Erenlai - William R. Stimson (史汀森)
William R. Stimson (史汀森)

William R. Stimson (史汀森)

William R. Stimson博士,目前於台灣埔里的國立暨南大學語文教學研究中心英語角(English Corner),主持每星期三晚間的讀夢團體(dream group)英語應用課程。除此之外,每個星期六他分別在台北、台中和高雄也分別主持讀夢團體英語應用課程。讀夢團體為免費活動,歡迎有興趣的朋友加入! 詢問讀夢團體的詳細地點與時間表請來信至bstimson[a]gmail.com

William R. Stimson, Ph.D. lives in Taiwan where he leads a Wednesday evening dream group at the English Corner, National Chi Nan University in Puli. Besides the weekly dream group at the university, he leads monthly Saturday dream groups (in English) in Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung. There is no charge for these dream groups. Anyone interested in dreams is welcome. For locations and schedules: bstimson[at]gmail.com

Thursday, 15 April 2010 17:48

Dreams: Their forgotten remembering function

 

As I walked my dog near the faculty housing complex at Taiwan’s National Chi Nan University, two other dogs came running up. Their owner wasn’t far behind – the woman who’d just moved into the house behind ours. Her English was excellent and she seemed interesting. I invited her to the Tuesday night dream group I lead at the campus English Corner. She said she was busy but promised to come the following week. I rang her doorbell later and gave her an article that explained the Montague Ullman experiential dream group method we use.

Next week she showed up in the group late. Those of us sitting around the circle had just finishing introducing ourselves. I asked if she’d care to say something to the others before we begin.

“I’m not staying,” she announced. “I only came by because I promised. What you do in this group goes against what I teach my students about dreams.”

“What is it you teach?” I asked.

“The research shows that dreams have no meaning and should be forgotten.”

“I would like to invite you,” I put it to her, “To put aside what you’ve read about dreams just long enough to experience for yourself what actually happens here in the next hour and a half between a dreamer and her dream.”

She rose to her feet. “No,” she said. She walked out of the room.

I removed her empty chair and had everyone close the gap in the circle. Besides myself, eight individuals remained: undergraduates from the Departments of Social Policy and Social Work, Applied Chemistry, and Chinese Literature; a graduate student from the Department of Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language; a faculty member from the Department of Information Management; a 12 year-old girl from the local elementary school; and two women from outside the university, whom we’d never seen before. They drove over from a nearby mountain town to practice their English. Neither had any idea what a dream group was. When I called for a dream the elder of the two raised her hand. Her name was Yi-San. She taught Chinese at the junior high school in town.

“You have a dream?”

“Yes,” she said in a soft voice. “But I’m afraid my English is not good enough.”

“Don’t worry. Not good enough will work fine in this group,” I said. “When did you have this dream?”

She thought a moment. “Oh… When I was about ten or eleven.”

The professor who had just walked out told us dreams should be forgotten. I wondered how she and her scientists would explain those that are unforgettable and stay with us for a lifetime.

“Tell us your dream.”

“For a week I had the same dream every single night…” she began.

“Don’t tell us anything right now except the dream itself,” I cautioned. “Say it slow so we can write down every word.”

Yi-San told her childhood dream:

I was in a place and that place was my house, around my house area. And there was some Indians ran after me. They run after people who live there. I was in that area because that was my home town. I ran and ran and ran. Every time when Indian almost get me I fall down and pretend I was die and then I escape to be catched. I was nervous and scared in that situation. And then when that Indian cross me, he thought I was dead, and he cross me to find someone else to catch one, I run again. Very soon, another Indian run after me again. Over and over I pretend fall down and die to escape to be catch up till I awake.

Yi-San told us the place was real – the area around the house where she lived at that time. She called her attackers in the dream Indians because they looked every bit like American Indians, with painted faces and feathered headdresses – but in the dream she knew them to be the aboriginal people of Taiwan. She’d never seen one of these aboriginal tribesmen and so in the dream pictured them as Native Americans. Her feeling in the dream was, “I thought I would be killed.”

Members of the group took the dream as their own and brainstormed about its feelings and metaphors. Then I invited Yi-San to come forward and tell us what she could make of her dream.

Yi-San said:

“I remember that the house [we lived in when I had that dream] was dark– so I ran in and ran out without light.”

“My family, we just moved in a few months before. I didn’t like that house because it’s far away from town. There are fields around the house and we didn’t have lots of neighbors. The neighbors were not nearby.”

“I couldn’t forget that dream until I grow up. One day I decided to go to Peru to find an answer. In Peru there are Indians. So I went for two years. I didn’t find any answer.”

“I went back to Taiwan. I got married with an aborigine.”

“That dream is always in my mind. How to make it clear, or find the answer. I dreamt the same dream every day in that week. I dreamt it the first night. Then the second night dreamt it again. Then I went to bed the third night and dreamt it again.”

We set the dream aside and questioned Yi-San about the little girl who dreamed it.

Yi-San said:

“That house was our second house.”

“We had a house from the time when I was born until I was 4 or 5 years old; but it belonged to my father’s family. When my father’s brothers split the property amongst themselves we lost the house. We moved to another place. We moved about 1 or 2 times after that to houses that weren’t ours.”

“Then my father had money to build a house and we moved when I was 10.”

“We all didn’t like that house – including my brothers, sisters, and me. (I’m the eldest) – except my father; because he chose that place and built the house. The land was cheap because it was far away from town.”

“At that time it was a hard time. Before we moved in that house my father was seldom at home. He worked in Japan. My mother worked hard. We often feel not safety.”

“I didn’t feel safety when I was child. My father always work far away.”

“I was eldest. Have to take care of brothers and sisters, support mother. I felt got lot of abilities on my shoulders to carry.”

“I thought that house had ghosts.”

“At night we didn’t dare to go to the bathroom alone. The others company, be a line waited outside the bathroom door for our turn.”

“My mother was not very healthy.”

“I was very shy but active inside. Appearance looks shy, thin.”

I asked Yi-San if she would care to say more about “active inside.”

“I had a lot of dream about future but nobody knew at that time. “

“I always wanted to fly away from home. Always look to the sky.”

“When I was a child my relatives tell me I liked to jump, to run, to speak a lot, always say hello to everyone.”

“When I get older I change. About 7 or 8.”

“I wanted to travel around the world, and do something great, be the great person. Know different kind of countries, people.”


Yi-San became choked up with feeling and fell silent.

The group waited.

The professor who had walked out told us dreams had no meaning. I wondered how she and her scientists would account for the tears Yi-San fought back. To reconnect with one’s deepest feelings is not meaningful? As a little boy I too had wanted to “be the great person.” Yi-San’s words brought an uprush of emotion in me too. How many of us can measure up to the big hopes and dreams of the innocent child we once were?

“I felt sad,” Yi-San apologized when she’d recovered herself and could speak. “I wanted to cry.”

I asked her if she’d like to go to the next stage of the Ullman process. She said yes.

I explained how the playback stage worked. One of the group members read the first piece of Yi-San’s dream back to her.

