Q: I’m walking through a beautiful mid-century modern home. It’s filled with beautiful mid-century furniture and lovely light. A large window overlooks a beautiful garden. The home isn’t mine, or maybe it is but it feels foreign. At some point I notice the house is filled with water. I stay there for a while, submerged. The water is slightly cold and kind of refreshing. Then I decide I need to get out before I drown and I swim for the surface. I have to swim through another level of house before I’m out. Above the house is more water. It’s as if the house now sits on the bottom of the ocean. I finally break the surface and take a huge breath. I’m relieved that I can breathe.
A: The dream begins: You are in a beautiful place, a place that seems to delight your aesthetic senses. You notice the light, and when you look outside, there is a beautiful garden. The beginning of this dream evokes a setting like the Garden of Eden: idyllic and untarnished by the pain of greater knowledge. It is like Eden too because of the shattering that then unfolds. Something happens (we don’t know what) and you find the beautiful home to be filled with water. You do not see water suddenly rush into the house, but simply come to awareness that it is there. This is an important distinction. Feel into this shift in the dream and in your awareness within the dream. It is as if the water were there the whole time. You have been submerged in your home, but it took you some time to realize it. Like Eve, your growth of consciousness came with tremendous suffering. After the fall from grace, she and Adam were forced from their beautiful home and sent to wander, unguided, into the world.
The more I consider this age-old story, the more I think its lessons are valuable for exploring what’s happening for you now. I will share with our readers that you are a married woman who has recently begun to explore, painfully, difficulties within your marriage. It has not been easy. In this dream, as in your life, it was not so much events that changed, but your awareness of things. You went from a conscious standpoint of beauty and stability within your home, to one of feeling that you were overwhelmed and trapped. The transformation could not be ignored or you would have drowned.
Scenes of flooding or of being adrift in an ocean are dream images that can be intuitively understood. If you were to see this dream depicted in a film, for instance, you might immediately associate feelings of loneliness, sadness, and grief with the character out at sea. These dreams images tend to indicate that something significant and difficult is happening within the dreamer’s life. Since dreams really only express that of which we are unconscious, however, there is more to this dream than a simple announcement that things are tough. These kinds of images, when explored with your emotional self, can unlock deep feelings that are actually only being experienced intellectually. It’s like an individual who reports, for instance, “Yeah, it’s been hard lately” without really feeling anything; it’s not until much later when emotions unravel and they break down in tears that they actually understand the pain they’re in. Sometimes it takes tangible tears (another evocation of the salty ocean water) for us to recognize our grief.
Like Eve, however, these sorts of introductions to evil and suffering are also introductions to our greater existence. They are opportunities to trade in intellectual suffering for deep, embodied suffering–and also life. Opportunities to feel everything more deeply. I am reminded of a scene from the film The Hours. A woman, played by Julianne Moore, has been suffering within her marriage. She has felt weighed down by the loss of her own sense of self. The pain of her entrapment is too much for her to bear. She drops her son off with a nanny and goes to a hotel where she plans to end her life. When she arrives in her room, however, she falls asleep and has a dream. She dreams of a vicious flood that breaks through her room and takes over the bed where she’s sleeping. She is shocked awake in a panic and gasps for breath. (That is the power of psyche!) Shortly thereafter, she chooses life. It is a completely different life than the one she had once known, but it was life. Her own.
The unconscious will at times force us awake to our own existence. Like diving into a cold lake, the unconscious will sometimes deliver a visceral shock to bring us into recognition of actual life, versus the two dimensional one we so often walk around in. Nothing expresses our three dimensional existence like immersion in water where our location in space can be measured, felt, and seen. Underwater, we can see how much there is left until we reach the surface, and how far down we could go.
In this dream, when you first noticed your immersion in the water, you enjoyed the experience: “The water is slightly cold and kind of refreshing.” Also like the Polar Bear plunges, cold water brings us into touch with our bodies and we can feel refreshed. Our body heat retreats into our core to warm our insides. The intellect is quieted and the senses are heightened. Perhaps as a parallel to your lived experience, when you came to another level of consciousness about what you had been enduring for some time, you were glad to simply feel. Your emotions and senses regained your attention, and this awareness of your emotional life and your embodied existence was comforting.
Then you realize you need to swim or you will drown. You realize you need to fight for your own breath and your own life. Another step in consciousness. And in the dream, you swim upwards, through another level of the home: another image indicating that you moved through another phase again, gaining greater awareness, going to higher and higher realms of psyche. The higher you rise above the submerged home, the greater perspective you have on what is happening there.
Finally, you break the surface and take a huge breath. You have broken the surface of this experience. Your perspective of where you are is heightened again. You have fought your way out of a tremendous submersion in the watery unconscious, and now you can breath.
You have come into some profound awareness of your own existence. The unconscious reared its head and you were forced to pay attention. That which had been ignored within your marriage can no longer be ignored. Like Eve, you did not make a conscious choice to wake up to this, you just did. And now, you are forced to face the paradox of greater awareness: it is a blessing and a curse. You have left the Garden. Yes, it may be hard to see the path forward from where you are treading water, but remember: in this fall from the grace, you have risen up. You have gained perspective and contact with your own existence. Without the expulsion from the Garden, there would be no true life.
Satya is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon specializing in dream work, the quarter-life crisis, and work with individuals in their late teens, 20s and 30s. www.QuarterLifeCounselor.com