Dreaming with Elaine Kennis, Australia
When did you start taking serious notice of your dreams and why?
I started really taking notice in year 2001. I was 50 years old and it was shortly after my mother died from a prolonged battle with breast cancer.
I had a vivid and distressing nightmare which demanded attention. In my search for answers I came across a little book which changed my life; called “The Book of Dreaming” by Sally Gillespie, published in 2000. I tracked down the author and began working with dreams as part of an in-person dream group.
This experience was entirely new to me and gradually I became very tuned to listening with great care and focus to the wisdom and guidance provided by the dreams. My life took a new direction and opened up in a remarkable way.
What do dreams mean to you now?
16 years later, I continue to be guided by my dreams. Sometimes I follow the faintest of golden threads, they have lead me around the world to meet remarkable people and to spend time in sacred landscapes. Dreams help me in my relationships with people, my work as a counsellor, and serve as an inspiration in my life. I feel such gratitude to have dreams as a reliable and trustworthy entry point into my mysterious inner world.
You work as a grief counsellor. Do you make dreams part of your counselling process. If so, in what way?
Yes, I find dreams a valuable tool in my work at the hospital. I work in the cancer support service with clients suffering cancer, their carers and family members, including young children. I also run bereavement groups and lead discussions on end of life, death and dying. It is an extraordinary privilege.
In counselling, it is an organic process. Clients often disclose vivid and confusing dreams in the course of the session. I will then invite them to explore the dream, and together we tease out the themes and symbolic suggestions presented by the dreaming voice.
Often the dreaming voice is suggesting certain steps for the client to complete before they die. Or loved ones appear to support the client forward. Old emotional patterns are revealed, extraordinary spiritual experiences are shared.
I find myself constantly surprised and encouraged by clients willingness to step into their dreams. They can sense the support from within themselves and sometimes feel less alone and less afraid of end of life.
A few years ago at a dream conference in Sydney, I attended a dream group led by you and was very impressed by the way you approached dreams. I believe you also run an in-person dream group that has been meeting regularly for many years. Can you share the principles that guide you in your group dream work?
Thank you Metka, for your kind remarks. My approach to group work is largely informed by the early and original work I shared with Sally Gillespie. At that time she was the president of the Sydney Jung Society. So it was a Jungian approach. She gave us simple, yet strict guidelines around confidentiality, possible opening responses to a dream shared, basically non interpretive... we were taught to allow and encourage the dreamer to draw forth... this allows the dreamer to trust their own instincts, own associations and feelings. The dreamer learns to trust and tease out the symbolic language presented by the dream.
Also, importantly, Sally kept it light and transparent… sometimes we are completely left with unfathomable mystery!! Not everything can be explained !!!!!
What has kept your dream group together for such a long time?
Our dream group currently has two members from the original group 15 years ago, the other four members about 8- 6 years. The group has fluctuated with members moving interstate, work commitments, family arrangements and recommendations from friends… so it has been an organic and regenerative group of seekers.
The binding qualities of the group would be consistency (meet once a month) at the same venue, trusting and non-judgmental, profound respect for the process and the deepening of a spiritual awareness for all members. All of the members have done extensive personal research into other forms of dream work, we share and expand our work with workshops, conferences and online study. We all access the rich international dreaming communities.
You live in Sydney, Australia, and are the Vice-President of Dream Network Australia which offers four dream workshops per year. What is the aim of these workshops, how many people attend them, what can interested dreamers expect to get from them?
The aim of these four workshops is educative and experiential. We promote discussion and open dialogue about the value of dreams in Australian culture. It is about building a face-to-face dreaming community and a resource for people to explore. It is an experimental, creative and learned community.
It is important for me to embrace the knowledge we are bedded in the land of indigenous aboriginal culture which evolved from the great Dreamtime.
Attendance to the workshops in North Sydney varies, we have had as many as twenty people and as little as eight.
Attendance to the bi-annual conferences is well over a hundred.
