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.