allowed us to spend time there and to be briefly touched by the sacred. One must not pin down the sacred but one can learn from it. The fundamental lesson is that we belong to land; it does not belong to us. The land holds us and any attempt to undermine this relationship is detrimental to the earth and in turn will have detrimental consequences for us mere humans.

Recalling that the butterfly has beauty and power when alive, the analogy of pinning butterflies can be used to consider the damage we do to the land and to the sacred power land has when we form borders and build fences in a clumsy discourse of ownership. Thankfully dreams do not obey laws of territory and ownership. The luminal and transcendent qualities of dreams can allow us to attend to a life generative relationship with land.

Sara Taylor