Beginning the long journey

There are eight thousand, four hundred miles from my home town of Rock Springs, Wyoming to Alice Springs, Australia, which looks virtually identical.  I had travelled to Australia for a conference called The Heart of Dreaming, which focused on group or social dreaming. Travelling over land and seas does not necessarily involve ‘travel’ at all, in the usual sense, for the long journey is really an inward one, to the interior of one's being. I continue this journey by sharing here some moments which touched me while dreaming with the group of eight women and four men, deep in the Australian outback.

The Heart of Dreaming conference

A rugged 35 year old man, with sun-leathered skin, collected us at the hotel.  He drove a tour company bus that bumped us along three hours of unpaved roads, through the red desert which seemed to have lost any trace of wildlife or birds apart from one eagle that circled near the intersection of two roads. We sat uncomfortably on this hard-seated, un-seatbelted bus for four hours until we arrived in the parched Sandover river-bed. 

Small tents, a canvas sleeping bag called a swag, blankets and a cushion were already in place for each of us.  The chief necessities as far as I was concerned was the suntan lotion for the 35 degree sun, tropical insect spray for the flies and mosquitoes that literally flew into our ears, nostrils, eyes and mouth searching for liquid scarce in their arid life, and a torch.  The absence of the necessities of city life brought back memories of my country-living in Big Sandy, Wyoming where we also lacked electricity, running water and a loo.  Utopian life with its wind, blue skies and diamond sparkles in the sky reverberated with the memories of our sheep ranch in all its primitive beauty.

Once we had settled in to the camp we were free for spontaneous activities, such as lying in the sand and reading, sleeping, playing with the twelve or so aboriginal children who were running around in the flat sandy Sandover riverbed.  Some of us, myself included, were taking the opportunity to ‘just talk’ with each other, sharing the pleasure of getting to know new people in other ways.  I had met only one person in the group before embarking on this voyage of discovery through sharing dreams.


As the first morning of the conference dawned, a red sliver appeared at the circumference of the landscape, heralding the sunrise.  It was important to pause when awakening in the sleeping bag in order to allow the night’s surprises to surface to consciousness.  How the dream arrived at its plot, characteristics, central characters and colourful narrative remains a mystery to me.  Some mind was responsible for its creation. 

The group might say my dream was influenced by the years of dreamings of the aboriginal people inhabiting this area. After all, I had travelled to a land where aboriginal dreamings, dream-lines and song-lines are part of a whole cultural style of being.  Thousands of stories, songs and dreamings, are told, sung, enacted and danced during aboriginal ceremonies so as to recreate and perpetuate dream-lines.

Others might suggest that being part of the group dreaming matrix provided contextual cues for the dream sequence.  I might add, from my years of psychoanalytic work with Donald Meltzer, who wrote Dream Life (1984), that I carried with me an internal drama of relationships between internalized family members. I could assume that this internalised family re-focused as my mental life interacted with current group processes taking place between the twelve of us in the group. 

For example, in the first morning, when the dreams of the group were shared, they revealed a lack of security and a sense of vulnerability, accompanied by dreams of projected aggression. The first dreams involved:

    • Snakes coming out of the ground
    • Anxieties about safety
    • Ploughing through the snow with a boat
    • A biting child
    • A baby being held, but the neck not fully supported, needing to be held better
    • Mourning
    • A mother with a baby

There was an emphasis on seeing emotion rather than being in it and feeling it. Although there may be many interpretations of the same dream, I felt that my ‘biting child dream’ seemed to be connected with some attack on leadership.  As I reflected, it seemed to me that the dream involved my telling the Head of Department in which I worked that she should let other people speak a bit before she gave her opinion.

I wrote this first dream down and tried to imagine, “Why did I have this dream now?  To where was I going in my internal world?”  My soul, like the river-bed, was encrusted in a deep layer of sand.  The previous day, Emily, a ten year old aboriginal girl, had been digging a big hole in the sand.  She placed herself in the hole, filled it up high to her neck.  As I watched her I said to myself, “She is like Winnie in Beckett’s play Happy Days” (1961). Winnie was an impulsive talker trapped in a wasteland of words. My words were perhaps the sand covering me, the essence of me.

What lies beneath the sand

I was invited by this daytime association to go deeper under the sand to find the damp side, which Emily had also found in her digs into the sand.  The previous day, I had accompanied her digging with the remark, “If you dig deep enough you will find water.” 

And so, in doing this digging for the damp side I discovered the tears of my life:    

    • Losing Nona, when I was five and our family moved away from this hunchback grandmother who felt like my ‘real mother’.
    • Losing Nona again when I was seventeen.  She was hit by a car while   crossing the street on a dark morning walk to a 7:30 am Catholic Mass.
    • Losing dad, my ‘stable rock’ in life when I was 41.
    • Losing, losing, never holding onto a relationship with a man, just facing tears of loss.

