Holistic Dream Studies in Academia

A hundred years from now our future ‘ancestors’ will look back to appraise, hopefully with compassion, what we have contributed to the evolution of human consciousness. By then, dreams will be such an integral aspect of life that this time in the history of the dream movement will be seen as the crucial step in the development of a global dream awareness. Every new discovery made in the field of dream education and research is a stepping stone creating a path which opens to the vast dimensions and potential of our dreaming mind which leads to the advancement of our human consciousness.

For this particular issue of Dream Network, I was asked to share my involvement in the dream movement, in particular how I came to establish the Dream Study Program at John F. Kennedy University in California. The program is a pioneering graduate program that explores a holistic approach to understanding and working with dreams. It examines the importance of dreams in science, psychology, mythology, shamanism and art and has three concentrations: Education, Consulting and Art. The growing program includes graduate students from various disciplines who are all interested in incorporating dreams into their various professional fields.

My involvement in the dream movement began in the early 80s. I was fortunate to mentor with Daniel Kortenkamp, at the University of Wisconsin, who was one of the very few professors teaching consciousness, parapsychology and dreams at the undergraduate level. He handed me any new publications on dreams including the first issue of Dream Network. From those early publications one could feel the excitement which was hovering in the air. A great magnet was pulling researchers, therapists, educators and artists together to exchange ideas about dreaming. Dreams were a special attraction that bonded people together. In those early days, dream conferences or meetings were like a family reunion.

The first conference of the Association for the Study of Dreams (ASD) in San Francisco in 1984 not only brought together the scholarly investigation of dreams, but also built a supportive community that has been going strong for 20 years. At the time, I was investigating the scientific and psychological aspects of dreaming as part of my studies, but as an artist, I was also exploring dreams through a different eye. Since the arts were not represented at ASD, I took on the vision of bringing the arts to this developing movement. To researchers and psychologists, it was not immediately obvious that art was a valid and deep way of knowing particularly in relation to dreaming. Scientific investigation is often emphasized as the predominant mode of inquiry in consciousness studies, however, I felt the arts also had an equal place at the foreground in the dream movement as an essential vehicle for exploring the dreaming mind.

This conviction resulted in fifteen years of supporting the arts by instigating the ASD arts committee in 1988; by co-founding Dream Creations (1990) and facilitating the first Bay Area dream artists meeting (1994) all of which have been going strong ever since.

While I engaged with this work in support of the arts, I was also finishing my doctorate degree researching and writing on lucid dreaming and modern art. No matter how supportive the various institutions I had studied and thought at were, I saw a great need for a full-fledged interdisciplinary dream studies program. In the early 90’s I had established an interdisciplinary training program in dreams and offered courses in private practice in my newly established Dream Creation Center in San Francisco. I was also travelling to other centers giving workshops and retreats on Dream Creation Method. Although the teachings were successful and the method was very effective, I wanted to spend my energy developing something more long lasting that could make an impact in the field. I was ambivalent toward establishing a training program of my own so I put out a prayer for being in a receptive academic institution in which I could develop a dream studies program. At the time there were no accredited graduate level university interdisciplinary programs on dreaming, the study of dreams was often folded into the field of psychology.

In 1995, I accepted an associate professor appointment at John F. Kennedy University (JFKU) in the Graduate School of Holistic Studies. In my interview for the position I announced my vision up-front: I let them know that I was interested in developing this program and the Dean of the School was very supportive. Of course I had gained the trust of the institution for six years as an adjunct faculty, teaching many courses on psychology, dreams and art. But creating a new program with no history was certainly challenging. I felt they also made a commitment to support me all the way. At this time, I closed my private practice and put all my energy into the creation of the dream studies program.

The proposal for the dream studies program took several months to develop. I’ll never forget what went through my mind while walking to the Academic Standards meeting with the dream studies proposal in my hand. What could I say to defend dreams in an academic setting? How could I convince the faculty and the chairs of different departments that dreams belong to interdisciplinary studies? How would I voice the importance of this field so that we could defend it with our accreditation Board? How would I take the step toward making dream studies a field amongst the other established disciplines? I had a major task at hand and my only guide and support was my strong conviction that dream awareness is one of the essential steps to discovering our full potential as human beings and its study was essential in the development of human consciousness. Perhaps it was because I felt indebted to the dreaming world for saving my life and bringing so many gifts to it. Perhaps it was having observed the constant transformation that dreams brought to the lives of my students and clients. Perhaps I was guided by the “future ancestors” who were holding my hands to move forward, to lay the groundwork, one stone at the time. I knew for certain that the intention for creating this program had a much larger implication than my own personal agenda. For that matter, I felt humble and held in a very loving and beautiful space. There was no doubt in my mind and I walked in with absolute certainty.

