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Ask the Dream Specialist

by Ken Kaplan


In this issue, we will continue our investigation of dream symbols, still focusing on their uniqueness to each individual, but also exploring how every part of a dream is you. This approach is known as a gestalt approach and is a primary outlook and method that is often used in helping people in interpreting their dreams. We will look at some specific examples that will illuminate further these principles. As always, keep in mind the primary issue- dreams are not free floating, but always relate to something happening at the time in conscious life.

We start with a symbol from one of my own recent dreams, one I have been contemplating strongly. I was in a lake with other people that resembled a fairly common swimming scene when the dream switched and I was thrust into a much deeper, wilder, wilderness type lake. This one had many more unknown currents and was much more challenging than the safe, socially common lake I had just been in. I somehow knew I was being asked to descend to the depths, which was frightening. I was willing to do this. However as a got nearer to the vastness of the bottom, I suddenly took a bite of a cooked frozen sausage, the kind that come precooked. As I took this bite, it quickly blocked my journey and I could go no further. A sausage? What could that mean?

If I looked in the one dream dictionary I have which I like, Understand Your Dreams by Alice Anne Parker, under food I find “nourishment”, “security”, “pleasure of greed”, and the questions she encourages you to ask are “What do I nourish in myself?” and “ What am I hungry for?” These are good questions, for they do relate strongly to what I have been going through in recovering from being sick lately, and the attendant emotional issues involved. But the sausage, which I have been eating in my diet occasionally, is unique to my life as a symbol of processed food, food that expresses the processed nature of much of contemporary life that focuses on electronics, TV, computer, etc. Furthermore, one could argue this type of food contains minimal nutrition.

When I “become” the sausage for the purpose of feeling its meaning more completely, I experienced it expanding into (expressing) this “processed” arena of something I have perhaps been focusing on too much which could be blocking connection, and losing some touch with that which is more authentic. It is no coincidence also that the immersion into the deepest lake depths felt frightening and threatening, uncontrollable. A good exercise would be to ask for a dream to comment on the source of the fear, which might clarify more some thoughts I already have concerning the matter.

In this case, the sausage, of all things, is a key symbol that contains many pieces of information. Although generically a food item, it is the specific nature of the symbol and its relationship as a “stand in” or ‘vehicle” to a pattern of energy and behaviors present in my life that is crucial. The dreaming mind selects symbols in this way, ones that are the most precise and pertinent, and contains the particular energies of self and life that need to be inspected. One could not find a more elegant creation by any of the world’s greatest artists in any venue to express a vital idea or concept.

A very similar example happened during a session I had with a woman at a local library. In her dream, she entered a ladies room in a restaurant and found her mother in law, who had passed away, sitting on a vinyl covered sofa. The sofa was in part orange. In the dream she was surprised to see her and asked how her father, who had died also, was doing. But the mother in law not only did not respond, she would not look at her and remained silent. This was very disconcerting. When sharing this dream, her first impression was that this was a “visitation” from her relative, but as we explored it, it became clear it probably was not. (In future columns we will look more closely at the visitation phenomenon.)

It turned out that the ladies room setting had great significance. When alive, the mother in law had a compulsive cleaning streak whenever she entered a woman’s restroom. She would find the toilet paper and start cleaning many of the objects in the area as to eradicate germs. This was a pervasive habit. At that time in her life, the woman sharing the dream had been trying to keep many things together in the wake of a family tragedy. There was a similarity to her own attempts to “control the environment” in the same vein as her mother in law had busily tried to control the rest rooms. The sense of discomfort and “franticness” were congruent. Thus the mother in law was a perfect symbol to convey the complex set of feelings that were dominant in her life at that time, in the setting that most reflected or highlighted the feelings and behaviors.

The couch also was significant. The vinyl cover was indicative of the mundane and “plastic” nature of much of ordinary life. Rather than being aesthetically pleasing, for example artistically interesting or made of fine material, it was barely functional and nondescript. Bright orange is a fairly garish color and reinforced this feeling. This image reflected the way she felt about life at the moment, barely functional in a rather mundane manner. Useful to sit on, but not much else about it had any appeal.