The group continued to share their dreams and reflections, and one, a young woman, described her dream of being told that the equipment for igloo building was buried underground. Indeed fire and tears protected by sand, ice or snow were found to have been part of many of the group's shared experiences. They spoke of:

    • Digging under the sand
    • Ploughing through the ice
    • A ship ploughing through the snow
    • Breaking up an igloo of ice


A strong sense of being united in finding fire, water, love and tears, weaved a deep connection between the group of dreamers. 

All this is in my mind before the morning ritual of brushing my teeth using water in a metal cup and using another cup of water for a sponge bath.  Fastening my long grey-blond matted hair into its bun, I rush, with a concern about being late, to the group. 

Telling Our Stories

Never before have I encountered so many complex and moving life stories as I did in the Origins event.  We each told our story and I told mine:

There was a white kitchen in which a group of people were speaking Italian and I could not understand what they were saying. They consisted of my widowed grandmother, a hunchbacked woman who left school at 13 and Italy at 18, my father and mother and my very intelligent Uncle Dolph who left high school when my grandfather died.  He was very bright but stopped his schooling to help my grandmother run the ranch in order that  his brother, my father, could go to law school and so that his sister could go to Stanford University to become a writer.

 I was the child of second generation Italian speaking immigrants to America. My northern Italian father and my southern Italian mother managed to meet each other on the Union Pacific train - a blind date organised by my mother’s sister who was friends with my dad.

I grew up with the extended family dominated by my hunch-back grandmother who single-handedly ran a sheep ranch to support her five children under 12. I lived for five years in a family who spoke Italian to each other, but never to me.  I learned to watch and develop an understanding of “communication without words’, which has been the focus of my on-going professional life as a psychotherapist.

In the social dreaming group there were many other stories of immigration including those of Jewish families with the death threat of the Nazi persecutions.  Leaving one’s family of origin forever, moving locations, frequently changing schools, getting divorced, losing biological parents and losing important people through death were predominant themes in the group discussion.   Stories of loving deeply and losing very dear ones were accompanied by tales of determination, courage, hope and creative inspiration.  As the session ended, I reflected that in the group's stories it was possible to see cultural changes. The family movement was from pure struggles for physical and financial survival, to enjoyable work, increased educational opportunities and a developing interest in wider cultural issues such as art, poetry, dance and political activities.


As the afternoon of the first day drew in, the start of a new session, the Dream Matrix, was signalled by the placing of chairs in a higgledy-piggledy shape in the hillside. We were now looking directly at each other in this zigzagging circle as members again shared more dreams from the previous night.  One of the final dreams described suggested a theme of trusting the primary leader of the group enough to get help with floor plans to reconstruct a house.  This felt significant in view of the symbols of frigidity, lack of trust and a sense of fragility shown in the morning dream space.

In the Quickening which followed the dream-sharing, we explored some of the meaning behind our different ways of being together, including being together through the sharing of our dreams. I became aware of how we weren’t really giving voice to any hostilities or differences, but rather trying to let disappointment and conflict between us go ‘through the cracks’. I did try to acknowledge this a little, but it fell on deaf ears not ready to think about these things.

The sharing of dreams: feeling safe

When the first day had ended, I began thinking of my concerns about the process of Social Dreaming involving the sharing of dreams.  Initially the dreams seemed to reflect very constricted emotional expressiveness.  I saw this as being linked with the initial anxieties of group members just beginning to understand what being immersed in this particular group with these particular people would be like.   I couldn’t be certain if it was just the newness of the group or a very integrated personality which prompted such carefully formed dreams in which one felt safe.  

My dreams made me feel a bit of a rebel.  Compared to the contributions of others, my dreams seemed to vary rather dramatically from calm scenes to fiery ones.  Someone explained to me that my dreams were not ‘my possession’ but should rather be considered as part of the history of aborigine‘s dream-lines, part of the current emotional dreaming climate of our group.

In my own initial dreams I ‘saw’ emotional expression existing in others rather than in myself.   For example, I dream that:

A friend of mine, Ruth, is buying a second hand car for her husband. He is actually dead, but in the dream he is alive.  I am telling her, “Don’t buy a second hand car for him; if it breaks down he will panic!”

On reflection, it seems to me that I am afraid of the possibility that the group will not be able to hold my emotions safely.  It is also a dream which suggests how I resort to bossiness as a protection against primitive vulnerable emotions. I am aware that I am particularly vulnerable in this group with younger members, for their physical suppleness, youth and beauty makes me particularly aware that I am getting old.  The next important events that I am forced to face in my life are my retirement and my dying. I am clearly panicked about digging deeper to the spontaneous flow of feeling inside myself in the Dreaming Conference for I then dream:

I am near a lake in Italy.  I don’t want to swim in the water for I don’t like its cold, its deepness.  Also I am afraid that I can’t swim that far.

It seems that I am indeed worried about my capacities to bear my own intense emotional experiences in the group.  I am also afraid of dying.

