I was driving and suddenly I could not control the speed of the car or stop it. I could steer, but that was all. I made a wrong turn and entered an on-ramp to an elevated road. The road got higher and higher as the car went faster and faster. The road became extremely curvy with the curves getting sharper and sharper. There were no guardrails. Steering consumed all my attention. As I came to a particularly sharp curve, I suddenly lost my eyesight and went completely blind. I felt the car going off the road and falling. I woke up in a panic.
This dream recurred many, many times until one night when, as the car went off the road, I did not wake up. As it was falling, my eyesight suddenly returned. I looked down and saw that we were falling into a body of water. I did not want to be trapped in the car in the water. I opened the car door in mid-air and jumped out, trying to get as far away from the falling car as possible. The car and I hit the water at the same time, separated by several yards. I surfaced and swam safely to the shore. After that, I never had the dream again.
Thank you for sharing this series of recurring dreams. Like a labyrinth in which you’re trapped, you encounter the same dead ends over and over again until one day, all of a sudden, you discover the way out. Out of the nightmare of the Groundhog’s Day curse, you wake up, never to have the same dream again. How and why does this happen?
The dream of driving and being out-of-control is a very common one (perhaps in particular in our culture), and it’s a common dream to return repeatedly for dreamers too. Maybe you can imagine why. Dreams in which cars are featured rarely feel sluggish. Instead, they often represent some aspect of the manic nature of the society in which we all live. Everything is moving too quickly; you’re barely keeping it together and staying alive. Indeed, much of the dream’s message can be found in our language: think of the state of being “asleep at the wheel” and “driving blind.” Dreams like yours often indicate a life situation around which the dreamer needs to develop greater awareness, as if their life is happening without their conscious participation.
When I have a client with a driving dream of this kind, I highlight the grave necessity of their increased attention–some might say mindfulness–to their day-to-day actions. The dream is indicating a state of mind or emotional life that can put a person in actual danger in the physical world. One might, in fact, be in danger while driving, but also while crossing the street, or in arguments with their partners, or at work, as they’re not as aware as they should be, possibly reeking havoc on themselves and those around them in ways in which they’re unaware.
Cars tend to represent the social persona of the dreamer. They are the armor and structure we use to travel through the world. Questions of relevance to these kinds of dreams can be: Whose car is it? Who’s driving? Where are you in the car? Again, consider our language: “who’s in the driver’s seat?” It’s an image that is easily understood. In this case, I’m going to assume it is your car and, as you indicate, you are driving (or trying to).
I would venture, as I’ve expressed generally, that during the time you were having these recurring dreams your life felt quite out of your control. It may have been a very private experience. It’s quite possible that you appeared on the outside absolutely put-together and in control, you may have even felt that you were handling everything pretty darn well, but your unconscious was mirroring back to you a private sense that you were overwhelmed, exhausted, terrified, and in actual danger. One’s public persona can very often fool everyone, even the individual, which is why dreams provide such a helpful lens into one’s actual well-being–just like a microscope can pick up on an infection that is otherwise invisible to everyone.
Now the progression of your dream is fascinating, and a wonderful window into the forms of resolution that these dreams can take. At first, you were driving and everything was getting faster, curvier, higher… manic. There were no guardrails, no back-up plan, no safety or external support around you. All you could do was try to stay in control and keep moving forward. Then, suddenly, just as you were barely managing to survive, your eyes fail you. You go blind. You can no longer even rely on your sight to survive. Things are getting worse, and fast. I wonder two things here: one, was your actual life situation continuing to spin out of control and your dream was working to reflect that to your conscious awareness? Again, we can be remarkably blind sometimes (pun intended) to the chaos of our own lives, believing we’re far more in control than we are; I also wonder, however, if you were being pushed towards a state of relying on other aspects of yourself to navigate the world. I’ll take this back up in a moment.
In the dreams, you feel that you are falling and wake up panicked. Try to read this symbolically. While you literally wake up, you also metaphorically wake up. These dreams are getting your attention, raising your consciousness to your inner life. Nightmares can work as a psychic immune system: the more out of touch you are with yourself, the graver your nightmares may get. If one can’t wake you up with a whisper, they may finally succeed with a loud shout and a shake. Nightmares often arise when we’re psychically out-to-lunch and, for our well-being, in needing of being shaken awake again. Which, I would venture, is just what happened for you.