Yi-San didn’t know what we wanted her to do.

I explained again how the playback worked. The group member read the next segment of Yi-San’s dream back to her.

Usually in the playback the dreamer is able to connect each of the dream’s metaphors with her waking-life situation before the dream; and come to a much deeper, and often very different, understanding of herself and her life because of the dream’s unabashed truthfulness and its inclusion of much important information that escaped waking notice. But this is all Yi-San could say:

In the dream I was worried about how I could rescue those people. I can do nothing, just running.

* * *

I felt fear, nervous.

* * *

When I face to difficulty what I do is escape. I used to be when a child, if I didn’t do school homework well, I pretend I having headache or stomachache. But not now.

* * *

I think I heard from my grandmother, she taught us in ancient time have in Taiwan those aborigines that cut person’s heads off [some aboriginal tribes in Taiwan were headhunters]. Once my grandmother when a little girl she went to the forest and lot of aborigines run out. She with friends run and run and she drop into a hole and pretend she is dead. That aborigine cross her and she didn’t be killed but someone be killed at that time and cut head away.”

* * *

What I curious about: why did I dream that dream for several days?”

When Yi-San was finished I asked her if she’d like to hear what others in the group thought about her dream. She said yes.

The view of the group was that Yi-San was much closer to the various levels of the dream than she realized. On its simplest, most immediate, level, the dream expressed the fears she and her brothers and sisters felt living in this dark and (she feared) “haunted” new house their father built way out all alone in the fields, far from town and from any neighbors. The children dared not go to the bathroom alone at night. They feared for their lives. Yi-San, the eldest, was a responsible girl. During the day she helped out her mother with the younger ones. But asleep at night she was very much the little child again, and prey to her siblings’ same fears about being moved to a place so far away from town when the mother was not well and the father was frequently absent. That the fears take the form of Taiwan’s aboriginal headhunters is undoubtedly due to the grandmother’s tale of her own childhood encounter with aborigines one day when she and her playmates ventured too far from town.

Some members of the group also discerned a deeper level to this dream, as evidenced by (1) Yi-San’s lifelong concern with finding “the answer” to it – and her venture to South America, a place with Indians, in search of that answer; and (2) her marriage to a Taiwanese aborigine when she returned to Taiwan.

Yi-San said she never found an “answer” to the dream; but she herself, of course, was all along the dream’s “answer.” On its deepest level, the dream announces to her who she is. She had the dream at an age when her unique form of greatness was just beginning to wake up in her and assert itself. The terrifying images in the dream were a self-portrait – and a clue to the distinctive spiritual destiny that was to be hers.

claire_shen_15_dreamsThe dream occurred again and again, night after night, for a whole week because the dream’s scenario was supercharged, drawing its emotional impact from the two different levels on which the dream operated. The terror and the fear for her life, understandable from the lower and most obvious level of the dream, are even more pronounced on its higher, more subtle, level. We are all most afraid of what we don’t know. What always remains most unknown and unknowable to us is what we most deeply are. It’s our real greatness that terrifies us the most, because that’s the part of ourselves we least understand.

When a special and deeper, almost shamanic, nature first begins to emerge in the exceptional child, it asserts itself in ways that aren’t so easily comprehensible. Especially if coupled with outside fears or insecurities, it can strike terror into the child’s heart. When I was five, living in the bland Miami suburbs, I unaccountably had a nightmare that I hid under my bed in terror because there was a big wild bear at the window that wanted to get me. Among the Native Americans, a child might have an overpowering dream of an eagle, a wolf, or a bear – and thereby begin to be acquainted with the emergence of some deep inner aspect to its own individual nature. Yi-San’s inner nature was somehow akin to that of the aboriginal Taiwanese – an almost vanished people, very different from the Chinese. That this is the case is attested by her eventual marriage to an aboriginal man. My dream was of the great bear. Because the bear hibernates in the winter the bear spirit in some Native American cultures is said to be associated with sleeping, intuition, and dreams. Sleeping is indeed very important to my creative process, as is dreaming. I can only write early in the morning when I first awake and my mind is still not that far removed from its dreaming, or creative, mode. My way of working with dreams in the Ullman group is largely intuitive; and I have found that the unique value and importance of the Ullman dream group in the university curriculum is that it trains and sharpens the intuitive and creative powers of students subjected to a life-long education that is too narrowly intellectual. I have remembered that bear dream my whole life. It announces to me something I very much need to remember for it tells me my true nature and mission, which is different from the natures and missions of so many of those around me. I need to be me, not them. It’s the same with Yi-San and her wonderful aboriginal nature. The “answer” to her dream is to be who she most truly is and do what she does best, and what perhaps only she can do.

We always give the dreamer the last word.

Yi-San said:

“I’m glad I decided to come here.”

* * *

“What you give me really is the answer of my dream.”

* * *

“Some of you touch to my heart.”

* * *

“I never try to see myself so widely and deeply, and try to understand myself.”

* * *

“Thank you very much. It is a very good experience.”

So, what is the “meaning,” then, of Yi-San’s dream. What exactly does it “mean”? And, what specifically is it about this dream that, contrary to the dogma of some sleep researchers, should not be forgotten, but sorely needs to be remembered – not just by Yi-San, but also by us, who worked on it in the group, and perhaps even by certain individuals reading this?

The laboratory scientist claims dreams have no meaning and should be forgotten. But dreams don’t operate in the realm of science. They aren’t about science. They are all about art – naked specimens of the most basic artistic, intuitive, creative, and spiritual function at the root of human consciousness and culture. We don’t reduce a great painting, a masterpiece of fiction, or a profound religious enlightenment to mere intellectual or statistical understanding by asking “What does it mean?” and we don’t specifically dictate that it should or shouldn’t be forgotten. The fact is, it changes our lives and the lives of those around us and is unforgettable.

The meaning is not in the artwork itself but in our human lives. The power of the work of art is that it can touch us down to levels of meaning, being, human richness, and even divine compassion that we have forgotten, and perhaps left behind – and it can bring these forward again into our experience. This is also the power of dreams and we have never worked with the images of a dream in an Ullman group but what we have found that they do have meaning and they do connect with the dreamer’s life.

A ten or eleven year old girl in Taiwan dreams a dream that she never forgets. Some thirty or forty years later she is a junior high school teacher in a mountain town in Taiwan. She tells the dream in a dream group and finds herself close to tears to recall that as a little girl she wanted to “be the great person.”[inset side="right" title="William Stimson"]conducts free all-day dream groups every month in Taipei and Taichung. For further information: billstimson[at]mac.com[/inset]

One of the greatest persons I ever met was Mrs. Hankens, my Honors English teacher at Southwest Miami Senior High School. She touched something into my life that I never began even to suspect until decades later. Undoubtedly she did the same for quite a number of her students. As Yi-San sat there in the group with us working on her dream, I was again and again affected by her simple humility, openness, and honesty. I thought of Mrs. Hankens and knew immediately Yi-San was a teacher like that. She may not have risen up high in the world, but there was no doubt in my mind that seated before us in the dream group, working on her childhood dream, was “the great person.”

