The condition of water in our dreams can give us clues to the health of our psyches. It can tell us where we are on the path, and point us in the next right direction.
(Linda will teach a Dreamyoga class at Karma Yoga Center in Denver this Saturday, February 12th. See website events for details)
We all dream of water. In a recent one of mine, I am standing on a point of land, like Cape Horn maybe. There is a golden light about the place. I’m at the shoreline, looking out over the ocean. The sea wind is blowing, the waves are active. The emotion is wonder, peace, and contentedness – a rarity in my dreams, and I bet yours too.
The Great Mother
As a universal symbol, water symbolizes the ‘waters of the unconscious’: the vast sea below the surface of the ego. It refers to that part of us which is unpredictable, intuitive, irrational, mysterious, connected to Truer and broader bases of knowledge – the us that is not the drop separate from the ocean but the whole ocean.
Whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
It’s always ourselves we find in the sea. ~e.e. cummings
Understanding of dream imagery can be greatly enhanced by studying the ancient science of alchemy, a tradition rich in symbolism. Alchemists worked closely with the elements of nature (fire, water, earth, air), performing operations in stages to transform substances from base forms to more refined forms. But, as Carl Jung discovered, alchemy can also refer to an inner, psychic development which occurs when certain processes are performed on ourselves: we take up a course of study, for example, or we immerse ourselves in sacred writings. We practice yoga, meditation, or dreamwork. We lose a job, a marriage, or receive a diagnosis, and this starts to ‘heat things up’ (in alchemy, this first stage is called ‘calcination’ and is associated with images of fire, like furnaces, pressure cookers, ovens, etc. Things rise to the surface and burn off, which might be experienced as agitating, disturbing, or anxiety provoking in your awake life.)
If you watch a series of dreams, you can see the images change in accordance with the alchemical stages as we progress on to higher, more refined consciousness.
Dissolve (I’m melting, I’m melting…)
Alchemically, water refers to the second stage of the work called ‘solutio’, or dissolution: a stage where elements are loosed and flushed away, dissolved. What’s being flushed away in the psyche if we’re dreaming of water? Usually aspects of your identity tied to the physical world: appearances, persona, roles, beliefs, attitudes, expectations, conditioning, etc. If water is a predominant theme or element in your dreams lately, consider you may be engaged in a difficult inner process of false things being dislodged, unmoored, and washed away.
Outwardly, this may manifest as sadness and loss, even if you’re happy to see the old qualities go. You might feel a sense of disorientation and groundlessness as the waters toss you around. You may be depressed and mournful, even if your life looks pretty good from the outside.
Integrating the Inner and the Outer
So how best to work with dreams during this stage of disintegration? You might attempt lucidity or go back into the dream from an awake state to create protection for yourself, depending on the danger and fear you experience in the dream.
Of course, pay attention to the condition and action of the water. Is it clear and bright, deep and dark, stagnant or squalid? Is it raging, rushing, gushing, boiling, bursting, twirling? Is it stopped up, clogged up, dammed up, frozen; welling up, overflowing, flooding? Is it foggy, misty, raining, sleeting, snowing? And where are you in relation to the water? Are you considering it from the shore, surfing in the breakers, drowning in it, being pummeled by it, floating casually atop it, or separated from something by it? Watching the water transform in your dreams will provide clues to the process.
In any yogic process when difficulty surfaces, maintaining your practice becomes even more important. Breathwork might allow you to ‘go with the flow’ or ‘ride the wave’ a bit easier, and may even help you breathe under the waters of the unconscious in your dream. Rest often. Treat yourself compassionately.
Mostly, let it happen. No transformation occurs without difficulty and tension, so surrender yourself to swift waters. Let yourself be flipped and tossed and turned and churned until you don’t know up from down. It’s freedom that awaits you (after a few more intense stages and processes and restarts) – a new place of possibilities where you can be of true service to others, liberated from the baser elements which held you fast in the sediment. You’re ready or you wouldn’t be standing at the shore.