On an early spring morning, I awaken with a simple but very touching dream. Dwight Hawai (a good friend of mine) and I are giving each other a hug. In the dream, we are exchanging a deep connection. In heartful embrace, both our chests connect. I feel a subtle quasi-electrical current is being exchanged heart-to-heart. With this, the dream ends.
Upon awakening, this special sensation in my chest continued. I became puzzled by the dream. This hypnopompic experience sparked me to ask seemingly simple questions, slowly opening multiple horizons of inquiry: How should I understand the connection that I felt so deeply in the dream? What, or who was it about? Why was Dwight the agent, and trigger, of this felt sense of fullness and love?
Focusing on the nature of the dream’s relational experience, numerous aspects of dream relationality unfold. What arises in the meaning-making process depends on the questions we ask. For instance: could the dream be about what Dwight represents for me ––a particular imago? Alternatively, is it about Dwight?––my concern for him. Could the dream be about Dwight and me––our friendship? Or was it about “being in one’s heart”?
Each question foregrounds a particular aspect of the relationship that puts either “me” at the center of the inquiry, or “him” (Dwight), or “us” (i.e., our relationship) or “that” (i.e., ‘being in one’s heart”).
Daniel Deslauriers, PhD is Professor in the Transformative Studies Doctorate at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in San Francisco, and former chair of East-West Psychology program. Teacher, author and performer, he directs narrative, theoretical, and art-based research at CIIS. He co-wrote Integral dreaming. A holistic approach to dreams (Sage). His work intersects contemplative, transpersonal, and consciousness studies, as well as embodied relational practices, which led him to study and teach Contact Improvisation.
One of the most striking aspects of this dream is how it offered a significant somatic bloom. Impactful dreams have a particular sensory and somatic character (Kuiken et al., 2006; Jaenke, 2000). The felt sense during the dream seemed to delight not only the dreambody (the subtle dream self, or dream ego), but extended to my physical body. Writing about the hypnopompic experience, Daly (2016) asserts that the dream-waking state, or hypnopompia, is a unique liminal state through which the subtle body can be felt and through which “embodied knowledge and healing may be received and experienced” (p. iv). My dream confirms this: a unique somatic felt sense constellated around the heart, triggering a feeling that was still pulsing in me as I woke up. This lingering feeling, bridging both sleeping and waking, not only made the dream impactful and memorable but also was the spark of a further deepening embodied inquiry.
I offer this personal analysis of my dream in the spirit of Scholarly Personal Narrative (SPN) (Nash & Viray, 2014). This builds on the notions that stories are a complex mode of knowing (Deslauriers, 1992) and that personal narratives can enhance scholarly inquiry. I paid close attention to the unfolding details of my experience while engaging in an in-dwelling process that ties my felt-sense to intellectual inquiry. In other words, I followed the existential and philosophical questions that were opening in my attempt of meaning-making, while at the same time drawing far and wide from personal history, philosophical literature, and research.
I had the dream just as I was preparing for a conference on the topic of intersubjectivity in dreams. The dream became ‘exhibit A’ for that talk: my ideas were developed as I was tracing the complex lacing pattern between theory and experience. The meaning of the dream gradually unfolded as I was writing about it, sharing it with friends and family, and meticulously trying to answer the queries brought by those with whom I was sharing it.
Beginning with the central dream image-—the heartful embrace—I felt that it was pointing to the core nature of intersubjectivity, that is, the lived experience of a shared feeling. This sense of sharing may appear obvious at first glance and should not come as a surprise. That is, until we start peeling away the layers of our assumptions around the act of knowing, to discover that the very notion of “shared feeling” is not a given, echoing a theme that runs deeply into the very fracture of our modes of knowing, especially the ascendency of objectivity that privileges distance and detachment. In which way is the act of knowing connected to the place of ‘knowing with’? Already here, is a clue to the relational nature of heart-knowing.
