Dreams, Part 2: Settings and Symbols

If there’s one down side to only posting once a day here, it’s that when I run across something that really gets me thinking, as just happened moments before I began typing these words, my natural inclination is to write about it  – regardless of whatever I meant to post before I sat down.

Well, honestly, for a writer, too many ideas isn’t exactly a problem. This is where some of the writing discipline comes in: if I use this newest idea tomorrow instead of today, then I’ll have something to write about tomorrow. Or to relate a conversation I once had with an editor who had already published several of my poems: “I love this poem and I want to buy it, but I won’t be able to publish it for a year.” To which I replied, “That’s fine by me, because then I know I’ll have at least one poem that will be published next year.”

But really, it all comes down to the idea that I’ve mentioned enough before that it risks becoming the metaphorical beaten horse: For the time being I want to take these entries slowly to give myself contemplation time, and for each entry to primarily focus on one thing so I can contemplate it a little more deeply, instead of scattering my attention as I’m often wont to do.

I promise – and this is a promise to myself as much as anyone else – that it will all get written sooner or later.


I never dream about my own home.

I don’t mean just the one I’m living in now. This is an oddity I’ve noticed for many years, since I moved out of my parents’ home – with only two exceptions I’ll detail shortly, I never, ever have dreams set in wherever I’m living at the time.

I don’t know why this is. It could just be that I’m living there already so there’s not much point. It could be some sort of spiritual or psychic defense, not wanting to lead something dark back to where I live, or invite it in if it does track me.

My mother and other sources I’ve read over the years indicate that a house in a dream represents yourself. That is, your physical and spiritual being. If this is specific to the house I’m living in, then the fact that I never have a dream overtly representing my own being is a little disturbing.

Whatever the reason, though, apart from that one apparent restriction my brain has imposed, my dreams feel free to go pretty much wherever they please. This isn’t to say that there aren’t regular settings. My parents’ house is a semi-regular setting, either the real one or a dream version. My grandparents’ house likewise, though it sold almost twenty years ago. Real or dream versions of the campus where I work, or schools I’ve attended. Or other houses or apartments I’ve lived in – though, again, I never dreamed about those places while living in them.

This is also not including fantastical or otherwise totally imagined settings, or places that are real but which I’ve never been to, so my brain fills in the details – like, for example, if I “visit” my geographically distant friend Alexandra, my brain will concoct its own setting because I’ve never actually seen inside her real home.

Some of these settings apparently have their uses. My parents’ house, for instance, seems to be a good place for general dreams, taking care of general business, visiting certain family members, or just taking a step back for a little while to think about things. My grandparents’ house has been the setting for either seeing my grandparents – usually my grandfather, as my grandmother, who died two decades ago, is usually kept busy doing other things these days according to my clairaudient mother – or members of that side of the family, or, in many cases, when I’m simply missing my grandparents or feeling the loss of the relationship we had.

The fantastical settings, I think, tend to be my brain relaxing or playing. Or if I’m lucky, generating story ideas that I can end up using somewhere later.

Typically the reason for the settings is pretty obvious (though again, contrasted with the mystery of why they’re never set at home). The symbolism in my dreams tends to be where I stumble more in the process of trying to figure things out.

I do have the typical anxiety dreams like everyone else. I’m back in college and realize that it’s the end of the semester and I’ve missed every one of a particular class. Or I spend a whole dream searching for something, or someone. Or I go into a room, or house, or some outdoor setting, and see that I have possessions strewn all over the place and I have to hurry up and get them all collected in one place so I can get them home before I either have to leave the place, or they’re ruined by rain or some such thing.

I also have what may be fairly typical symbols that show up from time to time. Storms happen a lot in my dreams – including tornadoes as often as not. In this case they usually represent chaos or feelings that things in my life have gotten out of control, and the symbolic tornadoes leave destruction behind, or what I fear will be. Particularly meaning that I would somehow destroy my relationships, or lose other things that I care about.

Water appears a lot, usually in the form of flooding or a flood’s aftermath. Again according to my mother and other sources, water represents spirituality. Does this mean that my spiritual pursuits are destructive?

The more I think about this, the more I think that it’s just the opposite. Those dreams of destructive water were occurring because I wasn’t engaged in spiritual pursuits. Without any guidance, with no anchor, the storms and seas were tossing me all over the place, wearing me and battering me down until I was physically and mentally exhausted all the time. In the dreams I may have only been watching the floods, but in my waking life I was (and still am to a great extent, I know) a rudderless boat, often at the mercy of whatever weather is thrown at me.

Granted it hasn’t been all that long since my friend Alexandra’s conversations and visit burst open my need to restart my spiritual explorations. But in that time I haven’t had a single dream of storms or floods or flood damage. I’m hoping that’s a good sign.

Other symbols have me more confused. Mountains show up a lot in my dreams, for instance. Mountains are something I love; I’ve spent nearly all my life intentionally staying close to them. But the context of their appearances is often different. Sometimes they represent a place of happiness, or safety, or peace. Sometimes they represent a challenge that I can’t overcome. Sometimes they come with feelings of regret and sadness over a loss, or the frustration that most of the time I can no longer capture the hope and optimism that felt so innate when I was younger.

It could just be that I’m being too limiting in my symbolism. I never use symbolism or metaphors or analogies in just one way each when I put them in books – so why should my brain be any different?

As I’m writing this my brain is flashing images of Tarot cards at me. The first time I ever encountered them, via my friend Tanya, one of the first things she told me was that the interpretation of the card depended on its position and whether or not it was right-side up or upside-down. That any card, even Death, could be positive or negative depending on where it fell.

I suspect the dream symbolism is exactly the same way. A storm could bring chaos, or it could be a much needed recharge of energy – just like how it often is in Nature. A tornado could be destructive or it could be the power to clear away barriers. A flood could be likewise destructive, or you could harness its power to ride your way out of trouble or some other bad situation.

Now that I’m paying more attention to dreams I’m remembering more, which among a lot of other things means I’m getting a much bigger symbolism sampler to work with. And hey, who knows – maybe if I ever end up succeeding at lucid dreaming, I could just ask the dream or the symbols themselves what they mean!


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