And this maybe is the meaning of the dream, and of dreaming in general. That it makes us remember what we most essentially are, and enables us to see that in each other.

(Illustrations by Claire Shen)

Monday, 28 March 2011 15:26

夢想、創造與直覺

人人都想成功,在各行各業中發展出屬於自己的一片天空,然而真正能如願的卻在少數。透過夢境的自我賞讀,讓自己更了解自己,同時用另外一種截然不同的創造力來面對工作挑戰。


Monday, 28 March 2011 15:26

夢想、創造與直覺

人人都想成功,在各行各業中發展出屬於自己的一片天空,然而真正能如願的卻在少數。透過夢境的自我賞讀,讓自己更了解自己,同時用另外一種截然不同的創造力來面對工作挑戰。


Wednesday, 23 March 2011 00:00

Dreams, Creativity and Intuition

A Time of Dizzying Change

We’re rushing up the ever-steeper incline of an exponential explosion in technological innovation that is leaving not a single aspect of our lives unaffected.  Our economies, our jobs, our environments, our illnesses, the nations we live in, their forms of government – nothing has escaped change, nothing remains unaffected.  If we turn around from where we are today and look back, we catch a breath-taking sweep of the past, so high have we gotten on the upward sweep of this powerful curve.  In some crucial areas, the last year has seen more change than the last ten years, the last ten have seen more change than the last hundred, and the last hundred have seen more than the last thousand.  The exhilarating prospect sweeps far, far back into the past where, compared to our frenzied and fascinating pace of change today, nothing much seemed to have altered for the longest stretches.  Into the distant past the curve looks from where we stand like a flat line.  Those times are gone by, the long boring tail of the exponential curve that got us to this explosion of newness we know today.  Filled with anticipation of all that is yet to come in our own lifetimes, we turn eagerly around to continue our ascent – only to find a few paces ahead the curve shoots almost straight up as far as we can see.

Daunting as it is, this two-dimensional representation does scant justice to our real situation – because it makes it look as though we know in what direction we are headed.  In truth, nobody today can be sure what new discovery will pop us off in a different direction entirely – not just in a hundred years, or ten years, or one year; but next week, tomorrow.  What’s more, no place is immune anymore from what happens next door or on the other side of the world.  In an important sense the concept of place, which reigned supreme in the human mind for millennia, is faltering.  Increasingly, any place is more and more like everywhere, and every place is more and more like anywhere.  Will our sense of time be next to go?  Nobody knows what’s going next, or what’s coming.

To survive in China, to survive in the West, or to survive anywhere, we’re called upon like never before to re-invent what we do, to re-invent how we do it – and even to re-invent who we are.  Not once, not twice – but on an ongoing basis.  This is true for countries, it is true for industries, and it is true for individuals.  Innovators like Google’s Sergey Brin, and Apple Computer’s Steve Job are the dazzling stars of our time.  The country or industry that can produce more of this kind of man will own the future.

Who Will Own The Future?

How to train people to be innovative, to be creative, and to succeed in a world so unpredictable?  Universities around the world, purporting to train students to meet the future, are schooling them in ways that no longer even fit the present.   It isn’t enough today to be intelligent and to be stuffed with the necessary knowledge.  Those who go out to succeed in today’s world already need to hone their abilities to deal with the unknown.  More and more in the future they will certainly need to deal with the unknowable.  To do this what they will need is intuition, creativity, and faith.  Of the three, faith is most important because it leads to the other two.  Faith doesn’t mean they have to gulp some outdated dogma down whole and for the rest of their lives resist any impulse from their heart or soul to chuck it up and be rid of it.  Faith means to have been given a way to find out for themselves there is that within them that knows better than they can, loves deeper than they know how, and is more true than they can ever be – and if they only move their own petty ideas aside and listen to it, they will acquire, not from an outside source, but from inside their own deepest nature, all the intuition and creativity they will ever need in their lives.

In Taiwan for these past years my wife and I have, each in our own way, been implementing a method of instruction that accomplishes these aims.  It requires no advanced expertise or expensive equipment to implement, utilizes existing facilities and staff, and is as practicable in the poorest most undeveloped areas of the world today as in the richest most developed ones.  It’s a simple course in dreams.  Not a course about dreams.  The course isn’t based on lectures, it doesn’t involve studying some textbook or outside material, and the students aren’t tested with exams.  In this course the students discover faith in themselves and learn to bring out and hone their own innate intuitive and creative capabilities by working in class on their own dreams and those of their classmates using the Montague Ullman experiential dream group method.  Of the methods I know for working with dreams, this one alone is safe, fun, and exciting for graduate students and undergraduates alike. (For a description of the method, see http://www.billstimson.com/writing/The_Process.htm).

The course is a boon to the professor because it involves no arduous preparation of lectures, no tedious grading of papers or exams, and mostly because in the Ullman process the professor, as leader of the group, is not the one in control (the dreamer is in control) but merely another group member – who obtains from each and every class the same benefits as the students.  The course is a boon for the students because it’s the first time in their lives that most of them ever experienced real education.  In the words of one student:

This course woke me up.  I can’t pretend anymore I enjoy my Ph.D. training.  I need something more enlightening in the way of education or I’ll wither.

Or, as another put it:

Except for knowledge from books, I don’t know what else I got in my other classes.  Maybe I learned to understand what people were talking about, but none of it touched my heart.  Now I don’t know how much of all that is real and how much I should believe.  By working with dreams in this class I got inside my own heart and I also got a chance to look deep inside the hearts of others.

The way the Montague Ullman experiential dream group process works is as follows.  The dreamer tells the group a dream she had that to her looks strange and nonsensical.  It doesn’t seem to have any relation to her life.  As the group goes through the various stages of the Ullman process it begins to become clear that from the perspective of the dream it is the waking life that is nonsensical, because it ignores certain important feelings in the dreamer’s heart.  The dreamer comes to appreciate how accurately the dream really represents her life as she begins to discover those exact same feelings in recent walking-life events.  When these “missing” or “underrepresented” feelings emerge to the fore, the waking life of the dreamer takes on a different shape and becomes more authentic.  Subsequent dreams carry the dreamer forward, rounding her life out more and more and making her more and more of a whole person.

The way all this relates to a real life situation at work is as follows.  Let’s say two individuals try out for the same job.  The job has several aspects.  The individual who has not worked with her dreams and who has not become more of a full person may be lacking in one or more of the personal aspects required by the job.  A zone of professional incompetence may mar her work.   But the individual who has worked with her dreams and gotten more in touch with all her feelings and various inner talents will more likely have the subtler aspects of the skill set the job requires.  Her performance will display no zone of incompetence.  She will approach everything she does with her whole self, like an artist.

