"Deep in the Amazon rainforest, dreaming matters." This discovery led Charles Fisher, M.D., and Beth Kalish-Weiss, P.h.D., into the Ecuadorian rainforest to conduct research on the Achuar people's dream analysis practices. "We hoped to gain new insights from their dream material, use of symbolism, use of the unconscious, transference phenomena, theory of action, and decision-making that could be helpful with our own patients." Dreaming and Reality, a presentation by Fisher of these findings, constituted SFCP's first fall Scientific Meeting. 

Fisher began the presentation with a short video introducing the Achuar people and their daily dream rituals. Every morning, the Achuar awaken early and participate in a cleansing ritual before sharing their dreams, which are then interpreted by shamans/elders and used to make group decisions for the day. Despite the emphasis on the concrete, manifest content is often just an entry point for a complex exploration of the dreamer's associations, contextual data, direct personal knowledge of the dreamer, and the interpreter's associative dreams -- a process akin to psychoanalytic methodology. 

Where Fisher found Achuar dream theory diverged from psychoanalytic theory was in the predictive nature of dreams. However, he noted an emerging emphasis on the idea of dreams as representations of unconscious wishes and a shift away from the view that dreams point to a deeper reality outside of the dreamer. 

Fisher presented four major implications for dream theory: (1) Dreams are deferred action plans. This concept dovetails with many contemporary psychoanalysts' concept of dreams as "trial actions," an extension of Freud's theory that thought is "trial action." (2) The dreamer's disclosure is a communication to the audience; "the anticipated audience functions as an important day residue for the dream itself." (3) The relationship between dream and reality is culturally bound and fluid; "changes in the psychic relationship between dreaming and reality reflect the dreamer's response to cultural change in indigenous societies as in our own." (4) One may view "dreams as a product of primary process thought as refined and nuanced as is secondary process [thought]."

Discussants and community members raised stimulating questions, such as whether we are inhibited by our Western notion of dreams being private. Is this community dream-sharing process, which functions as social currency, inherently limiting or expanding with respect to the possibilities of the mind? Is communal dreaming a concept we need in psychoanalysis? Holding these questions in mind may prove beneficial for defining and challenging rigid notions of dream theory application. For as Fischer reminds us, "Our dreams shape our culture, while our culture informs how we understand and respond to our dreams."

Jane Reingold, MFT 
IMPULSE Staff Writer