I’d like to write a bit about how growth works in metaphors of dreams and also to explain how the growth of a virtue or quality happens over time by exploring the metaphors of dream.
Let me just begin with writing about a way to think of growth because I use that word a lot. Imagine a large garden, a guy beside a tree, and he sees a woman in the distance, who is gardening. She’s pulling out weeds and watering the flowers and she appears to be the supervisor, giving instructions to other gardners. The dreamer feels the urge to be close to her but then he suddenly feels a large viper snake crawling up his back. Maybe the man isn’t sure if the snake was intent on biting the dreamer or that it was poised to bite the woman. Regardless, the man suddenly freezes with fear.
To understand the way growth happens and to think of the metaphors or symbols in dream, it’s always good to think of the symbols/metaphors first. Dreams use symbols to communicate and so the key to unlocking the meaning is to understand what the symbol is about. Some of the key symbols in this image are 1) garden 2) tree 3) woman 4) snake.
What is a garden? Well, a garden is a place of growth. It’s a place where beautiful flowers and nourishing foods are grown. That means a garden is a symbol for the way beautiful things grow. The most beautiful things we can grow in real life are qualities within us, such as Compassion, Patience, Enthusiasm and Courage. Every single person on the planet has the ability to have these qualities and some of us tend to show them to those who are closest to us, like our friends, family, associates. It’s very easy to show Compassion to someone we know and trust. Much more difficult to show Compassion to a stranger. It takes a certain quality of Courage to do that. When there are vegetables or fruit growing in the garden, these are symbols for the things in life which give us nourishment, the things which keep us alive. In real life, our bodies need food in order to survive. But the other thing we need in real life to survive is experiences with Love, Support, Encouragement, Kindness, Gentleness, and feeling Connected with others. When we experience these kinds of positive things with others they are like sweet honey and they are good for the heart. Good for the soul. Every person has a basic essential need to feel close and connected with others. Connecting with others is just so very sweet. When a person is in jail, the most painful thing they experience is being disconnected from the people they are close with on road. Whether it’s family, friends, co-workers, associates, whatever … when we lose that closeness it hurts. The institutional setting is designed to destroy and disconnect relationships. In reality, that disconnection is more painful and more cold than the steel, cement and bars. The human heart longs for connection and that longing shows up in this dream, when the guy is looking at the gardener. He sees the qualities in her which he wants to experience too. She’s gentle, kind and caring to the flowers and plants. Probably the complete opposite than what day-to-day life is like on the inside where there isn’t really a lot of gentleness and sweetness in day-to-day life in jail.
How can qualities like gentleness grow? So a garden in a dream is a perfect symbol for the way growth happens within us. I’ll give an example from my own life. When I was a teenager, I did not have a lot of Determination. I had a lot of enthusiasm and I could get really excited about starting new things and trying out new things but I lacked the Determination to follow things thru to the end. One time, I started a cross country race, I think it was 5km and half way through the race, when I got really tired and overwhelmed, I just veered off course into the woods, found a comfy tree and sat there for a while. Eventually I sat so long I fell asleep. Sounds like the tortoise and the hare fairy tale, I know, but seriously, I did that. I fell asleep during a race and then long after it ended I woke up, remembered where I was, walked to the finish line and found most people had left, and everything was being dismantled, teachers were putting away the signs and food and stuff. I found a friend sitting at a picnic table and she was like, “Rachel, where were you? I was looking for you!” And I can’t even remember what I answered her. Probably made up some excuse or maybe told her the truth as bizarre as it was. And that’s how I handled the fact that I did not have a lot of Determination. I gave up easily when things got hard. It showed up in my grades too. I would consistently get high marks at the beginning of the year and then gradually decline, so my marks would be in the high 90s when I started out and then drop down to 80s, 70s, 60s. I’d finish up the year with 70 average not because I was a C student but just because I did not have the determination to keep up at my 90% level of enthusiasm for long periods of time.
