Q: It is summer, I am looking for my child, slightly panicked by the fact that I can’t find her. Then I find my child in the water, she had been attacked by an evil fish. A yellow dolphin kills the big fish and saves the child. Then, my child is lost again. When I find her, she walks out of the water towards me on the shore, accompanied by a huge lion. My instinct is that I want to protect her from the lion, but my little girl says that I don’t have to protect her cause the lion is peaceful. She says “you just don’t understand it!”
A: Wow, this is a powerful dream, and one that holds some clear directions for your life. I’ve mentioned lions before in exploring the dreams of readers, one of which mirrors your dream rather closely: a lion walks out of the ocean towards the dreamer standing on the shore. I’d encourage you to read that interpretation about major life transitions, as well as the recent interpretation I wrote on a dream in which a bear chases the dreamer. I also mention lions there, a common correlate of bears in dreams. The gist there, important for you, is that what we cannot consciously accept as parts of ourselves appear as animal forces in dreams, trying to approach us in sometimes unexpected ways.
Your dream begins with your having lost your child. There are a couple of ways that we could approach an understanding of this image: we could understand it as representing your daughter literally or as representing your inner child and your childhood self. As we cannot explore this dream together, I am going to go ahead and assume the latter and explore your dream from that angle. Part of your childhood is lost in the unconscious, and it is a part of yourself that you are struggling to claim. Being in relationship with your daughter is probably eliciting memories of your own childhood, stimulating emotions and experiences long ago buried by aging and forgetting. You are diving into those waters now, beginning to swim around to resurrect feelings that have been lost for years.
In the first stage of the dream, your daughter has been attacked by what you call an evil fish. Again, my instinct here says that this is exclusively about your childhood (whereas the second stage is more about current times). In simple dream parlance, fish are emotions. When we dream of going fishing, for instance, it is an indication that we are beginning to pull emotions out of the unconscious and into our conscious awareness. With your dream of an evil fish, my guess is that you endured some very difficult things in childhood, perhaps actual attacks yourself, and are still attempting to reconcile those experiences. Perhaps it was big, difficult emotions that you didn’t know what to do with. Or perhaps it was a physical trauma of some kind. Either way, someone protected you, a savior of sorts. Thank goodness. This is the yellow dolphin, what might also be seen as a golden mammal, a more evolved, loving counter to the danger of the emotions and experiences that threatened to envelope you. Now, you are re-exploring some of this material again.
What I know of you is that you are a man, and that your daughter is six years old. I would ask you to explore what happened to you when you were six. How are you resisting the integration of those experiences into your life now? This is not something that can be intellectually understood, it is primal, emotional material that can only be faced, felt, wrestled with physically and emotionally, and reintegrated into your life and identity.
Your daughter is not scared of this lion, and my guess is that in waking life she is teaching you to accept the more primal layers of yourself. Somehow, being around a child, with her less intellectualized, jaded approach to life, is opening up your acceptance of your own deep existence. Listen to your daughter: Don’t be afraid of it!
I am going to take a huge leap here, based on some understanding of lions in dreams, and suggest that you are now wrestling with questions of sexuality and your sexual desires. Sexual feelings in childhood are extremely confusing and hard to understand. There is typically little support for children to sort through what is happening in their bodies and emotional lives around big feelings and desires. But as an adult, you have an opportunity to really engage those innate aspects of yourself and not be afraid of them. They do not have the same potential of devouring you as they did when you were younger. Even though it remains quite taboo to acknowledge it, sexual feelings start very early in human beings. Most people are not given proper tools for exploring, accepting, and safely expressing their own desires and sexuality.
Again, this is just a hunch. The lion could also represent long buried anger that is coming out of the unconscious and seeking to regain contact with you. Explore for yourself what it means. And remember to listen to your dream-daughter. She knows what’s good for you. Do not run and do not attack it. If anything, let yourself be attacked and devoured. These parts of yourself need not remain buried and drowned any longer. Once you accept them, as your daughter suggests, the lion energy and power latent within you will again be yours to use.
Satya is a Jungian 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