What is certain is that I do have a real friendship with Dwight in waking life, and the dream seemed to be sourcing from it. I had never dreamt of a male friend in this way. Our friendship had deepened when a few weeks before the dream, I offered to take him to the Hilo (Hawaii) hospital for his initial appointment for radiation and chemotherapy. I remember how deeply moved he was that I had offered to help. He told me that asking for help was not easy for him: for most of his life, he had been the one in the helping role. Now, the tables had turned, and he had to tame the feeling of awkwardness about receiving help. On the way to the appointment, our sharing brought both of us close to tears––a spontaneous emergence––where together we recognized how the acts of giving and receiving are core during times of shared vulnerability. With life and death providing an existential backdrop, the somatic felt sense of the preciousness of friendship was only sharpened; there was no time for pretense.
Called by my teaching tasks on the continent, I had to leave Hawaii. I did not see him for the entirety of his treatment, which was completed when I had the dream. So, the dream came as a surprise. I had booked a flight back to Hawaii the day before the dream and perhaps the dream was in anticipation of my return. However, that return was not to be, opening a new relational twist heralded by the dream.
Two days after the dream, I received a call from my brother in Montreal alerting me that my father was now lying in the hospital, nursing a heart problem, something that, at 91, he had never suffered before. When I asked my brother when my father was taken to the hospital, he told me the Thursday prior––the very morning I had the dream. The phone call immediately brought back the dream and thrust upon it a new light. The connection with the heart took on an almost literal significance. At that moment, the dream took on a telepathic bent. I saw the dream as foreshadowing that something is the matter with the heart. It was compelling me to put my attention on the life of the heart.
The dream, with its straightforward intersubjective theme, was beginning to shape my response to this unwelcome news about my father. While the dream started with Dwight, it was now giving me hints on how to be with my father, in this new situation. Now I perceived it as a call to get closer to my father, as the dream image of the hug emphasized proximity. More meaningfully though, it was an invitation to take action “from the heart.”
With this recognition about acting from the heart, the dream inquiry further deepened 1.
A proper state of balance with life, attained through conscious participation in internal and external feedback loops, bestows a natural delight, the celebrated joie de vivre.
Indeed, by then the dream was starting to fuel an inquiry into the nature of heart knowing. What does it mean to act “from the heart”? How should I understand this dream admonition for closer proximity? As empathy? Compassion? Respect? As engaging from a loving place? As a special way to be present, to listen, and to “co-feel” with a parent? In the context of elder care, these questions took on a particular trajectory. What does it mean to enter the place of the heart with an elder parent whose perception of the world is becoming increasingly disconnected from consensual reality because of dementia, whereby the very texture of intersubjectivity is fraying?
Intersubjective and Transsubjective Awakening—a Theoretical Interlude
The intersubjective view of dreaming pushes back against the commonsense notion that dreams are mainly a personal display of images and sensations. The fact that dreams arise autonomously in sleep when we disconnect from those around us and unplug from our electronic devices, heightens the perception of subjective isolation. Dreams may be uniquely and subjectively “ours,” intimating a deeper connection to self. Still, they do not belong exclusively to the subjective realm. For even if we are the sole creator and experiencer of our dreaming, the “Other” does not vanish.
On the contrary, most of our dreams contain people with whom we interact and share the dream space. Researchers have proposed that the purpose of dreaming may be to track the constant changes in the complex relational web within waking life (Kahn and Hobson, 2005; McNamara, 2004).
We dream so that we can figure out pathways of meaning and action within the many intersubjective spaces we inhabit. For example, authors have shown how dreams are making personal commentary on social events linked to our relational world (Lippman, 1998; Meltzer, 2009). Others have shown how the dream is polyphonic in nature, as an amalgam of the voices of the self and others. This begs the question: What are the limits of intrapsychic space when it is ‘overflowing’ in many ways, since the dreamer is part of an ‘intersubjective chain’ (Kaës, 2002, p. 77)?
Dream imagery is often interlaced with emotions and affect that at once disclose, color and structure the nature of the many relationships we inhabit at any given time (Demos, 1995; Tomkins, 1982). Simply put, dreaming helps us to metabolize the relational ins and outs of our social waking life (Bogzaran and Deslauriers, 2012).
What these authors and researchers’ findings share in common is the relational dynamics that form the basis of the dreaming experience. Furthermore, Hall (1972) and Domhoff (1996) have shown that the waking-dreaming continuity is scaffolded around personal relationships earlier captured in the research of Hall and Van de Castle (1966).