This all seems very hypothetical.  It is not.  M.I.T. researcher Donald A. Schön conducted research on the way professionals in quite a number of different fields approached their work.  In one after another, he found that best-of-their-class professionals in essence invented their approach to each project much in the way an artist does.  Each job taught these superior professionals how to approach that particular job.  They learned by doing (Schön called this the epistemology of reflective practice).  In contrast, the mediocre professionals applied to every different job the method or methods they’d been trained in (Schön called this the epistemology of technical rationality).  They learned, and then they went out to do, in every situation they met, what they’d been trained to do.  The difference between these two ways of working is that the one is intuitive and creative, the other is neither.  An issue among educators since Schön published his findings has been how to arrive at a method of teaching that could make professionals into “reflective practitioners.”  What my wife and I have discovered in Taiwan these past years is that the Montague Ullman experiential dream group is the perfect method.

Schön’s discoveries are terribly important today.  Yesterday an engineer could be an engineer and get away with it, a scientist could be a scientist and escape scot free, without censure.  Not today.  Not just the engineer, not just the scientist – but every kind of professional needs to approach his work also as an art.  There is an art to dentistry, as anybody knows who has sat in a dentist’s chair.  There is an art to teaching, as anyone knows who’s sat in a classroom.  And there is an art to computer science – as Steve Jobs has shown us all, becoming in the process one of the richest men around.

How do you train a software engineer to approach what he does as an art?  Give him classes in oil painting?  No.  Abraham Maslow studied may different individuals and found, overall, that those who practiced their work as an art had more of a tendency to be whole people than those whose approach to their work was less enlightened, more rote.  This is why dreams can figure so importantly in training such individuals.  Working like an artist enables one to do fuller justice to the demands of a job because it involves more fully all the aspects of the self.  Apple computer had many competitors.  Steve Jobs always won out because the solution he came up with always did more justice to the product. Thus the product was more satisfying to consumers.

Most people laugh dreams off as impractical or whimsical.  Academics, even in the university where I work, tend to be averse to having a dream course in the curriculum.  They feel it is unprofessional and lowers the standards.  They ask how I grade the students.  They don’t seem to care about what the students learn, perhaps because they assume the students learn nothing.  When I invite them to come participate in the dream group to see for themselves, they decline.  These are individuals whose training blinds them to the connection in any field, and in every field, between professional excellence and authenticity.  Every one of them, though, would love to be a Steve Jobs and make the money he does.  But let’s look at what Steve Jobs tells us is behind his success:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Steve Jobs faced the computer industry.  He changed the computer industry.  He faced the music industry.  He changed the music industry.  He faced the telecommunications industry.  He changed the telecommunications industry.  Though he’s now ill, some think he might already have changed the book publishing industry, and who knows how many others.  He could have told us so much about innovation, about technology, about strategy.  We would have perched on the edge of our seats to grab every hint he cared to throw out at us.  Instead, he turns around 180° and points into the distant past.  It was Socrates, back down that long, flat tail of our exponential curve, who some 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece, gave the advice Steve Jobs gives us today, “Know thyself” and it was Lao Tzu in ancient China who around the same time hinted why this is so important, “At the center of your being you have the answer; you know.” Some five hundred years after these sages passed from the scene, the Gospel of Thomas quotes Jesus as saying, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” Today every nation is frantic to put more math, science, and engineering into their schools so they can follow China’s lead into the future.  Steven Jobs instead sides with Socrates, Lao Tzu, and Jesus – schools aren’t the issue:  what we need is already inside us.  Our task is to access it.  The value of dreams is that they give us the freedom to do this.

(Photo: Jim Hansen)


 

hartwig_dreams_value_stimson

The Value of Dreams

The surprising thing about so many of us is the extent we’ve let others decide for us what we believe, what we want, what we feel, and even who we are.  Dreams arise from a part of ourselves that might listen to all that rubbish too, if only it didn’t know better.  It knows better because it was more fully present than we were every time throughout the long course of our life we ever felt a true love, were moved by a real passion, every time there welled up within us the recognition of an authentic worship.  More often than not we allowed ourselves to get distracted by what doesn’t matter and were not even aware of these powerful transformative moments – the real treasures of our life.  Hidden away inside us though, out of our sight, it did register them and it glowed stronger and stronger with inner enlightenment.  Where in us did it hide away these treasures?

In our hands and in our arms, in our legs and in our feet, in our organs and in our immune system, in our skin and in our blood, in our chest and in our gut, in our brain and in our genitals – it tucked them away wherever it could find to tuck them away, and with them it tucked itself away, quietly, inside us, the real person that we are, and the real knowledge of who that is, the truth at the center of a web of lies, the purity of the lotus flower rising up out of the muddy pond to open its unsullied blossom.  The moment we fall asleep it unfurls itself into the rich play of dreams.  Like a child inventing a story, or a Shakespeare penning a masterpiece, it fills out its creation with an appropriate cast of characters and settings.  Each is who it is.  None are all it is.  They may recombine and reconfigure from dream to dream.  The story told is always the same truth; yet always it takes a completely new form.  The creativity, the inventiveness of a Steve Jobs is not at all rare or special, or hard to find.  In our dreams we all have it.  It’s spontaneous.  It’s natural.  It happens the moment we relax control.

A problem most of us have is that we don’t readily understand its language.  It doesn’t much care to bother with ours, or try to compete with the cacophony of our outside world.  Yet it never stops whispering to us in a deeper, quicker idiom that came before that, a dialect of immediate knowing – a language of the senses, the emotions, the intuitions; one that, like the scientist sticking to his data, never strays far from its pictures.  These are, every one of them, complex and rich metaphors, and each has meaning on many levels.  They speak the way poets do, artists, and those whose lives have been brushed by the sacred.  They speak of things that cannot be told otherwise than the way they tell them.

It’s not a mode of expression that can be translated into words.  We attend to it, and if we attend closely we might just possibly translate it into being.  Dreams can change our lives.  They do that, quite simply, by showing us who we are.  To them this is nothing.  It comes easy to them, just as it comes easy to a mirror to reflect our image.  But to us what a dream reflects back to us can come as a big surprise, so far does our self-concept tend to stray from the truth.

Do dreams arise from some supposed “unconscious?”  Those who meditate become somewhat more conscious of the part of themselves that dreams arise from, as do those who work in Ullman dream groups.  Yes, there is the greater part of us that we are not conscious of at any given time.  But the problem with us is really that generally we are too insensitive, or distracted by the plodding mechanisms of thought, to register the quicker, more subtle awareness impinging on us in the moment.  So we miss the present, and incarcerate ourselves in the past.  What we call “unconscious” is really the part of us that, instant by instant, does register the complete truth each second of our lives.  Usually we don’t listen to that part.  To work with a dream in an Ullman group is to listen.  The value of listening to dreams, and working with them, which means listening to them even more deeply, is that they contain important information we otherwise miss.

