Translating the Secret Language of Your DreamsBy:
I was on the hunt, seeking amrit, the nectar of immortality. I had to cross a river, so I found a boat made of ghost bones and stealthed to the opposite shore. I discovered a back door into a secret temple where the location of the amrit was revealed: underneath a peanut tree. I ran to the tree, but its guardian stopped me with a special punishment. His curse was that every time I opened my eyes, there would be my own face, staring at me, three inches away. At first I was terrified, but I steeled myself and looked at the image of my own face until it faded. Beyond the image was a mirror, and there I was, clear as day. Then I woke up.
Earlier that day, I had been listening to a talk from Kaoverii Weber on the chakras. Chakras are energy centers in the subtle body that correspond to different mind and feeling states, and can sometimes help us shed light on the issues we are working on in our worlds. The second chakra, svadisthana in Sanskrit, is located in the low belly, and is usually associated with desire, sexuality, emotion, and the element of water. Weber offered another layer, and explained that the second chakra represents our unconscious and our deeply held traumas that we must face in order to move forward in our lives.
One of the ways we can explore our unconscious is while we are actually unconscious: in our dreams. I have always had a very active dream life, but lately vivid dreams like the one above have been increasingly common. Perhaps you’ve been noticing this too: in the darker months, we sleep and dream more. Some say the energetic shift of the end of 2012 (I wrote about this here) is encouraging an energetic clearing of old memories, habits, and patterns through our dreams.
No one really knows why we dream. There are many theories out there: dreams may be memories from a past life, or a liminal place where mediums can communicate with spirits. They may be simple flashes from daily life, like a nightly mental pee, or a virtual zone in which the mind can flag important information for survival.
Whatever you think dreams mean, they are undoubtedly fascinating, sometimes terrifying, and occasionally beautiful. At best, my dreams inspire my poetry (this one, for example); at worst they shake me awake in a cold sweat. Even then, my dreams feel like little flashlights into the deepest places of my unconscious mind. They are an opportunity to translate from my right brain to my left so I can figure out what might need to change in my waking life.
As Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist who suffered a stoke in her left brain hemisphere, beautifully elucidates in this TED Talk, the right and left brain hemispheres are very different places. The left brain, generally speaking, is logical and rational, and houses our language centers. The right brain does not have language, and thinks in emotion, images, and the experience of the present moment. When we dream, parts of our left brain are quieted. Our dreams don’t speak literally, but they can communicate to us through images and metaphors, much the way poetry does.
I’m not a huge believer in dream dictionaries (though you can let me know if you’ve found a good one) because I think each of us has our own personal dream language. The metaphors come from our own personal association with what we dream up. How we feel when we see water, for example, is more important than the water itself. If a long-distance swimmer dreams about water, it will mean something different than if a drowning survivor dreams about water. Exploring the language of our dreams is ultimately a personal journey.
In my dream, I needed to surf the river waters of emotion through a boat made of ghost bones, or old memories, to continue my journey of seeking. My ‘punishment’ was that I would have to face myself. When I found the courage to simply do that, I was able to look through the image of my face that was blocking my view, and what I saw was a clearer image of who I am and who I want to be.
If you are interested in exploring this, start with writing your dreams down. Write whatever you can remember, and you’ll soon recall more and more. As soon as you commit the non-chronological images and feelings from a dream into language, you are organizing it in a way that your left brain can understand. Often that moment of translating, telling the story of the dream to yourself or to another person, is when you can see what the dream means to you.
Let me know how it goes. Perhaps I’ll see you on the other side—in my boat made of ghost bones.
Join yoga teacher Julie Peters on an exploration into the real life of yoga—how the philosophies and experiences of the practice can help us learn from our bodies, enrich our relationships, face our deepest shadows, and laugh at ourselves along the way. Julie is the author of the forthcoming book Secrets of the Eternal Moon Phase Goddesses: Meditations on Desire, Relationships, and the Art of Being Broken (Skylight Paths).