Of course, not all cultures make a sharp dichotomy between waking and dreaming experiences as is typical in the West (Tedlock, 2005), nor is the nature of the self fully distinct from that of the group or the ecological matrix (Colorado, 2021, Kimmerer, 2021).
Drawing from evolutionary theory, the work of Revonsuo and Valli (2000) proposes a “threat simulation theory” of dreaming, including those posed by others. While this theory helps make sense of the place of vigilance about (social) threats, it falls short of explaining the more positive and altruistic dreams such as the Heartful Embrace dream. We do not just rehearse threat scenarios in dreams, but also virtuous or beneficial scenarios as well. To rehearse such scenarios may be just as essential in facing complex social events, such as the long-term care of infants, or of a parent at the end of life.
To reflect this, Revonsuo, Tuominen and Valli (2015) more recently proposed a Social Simulation Theory of dreaming, whereby dreams immerse us into a virtual social reality as a means to practice “evolutionary important functions of social perception and social bounding” (p 23).
A new branch of brain research known as social neuroscience seeks to understand the foundational role of relationality in human life (Todorov, Fiske & Prentice, 2011), and within which the central role of dream relationality, including the orienting role of dream affect, fits very well. In particular, some have sought to better understand pro-social behavior and altruism (Pfaff, 2015), which address virtuous emotions such as found in the Heartful Embrace dream.
For his part, Breton (2008) hypothesized a social mapping function for dreaming: “the neurophysiology of dreaming may have been a preadaptation for the evolution of hominid consciousness” by locating the dreamer “in emotionally salient social space, a trait possibly derived from hippocampal spatial mapping” (p. 379).
While the intersubjective nature of dreaming is becoming well established, the role of intersubjectivity in dream meaning making has not always followed suit. Since the latter quarter of the 20th century, dreamers have been cast as the primary arbiters of dream meaning. This is a core heuristic in dreamwork. However, this subjective focus should not become unduly narrow. To moor the dreaming mind on the shores of the self can shortchange the complexity of relational reality and that of our interdependence.
We dream so that we can figure out pathways of meaning and action within the many intersubjective spaces we inhabit.
It is possible that subjectivity be skewed towards narcissism––that is, a limited view of subjectivity fed by a cultural narrative positioning the interior self against the social, cultural, and ecological matrices within which we are embedded. Surely, focusing on the private and individual nature of dreaming is important, yet it is possible to overlook the many ways in which dreaming draws from our relational and communal life.
Fortunately, in therapeutic settings, dream meaning-making is best understood as a collaborative practice between client and therapist (Bonime, 1989; Hill, 2003), a collaboration that may help re-center the relational dimension of dreaming, with the knowledge that dreaming can affect and inform the many relationships and “we-spaces” we inhabit (Deslauriers, 2011).
Anthropologist Tim Ingold (2014) speaks of the etymology of the words “subjective” and “objective,” sharing in common the Latin root, jacere, which means to throw. This ties to the phenomenological insight that we are always already there, “thrown” into the world, improvising on the stage of life. A softer and less projectile version of this could be delineated as follows: intersubjectivity is about finding our way in the field of knowledge that is already there in the co-emergence “between” and “amongst” people. For instance, I only know the nature of shared feeling––such as it was pointed out to me in the dream, as a quality of being in one’s heart––by experiencing this feeling with another (even if I might never know if the feelings shared are precisely the same).
In line with psychoanalyst Bracha Ettinger (2006), beyond relational intersubjectivity lies a more primal “matrixial”–– trans-subjectivity. The world itself acts as a larger container of experience. This refers to a womb-like space that is not just subjective, nor merely intersubjective.
Rather, the pregnant matrix that contains all subjects provides the space within which all experience always already takes place. In this way, the matrixial nature of the world is transsubjective. trans-subjectivity is defined (by Merriam-Webster) as ‘relating to, or being in a state of existence independent of an individual mind or mode of thinking though not necessarily independent of the modes of thought common to all [people].’ I take this to mean that dimensions of life and experience have an objective reality independent of me, but that it takes me (or a subjective mind) to perceive them.