But that’s not all.  The Ullman dream group process, by which we get that information from dreams, changes us in important ways.  Because this information is so vital, sometimes devilishly scandalous, usually deeply intimate, frequently profoundly touching, and always innocent, beautiful and pure – like the heart of a child or the wisdom of a saint – it really is exceedingly interesting.  Each member of the dream group gets deeply involved with the most intimate life of the dreamer, like some Sherlock Holmes with his magnifying glass.  Getting close to the dream like that, and staying close to it for so long, each person finds that some of the dream’s qualities rub off on him, like magnetism can rub off on a piece of iron from a magnet.  The group members, and of course the dreamer too, walk away from the process each time a bit more intuitive, a bit more creative, a bit more truthful to themselves, a bit more connected to and concerned with others and the environment, and a bit closer to the inwardly enlightened part of themselves.  They come away with faith in themselves because they know themselves a little better.  That faith can spill over into a faith in others and in everything.  This empowers them to engage meaningfully and to bring the deepest parts of themselves into whatever they do.

(Photo: Hartwig HKD)


seth_anderson_dreams_free

The Future Belongs to The Free And The Creatively Alive

In 1845 Elias Howe struggled unsuccessfully to invent a machine that could sew.  Then one day, exhausted, he dozed off at his workbench and dreamed he was in the African jungle, captured by cannibals.  They put him in a big cooking pot, filled it with water, lit a fire under it, and stood around pointing their spears at him so he couldn’t escape.  He awoke in alarm.  The image from the dream that lingered in his mind and struck him as odd was that the blades of the spears the cannibals pointed at him were all pierced by holes near the tip.  It suddenly dawned on him that what had been holding him back in his invention was the set idea in his mind that the needle in his machine needed to have the hole for the thread at the opposite end from its pointy tip, like a conventional sewing needle did.  He saw that if he put the hole instead at the tip of the needle he could immediately envision a mechanism for his machine to sew.  That very year he came forth with the world’s first sewing machine.

The power of dreams is their ability to democratize information and free us from what we think we know.  What we most need to learn isn’t something we don’t already know, like people assume.  Rather it’s something we do know, but know wrong.  The insidious hold that indoctrination, censorship, dogma, and ideology has over an entire culture and every individual in that culture – and also the insidious hold that even our own personal experience and common sense can have over us – is that they establish as unquestionable what in fact is very questionable.  Elias Howe awake would never think to question that the eye of a needle had to be at the opposite end from its sharp point.  This had been the case through the entire course of human history, since the first cavewomen carved from some bone the first sewing needle.  But for Howe to invent the sewing machine he had to be able to envision that this didn’t necessarily always have to be the case.  Awake, he lacked the capacity.  Few of us have the kind of intuition, creativity, or freedom of mind to question what we assume, or have been taught, is unquestionable.  But all of us, in our dreams, do have this ability – just as Howe did.

To be able to bring out and put to effective use what we know, even before we are able, or have the time, to go back and figure out exactly by what logical pathway we arrived at that knowledge – this is the faultless intuition of a Steve Jobs.  Who can guess by what means men such as him developed this ability.  But by using dreams all of us can do the same.  The feeling it gives when it starts to make itself felt in our life is positively uncanny.  The depth psychologist C. G. Jung developed the concept of synchronicity to explore the way in which a completely new sense of things can come about in our awareness when this happens.  We notice what we otherwise wouldn’t.  We see things others don’t.  The connections between things jump out at us, even though we don’t at first know exactly why.  Working with dreams gives us what it takes to recognize those instances when waking reality isn’t, after all, that terribly different from what we experience in dreams.  By working with dreams we develop the talent to navigate those moments in reality that to others and to ourselves are seemingly inexplicable and unknowable.  Others get stopped dead in their tracks.  From what we learned in the dream group we somehow muddle our way through to a path that gives to the situation an explanation and makes it knowable in an entirely unsuspected way.

The Culture of Freedom

Those who get stopped dead in their tracks and turn back to take refuge in the ways of tradition live in and perpetuate a culture that is dead, bygone, and stagnant.  But the ones who feel inwardly impelled to muddle their way through confusion, failure, loss, and censure somehow manage to rekindle out of that same dead and stagnant culture one that is free, vibrant, and alive.  They are the real artists of a culture, whether laborers, shopkeepers, or housewives.  By re-inventing themselves and re-inventing whatever work they do, they reinvent their culture.  The new free culture they invent, though, is not in fact different from the old stagnant one.  It’s the same living culture as has always hidden latent in the ossified conventional one.  Only now, each time it resuscitates an artist – in the form of any ordinary person capable of approaching their life and work in a creative and intuitive way – it is given new life.

A dying culture is one that can no longer mediate this re-creation of the whole of itself and instead devolves into a sad caricature of its more undeveloped aspect – imposed by authoritarian rule from above.  A living culture is one that can still facilitate the breakthrough of the individual to the culture’s flip, or creative and regenerative, side.  In this flip side, the culture and the creative individual become, in a sense, indistinguishable. They form one fused and vibrant living entity.  Thus the culture keeps re-creating individuals capable of re-creating the culture.  It’s like boiling water.  The bubbles come up from below.  They’re not imposed from above.

In these basic essentials, the Chinese individual and culture in Taiwan certainly do not differ from individuals and cultures the world over.  Thus there is no reason to suppose that the experiment my wife and I have begun in a Taiwanese university of using dreams to bring alive intuitive and creative individuals isn’t as relevant in every culture as it is in this one.

(Photo: Seth Anderson)

William R. Stimson, Ph.D. trained for many years under Montague Ullman, M.D.  who originated the Ullman experiential dream group process.  Besides his dream group at the university, he leads monthly Saturday dream groups (in English) in Taipei, Taichung, and Kaohsiung.  There is no charge for these dream groups.  For locations and schedules:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Read more on dreams and their interpretation:
Stimson, William R. (2009) Using dreams to train the reflective practitioner: the Ullman dream group in social work education, Reflective Practice Vol. 10, No. 5, 577–587
Stimson, William R. (2010) The hidden dimension of Chinese culture as seen in the dream of a Taiwanese woman, Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 13: 5, 485 — 512
Ullman, M. (1996). Appreciating dreams — a group approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Wang, Shuyuan (2007) Chinese translation of Montague Ullman’s Appreciating dreams – a group approach.  Psychological Publishing Co., Ltd. Taipei, Taiwan

 

Wednesday, 28 April 2010 00:00

那天,我從公園經過

在這雙異國的眼睛裡,台灣生活中的樂趣與啟發俯拾即是……

遺忘之物

 
獨自走過一座台北的公園時,我發現某棵樹的樹幹分叉處,卡著一本像是屬於作家的筆記本;我只能猜測這是某個詩人不注意時從口袋滑落出來的,有人怕它在路上遭到踐踏而毀損,因此撿起來塞在樹上。這位作家會記得回來此處尋找嗎?我根本沒想去窺看其中隱私,但還是拍了張照片寄給一名美籍詩人;我知道他旅居台北而且使用同樣的筆記本。他回信說這不是他的失物。隔天我就前往台中了。
 

