Jean Benedict Raffa

Think Psychologically. Live Spiritually.

The Metaphoric Meaning of Dreams August 26, 2014

Dreams symbolically represent underlying truths of which we are unaware. Dream events, like those in fairy tales, fables, myths and films have allegorical, metaphorical meanings. Rarely are they meant to be taken literally.

For example, in my early years of dreamwork I had many dreams about touring an unsuitable new house we were building. In waking reality I had designed the house we lived in and never wanted to leave, so I knew these dreams didn’t mean we would move into a new house I would hate. Then what did they mean?

Houses are a common symbol for the psyche of the person who dreams about them. These dreams were showing me how I was feeling about my current psychological reality. I was living in a “place” that was unacceptable to me. In utter ignorance of who I really was and what was truly important to me, I had worked hard to design and build a profession for myself that was deeply unsatisfying at many levels.

The ego is very good at repressing uncomfortable truths. Despite numerous dreams that dramatized the same issue from a variety of perspectives, eight months after my first dream of an unsuitable new house I still didn’t understand what was wrong with me. I didn’t know because my ego didn’t want to know. Then came the following dream:

#209: Running Out of Gas. It’s a dark night and my car runs out of gas. An old woman pulls up behind me and pushes my car to a doctor’s house. As she walks me to the door I ask her what kind of doctor it is. She says he is a psychiatrist. I was hoping she would say that. We go into the living room. In the center of the floor is a large open book. A young girl in a ballet costume flutters across the room on toe shoes as the doctor tells her how lovely she is. An intense young Russian man expresses a desire to stay in the United States. When the others tell him to stay, he says he can’t disappoint his father; he has to go back to Russia to pay him back for his education. A woman in a cowboy hat sits quietly on the floor in front of me with her back to me.

This dream wasn’t warning me to check my gas tank, see a psychiatrist, take ballet lessons, or travel to Russia. These would be literal interpretations. The metaphoric meaning was that I was “in the dark” (confused) about my life’s journey, and “running out of gas” (energy), but had access to the guidance of a wise old woman (Sophia) who indwelt my psyche and wanted to help me. The people in the house (the inner world of my psyche) were unknown aspects of my personality gathered in the living room (the place where I was “living” my life.) The doctor was my wise inner healer who was helping me with my inner work. The lovely ballet dancer symbolized my desire and potential to return to the graceful, innocent state of my childhood when I felt free to pursue my real interests. The intense Russian (he came from an “alien land” far from my conscious awareness) was the unconscious part of me that felt indebted to the Father (the patriarchal system I grew up in) for its investment in my education.

The Russian student was the key to the meaning of my dream. Pursuing a job I disliked was sapping my energy. I longed for meaningful, creative work but my ego believed it would be wrong and ungrateful to disappoint the teachers, mentors and system which had supported my efforts to become a college professor. In truth, this was the rationalization of an ego which would rather be unhappy than leave a job that brought it the status and prestige it craved.

And the peaceful woman in the cowboy hat who was featured in the lysis, or last image of the dream? She was the me I was yet to become if I continued to pursue self-knowledge: a woman who would quit her unsuitable job, learn to meditate, write her own books, buy her own horse, and wear a cowboy hat with glee! Two months later I quit college teaching for good and stepped into my real life, the one for which I was born, the one I’m living now.

Do dreams really have meaning? You bet!  But try telling that to a fearful and stubborn ego that thinks it runs the whole show and believes it knows best!

Can dreams really foretell your future?  Absolutely! Next time I’ll tell you a story about the unexpected way the woman in the cowboy hat showed up in my waking life many years later.

Ebook versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.  Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.


11 Responses to “The Metaphoric Meaning of Dreams”

  1. Skip Conover Says:

    This is an important step for helping laymen understand what dreams are all about! Thank you for your continuing dedication to this project!