When I was in my 30s and started realizing how I would give up on my Self all the time I started setting new goals. I signed up for a 5km race and then trained for it for months. I used an app on my phone to set the length of the run I wanted to do and then I forced myself to keep going until the timer stopped. Sometimes I’d slow down all the way to a walk but then when I got my energy and breath back I’d start running again. Eventually I got better and better at finishing things I started. I realized it takes a lot of Determination, Strength, Endurance, Perseverance and Courage to finish something. The energy to begin something is Enthusiasm, like a Dolphin. Playful. Excited. Full of energy for beginning the thing. But to complete something difficult, it takes Strength, like a Bear. Marathon runners often talk about the point in the run when they “hit a wall” and they really have to push their way through that wall, past the physical and emotional exhaustion to complete the race. In time, I learned to recognize when my own inner wall was coming up and when I felt the strong urge to give up and I learned how to push through it. First I would do this when I was running but then as I started to get stronger and started to complete more 5km runs then I was able to be more determined with other things in life too. I found I could more successfully set a goal and accomplish it because I learned how to pace myself, learned how to cope with feeling exhausted but not giving up. I learned how to keep coming back to the running trail over and over and over again, no matter how frustrated I was at my slow development. In time, I developed the inner quality of Determination. And then now matter what goal I set for myself I now had the determination to see it thru to the end.
So this is the way determination started out like a small seed in me, and then as I “watered it” with lots of practice on the running trail, that small seed started to grow like a plant grows in a garden. Eventually the quality was so strong and big within me, like a tall vibrant tree, that the fruits of my labour came into being. I started accomplishing goals, finishing races, winning awards at my work for the programs I was running, winning court cases I was involved in, publishing articles I worked a long time on. You see? Once I had the quality of Determination strong within me I could use it no matter what challenge in life I faced. But this didn’t happen overnight. It took about 5 years. Before I had determination, I gave up on myself all the time. Quit jobs. Left tasks incomplete. Missed appointments. Lost important things. Forgot to deliver things to people who were expecting them. Etc. Etc. But after focusing on Determination for 5 years I find I am a completely different person. Sometimes I can even start out a task or job or goal with a very clear idea of what it will take to keep the enthusiasm right until the very end of the project. I have learned what it is like to “bang up against my inner wall” and push through it. That inner wall is Fear. The reason I gave up my cross country race when I was 16 is because I was realizing I didn’t have the energy to finish the race in the front of the pack. I was realizing I was going to be one of the last people to cross the finish line and I was so afraid to look like a loser that I couldn’t bear the thought of that. So my fear of embarrassment made me shut down. I hit a wall within me and then just let myself give up. Back then, I decided I would rather disappear, literally, than finish at the end and look like a loser.
When I figured this out about myself I had to learn to be okay with being embarrassed. Being okay with being in last place. Being okay with looking … kinda bad for a moment. Being okay with having made a mistake. Maybe I didn’t sleep well enough the night before, or didn’t eat enough to keep me going, or didn’t train long enough during cross country practice. All my mistakes led me to not perform well and I was so embarrassed I just skipped out and ran into the woods to hide. Imagine that.
So I hope this example shows how this inmates dream of the garden is about how he has within himself the ability to “grow” a lot of new strengths. In his circumstance, since he is facing trial, he may go thru some of the same feelings I did. Feelings of embarrassment, of wanting to hide, of feeling like … having failed. When he has developed determination and strength more fully within himself he’ll be able to envision getting to the other side of the situation with a lot of Courage like a bear.
What about the snake? So animals in dreams help us to understand the next stage of
growth with a virtue or quality like Determination. Animals have qualities, abilities, capacities and skills which help them survive on earth. Every animal has skills or abilities unique to their own species. First Nations cultures understand this more than any other culture and Aboriginal teachings remind us to look to the animals who come into our lives as guides, friends, and teachers demonstrating to us the things we need as we encounter upcoming challenges. Two examples I gave were how Dolphins have natural Enthusiasm and how Bears have natural strength but you can think of this with any animal which comes to mind. Horses have Power & Endurance; Insects have the ability to multiply quickly, Birds have the ability to soar above the hustle & bustle of every day life; Snakes have the ability to be very flexible.