多年前的某天深夜,我獨自坐在紐約公寓中看著租來的電影,該片記述一名偉大英國作家的生平。電影演到一半時,這位作家對他的學生說了幾句充滿真與美的話,讓我受到極大的打擊。我拿起遙控器關掉電影,坐在黑暗中悲傷了一陣子:多年來我每天早起寫日記,但聽見那位偉人說出如此深刻的話語,讓我瞭解到自己不是當作家的料。我發現沒有天賦的自己花了那麼多年孜孜不倦地寫作是有多可悲,無法想像當初究竟是基於什麼因素讓我覺得自己能投入這行。於是我起身上洗手間,回來打開電視看完剩下的部份,之後就去睡了。

 

隔天早上醒來,我坐在書桌前記下那段話語和自己的體悟,然後照著早晨寫作後的習慣,回頭讀一年前同一天的日記。想想看我有多震驚:我發現去年那天的經歷帶給我的啟發,與影片中作家所言完全不謀而合——只不過我當時在日記中表達得更好。

 

該因為我們每個人的內在都有其偉大之處而驚訝嗎?還是該訝異於這種偉大就像公園裡的筆記本,如此輕易就丟失遺忘呢?在感動於作家話語內的深刻真理時,我們看見了偉大,從而自覺渺小;因為我們已經忘記這種偉大其實正存於自身當中。

 

 

 

移樹之道

 

BillStimsonTree_s某天清晨在台灣的一座公園裡,我遇到一位從市場返家的人;他在途中停步,套上背帶後把自己和樹繫在一起。起初看來,他好像試著把樹移到另一個地方,或許是想將樹拖回自家前院;後來我發現這狂想還真可笑。那棵樹絲毫不為所動——這人顯然是在做某種運動,很可能他每天早上都帶著背帶出門,進行同樣的鍛鍊。我曾在一本東方哲學的書中讀到:如果你在池塘中養了一隻魚,想讓牠長得又大又壯的話,就在池塘中央擺塊石頭。魚會不斷繞著石頭游,想游到石頭的另一邊去。但不管牠在石頭的哪一邊,永遠都會發現石頭還有另一邊;於是牠就不斷地游,終究會比池中沒有石頭的魚來得更為碩大且強壯。

 

明知不可為而為的舉動看似瘋狂,卻能帶給我們其他事情無法給予的力量。這人永遠無法移動那棵樹,但他會變得非常強壯;我或許不會成為年輕時立志要當的那種作家,但我付出的努力確實已經改變我的生活,也覺得自己因此有所成長。那隻魚不管到了石頭的哪一邊,都永遠無法抵達石頭的「另一邊」,因為牠永遠在自己所在的那邊;然而另一邊的存在,最後卻讓牠成為出類拔萃的魚。

 

一個人、一棵樹,一隻魚、一塊石頭;一頁白紙、一位作家——不論我們多努力,總有永遠無法企及的地方。然而有天我們會發現:不知怎地,那個目標就在面前出現——於是在驚喜與訝異中,發現自己已經抵達另一邊。

 

 

 

 

 

富足生活

 

BillStimson_BallroomDancing_s清晨時分,在我台灣住家附近的空曠停車場上,有一群人正打著太極拳。當我用相機捕捉他們的身影時,卻發現鄰近另一處也無人使用的停車場上,有對男女正翩翩起舞;交際舞音樂則從人行道上的手提式放音機中流洩而出。

 

於是我拍下一張照片,並繼續往下走過一座又一座的公園,替一群群打太極拳的人留影。當我帶著相機滿載而歸時,早上在空曠停車場上打太極的人群早已離去,但一旁有人跳舞的停車場,現在則滿是一對對的男女。他們臂挽著臂優雅旋轉,彷彿正在參加一場盛大的舞會。

 

要是我能從台灣文化中萃取出什麼精髓的話(至少就我的觀點而言——也就是說,我覺得最特別的部分),那就是毫不浪費的特質。我常常在想,為什麼台灣人幾乎無所不吃——在這裡,就連響尾蛇、海參與兩頭尖尖的小海螺也成了桌上佳餚。後來我瞭解到:這是因為台灣人從過往艱苦的歲月中,學會如何利用每一樣小東西;他們分毫都不浪費。

 

在我離開紐約搬往台灣的前一週,曼哈坦區、皇后區、布隆克斯區與史坦頓島的回收計畫宣告中止。官方給的理由是:計畫耗資甚鉅,難以執行;但台灣就不會發生這種事。台灣人靠回收賺大錢,而且全心全意投入這項工作。不僅是餐廳,甚至連尋常家庭都會回收廚餘,或是製成肥料、或是用來餵豬。所以對台灣人而言,即便將清晨時分閒置的停車場變成有用之物,也是不足為奇。

 


攝影/William R. Stimson

 

 

本文為節錄,完整內容請見2010年5月號《人籟論辨月刊》

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Wednesday, 24 March 2010 18:36

What’s forgotten

Walking alone through a Taipei park, I came across what looked to be a writer’s notebook wedged in the crotch of this tree. I could only guess it had slipped out of the poet’s pocket without him noticing and someone picked it up from the path and stuck it in the tree so it wouldn’t get trampled and ruined. Would the writer remember to come back to this place to look? I didn’t even think to steal a look at someone’s private words but took this photo and e-mailed it to an American poet I knew in Taipei who used the same kind of notebook. He wrote back it wasn’t one of his. I left for Taichung the following day.

Friday, 28 March 2008 03:04

A Noxious Weed

I came over here to Taiwan on the far side of the world and found the pantropical weed Bidens pilosa, a species that in years past I had stumbled across in South Florida, the Caribbean, and Central America. In South Florida it’s called “beggar’s tick” because each of the small thin seeds it produces in startling abundance has two clasps at the end that enable it to attach velcro-like to pant-legs, socks, and shoe-strings. The seeds have to be picked laboriously off when one comes indoors, otherwise they get all over everything. The plant invades lawns and sends down deep roots. It resists being pulled up by a strength in the roots and a weakness at the base of the stem. When someone tries to uproot one of these plants from a lawn, the base of the stem is apt to break off, leaving the roots firmly planted in the ground. In a surprisingly short time the weed grows right back again, as big as ever.

Here in Taiwan, I went out of my way one day to pull up by the root a huge unsightly clump of the plant despoiling the lawn out front of the public library across the street from where I lived at the time. The window of the room where I wrote looked out on that lawn and I felt that to get rid of the big weed would be an improvement. It took all my strength and tact to get the thing up by its deepest roots. After a long struggle, I rose from my knees in victory, with soiled hands and sore fingers. I tossed the big ungainly weed on the pavement to die in the hot sun. Just at that moment, a small Taiwanese girl scampered across the lawn in glee to another smaller clump nearby that I hadn’t noticed. With joyous delight she set about picking the white and yellow daisy-like flower clusters one by one.

Having learned long ago how aggressive a weed the species is around the world in tropical places, I’d completely forgotten until that instant that when I was that little girl’s age, I too had thought this plant special and felt its flowers to be so pretty. Seeing the way the little girl lovingly fashioning a pretty bouquet of the flowers made me unexpectedly remember.

