Tracking Dreams


(Picture by Jerry and Marcy Monkman, from the Appalachian Mountain Club)

This is mostly a Thinking Out Loud entry about something that just occurred to me today following a few jaunts through the woods over the past week: If I can figure out Nature’s clues by being outdoors, noticing signs or using logic to locate signs that are less obvious, could I do the same thing with interpreting my dreams?

Nature has a logic all its own. Figure out the clues leading to the logic, and you can figure out what’s going on in the world around you. For instance, want to find north? Tree branches tend to grow outward towards the southern exposure more often; northern branches are more likely to grow straight up. A certain type of plant that grows in patches in the forest behind my house is indicative of a lot of moisture beneath the surface; huge clusters will point you towards surface running water. And tracks, of course, can tell you what animals live in the area, their habits, where they live and where they go find water – even stories sometimes, like the set of bobcat tracks I found once years ago that was followed by the tracks of two cubs while Mama’s tracks followed and then overtook a set of deer hoof prints. If you knew what you were looking at then that story was pretty plain.

Now I’ve gotten to wondering if I might be able to apply this to figuring out my dreams. I suspect that they likewise have an internal logic that can help me notice what’s going on in the dream world around me, if I notice enough “signs” and “tracks” in them. And that putting them together will lead me to water, so to speak.

Take a dream I had last night: I was at a vacation hotel when a tornado appeared right outside. I took refuge in the building and headed down into the basements, deeper and deeper. In a sub-sub basement I discovered a veterinary clinic where guests were boarding or treating their animals – all cats in this case, at least a couple dozen – but the veterinary staff all fled the clinic because of the tornado. I hesitated a moment, worried about my own personal safety – they must have run from the clinic for some reason, after all – but finally deciding that the cats shouldn’t have to be alone during such a terrible storm. I proceeded to go to the clinic, and then woke up.

Like most of my dreams it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense on the surface – just like you might not notice which way a tree’s branches grow, or why a certain plant shows up in clusters here and there. But I already knew that tornadoes in my dreams meant an overwhelming emotional storm, or feeling like something in my life was spinning out of control. Sources I’ve read argue that basements represent the subconscious. And thanks to recent help from a friend, I’ve determined that cats in my dreams, when it’s not a cat I’ve known while awake, represent my independent self.

But why so many cats? Do I have two dozen independent selves?

Put these tracks together and the story it apparently tells is that while I feel like something in my life is out of control and overwhelming me, and I’m possibly letting emotion blind me to this, I have far more resources – metaphorically as many as there were cats waiting for me to tend to them – to do what I need to do and live life more like I want to live it. If I have the courage and am willing to take the risks that might be necessary to plum those resources.

Reading Nature’s signs comes easily to me (hah, I almost wrote “naturally” there) because I’ve been doing it so long – in fact often I hardly notice I’m even doing it until someone, say, asks me how I spotted the practically invisible deer path I’m using to lead them through the woods. When I get frustrated trying to figure out my dreams, I just need to remind myself that I started from Square One reading signs and tracks too. And unlike Nature, I have the sneaking suspicion that my subconscious would like me to figure out what my dreams mean and wants to help me, just so long as I’m paying attention.




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