I propose here the radical concept of reciprocal embeddedness to unfold this further. The subjective mind acts as a womb: it “holds” and co-creates our world. At the same time, we are simultaneously held by the world within which we are a tiny part and are continuously reborn into through the life-process of becoming and participation. While intersubjectivity speaks to the dance that takes place between people, trans-subjectivity points to the participatory dance between two matrices: the mind––my mind––that holds the world and the world that holds my being and my mind.
The dream of the Heartful Embrace points to a (re)awakening to the relational nature of experience. This awakening may propel us to act accordingly. The dream’s theme, the co-embrace and its felt-sense, partakes of relational knowledge. From a knowing perspective, the dream discloses what having an “open heart” feels like. Importantly, the dream discloses this perspective phenomenologically.
In writing this article, I try to grasp and analyze this with my mind, to cognize it. Yet in the dream, a more direct knowledge is encapsulated within the experience itself. Just as we can awaken to the intersubjective core of our subjective life, we can also awaken to the matrixial dimensionality of interdependence.
Stated otherwise, if I remain closed from within my intrasubjective self-sense, I may never allow the matrixial world to reveal itself to me. On the other hand, that awakening can translate into a feeling and an open-ended knowing that I am being shaped by the world. I experience insight as myself ‘growing’ inside the world.
Yet all the while, my actions are reciprocally giving shape to the world. So matrixial awareness is an awareness of being part of a co-emergent process. To reiterate, the matrixial backdrop of intersubjectivity is ‘transsubjective’. Something that exists beyond me and us, but that takes me –or us- to conceive of it.
As I try to distinguish and connect the notions of intersubjectivity2 and trans-subjectivity, suffice here to say that the notion of trans-subjectivity points towards the fact that some form of incipient patterning gives shape to experience (Adams 2004, Conforti, 2003). Incipient patterning beckons us to the fact that many abstract notions, such as that of ‘fairness’ for example, can nevertheless organize our behavior, and social perception, despite the difficulty of ascribing an ontological basis to them, other than in rational or instinctual terms.
This orientation towards the organizing principle at play in the dream lead me to ask: Could it be that my dream came to me so that I could get in touch with, not just my relationship with Dwight or my father, but also heart knowing more generally? Although it may seem objectifying at first, such question opens us to look more closely at the “that” of the dream. Heart knowing, once identified, could be seen as a structuring dimension, or quality, that uniquely informs my relationships to Dwight, and my father, each in its own way. And by extension, I can interrogate its presence (or absence) in other relationships.
A Story Folding, Unfolding, and Refolding
The rich emotions that texture relationships are the fertile ground from which dreams grow, and where they cycle back (Deslauriers, 2011). As psychoanalyst Paul Lippman (1998) writes, dreaming is the private voice that comments on our relational concerns. I propose that dreams do more than “comment” on our relational concerns. Dreams are occasions of experience. Beholding this fact, the enactive dimension of a dream comes into play in a radical way. In the simplest of terms, the enactive theory of dreaming can be couched as such: dreams give us the experience of “what it is like.”
My dream with Dwight was not solely a comment on our connection; it was an actual enactment of what a heart-to-heart relationship can be. Within the perspective of knowledge as enaction, knowing is closely tied to the felt sense of the dream. And this is also why the somatic felt sense is such an important marker. The somatic bloom of the dream already embodies or inscribes into the experience a particular feeling tone: the quasi- electrical sensation. Further in time, in waking, the dream may help attune my actions, my thinking process, and my propensity to see the world in a particular way. In this case, it is about how to be more truthful to the open-heart dimension that the dream is disclosing.
From this perspective, the dream is not only about me (as primary subject), or about Dwight (as my relational counterpart, since I already know that Dwight is a warm-hearted person). The dream is also about the inherent dimension present in connection, such as that of the open-heartedness disclosed inside the felt sense. This knowing is not entirely new to me (at least at a conceptual level), yet the dream begs me to flesh out and expand the nature of this knowing.
As my inquiry deepened, the Heartful Embrace dream started to provide a somatically felt compass that enabled me to discern how to engage with my father, whose prognosis only points towards a worsening decline.
Complementary to the notion of matrixial trans-subjectivity, Ettinger (2014) further points to the notion of primary compassion, which is a source of aesthetical and ethical openings where the fragility of the self meets the vulnerability of the others. As I meet the dream as an inquiry, the knowledge provided by the dream is both incipient and emergent. The beauty of the dream is that it makes me a participant and not just an observer.