I was drilled with one question after another. But the major concern was that dreams seem to belong to the field of psychology and therefore should be offered under psychology, yet I was determined that dreams belonged to interdisciplinary studies. To me dreams belong to every discipline. We all dream, therefore dreaming benefits everyone and in every field. Although my professional training was in psychology, I saw dreams belonging to a larger field of study. What assisted my argument was my perspective and education from having been at the ASD conferences since their inception and observing the diversity of discourse and inquiry into the field. Dreams are studied and practiced in a variety of disciplines such as religion, anthropology, cognitive science, psychology and the arts.

Developing a program in an academic institution is not an easy task. Every step towards the creation of this program had to go through several committees to be approved. This process can take months or sometimes years. I spoke often with Mena Potts at the Union Graduate School about the development of their Ph.D. program on dreams. To have her program was a great support while at the same time I was proposing an onsite (classroom) program that had different implications.

The development of this program had an organic beginning, at first offering one course on dreams — “Theory and Practice of Dreams” in 1989 — and then growing as I proposed other courses on dreams. The program first began as a concentration within the Department of Interdisciplinary Consciousness in 1996 and then became an independent program in the fall of 2000. To keep the interdisciplinary nature of the program, core courses on dreams were developed with different tracks under the programs in integral psychology, consciousness studies, holistic health and art. Therefore the certificate program’s 36 units is cognitively, experientially and experimentally oriented and has a holistic model of viewing, and working with dreams.

One of the major aspects of developing an educational program within an accredited institution is the creation of a solid professional library. Knowing the importance of this pillar I began working on the library collection when I taught the first course at JFKU in 1989. At that time, they had only a handful of books on dreams whereas they now have one of the most extensive collections of books and journals on dreams.

I believe this program is the first graduate “in-class” program in an accredited academic institution. The implication of this program and hopefully other programs in establishing the field dreams is crucial. Such a program is advancing the field very rapidly as students are beginning to bridge and integrate different disciplines and write very creative and inspiring research papers. Although research and writing on dreams have been prolific since the mid 80’s there is still so much ground-breaking research yet to be done. The excitement of creating a dream program is to see the development of a dream culture. I have witnessed incredibly rich and vibrant dialogues among the students and faculty. Students have been forming dream groups, doing collaborative research projects, having in-depth exchanges of ideas and have much excitement about brining dream education into the world. The dream studies students come from varied fields of study such as business, psychology, education, health, politics, art and consciousness and aspire to bring dreaming into their fields in order to advance them. Some students have continued on to do doctoral work, while others are teaching in colleges and have private dream work practices. Students in the art track are creating incredible interactive dream exhibitions which include creations from dreams while at the same time work to articulate the process of creation.

For me, the most meaningful part of this development has been to witness each student’s major life transformations as they go through the program and to see the harmonious community being created by having one common interest: dreams. The program has already hosted two major ASD regional conferences with students as volunteers and presenters; we also invited our local Bay Area Dream Group (BADG) to have an exchange of ideas and have field trip to the Novato Dream Library and Archives.

As for the dream movement... we have seen so many movements come and go. People go through phases of being interested in a topic, but the dream movement is here to stay as it has always been since ancient times. The difference at this time in history is that dream awareness is crawling into all different walks of lives and is demanding our attention by connecting us together. More and more people will discover that dreaming is an important and integral aspect of their lives and I know that more academic institutions will become open to acknowledge dream studies as a valid and important discipline in their educational systems.

As students of dream studies graduate, we will see more courses taught at colleges and high schools and we will see the creation of more dream centers all over the world. These centers will help bring about a world where: dreaming is discussed regularly at the breakfast table with our families and friends; the wisdom of the ancient cultures, who have for un-known centuries utilized dreams for spiritual guidance and healing, is acknowledged; dreams are used regularly for problem-solving in many fields. Working with dreams is changing our culture by educating us to think metaphorically, by helping us learn to work through our inner conflicts and bring the gift of creativity into our everyday lives. Dream awareness brings hope for our future and gives us a chance to live in a harmonious world. ℘