The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

There is a pattern to today’s date when written in short hand form, 11 10 11, that appeals to me. Numerically challenged though I may be, I can still enjoy patterns among numbers, in fact when I see them as they apply to the day’s date it gives me a delicious feeling, as if it hints at the possibility that today will be a good day.

A good day for a four year old grandson’s birthday, a good day for standing in a park filled with friends, among indigenous plants and grasses, within the inner city, and soaking up the first of the sun as it makes its way out from behind the clouds of yesterday’s rain.

Speaking of yesterday, I went to a workshop on creative dreaming. The contents of the workshop belong to the workshop but it’s safe for me to say I found the day ‘liberating’.

That’s what they say isn’t it? That something can be liberating. That something can free you from your earlier preconceptions, from previous assumptions about your world, from old stereotypes and leave you in a new place.

There were nine of us in this group, a telling number for me. Anytime I am in a group of nine I am back with my eight siblings, but this group to me was all the more remarkable because it consisted of six men and only three women, including one of the facilitators.

In honour of my new found and clumsy determination to break up the text with images, I include a photo my family of origin before my youngest brother is born, including my mother and minus my father, whom I imagine took the photo.

Usually the groups to which I belong in the literary and psychological world are dominated by women, with maybe one or two men, if you’re lucky.

I have not been in such a male dominated group for as many years as I can remember, perhaps not since I was young within my family where my five brothers and father outweighed we four girls and our then mouse-like mother.

My brothers, I suspect, would not consider that our mother is mouse like, though to me in those days she was.

In this workshop we explored the creative potential of shared dreams, dreams people brought into the room, mostly remembered from the night before, which they offered as a sort of oral space, against which others might bounce thoughts from their own dreams or other ideas, from music, from poetry, from memory, from the technological world, from whatever may have occurred to them.

After the morning’s session we were left to our own devices with Texta colours and butcher paper and sequins and glue and magazines for cut outs and collages and scissors, of course, and one man brought his guitar with the help of which he composed a song, and another wrote a poem, and others drew images that on the surface of it may have seemed obscure, however arresting, but under our freewheeling, emotional and associative group eyes they all came to life as filled with meaning.

It was a day riddled with uncertainly, beyond the basic framework of group activity times. There were no rules, there was no demand that we intellectualise, that we interpret meanings, that we outsmart one another with our wit and cleverness.

It was not a therapy group. It was not a writing group. It was not a reading group. It was a group such as I have never been in before. Non-competitive, in so far as such is possible.

I come from a long history of ‘sophisticated’ therapeutic groups where from memory the tension is high and members often wait to pronounce judgement on one another’s crazy thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

Now that is probably not a fair reflection of good group work but it sticks in my memory.

I was once in a therapy group – this when I was still young – led by an esteemed psychoanalyst, which I have since likened to the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Such were the unwritten rules that governed our behaviour and the conduct of our leader who said nothing most of the time, not by way of introduction or departure – a traditional analytic approach in those days perhaps, but nevertheless one designed I think to leave him in a powerful position.

The analyst’s occasional pronouncements were invariably directed at the group and I sensed that he saw himself as outside of the group. As if he were a puppet pulling invisible strings and we were the puppets, knowing little if anything about why we behaved as we did but behaving accordingly.

But yesterday’s experience was different, with two facilitators, a man and a woman, and both, to my mind, particularly the man, prepared to share their most heart-felt experiences in order to allow for what I can only describe as a creative dialogue that then led us into creative activity.

34 thoughts on “The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party”

  1. That sounds fascinating — I can understand how liberating it must have felt in the truest sense of that word. I wonder if there's something like that here — I'd love to be a part of it.

    I especially liked your phrase "mostly remembered from the night before, which they offered as a sort of oral space" — the idea of an "oral space" is intriguing.

  2. Sounds like a good group. Having been involved with the Rajneesh movement in my early 20s I am familiar with some of the group dynamics you speak of. Sharing and humility by the 'leaders' of said group is essential in my opinion. We are all fucked up somewhere and somehow – it's the nature of the human condition!

    If you want to get into numbers, have a real look at numerology. I thought it was all nonsense until I won $8000 on the 8th game of a Lotto ticket on the 8/8/1988. That was just too much of a coincidence considering it was the Chinese Year of the Dragon and 8 is their lucky number. I now work out people's numerology, just as a hobby, as well as their Western and Eastern astrology – it tells me a lot about them, and myself.

  3. I participated in a group similar to this early last year… but without the woman… While it potentially takes one into another space I just wanted to say that I understand what you mean by 'liberating'. Unfortunately all too often the 'facilitator's' ( analyst's) narcissism, for want of a better word, can predominate. One gets the idea that 'this' is how groups are 'meant' to be…
    It's refreshing that a different sort of experience is being made possible.

  4. Creative Dreaming sounds really interesting….and i would especially like to get my wife into a group like that. She has the most bizarre, detailed dreams that I have heard anyone discuss. I just wonder if they could have somehow channeled her dreams into something more benign.