In trying to find an answer as to why Dwight came into the dream as opposed to any other of my friends, I had to reach back further in my relationship with Dwight, touching on the nature of the therapeutic exchange. Dwight is a somatic practitioner in Hawaii where there exist many experimental treatments that push the usual boundaries of somatic practices. The actual space of Dwight’s practice is a medium-sized and shoulder-deep pool warmed to body temperature.
There, through guided fluid movements initiated by him, he invites clients to silently enter a dream-like journey, which unfolds during the therapeutic hour, as he manipulates their body on the surface, as well as under the water. One could consider this ‘only’ a form of bodywork, as most of the hour-long session unfolds in silence. However, I attest that deep inner movement is taking place inside the space of this silent engagement since I received a treatment from Dwight about two years before the dream.
At the end of the treatment, he put me into a fetal position under the water, and held me there for the longest time, as long as my breath could effortlessly hold. Then as he gently pulled me out of the water, he held me in a full body embrace, with my head on his shoulder, the holding position we shared in the dream. And right at that moment, a flood of memories of my father holding me in his arms as a kid came rushing through.
There it is! I had found the answer I was looking for. A deep entanglement of somatic memories, folding back and forth in time, heart-to-heart with my father and me, as it was in my childhood, and with Dwight in the middle, as the midwife of this daydream. The water therapy had the effect of smoothing the edge of years of relational conflicts and opening new relational possibilities into present time.
This deep somatic felt sense came back to me all the way from childhood, inside a transference dream, if we consider that Dwight, in the dream, and in his practice, held a space for my father (in psychological transference, feelings, and expectations towards a parental figure are redirected towards the therapist).
Past and present interlace inside the somatic feeling of the dream. All the while, the incipient future is pointing forward. Just as it did between Dwight and me earlier, the table has turned between my father and me, as I become one of the caretakers for the body of my senior father. Now it is I who am holding him, while he was wading inside his own delirious dream.
I had found the source of the dream image in that water-enhanced therapeutic encounter, the very place my own relationship with my father was somatically unlocked and positively re-calibrated. And now, I see why it was important for that work to be done––so that I could show up for my father with something other than a bruised heart.
The day I arrived in Montreal, my father was just coming back from surgery. Fortunately, this surgery only entailed local anesthesia for inserting a pacemaker that would keep his weak heart beating. My father seemed to recognize me when I arrived, at least, that’s what I gathered by the smile with which he greeted me. I did not test him by asking him to say my name.
After a week of daily visits, my brother finally asked him if he recognized me, and my father answered that I was a “good friend.” Eventually, with some prompting, he was able to say my name, looking down at the floor, as if he was sorry that he couldn’t do it without help. At that moment, I knew that the usual intersubjective bonds of father-son were not playing out the same way for him. All week, I was his “good friend.” And it was with sadness in my heart that I reconciled that I was not doing this for his recognition. The dream reminded me of the altruistic dimension of an open heart. Virtues usually associated with heart intelligence (Whitney, 2017) such as empathy, compassion, and care, are at their core other-centered.
The hospital environment that was, for me, in the past, almost repulsive, became a much more neutral and beneficial place, and I was not so anxious to leave. Acting from the heart seems to make tasks easier to be carried forth. It was allowing me to be more patient with him, however often he would ask the same question in short succession. That meant giving the same answer sometimes over 30 times in an hour. A narrowing of the relational space because of dementia meant I had to creatively find paths towards meaningful conversation, and towards his own heart space, reaching for his emotions and what he relished.
Although a simple dream, yet because it addresses a quality that is at the core of intersubjectivity, it opened up many layers of feeling and understanding. Addressing the subtle energy felt in the dream, my inquiry points out to its role in terms of the loving felt-sense that come with heart-knowing (see also Esser, 2013 for a discussion of subtle energy in spiritual dreams). The felt-knowing in my dream, centered in the heart, began to serve as a compass for right action, and provided the basis for beholding my own experience in a self-compassionate manner.