    • jeanraffa Says:

      Thanks, Skip. As you know, personal experience has taught me that dreams are gateways to unimagined inner treasures—answers to our questions, insights to our personalities and relationship problems, guides for decision-making—that are sitting right under our noses, there for the asking. It saddens me so much to know how many people are hurting so badly and yearning for answers and their dreams are speaking to them every night and they still just ignore them. So yes, you’re right, I’m completely dedicated to helping people understand what dreams are all about. Few things bring greater joy than knowing—to paraphrase my friend, the poet Brian Carlin—that I have helped awaken someone from sleepwalking through their dreams.

  2. Darla Says:

    This is such a great example of seeing into our dreams in new ways – thank you. I love my dreams now; I’m always bummed when I wake up and can’t recall what I feel was a particularly intriguing dream — and I always say a little prayer that it will revisit me. 😉 And what I know now about dreams sheds deeper meaning upon recurrent dreams and nightmares I had way back before I knew how to let them in on a different level, to question them, talk to them/Self.

    Have you read any of Terry Tempest Williams’ books? I only recent found her. But — and I thought you might find this piece interesting — in “Refuge,” near the end, she describes her grandmother’s analysis of dreams (since Terry was 12) and also analysis of her body’s explanations of life … for example, her grandmother felt “labor pains” (in her 80’s) and when she went to the bathroom she expelled a large malignant tumor. When asked by Terry what had happened, her grandmother said: “I let go of my conditioning … I could only say this to you. But when I looked into the water closet and saw what my body had expelled, the first thought that came into my mind was ‘Finally, I am rid of the orthodoxy.’ My advice to you, dear, is do it consciously.”

  3. jeanraffa Says:

    Thank you, Darla. It still really bothers me when I can’t remember a dream too. I tell myself I’ll get another dream about the same issue sooner or later, and know it’s true, but nonetheless I feel as if I’ve lost a valuable letter from a loved one and may never get another to replace it.

    I’ve heard good things about Terry Tempest Williams but somehow never read any of her books. Thank you for mentioning her. I’d like to check her out. I know I’ll love what she writes about; your example of her conversation with her granddaughter is fascinating! My oldest granddaughter is 12 now and we’ll be spending a lot of time together in the next 2 years while my daughter goes back to school for a new degree. I’d love to be remembered by my granddaughters as someone who told them wonderful and unexpected things that helped them along in their own journeys!

    I do appreciate our conversations!


  4. Goodness, Jeanie. My resonance with this dream/post is beyond words right now. Will the warmest inner-knowing and a “thank you” suffice? Always grateful, Amanda

  5. Lisa Says:

    Interesting! How can I have my dreams interpreted? Or learn to interpret them? Thanks, Lisa

  6. elainemansfield Says:

    I loved reading this, Jeanie. When I was in the dark hole of grief, I had many dreams about “driving blind”–either couldn’t open my eyes or was wearing a mask. Various men, including dream Vic, often saved me from disaster. As my professional life cooks at high heat, I dreamed of meth addicted boys this week who want to go south and in real life, I tried to go to town but found the car battery dead (I’d left an interior light on for days.). Both the meth boy dreams and the dead battery reminded me that I am pushing too pushing too hard and could easily burn myself out. You have clear guidance in this dream. You were brave to act on it and find out what else could happen.

    • jeanraffa Says:

      It sounds like you’re getting clear guidance too, Elaine. I know what you’re going through now and sympathize. Two summers ago I was doing what you are doing now with all the preparations and presentations for Healing the Sacred Divide. There were certainly times when I longed to escape, or “go south!” You almost have to be addicted to your work for the few months preceding and during the launching of a new book. I know you know how to take care of your body—monitoring your energy and eating well, etc.—but for me it was the mental stress that was most problematic! As you know, introverts need lots of down time to re-energize. I expect you’ll be needing more than your usual share of that as well.

      Yet, this is such an exciting and fulfilling time, and the wonderful feelings of having accomplished your goal of writing the book you were born to write and having it published by such a wonderful publisher are a natural antidote to the exhaustion and stress. We women “of a certain age” can be pretty amazing when our years of study and experience and hard work manifest in an original work that no one else could have done as well as us. Your book will be a gift to the world, Elaine, and I congratulate you on your magnificent accomplishment. Well done, dear friend.


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