I stood there and watched, as her father took her by the hand and led her away down the street, the way the child so lovingly clutched her precious posy in her other hand. The two of them walked right past the big sprawling plant I’d tossed in the street. A car had already run it over and crushed it.

William R. Stimson is an American writer who lives in Taiwan. His other published writings are posted at www.billstimson.com


Thursday, 21 February 2008 00:00

The Rich Life

While photographing an early morning tai chi group in an empty parking lot near my home here Taiwan, I noticed a man and a woman dancing their hearts out in the adjoining parking lot, also empty. Ballroom dance music issued from a portable player sitting on the pavement.  I snapped this photo and then walked on down through a series of parks taking pictures of a succession of tai chi groups. When the camera was full and wouldn’t take any more pictures, I headed back home. As I passed by it again, I saw that the parking lot with the early morning tai chi group was now empty but the adjoining one with the dancers was filled with couples spinning gracefully around, arm in arm, as if they were at a grand ball.

 
 
If I could distill the essence of Taiwanese culture, at least as I see it -- that is to say, what makes it so special for me -- it’s this quality it has, that nothing is wasted. Often I’ve wondered why Taiwanese eat so many different kinds of things – even rattlesnakes, sea cucumbers, and tiny pointy ocean snails are relished here. In time, I came to understand that a people like these, who have lived through adversity, would over time have learned how to utilize every little thing. Nothing is wasted here.
 
 
The week before I left New York City to move to Taiwan, the recycling program was suspended in Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island. The reason the city gave: the program was too costly to operate. That would never happen in Taiwan. The Taiwanese make big money from recycling and are committed to it. They even recycle waste food, not just from restaurants, but from ordinary homes. Some of it is made into fertilizer, some of it is used as feed for pigs. So with the Taiwanese, it’s quite natural that even an empty parking lot, early in the morning, that’s not being used, finds a function and becomes a valuable commodity.
 
 
This ballroom dancing group can be free because it doesn’t have to rent a hall. The parking lot is empty early every morning. No expensive air conditioning system is needed. Outdoors early in the morning the air is fresh and sweet. Ordinary people can perfect their dance steps, get exercise, polish their social skills, and enjoy the company of friends and neighbors. Down a ways in one direction is a different parking lot where another group plays badminton. Over the opposite way is one where still another group goes through an aerobic exercise routine to the accompaniment of disco music. The streets and parks of Taiwan are alive early every morning with all kinds of life. It is a wonderful thing to see these enterprising people snatching a few moments from their busy schedules and coming out onto the streets to do what they love and to share that love with others, without any money exchanging hands.

 

What impresses me most about Taiwan is the way the simpler people here have of making so much out of so little. Every time I see it, I am inspired to do the same. For instance, I have started saving the coffee grounds and using them to fertilize the ferns. Now I’m growing the biggest ferns I’ve ever seen. And for the moment or two it takes for the coffee to brew, instead of standing around waiting, I have gotten into the habit of doing a simple stretching exercise. After only a few months of this I find that for the first time in my life I have become limber enough to touch my toes at will. These small victories make me know how rich I am. It’s not about owning things or having money, but the joy of discovering how much profit there is in more fully using what I already have.

(Photo by B. Stimson)


Monday, 07 January 2008 23:03

How To Move A Tree

Early one morning in a park in Taiwan I came across a man who had stopped off on his way home from the market to harness himself to a tree. For a moment it looked as if he were trying to move the tree to another place, maybe drag it home for his front yard. I had to laugh at the crazy thought. That tree wasn’t going to budge. The man was obviously engaged in some kind of exercise. Most likely, he brought his harness out every morning to do the same practice. I once read in a book of eastern philosophy that if you had a fish in a pond and you wanted it to get big and strong you put a stone in the middle of the pond. The fish would swim around and around the stone trying to get to the other side. No matter what side of the stone he was on, the other side always beckoned. And so he kept swimming. In time, he would be much bigger and stronger than a fish in a pond without a stone in the middle.

It seems crazy to attempt the impossible, and yet it brings about a strength that can’t be gotten otherwise. This man will never move the tree; but he will become very strong. I may or may not become the writer I set out to be in my youth, but the effort has really changed my life and I feel it’s made me a better person. The fish, no matter what side of the stone he gets to, never reaches the “other” side. He’s always on the side he’s on. The other side, though, by being there, eventually makes of him a superior fish.

A man, a tree, a fish, a stone; a blank page, a writer — no matter how hard we try, there is that which we can never quite reach. But then one day we find that somehow it has reached us — and recognize, with surprise and astonishment, the other side.

(Photo by the author - Early morning scene in a city park in Taiwan.)
Thursday, 29 November 2007 18:38

Taiwan’s Cracks

[dropcap cap="W"]hat touches my heart about Taiwan is its cracks. You find them everywhere — in the walls of houses and buildings, in sidewalks, highways, curbstones, and cement planters — the legacy of the island’s frequent earthquakes. Everything in Taiwan is just a little broken — even the soil, in places, is rent with fissures. [/dropcap]
The island was wrenched up from the ocean floor by the Philippine continental plate banging into the edge of Asia. This collision that created Taiwan is still very much in progress. Taiwan is a place in the making. It’s a shaky place, but it’s an island with a future. This is true not just in a geological sense, but also culturally and politically. Modern Taiwan is a wonderfully fractured place that came into being where Japanese and Chinese history collided; and it moves into the future now at the real spot in the world where everything American bangs most forcefully into everything Chinese. As such, Taiwan is a rich, culturally fertile mix — magnificently alive. Geologically, culturally, and politically Taiwan is a de facto self-building entity and deserves the self-determination that, by rights, is it’s due.

Everywhere I go here I see beautiful new elevated expressways under construction, tall modern skyscrapers, elite apartment buildings, universities, and schools. An elevated high-speed railway stretches from one end of the island to the other. The bridges here are of the highest caliber and look more like works of modern art or sculpture than engineering projects. Taiwan abounds with creative enterprise, the building up of newer and better things, even as all sorts of forces threaten at any minute to tear it down. The truth isn’t that Taiwan survives in spite of these forces, but that it thrives and can be self-building precisely because of them. This is the real secret of Taiwan and its remarkable grass-roots creativity. Taiwan, not China or America, is the correct model for the developing countries of Latin America, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Africa. Taiwan also provides a lesson for the creative individual and a constant source of inspiration. The creative life always springs into being at the juncture of powerful opposing forces. Early on it gets cracked and broken. Half the time it seems to be trying to get up from its knees only to be knocked down again. The example of Taiwan shows that it is exactly on such a foundation that the best things happen.

Cracks are evidence that deeper forces are at work under the surface and that something greater is coming into being. These are forces of an awesome magnitude. They would seem to outweigh anything we might be capable of, except that they elicit from within us that which is even mightier — the inner freedom to create. It is when this freedom begins to move through our work and our lives that we rise to our true stature as human beings and, like Taiwan, bring into being something that has never been before, a thing totally new —that can’t be squeezed back into old categories of history and culture, but has the power to break loose from the rigid and the dead, invent a greater freedom, and send everything off in a new direction.