Cycling Back: Dream Sharing and Self-renewal
Viewed in the context of trans-subjectivity, incipient knowing is something that is always already present. The dream points to a shift toward heartful embrace, yet even if this shift is told as a personal story, it is not just something subjective. Heart knowing is possible for anyone who wishes to unfold the meaning of the heart in their own life. When we share dreams–– itself a meaningful intersubjective enactment, as I am doing here with my own story––we may find that we enter a unique process of self-renewal.
Of course, this begs the question about what is being renewed. Perhaps, notions that we consider as understood become fresh again at a deeper level; what seems obvious––such as the subtle nature of shared feelings––opens up to a new inquiry. From this perspective, self-renewal has to do with aligning with what is true for oneself.
Years of observation of dream sharing in groups has shown me that the process of renewal doesn’t stop with the self: others can feel renewed by hearing or resonating with someone else’s dream and story. Perhaps the core of enacted sociality, the living culture into which we partake, may also be renewed by dreams and dream-sharing. Shulman and Strumsa (1999) wrote:
To tell one’s dream… is always an overdetermined act or statement, at once situating the self in relation to a rich universe of cultural meanings and implied metaphysical intuitions and creating, or re-creating, that same universe from within (p. 3).
Here I deepen the theoretical points about the nature of intersubjectivity and trans-subjectivity as unfolded in dreams. Intersubjectivity is what is created and enacted when one’s “interior” self encounters another’s. In this meeting, a relational field is formed, shifting and moving according to the combined actions taken by those who participate in it. Through our habits of relating, we partake in the creation of interpersonal space, and at the same time, we receive the influence of others. Intersubjectivity is a pregnant field of potentiality, where meaning, with various degrees of mutuality, can be created, transmitted, constructed, exchanged, or sometimes imposed, twisted, or violated, or can even be hidden (as in family secrets) or denied (as when we withhold news from others that we know would impact them) (Deslauriers, 2011).
All that we do with or onto others shapes the intersubjective field. Judith Blackstone (2007) writes: “In its simplest terms [. . .] intersubjectivity theory proposed [. . .] a transition from focus on the empowerment and fulfillment of the individual to an understanding of the individual as always in some sense in relationship with his or her own environment” (pp. 19-20).
The intersubjective field is dynamic and fluid as we constantly improvise our way forward in life. Since engaging in an intersubjective somatic practice called Contact Improvisation3, I have become a keen observer of how dance is structured or scaffolded from the physics of our bodies. When we enter a “we” space, a group, or a relational dance, we are not just entering a blank space. As noted earlier, etymologically speaking, the “–ject” aspect of the word intersubjective, has us thrown into something that is already there for us. For example, we can generally speak of the “we-ness” of life by looking at what gives texture to our sociality, such as the linguistic code that allows our “common sense,” our sensis communis, to circulate.
Alternatively, we could point to our transportation system; the monetary system that allows us to pay our dues or collect our salaries; the ways our food arrives at our table––all the institutions in which we partake, the we-spaces we journey in and out of. Woven through these social spaces are structuring patterns that shape the field, and which are value laden. Within the intersubjective field, the culture that we understand as ours holds in place particular patterns of relating that shape what we recognize as familiar. These are not to be re-invented each time; neither are they inconsequential.
This inquiry unfolded the renewing potential of a hypnopompic dream motif, providing a window to the nature of heart-knowing, and guiding me on how to be with my father at a delicate stage of his life.
The topography of my relationship with my father transformed during a therapeutic encounter where somatic relational memories were unlocked and reframed. Triggered by the Heartful Embrace dream, memories resurfaced after many years, as if on cue, leading me to explore how heart knowing can be enacted when called to be a caretaker. This shows how intersubjectivity is crucial in dream meaning-making, especially within a parent-son relationship, whose arc spans many decades.
This inquiry also explored the notion of trans-subjectivity and how it points to a preexistent and incipient knowing field (in this case, about heart knowing), yet one that gets disclosed through the enactment of it. The inquiry does not come to rest, but instead opens a broader ontological question about the enactment of heart knowing: What happens when intersubjective values and practices are seen not only as being co-created between people but also profoundly resonated with?