The committee suggest topics which may be of interest, seek out presenters within special areas, explore and teach various methods to work with dreams, share new research and learnings from international conferences. Some topics we have covered would be leadership in dreams, fairy tales, methods of mapping and recording dreams, animal totems, dialoguing with the elementals, symbolic language, latest scientific research, dreams from famous people, dreams in tribal culture, dreams about place and belonging within Australia. Sometimes we hold dream group sessions to model various processes, do creative processes with printmaking, clay modelling, collage and journaling. We always have yummy food and refreshments… dream work can make you hungry for more!!!
Early this year we kicked off with a beautiful three day residential retreat on the North Coast and totally immersed ourselves in dreams. 16 people attended.
Next year in October 25th to 28th 2018 we will be running a major international dream conference in Sydney called “deep listening to the patterns of our time”. This is spearheaded by Susannah Benson the president. Please keep an eye on the Dream Network Australia site to get more information, as this event unfolds.
My feeling is that Australians are very hesitant about sharing dreams. Would you agree?
I disagree with you Metka on this point. I think given the opportunity, most people love to have someone listen to their dream.
I believe you are raising a broader cultural issue where generally the everyday Australian has never been taught to value or respect their dreams. Dreams are generally dismissed as confused gibberish and not understood as a personal resource to be tapped. Occasionally a terrifying nightmare will grab attention as it did for me.
We can start to change these attitudes quite simply by introducing the topic of dreams around the dinner table with family and friends, or over coffee with an open minded friend. I believe a more groundswell movement from bottom up is the way to go.
You also attended and presented at a recent dream conference in Auckland, New Zealand. What was your impression of the dreaming community in New Zealand?
The dream community in New Zealand is vibrant and growing. This is largely due to the efforts of one woman; Margaret Bowater. Margaret has developed a certified training program for dream work. Her students are forging networks throughout both islands. She is the president of Dream Network Aotearoa and has recently published a book called ‘Healing the Nightmare - Freeing the Soul”. A practical guide to dream work.
This conference held in October 2017 was called ‘Dreams, Imagination and Healing’; it attracted a very diverse group of presenters and attendees. A large number of therapists, nurses, artists, mental health practitioners, doctors and poets were present.
I was invited to give one of the keynotes, where I presented eight case studies of dreams and visions around death and dying. I also ran two workshops on dreams and healing, based on a new process I learnt in the Netherlands at the international ISAD conference in 2016. I love the New Zealanders for their almost ruthless honesty, self-enquiry and practicality. They show great willingness to give things a go.
I would encourage everyone to join the NZ Network and gain access to the wonderful newsletters and discussions. A broad sharing with our neighbours is really healthy.
You like to combine dream work with visual expressions. Why do you find creating artwork on the basis of your dreams important?
Creative artwork and expression has always been close to my heart. When I left school, I trained as an art teacher at the national art school and teachers college.
I taught in high schools for 10 years, retrained in early childhood and became a director of a community preschool for 20 years, retrained in holistic counselling and worked in private practice/hospital for 10... still going!!!
Creative expression in all its forms has been a constant companion during my working life. It enhances, guides and explains my inner world. Things become clearer for me and I gain rich insights from the visual or the felt expression from dance and movement. Recently I have been using clay in my women groups and dream groups as a way of expressing a feeling, a symbol, a story… a wonderful and unknown process unfolds before my eyes as people allow the clay to form itself without criticism. Art helps us to access another part of the brain, it opens doorways and windows into the soul.
Would you like to share a dream and related artwork?
Recently I did a body of inner personal work with Kahuna Kalei (a Hawaian priestess) on the big island, Hawaií. A dream led me to her. I didn’t really know why… but I have learnt to trust these fragile threads.
She took me to a deep place of personal healing, supported by the intense and extraordinary landscape of the smouldering volcano and the goddess Pele.
Here is some artwork I did around that experience on the island . This artwork was done at one of the Dream Network workshops in Sydney. We were working with the theme of archetypes.