The interconnectedness of the modern world has resulted in an expansion of the horizon of awareness of individuals and communities. This has given rise to the phenomenon that has become known as “the global village”. The world has moved beyond the colonial era and its false beliefs about the superiority of one group of humans over another. We are a long way, however, from appropriate recognition and communicative exchange across the many cultural and geographic divides that shape the richness and diversity of humanity.
We are at times overwhelmed by this diversity and wonder at the apparent incompatibilities and conflicts. Yet we are all simultaneously aware, however vaguely, of our common humanity and the commonalities we share in relation to our environment. At the individual level the intention of psychotherapy has always been to find forms of communication, expression and understanding that allow non-violent resolution of individual and interpersonal problems and the emergence of the individual human spirit.
As therapists we wonder whether these principles can be applied at a broad political level. Many Indigenous Australians say that the capacity to hold in mind a living connection with the environment that informs our day-to-day lives and actions, has been integral to their culture, one that has sustained itself for more than 40,000 years. Arguably this worldview, embodied in the concept of “the dreaming”, reflects a form of human life in relative balance with its interpersonal and environmental surround. In contrast the cultures that have prevailed in the developed nations of modern times are seen to be out of balance with the environment.
The Indigenous vision is ancient but may speak to the needs of humanity in the new millennium. The oldest living culture in the world today may be in a special position to share knowledge about the continuity of human experience across the ages. In Australasia we see the pain of cultures struggling to adapt to the modern world. It is reasonable to expect that all peoples recognize this struggle as their own. The pain and struggle, for instance, of modern urban dwellers to be in touch with the emotional basis of life in themselves and the environment is evident in the widespread phenomenon of alienation in our communities.
The gift and the example of Oceania’s indigenous people and their traditions are often seen as lacking relevance to the modern world and consequently dismissed. This might be seen as another form of “mental” displacement that continues in the present day. Psychotherapists are alert to the generational effects of trauma. Australia, New Zealand and the island cultures of the Pacific have acquired distinctive trauma systems.
There is a paradox in the “global” concept: while we see common problems we are made aware of the need for local understanding, actions and solutions. In placing World Dreaming in this location, in Sydney on the Pacific Rim, we celebrate cultural diversity and acknowledge the necessity for intelligent repair to the sustaining fabric, emphasizing integration that retains and recognizes difference and identity.
In the modern era psycho-analysis and psychotherapy have often given attention to dreaming as a road to the understanding of the self. The impact of interpersonal trauma upon our capacity to think and dream is profound. The overwhelming predilection to forget or deny history, or turn a blind eye to trauma, at both individual and collective levels leaves us in cycles of repetition. When we simply repeat we are stuck in habit rather than allowing ourselves to respond creatively to the present circumstance. Overcoming denial does not simply involve the recognition of brute facts: it involves the recognition and animation of human encounters through the imaginative elaboration, between people, of new ways of being together, of playing, and of working together. This is World Dreaming.
Australia and New Zealand are joint hosts of this congress. Both countries lie in the South Pacific region where Indigenous cultures have confronted the modern world only in the last two centuries or so. In both countries Indigenous voices are being heard in new ways. In Australia we may be finally beginning to overcome the level of denial that has so often negated Indigenous aspirations.
In New Zealand there has been a resurgence of the Maori language and the emergence of the Maori as a political force. Psychotherapy associations in New Zealand, in particular, have been striving to understand and utilize traditional wisdom and knowledge in relation to healing practices and to seek dialogue that enriches both cultures. In Australia similar efforts are being made.
The South Pacific Islands are under threat economically and geographically in the context of climate change and have a huge investment in finding solutions to this global challenge. Australia, placed as it is between Oceania and Asia, has one of the most multicultural societies on earth, where people from all parts of the world have made homes. Where better to bring voices together from all parts of the world to engage in the processes of speaking, listening, being moved and reflecting on our experience. We hope this congress will stimulate a creative process of “dreaming together”.
From such dreaming who knows what may come?