  5. Group therapy has always been good to me–so far. Perhaps that's because none of my groups have had anyone particularly special leading them and the members pretty much have dictated what happens.

    I always liked the idea of guided dreams or deciding what you will dream before you fall asleep. However, I've yet to give it a try.

  6. Sorry, I am confused. I know Australia is always ahead of the game, and now it is daylight savings so you are even more ahead, but surely, even so, it is only the 9th there? (I hope so because the flowers I ordered for my mum to be delivered tomorrow, are for her birthday, on the 10th …

  7. I started to wonder just now, Elizabeth, what did I mean by the term 'oral space'. I think I meant that we filled the space mostly with words, at least in the beginning. Although there were silences, they did not last long.

    We all suffer from a deep need, I suspect, to tell our stories.

    I think you of all people, Elizabeth, would relish such an experience. Thanks.

  8. I agree with you, Michelle: 'We are all fucked up somewhere and somehow – it's the nature of the human condition!'

    Groups like this help us to share and think further about some of those conditions.

    Your experience with numerology sounds fascinating. I've always loved patterns of numbers. I did not realise they might have predictive value. It sounds a bit mechanistic but I suspect there's lots more to it than that.

    Thanks, Michelle.

  9. 'Narcissism' is perhaps the right word, here, Christine. Most therapists, group and individual suffer from some degree of narcissistic damage. The worst is when we don't recognize it, and unwittingly inflict it on others.

    I'm glad you enjoyed your group experience, even without the woman.

    Thanks, Christine.

  10. It sounds as though your wife's dreams might border on nightmares, Jerry, at least for you perhaps when you hear the details.

    I wonder how your wife experiences them though. Sometimes the dreamer can be the least troubled even by what might sound like an extraordinary or bizarre dream to a listener.

    There's surely dream groups around you, though not all would be pitched to the free and open exchange of thought that ours offered. Still, something might be better than nothing.

    Thanks, Jerry.

  11. You're fortunate, Rubye Jack, to have had good experiences in therapeutic groups and to have enjoyed the democratic process within. Such experiences can lead to growth, I reckon,as opposed to the old hierarchical polarisations that lead some people to feel undermined and not helped.

    Thanks, Rubye Jack.

  12. It is wonderful to be free from judgement, as you say Isabel, if only for a day.

    Apologies for my stuff up with the dates. I suspect your flowers will get to their destination on time, no matter what date I allocate to the day.

    Thanks, Isabel.

  13. I think I would rather not dream. Dreams frustrate me. They crumble in front of me as I struggle towards consciousness. No matter how desperate I am to hang onto them, to study them closer in the light of day, they still disintegrate. All I remember of last night’s dream is that it was set in a hospital and at one point I have to trim my bread and end up cutting a wedge out of it and that’s it. What am I supposed to make of that without any context? It all seems pointless. I dream these days more than I have ever done before but my level of recall hasn’t improved. I’m aware that I’m dreaming but I don’t like the sensation. I feel as if I’m drugged and I’ve never enjoyed that sensation which is why I’ve veered away from any kind of experimentation.

    The subject aside I also don’t think I would have enjoyed your group session. Unlike you I’ve not had a lot of experience of group work but I have had enough to know I don’t care for it. Groups look for leaders and that invariably ends up being me despite the fact I don’t consider myself a natural leader and don’t get any pleasure from being in a position of authority; I’m a backroom boy, always have been, always will be.

    Numbers, on the other hand, I do have a fondness for. I was always in the top Maths class at school and I enjoy computer programming; I took to both like a duck to water in fact in my first year at the academy I was way ahead of the rest of the class for Maths. I essentially taught myself and, of course, the same with programming although I did do a bit of Cobol at college. You also see my fondness for number and order in how I structure my poems; I look for patterns.

    I was certainly brought up in a male dominated society and that affected how I view women. I never understood why women were treated differently despite all the reasons that were given which all stemmed from the fact Eve tempted Adam with the forbidden fruit and because of that all women were punished and yet we still always spoke of Adamic sin. It is hard to shake off indoctrination. There is a side of me that is always amazed when I meet a woman with any kind of talent. Another side is delighted when I do but I suspect that’s the same side which delights on seeing a monkey dance. I am quite bitter about my upbringing because although the intellectual in me has risen above all that crap, there exists a fundamental nugget that is so ingrained with those values that nothing can shake it. The same goes for race, sexual orientation and, to a lesser extent, political persuasion. When Carrie and I moved in together I couldn’t shake the fact that we were living in sin. I had no problem doing it and only married her to keep her in this country but it still bothered me that there were people out there, my family first and foremost, who believed I was doing something wrong and I don’t like to be thought of that kind of person. But worst of all a part of me believed it was wrong.

  14. This sounds a most interesting day. So often group days are so tightly structured – as if the leader is scared of silences I always think. It sounds as though it had been so well-planned that everyone could have a free rein. Glad you got so much out of it.

  15. I'd like to be in that group, though I have such a difficult time remembering my dreams, I'm afraid I'd be tempted to fill in the blanks by making something up.