The other things which animals teach us are the ways to understand how positives & negatives show up in our own self or our own lives. When we look at an animal we can see how the positive and negative of the same quality can operate within one animal. Take a Bear for example. It’s Strength makes is a great defender and protector of its children. But make it angry and it can tear a person to part. A dog’s positive is trait is Loyalty & Friendship, but it can also be vicious and bite someone’s hand off. Insects can multiply quickly to reproduce its species but they can destroy anything in their path like eating away the roots of a tree and killing it, or eating into the walls of a house and destroying the foundation. Snakes are wonderfully flexible but also they can have venomous teeth and can kill in an instant. When animals show up in dreams, it’s good to ask if the dream is positive or negative. Are the animal’s traits working in a way which leads to something getting better or to something getting worse? When an animal comes in a dream it is there to show the dreamer where the next stage of work is to develop the quality to its most excellent degree. If the dreamer happens to have a lot of enthusiasm, like I did in my teens, but lacks strength like I did, then Bears might show up in dreams as a guide for the dreamer to develop more strength. Since Fear was the thing stopping me from developing my strength back then, in order to become stronger I had to start looking at my Fear, looking at how it operated in my life, looking at how my fearful actions were hurting myself and others and start to make changes. It was not easy but I took little steps daily for a long period of time and then saw the changes I was looking for.
When Snakes show up in a dream, start looking for jealousy. Perhaps the dreamer has some jealousy or perhaps someone in the dreamer’s life has jealousy and is acting out in hurtful ways. The more dangerous the snake in the dream, the more venomous can be the poison from the jealous person. Sometimes people can behave just like snakes. Maybe you know a snakey-type person in your workplace, or family or in your unit or range. When someone is acting like a snake, they will most likely not draw attention to themselves for a while, like a snake in the grass and then when they are ready they pounce out with their hurtful words, actions, accusations, and threats. The goal of a snake is to take over an environment, like a territory, and to take control of everyone using fear to dominate. In a workplace, a snake may be trying to take power by getting to the top as a CEO, or getting to the “top” of a school like becoming a principal. In a family, a member may try to control everyone with threats so that they always get what they want no matter who they hurt while getting there. Some might say jails can be like a snake’s den, with dozens of snakes all gathered together, all trying to get what they need to survive. Most people fear snakes but then there are people like Steve Irwin, or Snake Charmers, who have no fear and who can connect with the snakes without getting poisoned or harmed.
In the scenario above, with the man and the garden and the snake, well, the man has a choice in this case. He can become like the snake and lash out and harm the gardener. Or he can become like a snake charmer, capture the snake and set it free away from the garden to keep the flowers, plants and woman safe. The choice that the man has in this case is what makes us human. Humans have a quality which animals do not have.
Philosophers and mystics have composed volumes of work on the theme so I can’t go into it more now but to briefly touch on the topic I’ll just say that human beings have the ability to make the decision to be hurtful or helpful. They can decide to succumb to a challenge or to rise above it. They have the ability to … for example … stay in a fearful state and let the best things in life pass them by or to develop Courage for example and have the Determination to meet any obstacle. This is where humans stand apart from animals. Whereas animals are trapped within their instinctual nature, humans can stop and pause and assess a situation. They can imagine alternatives. They can weigh pros and cons. They can evaluate risks. They can calculate a plan. They can take action and follow through. They can achieve their goals. Animals do not have the ability to imagine a realm outside of what their senses can perceive. A dog, for example, cannot stand in a dark yard at night and imagine the sun shining on the other side of the earth. A human can though. A dog is limited by what it can see and feel and hear. A human can use the power of their imagination to perceive things which are beyond the realms of the senses. In this way, a person who does not have a lot of Determination can imagine what it would be like to have it. A person can imagine what it would be like to have determination. A person can take actions to develop more determination in their life and they can eventually have it. They can have it so much that they learn to have determination with every task they take on and anyone looking at that individual would say, “Wow! He really has a lot of Determination.” They begin to name the person by that virtue.