The fact that the mother in law was non responsive, both verbally and visually, also was important for the volunteer had been trying to get various factions of the family to come together with little success. Thus there was a theme of disconnection prevalent in her life that was frustrating. The refusal of the mother in law in the dream to connect with her in any way mirrored the situation in the waking life.

Again, here we have symbols that in their detail, or in entirety would be difficult to fathom from a dictionary. The mother in law and the restroom were highly specific to the woman’s life experience. We would find some help under furniture, in which the words “attitudes”, “identity”, “beliefs” appear, although the question “how do I furnish the house of myself” may not be entirely on the mark. The issues of beliefs and attitude toward life at that time seem relevant, but the particulars of the sofa, especially its vinyl covering, would have interior meaning beyond what a “universal description” could give. Thus the dictionary is an ancillary support, but not a place where one can glean the truest meaning of what the dream is attempting to convey.

The entire dream, which really was a fragment, powerfully conveyed the depth of emotion and underlying behaviors to deal with them going on in this person’s life at that time. Understanding this more consciously allowed the woman to create some space for contemplation around her attempts to play helper and peacemaker in the family. In addition, she was able to consider her own attempts to control, in what might be an unhealthy or obsessive manner (like the mother in law’s) the environment and situation she found herself in. Her dreaming mind had selected symbols and setting that had very selected meaning for her derived from her own experience and inner landscape, but also again were expressions of energies and attitudes that were all part of herself, not images or events that had separate meaning unto themself.

One last, and most direct example, comes from a person who wrote to me after reading this column. She said she had a dream in which she suffocated another woman. She expressed concern because she did not think of herself as someone with violent tendencies and had never thought of herself as a murderer. Her mistaken impression of what the dream implied highlights one of the most important traps people fall into in dealing with their dreams, taking them literally. We will deal with that issue in more detail in the next issue. In dialoguing with her by phone, she revealed a number of crucial facts that enabled us very quickly to get to the dream’s meaning. The first was that she was going through an important and positive life change. The second was that she had a history in the more distant past of substance abuse. The third was that during this period, she had been blonde. The woman she was fighting and trying to smother was blonde.

After a short discussion, I told her that the dream had nothing to do with any violent or sociopathic tendencies but was reflective of an inner conflict she was having with herself. The new life change had brought up anxieties and old patterns of fear that were pulling at her as moved forward with her life. These anxieties and patterns were symbolized by a woman who represented herself at that stage of her history. Her desire to suppress those feeling and impulses was strong enough to create the image of “killing them off” in order to get rid of them. Clearly this was a part of herself she was not fully finished with in some fashion, but wished to not have present, even subconsciously. I suggested that the dream was telling her about this conflict that she might not have been completely conscious of, and was giving her information that might create space and peace in allowing these old feelings of fear to just be, without having to resist them. Acknowledging them without letting them dominate was a path to a much more fruitful and harmonious relationship with self.

It is quite obvious that in this dream, not only was the woman as symbol unique to this person, but quite clearly an aspect of herself and not some “other”. Although in many dreams, as we have seen, the way in which the dreaming mind creates images and symbols from our attitudes, behaviors, and life energy is more subtle than this very direct image, the principle remains the same. Every part of a dream represents some aspect of self. Only in very rare instances, such as a visitation from someone who has passed on, or a true precognitive dream, does this rule vary. Even in many of those instances, the elements of life and self are used in conjunction by the dreaming mind with the more supernatural to amplify a message it wants to get across. This also we will discuss more fully in future columns.

In the next issue, as we delve more deeply into dream symbols and content, and as I mentioned above, we will concentrate in depth on the great mistake that is constantly made, often creating harm: taking dreams literally. Again, if any reader has a question, or wishes to have a session that can be used for this column, there will be no charge. I can be reached at kenstories@comcast.net

Ken Kaplan has been a well known storyteller throughout the Delaware Valley for over twenty years. He is also a gifted “dream coach” specializing in helping people interpret their dreams, an intuitive counselor and a presenter on many spiritual and metaphysical subjects. His most recent endeavor is the creation of a one-person storytelling concert recounting his spiritual journey with a great Indian Guru and the vital life lessons he learned from that relationship


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