Dreams are fascinating, and it is easy to lose sight of the big picture by focusing on some intriguing aspect. But every once in a while we should return to basics to remind ourselves of how dreams work and how to deal with them. We’ll do that this week using a dream about someone falling in the water. This was a dream told recently in a dream class. The dreamer is male.
My brother and I had to cross a river which we were supposed to do by using a boat ferry. But the boat was narrow and unstable; it looked kind of like a kayak. My brother stepped onto the front of the boat, and immediately the boat moved away, with him on it. There were no oars, but somehow, he managed to maneuver the boat to the opposite bank where there were a bunch of brooms lying on the ground. He grabbed one and I thought he was going to use it like an oar, but he just kept waving it in the air—kind of joking. The next thing I knew, he had fallen in the water—first up to his waist, and then up to his shoulders. He was still hanging onto the boat. I remember thinking that, if we finally got to the other bank, he would have to spend the whole day in his drenched clothes.
How should we understand this dream?
This dream tells a story that is largely coherent. It is also plausible—although not too likely. But many dreams have plots that are so bizarre that they are implausible, or even impossible. Whether a dream scene is likely or not, it is advisable for the dreamer to divorce him/herself from taking it literally. In our case: No, this is not a prophetic dream about the dreamer’s brother falling in the water!
Very often, dreams have an emotional impact on the dreamer, and it can be difficult to distance oneself from this sense of being startled or upset. But that is the first requirement of successfully looking at a dream. Dreams have startling qualities in order to help us remember them. As we awaken in the morning, there are several stages of awareness that we have to go through as we move from our subconscious to our conscious minds. Dreams use shock value to help us keep our dreams in our awareness; that’s how they make their presence known to us. But in the vast majority of dreams, the message of the dream has little or nothing to do with its alarming quality.
Once we get over the unsettling nature of the dream, the next step is to choose the words of the dream that are its most important symbols. I tell dreamers to pretend that they are stenographers taking shorthand. As they listen to a dream being told, they take notes and write down the most important words. Those words are the dream symbols.
More about dream-shorthand on Wednesday…
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