This is how a small seed of skill or capacity starts growing in someone’s life and how the dreams will show the development of the skill over the course of months or years. First the quality is just an idea, like a ball of potential energy, like a small spark, or a small drop of water, or a small seed. Then as the quality grows in the person’s life they may start to have dreams about animals who have that quality, for strength is could be bears, elephants, hippos. Then as the dreamer continues to develop the quality more and more they will start having dreams where the people in their dream have a lot of the quality that they are aspiring to. These character dreams may have people from the dreamer’s real life, strong teachers, or coaches. But maybe they show up as characters from movies, or from fairy tales, or from songs. The dreamer’s mind is seeing strength in these characters and they show up in the dreams to bring messages to the dreamer about what they can do to have the quality more and more.
Dreams about People are about understanding the qualities of the dreamer and the person the dream is about. It may happen that a dreamer has a dream about a person with the quality they need more of, like Determination, and then in the dream they have a sexual encounter. If it is a positive encounter then it is a symbol for how the dreamer is integrating more and more with the quality they are seeking to develop. If it is a negative dream, it shows where there are still some fears or issues to work through before the virtue or quality can be more fully actualized in the life of the dreamer.
Many people have dreams about sex and many inmates tell me dreams about sexual
encounters. It’s natural to think that these dreams are about the actual act of intercourse but in truth, dreams about sex are about the symbol of two qualities coming together. When someone has a positive sexual dream about a person who has the qualities they are going for in life, then it is a positive symbol for the way the dreamer is coming to fully integrate the newly developing quality within themself.
Sometimes, the reason why a person would not have a certain quality or skill in their life is because of trauma at a young age. A negative teacher or parent may have said or behaved in a way which taught the person to not develop a certain skill or quality. As the dreamer is learning to develop that skill or quality in their adult life they will have some healing to do around the trauma. A lot of sadness may come up, or anxiety, or jealousy. Any host of emotions could arise from the work and it takes time to heal the trauma so that the skill can be developed. A positive dream about sex with a person who has the quality you are going for is a good signal that the healing is working and that the new quality can be actualized in life without any painful associations.
This is where the work changes from a process of healing to a process of development. Just how I described that my first small steps at determination were focused only on running 5km but later I was able to use Determination for every task I set out to do. I was still healing at the time when I was learning to run 5km without giving up. I was healing from all the giving up I had done in childhood, in teen years, in adulthood. Once I had healed from my “giving up mode” then I had opened up brand new capacities and skills within myself to begin taking on new challenge and new risks knowing that I could start out with a lot of enthusiasm & finish with a lot of strength.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION:
- Do you find it easy to start a project with enthusiasm but not too easy to finish it? Or …
- Do you find it really hard to get going on something new but once you get into it then you have a lot of determination to complete it?
- If what you need is enthusiasm, then to get uplifted you can think about a current challenge in your real life, imagine the biggest obstacle and then try to think of something new you can do that you never did before which would help solve the problem. Sometimes this is a good time to start a new class, or a new program, or learn a new skill.
- If what you need is more determination, think about something you’ve been working on but which you’ve hit some sort of wall with and imagine what you can do to build your Confidence to move forward through the wall. To achieve this, remember something you have done well, with a lot of skill and then repeat that. Repeat the things you have done well and apply it to the area where you are stuck. Amazingly, you should see the wall start to crumble metaphorically speaking and your confidence in your capacity will grow.
- When have you dreamed about an animal? What are the main qualities of that animal? How can you bring more of that kind of quality into your life now? How could more of that quality solve a current problem?