Recurring dreams stop recurring when there’s some internal resolution; their very recurrence is indicative of a story seeking its conclusion like a record skipping until it can get back on track. At the conclusion of your dream series, you stayed conscious within the dream. This is a beautiful detail. Your eyesight returned as you were falling and you saw that you were heading towards the water. You did not want to be trapped so you thought ahead and opened the door, moving away from the car, you got safely to shore. Your awareness of your situation certainly improved, and your sight–again awareness–returned. Something major must have changed, or been about to change, in your life.
You state in your dream that “we were falling” which makes me quite curious who “we” are. This pronoun, as well as the overall tone of the dream, makes me wonder if you were trapped in some kind of toxic relationship at the time of these dreams. The manner in which you leave your car, swimming away completely and as it is buried in the water, indicates to me a total separation from a former way of living. Like a hermit crab shedding its shell, you were molting, abandoning an old life in search of another. Perhaps you gained the courage and the in-sight — the internal sight, the wisdom — through the crises you endured to be able to handle the external situation in which you were feeling trapped and out-of-control. Just like a baptism, a part of you died in the water when you immersed, and a new life was gained when you reemerged and found your way to shore, reborn.
Have you had a dream like this? Leave a comment and share!
Satya is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon specializing in dream work, the quarter-life crisis, and work with individuals in their 20s and 30s. www.QuarterLifeCounselor.com
Q: I’m driving in a car and a Mercedes SUV pulls up next to me at a stop light. The driver, a Japanese man, asks me for directions. In the next scene, we are out of the cars and I am trying to show him how to get somewhere. I am very aware that he is Japanese, and I am not sure what language we are speaking, it doesn’t seem like English, but we are able to understand each other. As I’m trying to show him how to get where he wants to go, he receives a phone call, and takes the call and tells me to wait while he is talking. I am a little perturbed that he is making me wait while I’m doing him a favor.
A: Interesting. In this very simple dream, there’s a great deal of important information, and a surprising twist. From our short dialogue about this dream, I know that the figure of a Japanese man does not hold strong personal associations for you (a white, American woman), so the central image is rather a mystery. You also mentioned that the image of being asked for directions in a dream seemed particularly interesting to you. I thought so too…
Let’s start our exploration with the image of Japan, this man’s country of origin. The particularity of the country is important. Japan, a country that is a significant distance from the US, is still part of the industrialized First World. It’s similar to our culture in many ways, yet in the East, opposite us. (In contrast, if this were a dream about a man from Cuba or from Myanmar, near by or in the East but quite poor, the way we would understand this character would be quite a bit different.) This man is also clearly well-to-do (a judgement I’ll have to make about the Mercedes SUV without your own associations), but he’s not in his own land and he’s lost. His character is therefore one that is in many respects familiar, “civilized,” related to you culturally, yet foreign. And he’s in your territory and he’s lost. He pulls up next to you and asks you for directions. Fascinating! Why? Because, in the realm of psyche, where every dream character is a part of you, it is typically the “I” character, the conscious ego self, that is in some way lost and disoriented. Here, it is in the position of strength and orientation and something else is in need of support.
The elements of this dream suggest two primary things: one, that you have a strong and dependable, integrated ego that has the capacity to lead even in the the unconscious dreamworld, where it is more commonly not too comfortable (other aspects of your psyche are seeking orientation from “you” your conscious ego-self); and two, that your Animus, your inner masculine, the part of you that provides much of your strength and creativity, is disoriented at the moment. He’s in unfamiliar territory and is looking to you for guidance. (There’s not enough space here to explore the important figure of the Animus in a woman’s psyche, but we’ll keep digging in the future!). The fact that this part of you is disoriented in your dream probably means that you, in your waking state, are feeling a bit disoriented too. You’re having to take a lead in life, but much of the energy and resources you once relied on are a bit out of sorts at the moment.
In the dream, you have stepped outside of your cars in order to meet; figuratively speaking, you’ve disrobed, put down your masks and your armor. And as neither one of you are speaking your native language, it seems you’ve found a third language with which to communicate. Fine work! Unfamiliar elements of your psyche are finding ways to dialogue, a sign of self-development. You’re on the right track to getting yourself fully oriented again. Now, a word of warning: make sure to watch your temper and stay rested. The disorientation (and disractibility) of this Animus figure is clearly testing your patience. Give him the benefit of the doubt, or explain to him calmly why you need his full attention. It’s to both of your benefit that you stay present with him until he finds his way.
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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