Deciphering old dreams, gaining insight and why keeping a dream journal is a good idea.
I’m a bit of a believer in dreams being the way many things (including our own unconscious) can communicate with us, but rather often the meaning is harder to fathom.
I’m not talking about those random replay dreams, where the recent past is rehashed, or those anxiety dreams where we play out our fears.
I’m talking about the dreams that seem to have no foothold in the usual run of dreams. They’re often the ones we remember when we wake, and often, they haunt us for days, or even years afterwards.
The following is a dream I recorded early in 2009, pre-dating the start of this blog by perhaps a week or two.
I dreamed I was travelling down a river, towards my home. I don’t live near a river, and never have lived close enough to one to the scenario I knew was true in the dream, that my home was only a very short distance from the water. In real life, I’d never chose to live so close to a body of water that can be so temperamental, but in the dream I accepted this as normal reality.
Until, that is, I rounded the corner of the river-bend and where I had expected to find a short stretch of water and my home a little way beyond it, the whole topography had changed. The river had become a dead end, a lagoon of cloudy water, almost like a T junction. I could go no further, unless I took to the water, and even then, I couldn’t see my home at all. The water swirled, like flood waters, full of eddies and a milky wash of clay from the fields, and I knew it to be deep and dangerous.
I turned to the left hand side, where the arm of the T led me and found that as well as the work to change the course of the river, work was in progress to build a footpath through what were fast becoming marshes. Brand new duck-boards had been laid across the mud, and a new bridge, all resinous with fresh pine and larch, ended near the duck-boards, the steps rising to greet me. As I approached, a woman came down the bridge steps and told me, “They haven’t finished it yet, you can’t get through that way,” and encouraged me to try and follow where the duck-boards led me. I couldn’t see where the new path led, but I climbed over the foot of the bridge and began to try and follow the wooden path.
By this stage I was feeling very frustrated that I couldn’t get home and angry that “they” had changed the route without giving me either warning of the work or any alternative route to my home. The woman had vanished and I was alone again, standing below the bridge, unable to either see where to go or make a single step forward because the duck-boards had given way to thick sticky mud and no path was visible at all.
Revisiting this dream in the light of where I was at that point in my life in 2009 is curious. I’d reached a point of stasis, stagnation even in my creative life. I was still writing but not able to share my work with anyone. I’d not even considered blogging, or self-publishing. I was, I think, still submitting the odd manuscript to publishers. But everything had reached a dead-end. I’d been asked by an editor at Random House to put together a proposal for a book about the decline of the Church of England, and had submitted the proposal only to have it rejected. I’d tried one last time to get my agent to respond to a letter. Nothing was working; I was stuck. Looking back, I can see it was a bleak time. I was working under someone who hated me, and that looked like it’d never change.
Looking at it now, I wonder if perhaps I was subconsciously responding to the changing face of publishing, picked up here and there, and seeing that it was being prepared but was not quite ready. The way through the marshes was being built but was incomplete. I did not begin my journey until more than a year after the dream and even then, it was like wading through thick mud to launch a book. I had hoped I had found a partner to work with but a year on, that died a death. I was effectively left alone in the marshes, unable to proceed till I had processed that grief.
Yet, having this record of my dream is powerful. I can analyse it with more skill as I revisit it. This is a dream I had in February of this year:
I am on my knees trying to dust/polish the skirting boards, but am having to do it very carefully. There are a number of occupied cobwebs and I am trying not to harm the spiders or damage their webs if I can avoid it. The spiders are the long legged sort, quite beautiful but they are unhappy about having their webs disturbed. I dust painstakingly but nevertheless dislodge several spiders who then run off. I sit back on my heels to make sure they are away from harm and try to clean again. The dream shifts slightly, and I find that I am cleaning a massive fireplace, the kind you see in castles and stately homes. There is a lot of small debris like leaves and bits of moss that I sweep into the centre. The hearth itself is unused, and has been unused for a long time, and indeed has been painted a uniform white with gloss paint. I sweep everything into the centre where a fire would have been and as I try and gather up the dross, I find that there are several items amid the rubbish. They are very large crystal clusters, the ones that look rather like small castles themselves. I am delighted and then worried to find them. Delighted because they are beautiful and worried because I don’t know if I am allowed to keep them. I examine one closely. I wonder if in fact it is crystalline rock salt, but it is so clear and when I taste it, it doesn’t taste salty. I then wonder if it is actually ice, because it seems so shiny and wet looking. But though it is cold, it does not melt when I hold it up. I hold it up to a window, through which I can see a river scene ahead, very serene and beautiful. The crystal is so clear that each image I see through each “turret” of a crystal point is undistorted and true. Then something wakes me and when I dream again, the dream of before is lost.
I like spiders, see them as totems of writing, weaving of words. I’m trying to clean up my mental surroundings but I am struggling to do so without damaging my spiders. When I am cleaning the hearth, it feels like I am trying to clean something that has been left alone and never used. I recognise it as a hearth but there is no fire there and hasn’t been for a long time. I don’t know what this hearth represents, and am aware this may be key. The rubbish is all natural rubbish of dust and leaves and twigs and dry grass and so on, the kind of dross that might blow into an abandoned home. Finding the crystal is a wonderful moment, it’s the last thing one would expect but I have concerns that it is meant for me and worry that if I take it I am stealing. Yet through the crystal nothing distorts or alters. I analyse its nature very closely and assess it as real and true.
Jung wrote of dreams being the royal road to the unconscious. To make conscious the deep and often disturbing contents of our psyches is a frightening proposition but right now, while I am enjoying a remission from the severe symptoms of depression I am acutely aware that this is a gift of time and personal serenity I must use wisely. I am therefore glad both that I often record my dreams, and also that I am beginning to dream again.