  16. Dear Elisabeth, I share your enthusiasm for numbers, particularly sequences. I wrote a post about it today, however from a slightly different angle.;)
    What a large family you came from indeed, with so many boys.;)
    I have never been to any therapy group in my life but your likeness to a mad hatter's party made me smile.;) Did you know that the hatters actually did go slightly mad as they were inhaling mercury fumes while making hats.;))

  17. Wow, Jim. What a response. All those differences between me and you and not just gender based, though I suspect there are elements of that in here.

    I grew up believing that because I was a girl I was dumb at maths. I still remember failing mental arithmetic in grade six. We called it 'Menta'l in those days but did not realise the connection to sanity.

    I also grew up in a patriarchal household. Boys were smart and girls were good for…

    From an early age I did not worry too much about doing well in school because of the belief that I would marry and my husband would take care of the rest, including the driving of cars. Fortunately I outgrew all that.

    But like you, little nuggets remain, not so much the business of living in sin – I did that in my early twenties for a time, several times over – but in relation to the superiority of one gender over the other. These days it can move around. These days I might even be more inclined to believe in the 'superiority' of women, at least for half a minute, but mostly I think al these comparisons are ridiculous and unfortunate. As you say, old and 'bad' habits do not totally die. They tend to live on like little nuggets of prejudice that we need to try to expunge.

    Thanks, Jim.

  18. It was a good group experience, Pat, and as Jim above suggests, groups can be awful experiences where you get roped into having to take on roles you do not necessarily want to adopt. In this one we were more free to be ourselves.

    Thanks, Pat.

  19. As soon as you start remembering your dreams, Kirk, yo start making things up. It's in the nature of things.

    You know what dreams are like – wild and weird, illogical and impossible.

    As soon as we start trying to put words to them we start constructing a narrative around them. We start to put them into some sort of order that does not necessarily reflect the dream, only our memory of it.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  20. I have heard about the reason that hatters used to go mad once before, Zuzana, but thanks for reminding me.

    It's funny how these notions live on in different forms, and the ways in which bits of history become detached from their original context. I suppose this is how myths and stories develop.

    Thanks, Zuzana.

  21. hi elisabeth … the creative and supportive structure of the group – "lotsa windows open" as i would say – is refreshing as there are so many situations where as you suggest, there is an assessment built in to revelations or insights that colours not only the wish to deliver the insight but the wish to be a part of the group. you're truly fortunate to have found such a place. steven

  22. Sounds like a wonderful group – first to explore liberating concepts like Creative Dreaming and secondly to be non-competitive (which most groups end up being in one way or another!)

    That sounds like true Utopia, doesn't it?

    My dreams are incredibly creative and yet still incredibly disturbing to me. I keep dreaming of death and disasters and tragedy, and I wish I could just dream of peaceful things like flying and playing with kittens. 🙁

  23. it does sound like a caring group and it must be very therapeutic having friends like that all gather together. Friends that are willing to listen to all the talk that others may be chastised as being "crazy."

    Sometimes people just really need to be heard and it's nice to have someone you can unload it all on because you know they'll take it (although the process probably should be kept within reason in regards to how loud someone may get in being heard)

    I imagine it could get a little dramatic sounding as some people are really good listeners, and not everyone has those types of friends so maybe people haven't experienced a really good listener and when they really feel heard, sometimes I don't think women realize how far their voice carries. And sometimes in certain emotional situations it can be hard to tell if someone is crying and hollering because they are upset or whether they are rejoicing

  24. This sounds like a fabulous experience, just the sort of session I would have enjoyed. Your account is clear and, so far as I can tell, comprehensive. Just the phrase "Creative dreaming" would be enough to tempt me in. The truth is, though, that like Jim I have difficulty holding on to my dreams these days. I used to have vivid recollections that would stay with me – some have stayed from my childhood, but that is a rare experience these days.

  25. dear elisabeth,

    another wonderful window that you have thrown open to allow the fresh air in.

    your posts consistently give me something to carry with me when i go for a long walk, to savor, to twist and turn and re-examine in the terminology of my own life experience.

    thanks, again,


  26. Occasionally I dream of being able to fly, Tracy. It is such an exhilarating experience. I also dream of being fluent in other languages, the languages I learned at school, French and Latin and also the Dutch comes back to me and when I wake in the morning all of the words have gone.

    How sad, but still it's fun to dream. I, too, have my share of night mares like you. And those I could well do without, but I suppose they are as necessary as the Utopian dreams.

    Thanks, Tracy.

  27. You're right, Dusty – Who, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference, whether someone is 'hollering' or crying when they are equally loud in their responses. The best we can do its try.

    Supportive groups are wonderful, but some other groups can be destructive and that's pretty devastating and at other times group experiences can fall somewhere in between.

    Thanks, Dusty.

  28. I think that your poems are your dreams, Dave.

    It is possible I sometimes think to dream in the day and therefore have less need for remembered dreams by night.

    Thanks, Dave.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.