Literalism and Symbolism in Dreams

by Sophie on

There is an Australian report of a woman who dreamed of a beautiful lady who was smiling at her. The dreamer recognized the lovely lady as another aspect of herself, the self she felt she was meant to be. She acted on the dream – with a vengeance. She spent the next 12 years and all of her money on plastic surgeons, trying to replicate the beautiful face from the dream.

What a bittersweet irony: to see the face of the radiant Other in a dream, and to try to bring that beauty into ordinary life by hiring a plastic surgeon! Many of us have had glimpses of that radiant double who wears our true face. Are they meant to be taken literally? Not by going to a plastic surgeon! But they might invite “literal” understanding on a deeper level: that these may indeed be glimpses of what we are, and are meant to become, on the level of spirit. The tragedy of the woman who sees her true face and pays a plastic surgeon to try to reproduce it is the tragedy of a culture of materialism that puts its trust in the surface of things, the skin-identity.

We will tend to go astray – in relation to dreams and to other things — when we confuse the planes of awareness (which may correspond to dimensions of reality) in which experiences take place. The story of the dreamer and the plastic surgeon is a sad example of misplaced literalism, related to the confusion of planes. Yet I believe that, in general, we need to take dreams MORE literally rather than less so, because dreams so often contain advisories about situations developing in physical reality and because in dreams, where we are all naturally psychic, a great deal of specific information about situations that are distant in space or time comes floating across the radar screen. This is why we should always remember to ask of dreams, Could this dream conceivably be played out in waking life (and what do I need to do about that)?

An intelligent literalism in relation to dreams has a twin aspect. We should not only ask whether a dream could be played out in ordinary reality but also: Is this dream a real experience on its own level of reality (and how can I bring that energy and insight into my waking life)?

Of course, dreams are rich in symbols. Like dreams, symbols take us from what we already know (in the surface mind) to what we do not know. They invite us to stretch our understanding, to go beyond our reflex assumptions and conventional mindset. This is why the drugstore dictionary approach to dreams, which reduces complex symbols and unique experiences to stock interpretations is as deeply misguided as misplaced literalism.

Let’s be open to the possibility that dream symbols are also postcards from a journey. Let’s consider the way we may edit memories of our travels to deeper dimensions, as we surface from sleep, giving them shapes that correspond to the conceptions of the linear mind and the forms of physical reality. Let’s remember that in dreams we not only travel through time but through frequency bands, into a multidimensional universe. Knowing this, we can seek to become interpreters in a real sense: not reductionists and pontificators and stealers of dreams, but bridgemakers between the dreamworld and the surface world.

There is a further aspect to all of this. A precognitive or “psychic” dream may contain clear perceptions of a situation developing in physical reality which is itself deeply symbolic. For example: I may dream of a problem with the plumbing in my house, or the brakes in my car. If I fail to heed the “literal” warning in my dream, I may then have to hire a plumber or take my car to the brake shop. At this point, I may (or may not) notice that there is also a problem with my “plumbing” or my brakes” in a symbolic sense – for example, in connection with my physical or emotional health.

The world is our mirror, yours and mine. We need to take dreams more literally and the events and patterns of waking life more symbolically.

Written by: Sophie