Ethical questions arise: how is life transformed when we let incipient values such as empathy and care co-structure our relational experiences? A stance that recognizes the existence of transsubjective reality can act as an existential counterpoint to an individual’s creative agency: what comes into play is an open, listening mode of being that helps us recognize (and perhaps even surrender to) what is already there, ready-at-hand, ready-at-mind, or ready-at-heart inside relationships.
These structuring patterns provide the frame for incipient knowledge to inform our lives. It becomes possible (or more likely) to enact qualities of being that exist beyond our subjective experience, even as they are constitutive of our intersubjective relationships.
Such notions may be those of morality, compassion, forgiveness, intimacy, love. Or they could be those of diversity, inclusion, and social justice, etc. Such notions predate us; they have been the subject of moral teachings, and spiritual transmission for eons. Yet they are fresh for us to live anew. These notions don’t seem to “grow stale” when we are called to enact them. My experience has shown me that with age, we can refine our perception of them as we inquire into them, taking them under the magnifying glass of a phenomenological gaze.
This includes imaginal experience encountered in dreams. Dreams like the Heartful Embrace can become emblems, a form of positive rehearsal for how to respond to broader societal issues, whereby those can be perceived through the prism of the heart.
In concluding, I take the liberty to expand the canvas of my inquiry, as a way to intimate how the knowledge of the heart connects us to the broader trans-subjective reality that is continuously infusing our day-to-day life. Relationships have a dreamlike quality. Like dreams, they are creative and open-ended.
Trans-subjectivity points to the participatory dance between two matrices: the mind––my mind––that holds the world and the world that holds my being and my mind.
One of the most critical challenges at this time is for us to learn to live together in a world when interpersonal differences brought about by diversity seem to explode the comfort of cultural uniformity and conformity, leading to countless shapes of self-identity and hybridity. Relational consciousness is the real frontier of more inclusive cultures (local or global), especially when we begin to take seriously the matrixial dimension described here. This implies the mutual recognition of our deep interdependence inside layered matrices of relating, where biography and biosphere unfold in mutuality, informed by cultures we partake of. Individual actions and awakenings, in turn, can impact the cultural matrixes and the biological (ecological) matrix of our shared world.
Paying attention to the intersubjective dimension of our dreams can help us form (and in-form) our relational skills. The Heartful Embrace dream is pointing to the transsubjective realities that lie beyond the entrapments of self-gratification so prevalent in market economies, or the comforts arising from religious (or quasi-religious) certitude.
Such dreams point to places where we can truly meet, as embodied complex beings, even when at different stages in our life process, such as that between father and son. Feminist author Susan Griffin (1996), succinctly states a hopeful outcome of this coming together between the inner and outer: “If human consciousness can be rejoined not only with the human body but with the body of the earth, what seems incipient in the reunion is the recovery of meaning within existence that will infuse every kind of meeting between self and the universe, even in the most daily acts, with an eros, a palpable love, that is also sacred” (p. 9).
Drawn on the broader canvas of our shared world, could it be that the Heartful Embrace dream intimates what this feels like?
Photos: Daniel Deslauriers
1 This inquiry could find meaningful expansion in the rich material about the heart (e.g., the sacred heart or the spiritual heart) found in most religious traditions. An excellent transcultural exposé on heart intelligence, engaging various spiritual traditions, is found in Whitney (2017). In this paper however, I chose to keep my focus on an organic, phenomenological unfolding of the question, staying close to my experience and where that lead me.
2 Ettinger is not alone speaking about the transsubjective. Hillman (1983) speaks of a transsubjective dimension of the imagination, and a similar distinction can be found in Jung between the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. In researching the word transsubjective, I found out that Jung did use the word (Jung, CW 7, p.98) to describe that aspect of the unconscious later qualified by his English-speaking followers as the ‘objective psyche’ (see Fordham, 1951 and Hall, 1983).
3 Contact Improvisation is a form of partnered dance, often practiced in silence, demonstrating how relating bodies meet and move in space, affording endless pathways of movement, lifts, rolls, inversion, compression, counterbalance, and so on, often at the edge of falling. This form of dance assumes a high degree of interpersonal somatic attunement and can become a significant source of insights about the nature of relationships, including the nature of communication, trust, commitment, shared/divergent goals, how to negotiate differences and various levels of skills, and revealing the potentials of interactive creativity (Novack, 1990; Stark-Smith, 2003).
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