Thursday, 15 November 2007 23:09

Taiwan's first organic farmer's market

[dropcap cap="W"]hen he returned to Taiwan with an American Ph.D. and began teaching agriculture at National Chung Hsing University in Taichung, Ray Tung never guessed he would go on to establish Taichung’s first organic farmer’s market. He taught his students as his professors had him — that agricultural chemicals in the appropriate amounts do no harm. [/dropcap]A student came up after class one day to ask why he wasn’t considering that even if applied in safe doses, those chemicals accumulate in the soil, the riverbeds, and even the human body — until they reach levels where they do cause harm. A farmer may apply herbicide to his orchard only twice a month. But that’s 24 times a year. This student was a farmer and invited Ray to come see his organic farm.
It turned out to be a big surprise. Ray saw that organic farming wasn’t just about putting no dangerous chemicals in the soil and the water and no poisons in the food supply and the body. It boiled down to an issue of basic integrity: Do we care more about profit or about the health of the environment and the value of human life?

Thus began Ray’s decade-long odyssey to the many small-scale organic farms in the mountains and in the countryside all around the city of Taichung in central Taiwan. He got to know the farmers, learned from them, and began buying and using their products. At that time an organic trend was sweeping the agricultural market in North America, Europe, and even, to a lesser extent, Taiwan. Upscale consumers demanded farm products without poisons and large-scale agri-businesses began supplying them to supermarkets.

In Taiwan small-scale organic farmers didn’t really benefit from this. Even though their locally-grown produce was superior in freshness and quality to what the big companies delivered to supermarkets, these farmers didn’t have the marketing skills or the distribution networks to compete. Ray got a sense that in this he might step in and make a difference. He suggested setting up an organic farmer’s market in Taichung. The farmers said it wouldn’t work.

Everything Ray knew about organic food and the value of organic practices for the environment and for human health he learned from the small farmers, not from any teachers, professors, or agricultural experts at any of the universities he’d attended. He saw these farmers as a resource not just to provide chemical-free food products to upscale urban consumers — but to educate the broader public as they had him about an entire way of life that was wholesome and regenerative to the individual and the rural landscape. The big businesses supplying the supermarkets, in contrast, were just concerned with turning out an agricultural product as cheaply as possible that fit the organic specifications. It was Ray’s genius to see that the unique advantage of the small farmer would present itself in the face-to-face setting of a farmer’s market; and the farmers, in such a situation, could become an agent for change. He never gave up on his dream of the organic farmer’s market. But for ten years it didn’t happen.

Then, last Fall while on sabbatical in Tampa, Florida, he went around looking at farmer’s markets in Florida. They got him all fired up. When he returned to Taiwan his mind was decided. He begun reaching out to the organic farmers to let them know he was going ahead with that old dream of his. He invited them to a preliminary meeting to work out the specifics.

At one farm, the farmer’s wife was furious at him. “Because of you my husband turned this onto an organic farm,” she lashed out. “Now look at us. We’ve become a poor family. The neighbors ridicule us.”
“She’s going to divorce me,” the farmer confided sadly to Ray. “The neighbors have got these ideas into her head. She says I’ve betrayed the family for some stupid idea of mine that doesn’t make any sense.”

Ray invited them both to the meeting. To his surprise the wife came. Almost sixty farmers and their families were in attendance. The mix included vegetable farmers, fruit farmers, tea farmers, and rice farmers. Ray noticed the man’s wife listening in surprise as the stories poured out on all sides.

Farmers told how they initially turned organic after seeing their parents poisoned and crippled for life by farm chemicals. Taiwan’s small farmers in years past were uneducated people of low socio-economic status. They didn’t know better than to trust the fast-talking salesmen who came around promoting agricultural chemicals. Then, even when it became apparent that the chemicals did real harm, farmers kept using them because they knew of no alternative.

Other farmers poured out their stories about how organic farming takes time compared with conventional agriculture because it involves improving the quality of the soil and the environment. It may take a few years just to get started. They told how it’s not just about the immediate financial reward, but about leaving the land and surroundings better for the next generation than the last generation left it for us.

There was talk how in rural Taiwan there used to be all kinds of snakes, frogs, fish and birds. At night, a naked light bulb attracted a cloud of moths, beetles and flying insects. No more. So many living things had been poisoned and are not seen anymore. Taiwan has the highest rate of liver cancer in the world. In places the island is turning into a wasteland. It was once named for its beauty.

As the meeting broke up Ray happened to catch sight of the man’s wife and could see the change in her and in the way she was with her husband. She laughed and smiled and had made lots of new friends — individuals that unlike her ignorant neighbors could make her understand what her husband was trying to do and why.

Ray saw that this dream of his wasn’t just about marketing these farmers’ fresh organic produce in Taichung, and it wasn’t just about educating city dwellers to a new and more wholesome lifestyle. It was perhaps most importantly about community building. He scheduled a succession of other planning meetings. Then, in April he sent out the final invitations to join Taichung’s first organic farmer’s market. Of the initial sixty farmers, only thirty-three attended the opening of the market in September.

A representative from one of Taiwan’s big agri-businesses approached Ray with a desire to be part of the market. If that company had a booth at the market they would staff it with salespeople hired just to sell vegetables, individuals who wouldn’t themselves have undergone the change in consciousness that occasions a shift to the organic lifestyle the small farmers had undertaken, sometimes at considerable expense to themselves and their families. Ray turned the big company down. It wasn’t what he wanted for the market. He wanted the people of Taichung to have the chance for a face-to-face encounter that might possibly let them see — organic food is not just about fruits and vegetables that are free of poisons. It’s not just about a product that meets organic specifications. It’s about a change in lifestyle, and a change in consciousness — a way of living that doesn’t damage the environment or other people and is wholesome all around.

These farmers had lived isolated lives on their small farms, tending their land and crops, largely out of contact with each other and any larger community. Now they arrive at the market early every Saturday morning, energetic and excited to see each other and connect with all the different people thronging the stalls, asking questions, and buying things. One really does get the feeling at the market that the farmers have come not just for the money, but to feel part of a larger community that cares about the same things they do.

Many Saturdays in the first early morning rush around 8 a.m., when the market is at its busiest, some farmers sell out. Instead of packing up to leave, they stay the whole rest of the morning, socializing with farmers at other booths, assisting them with the customers, answering questions, and sharing their enthusiasm about the wholesome way of life they’ve chosen, and its benefits.

The market is held on the campus of Taichung’s National Chung Hsing University. It peaks early, between 8 and 9, but goes on until noon. A walk among the stalls and a talk with some of the farmers is enough to give a whiff of hope that environmentally-ravaged Taiwan might yet be turned back into the pristine paradise it once was.

Ray is always there, walking from stall to stall, talking with everyone — a big smile on his face. It’s not many men who can say as he can, that their dream has come true.

(Photo by B. Stimson: Dr. Ray Tung, the founder of Taiwan’s first organic farmer’s market, which takes place every Saturday morning on the campus of Taiwan’s National Chung Hsing University in Taichung)


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