Dream illustration

Part 2 Social Dreaming #1: Thursday 12th January: Wellcome Collection Reading Room

Facilitation and write up: Valerie Brown and Juliet Scott

The first Social Dreaming event for 2017 had

29 dreamers, 17 of whom stayed until the end of the session,
Twelve dreams were presented,
Forty four or so associations were made

The Matrix

The session rapidly got underway and it was noted that there were few pauses, unlike many of the previous Reading Room sessions that took place in 2016. The first theme to emerge was on the nature of celebrity, closely followed by anxieties around internet use and social media, in particular how we can differentiate between truth and fiction. These associations progressed to societal concerns, in particular the USA election and issues of home and security, touching on migration, as well as the business of life, childhood and loss.

The first dream involved a visit home to Nigeria with the dreamer enjoying reacquainting herself with her isolated cottage. Whilst cleaning and tidying, she found a basket that didn’t belong to her, containing a beautiful, vibrant green snake. There was a warm summery ambiance in the dream and she felt no fear as the snake looked up at her.

The second dream took place in California with the dreamer, who in reality had never visited the place, going for a run. She found herself running passed Jack Nicholson, giving him a kiss on the cheek before he hugged her back. She then met the founder of Facebook and asked him to describe the view from his window; a dry landscape with a lot of trees. They went on to have a jamming session in his music studio, which was great fun. Walking on to work she told colleagues about the great time she had had.

An association was made by someone who had seen Mark Zuckerberg jogging over a bridge in Lagos, this mention of famous people sparked off the memory of an old dream from another participant who remembered that when she was sitting her ‘O’ levels, she dreamt of meeting the actor Steve McQueen, who told her not to worry about the exams. This dream had made her feel less anxious.

Associations on the theme of celebrity continued with comments that celebrity is ubiquitous today, with reality shows enabling anyone to be a celebrity, or even a president. Talent was not seen to be a necessary requirement for celebrity status by one person.

This prompted a question to the Matrix, ’Has anyone dreamt about Trump?’ Someone had, but couldn’t remember any detail. A dream fragment was then presented with one person trying to piece together different snatches of the previous night’s dreams. This included eating steak and chips in a pre-packaged container in her parents’ home.
An association was made to the word ‘steak’, with someone asking what kind of stake do we have in the society we live in? What kind of a role do we have to play? What about people who don’t have a role in society?

No body followed up on this and the next association turned back to celebrity and ‘fake society’ with the phrase ‘plastic fantastic’ used by one person to express contemporary concepts of beauty.
A beauty App was mentioned, where you could change how you looked, enabling people to post pictures on line, where they no longer look like themselves.

The focus of the associations shifted to social media with discussion centring on authenticity and the differences between ‘real’ and ‘cyber’ lives. What would be the purpose of posting on line images that don’t reflect what you know you look like? Was this to make others envious?

The dominance of smart phones and the difficulties of finding good social /cultural guidance was a concern for one person, especially in respect of Nigerian youth, who she said looked to the West for guidance.
The equal footing of news stories on social media preoccupied several people, with comments that all stories seemed to be allocated the same value, with little discernment between real, shallow or even ‘fake news.’ Stories seem validated by repetition.

Issues of home and security, together with a nod towards migration surfaced with people commenting on the backdrop of Nigeria and California for the first two dreams. Another participant said that they were a foreigner- what did this mean? She dreamt that she should move to Exeter, but had never been there.

The internet was cited to be ‘another territory’ by someone before the associations moved towards dream experience; how the unfamiliar was familiar in dreams. Someone commented that most of the dreams they had didn’t feature a specific location and that the sense of home in dreams was about a feeling rather than specific imagery.

Another person associated the concerns of life, particularly the pursuit of work and travel, with positive happenings in dreams.

Conversation returned to the first dream and how in reality the discovery of a snake in Nigeria is always accompanied by experience of fear. But in her dream, the snake was serene and the dreamer put the basket containing it back into its original position.

The conversation then became more personal and after a short time discussing the beauty of snakes and how they are killed in Africa, the matrix was reminded that its work was not to personally interpret dreams, but rather to associate with them. A new theme then emerged on the business of daily life.

A comparison was made between the business of the matrix, which left little space to think for one member, and the beginning of 2017 which heralded a return to work with an already full diary and a worry that 2017 would be a busy year with no time. Someone associated this with the year starting badly for the NHS.

Interpreting the meaning of a new year led to associations with how one predicts the outcome based on early observations, including the saying that the weather on the first day of the year will relate to the weather for the rest of the month- raining for a month!

Conversation about how we like to impose structures on things began and how the 31 December and 1 January are in reality just two days side by side. This led on to someone saying we should live in the moment and not attempt predict the future.

A question was posed about the meaning of the term matrix- derived from the word ‘womb’ and representing a container within which something can develop. The person wanted to know how this could be explained to a 7 year old?

It was again noted that the job of the matrix was to associate with dreams, rather than become involved in individual conversations and a series of associations on the theme of personal security and the feeling of ‘home’ were then presented in quick succession, alongside the suggestion that there is so much material in dreams- can their meanings get lost?