Fragility and buried aggression

In the next group session, the new dream life of the group held fragility. This was expressed in a number of ways: by a baby in danger near a swimming pool and someone rescuing it, a flimsy suitcase and a dog who was in distress and needed to be physically held in order to calm down. The group's new beginning needed a lot of ‘emotional holding’ to feel less anxious and more willing to go beyond anxiety into deeper feelings within the personality.    My impression was that there was some kind of detachment and lack of acknowledgement of negative feelings in both my dreams and those of others.  I also wondered where the passion was. 

I shared my dream: 

I bit the Head of my hospital department. 

This female Doctor had asked me whether I felt she was too controlling in her relationships with other staff members.

The dream showed that clearly I had some aggression and was owning it, but no one, including me, gave any associations to my dream. The group was not ready to address this.  Only later did people reveal negative feelings in themselves.  One woman dreamt of being in a pretty silk dress and then wetting herself.  I imagined there was some messy aggression somewhere in our midst.  Letting out my aggression freed me to find something else inside myself.  That was my sexual feelings.  At work my colleagues are mainly women, but this group contained men who were attractive to me. 

Being moved by sadness

I was concerned though about the way in which we greeted individuals’ deeper emotions.   When tears were revealed, people seemed to continue talking with a sense of “business as usual”.  I felt it was difficult for me and others to allow ourselves to be disturbed and moved by a sad experience for very long.  My remarks in response to this phenomenon were as follows:             

Sometimes speaking feels like going away from the heart of the dreaming process.

And also I said: 

Sometimes there is a break in the dialogue with the self when we get into business as usual, leaving little space for the sobbing underneath like the river of water underneath the hot, sandy, dry riverbed of Soapy Bore. 

I felt ultimately relieved when I offered my dream:

I am with a friend who has her eyes filled with tears.  She had just heard her father had died but she could not tell me because she was sobbing so much. 

This echoes my crying relentlessly at the funeral of my father. I rarely saw him. He was an absent father who worked most hours of his life after normal office hours doing unpaid work for the community of immigrants finding refuge in our town as his family had before.

Finding Pompeii- a rebirth of creativity

Finally, during the length of the social dreaming group the whole process of dreaming at night and sharing dreams by day allowed me to find a red waterfall flowing down into deep recesses of myself until I discovered what I called my 'Pompeii'. 

Many images are painted on the red walls of one of the few remaining houses in Pompeii. I have reproductions of those drawings on my sitting room wall at home.  In a dream, these drawings of women dancing kept passing before my eyes.

Somehow I felt a deeper level of being had been stirred within myself.  Seeing all the figures pass before me in the dream allowed me to start imagining figures in the flames of the camp fire.  At that moment I felt the birth of some creativity being fired within me.  This was enhanced by the chanting of the group accompanied by the sound of tree branches swaying in the wind.  I felt truly grateful to have been so movingly touched and enriched by the sharing of dreams with people whom I had grown to admire, respect and love.

Final reflections

These are just a few reflections from my experience in The Heart of Dreaming Conference. Being without work commitments, without a telephone, without a city-life, without a work-life filled with expectations for a certain type of dress, a certain type of speech, left me feeling free.  Freedom is at the root of my being. From the very first moments of sitting in the group an awareness of what was really important and what were just ‘unnecessary trappings’ of life reverberated within me. 

From the very beginning of the gathering, my old thoughts and dreaming patterns were disrupted. I reflected on one of my earliest dreams within the group. I had dreamt there was a couple being dug up. They had been buried alive, but when they were uncovered they were still alive. The impact of the group on the individual personality is immense and I feel it. I am coming alive inside with memories of an old me that has been buried.  

On the final night, I had two dreams. In the first of these I dreamt:

There is a baby lying in a swing chair and I am wondering who is going to look after this baby.


I sense that the experience of being with a group of people sharing dreams and thinking about their emotional experiences somehow allowed one to go more quickly to the roots of oneself.  Now the task is to find ways of 'looking after the freed baby' that has been born through the conference encounters. This is occurring through listening to the sound of emotions within myself and writing down my thoughts here.  

The last dream, as I prepared to leave the Heart of Dreaming Conference, was a dream of mourning: 

I am with a woman whose initials are A.M.  She picks up the telephone and learns that her father has died.  Her eyes fill up with tears as she starts a deep sobbing.  I stay with her and give her a beautiful blue flower. 


I imagine that this is a dream of my seeing that I am (A.M.) mourning the loss of the wisdom imparted by dreaming, sharing and thinking about the impact of dreaming together in a group.   I realize now that the journey inward is a lengthy and life-long journey.  My travels inward have been facilitated by the Heart of Dreaming experiences where I became more deeply connected with others.

Jeanne Magagna


Beckett, S. (1961)  Happy Days.   New York: Grove Press.

Meltzer, D. (1984) Dreamlife.    Strathclyde, Perthshire: Clunie Press.