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
Q: I am in an academic setting, like a boarding school, and I am not allowed to leave. My mom is there. Two authority figures (at least one of whom was a man) are telling me that they are removing my eye. I am protesting and showing them that I already gave a tooth. They are very adamant and even my mom is saying that I have to do it. I’m furious and frustrated in the dream and continue to argue with them to the point where I am weeping and screaming.
A: Whew! This dream is quite upsetting! I feel chills when I read it, and can imagine you waking-up nervous and terrified. What do those people want from you??
Exploring this dream with you provided a reminder of what’s laying just below the surface of our awareness. We let ourselves acknowledge some of what we’re experiencing in our day-to-day lives, and a lot of the rest of what happens we choose to avoid or aren’t able to fully integrate. You initially shrugged and laughed when you shared this dream: “I think it’s about my student loan debt,” you told me. Hrm. I had my doubts. The emotions in this dream are far too strong to associate with the stress of student loans, unless you anticipate you’ll be on the street soon as a result.
What does resonate with the stress of student loans, however, is the feeling of being owned by someone else because of what they expect from you. The feeling that you are obligated to continue giving of yourself, despite having given a lot already. How does that ring true for you in other ways? When we discussed this, deep waves of emotion began to come to the surface. Things began to sink in for you. You’re a new mother, and between your beloved baby and your husband and the expectations at home, you’re being pulled in a million different directions. There’s a sense of infantilization, of imprisonment. Just take a moment to imagine the feeling of being in a boarding school today and being unable to leave! Just that opening feels a bit like a horror film. Then the dream continues, and you wake up crying and pleading for the authority figures to stop. The injustice of what is being asked of you is palpable.
You did not anticipate feeling so emotional after sharing the dream. As we talked more about what’s been going on in your life, some of the stress shifted into the truer, softer emotions underneath. Emotions that haven’t had much chance to be felt or seen will build-up and “harden.” In the same way that your shoulder may tighten due to stress, thoughts and emotions that aren’t integrated fully can begin to form a knot, a psychic complex, showing-up as characters in your dreams. Exploring the images from dreams can start to loosen-up those knots and allow the emotions caught within them to release.
I asked you about the appearance of your mom in the dream. Why her? As the lone familiar figure in your dream, her presence is likely to be particularly telling. We explored the history of her marriage to your dad and what similar themes may be getting activated for you now. You know some of the history of what was happening in their relationship when you were a baby. Are there feelings of carrying too much of the weight at home? Feelings of losing your independence? You nodded. Much of your former life as a single woman feels unrecognizable at the moment. We discussed this, and discussed what you’ve had to give-up.
There is a great deal of symbolism within the particular images of giving up a tooth, and forcibly losing an eye. These are big ones! As I’ve explored previously, losing a tooth in a dream can point to major life changes (we know those are present), and losing an eye can point to a sense of disorientation, of being rendered blind. You might feel that your ability to vision, to dream, to imagine a new life is being stolen from you. Your imagination, your artful creative side may feel rather distant at the moment. These images also point to the familiar Talmudic saying, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” pointing to notions of equal justice. It makes me wonder further, is there a sense of your needing to atone for something? Maybe a latent guilt that should be explored? Or does it suggest Gandhi’s response, “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” maybe pointing to battles with your husband that will only hurt you both? These questions take us down another path, but there’s much here left to explore.
My advice? Don’t shirk the emotions around what’s happening in your life right now. Do your best to feel what’s happening these days, even if there’s not much time for it and it seems unimportant to do so. You may not be able to fully control events these days (I’m not sure we ever are), but the way they’re affecting you is real. Talk with your mom about her emotions when she was in this phase of life. Explore, even when it feels silly, your own emotions around what’s happening at home. Allow yourself to feel sad versus just getting mad and frustrated. The loss you’re experiencing is real. The adjustments to this new phase are big. Allow yourself to really listen to the softer layers of what’s going on inside your chest, and behind your eyes. You might be surprised that it will soften the actual events and communication at home as well.
Do you have a question about your dreams? Send me an email! firstname.lastname@example.org
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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. For more information about therapy services in Portland, visit: www.QuarterLifeCounselor.com