The definition of ‘home’ as a feeling, or a safe place where we can retreat to gain relief from the anxieties of the world, turned towards dreams from childhood. In one, the dreamer’s younger self had a feeling they could fly, accompanied by a sense of fearlessness that anything could be achieved, including flying up to place a basketball into a hoop. One day this feeling disappeared, but another person said that they still experienced reoccurring flying dreams.

The next dream involved a pride of lions outside someone’s home. As soon as a window was secured, another would open and a lion would try and enter. She had a sense that she was being caught for murdering someone and concealing the body, but that this had happened a long time ago.

Another childhood dream recounted was about falling. The dreamer was inside a house that she didn’t remember, apart from a big central staircase; the experience was accompanied by pleasant memories of home.

The next dreamer recounted waking up laughing, but couldn’t remember what about, although she would have like to.

Associations with laughter included a woman asking her daughter what she did with her friends and receiving the response, ‘Just laughing’, before musing that laughter is a good thing and that we sometimes forget we should laugh.

For another, laughter on waking reminded her of waking up from anaesthesia and ‘over the top’ emotions.
The strangeness of dreams in relation to memory became a theme, how we often don’t remember them and you can ‘dream a dream that wasn’t a dream’

One man returned to the first dream wondering if we are programmed to react in a particular way to certain things –‘You didn’t react with fear in the dream. Is Trump the green snake?’ Maybe there is a sense of things not being so bad as they might be?

For one person Obama came to mind, and his words that we risk living in an era where we can locate ourselves in a bubble with social media allowing us to choose our own reality.

This sparked a comment that being busy can prevent us getting in touch with what makes us uncomfortable.

A heavy workload was again cited as cause for concern, alongside relief at being able to develop a way of working with colleagues that made this more manageable by creating a diagram to divide things into segments. The speaker said she was associating with this image/diagram.

Another dream was recounted that spoke of loved ones who had passed away, but in the dream time could be spent with them and minutes felt like hours. The dream felt like a memory of something that could have really happened, although, with the exception of playing with a dog, things happened that would not normally happen. The dreamer felt ‘honoured’ and energised by these ‘visits’.

Someone thought this sounded like ‘going home’, and another wondered if the dreamer felt sad when she woke up.
The next dreamer recalled a dream from her mother, conversing with her deceased husband who told her he had not left her.

The theme of loss continued with someone associating with the value of a therapeutic experience (despite initial scepticism) that had helped her to resolve issues of abandonment following the death of her mother when she was 2 years old. Again the departed spoke asking, ‘ Do you know how hard it was for me to leave you?’ What are the boundaries between the ‘real’ world and the dream world asked someone – is the dream world an extra- real estate where you can hope to resolve things?

The next dream took place on a sandbank island with the dreamer and her departed Dad. He spoke of how difficult the world is, but held out promise of an unimaginably beautiful afterlife. He hugged her in a rose garden before he was suddenly gone.

Several members of the matrix agreed that life was difficult.

There was barely time for a final association about walking across Waterloo Bridge when visiting London and how it was possible to feel like a Londoner, in spite of living elsewhere and that London was a beautiful city when the matrix closed and review mode commenced.


During the review no further dreams or associations are presented and two members of the matrix began with comments on how enjoyable and stimulating it was to interact with strangers, gaining glimpses in to other lives and countries. There was a sense of surprise that a group of strangers could so rapidly fall into quite deep communication with each other. One participant spoke of how ‘a community of fears’ had been created where universal anxieties came out uncontrolled.

There was some confusion about what the matrix was designed to achieve and observations about the gender split, as more women were present than men, and that there were few younger participants. Could this be due to the timing of the session?

Several comments suggested that the matrix provided a refuge; a space where people could shut down from the external world, whilst also enabling communication with each other. Was there a sense that people didn’t want to accept the influence of the world on their private dreams? Someone suggested that dreams were analogue and that this was nice in digital age.

An opinion was voiced that attempts to associate with the outside world didn’t get very far, and were shut down with no one mentioning political instability or terrorism. Why didn’t we speak to these associations? Was this because we are overloaded and that too much stimulus closes engagement down.

For one person the matrix felt like being in a cocoon in the face of ambient noise. Another felt that the experienced was like an exposed intimacy, which was helpful in a way and not unlike the intimate realities that are exposed in the media. A feeling was expressed that today we are all equally threatened, which reduces the need to consider external things and that people like opportunities to focus on subjective /internal considerations.

Matrix members also commented on the openness of the experience having a protective effect which is not dissimilar from the openness within our society.

The opportunity to take part in the matrix and the collective cooperation was welcomed by several people, one of whim also expressed that she missed privacy.

Did the matrix feel that the best response to world events, fast moving technological advances and the difficulties of life was to shut off, taking refuge in dreams that are private and personal? Is the best response to laugh without knowing why, or perhaps the world is not as scary as we think, or is it our sense of reality that is off kilter?

Next Social Dreaming Matrix #2 will be held on Thursday 19th January 7-8.15pm in the Wellcome Collection Reading Room.

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Events and engagement, Reflections and Practice