We’re examining a recurring nightmare about almost being run over by a train. Here’s the dream:
In my dream, there is never a beginning. The dream always seems to start in the middle of the action, as if I had arrived late at a movie that was already showing. In my dream I suddenly become aware that I am struggling to walk along railroad tracks. I somehow have to keep jumping from railroad tie to railroad tie, because they are spaced too far apart for me to just step from one to the other. To make matters worse, it’s as if my whole body were immersed in molasses, because I can’t seem to get any of my limbs to move quickly. It’s terrifying because I know that there is a train right behind me, and if I don’t hurry up, it’s going to run me over and kill me. I can hear it approaching. Its whistle is warning me to move, and the noise is deafening. Just as I am about to be hit, I wake up. When I have this dream, I always wake up in a sweat, and my heart is always pounding. What’s really bizarre is that I never seem to think to jump sideways off the tracks. I always remember that that’s an option after I’m awake.
Isolating the symbols
Dreams communicate with us in their own language—the language of metaphor. In order to understand the metaphors, the dreamer needs to isolate any word in the dream that is likely to have a meaning beyond its literal definition. In classes, I tell dreamers to pretend that they are taking dictation while someone relates a dream. Usually what emerges is a kind of shorthand outline that includes all the most important words of the dream. In a class, I insist on working through every symbol. For a blog, doing so can get lengthy, so we’ll work with these symbols up to “…I am about to be hit, I wake up.”
What follows are the symbols that resulted from our shorthand dictation: Never a beginning; start in the middle; arrived late; movie already showing; struggling to walk; railroad tracks; jumping; ties; spaced too far apart; whole body; immersed in molasses; limbs move slowly; terrifying; train; behind me; run me over; kill me; hear it approaching; whistle warning; deafening; about to be hit; wake up.
The mechanics of dream interpretation
There are those who consider this interpretation process cumbersome and annoying. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just know what the dream was telling us without having to do all of this tedious analysis? Alas, in over 30 years of working with dreams, I have rarely encountered anyone who could do that. Even I, after working with so many dreams, get surprised by the intricacy and depth of the dream message after I go through the analysis process. But I will also reassure you that working with the mechanics gets easier with time.
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