To Symbolize, or Not.
That Is the Question.
Now that I have pounded into your head that everything in dreams is symbolism, we split that hair. I can look and look for the symbolism of a detail of a dream — or indeed, of the entire dream — and not find it. The dream is not precognitive. It’s not literal. So I can come up with no reason for the absence of symbolism other than the dream is just telling a story and the story is the bottom line.
I take that back. The experience of the dream is the bottom line. The experience is the forest. Symbolism is the trees. See the forest through the trees.
Some dreams or details within them are most important to understand as a story that has a point or lesson. You aren’t as likely to find the meaning and significance by analyzing the symbols or the symbolism. Instead, just analyze the story. Its details set the scene. They’re part of a scenario.
These dreams are like virtual reality simulations. Yes, every detail in them is deliberately chosen — and when you recognize the handiwork of the master craftsman you know to focus on it to gain insight — but traditional ways of decoding symbolism don’t apply.
I find these dreams to be few and far between, but dreaming is a widely variable experience and it depends on the person. For example, Ian Wilson, who first learned how to lucid dream in the mid 1980s, reports many “virtual reality” dreams that lead him to ever deeper and greater understanding of the mechanics of creating reality both in dreams, and in 3-D physical space. What he reports mirrors what top-level physicist say about physical reality being an illusionary rendering of information.
In other words:
Virtual reality. A holographically rendered universe.
The “coding” for the universe as we know it — the massless information behind it — exists on a 2-D surface outside of spacetime. If you don’t agree, take your objection to uber physicist Stephen Hawking. He’s famous for making this assertion, and it’s repeated by many others including Ed May, a theoretical physicist and major player in the U.S. military’s Stargate Program, and Russel Targ, a physicist and prolific author I spoke with personally about this subject..
Is all that we see or seem, but a dream within a dream?
Life is but a dream. That statement is profoundly true. Life is a persistent higher level dream, as Ian says. Great analogy, right? Just an analogy. Just a poet being poetic. But what if it’s true? See the link below for what Ian says he’s learned from his incredible dream experiences. He’s a one-in-a-million dreamer and I think he’s blazing the trail to show us all how our dreams can be used to explore the nature of reality, and of realities beyond this physical one. If Ian, top physicists, some psychics, and mystics throughout the ages are correct, we live in a multiverse. Infinity. Infinity can play out as many versions of the same scenario as it wants. No limits.
Note: I digested and researched this subject for many years before being comfortable agreeing with this view of reality. The tipping point for me came when I saw it time and again in the experience of dreaming.
Now apply knowledge of symbolism to more examples:
- Spin your wheels.
- Drive in circles.
- Visit a mechanic.
- Headlights don’t work.
Think about it, then keep reading.
Spin your wheels is a metaphor for situations in life where your efforts get you nowhere. “Spin your wheels” is a common figure of speech.
Drive in circles metaphorically expresses its idea the same way as spin your wheels. You go round and round and end up back where you started in a situation, a relationship, an endeavor, an argument (“argue in circles”).
Visit a mechanic when you need help getting your life moving or figuring out what’s making it break down. Your body is the vehicle that moves your life. The mechanic in your dream fixes whatever is causing it to break down or function incorrectly. You might need a look “under the hood,” into your inner workings, to see what’s going on physically, emotionally, or psychologically.
Headlights help you see in the dark. Headlights can symbolize ability to see your way ahead in life or gain clarity in a situation, so if they don’t work it’s a way of saying you’re “in the dark.” They might symbolize your ability to see into the dark spots within yourself. They can be like a spotlight bringing something into focus. Or they might symbolize your eyes.
Passenger in a Car
A passenger in a car can symbolize the idea of “along for the ride.” Your life is moving along and the passengers are people who are part of that journey. The idea is reversed if you are the passenger while someone else drives. The driver is the person in control of the situation, or in general.
To further illustrate the idea, let’s analyze dreams that uses the symbolism.
I’m driving in my car faster and faster with my boyfriend in the passenger seat. I see a wall ahead and press the brake pedal but it doesn’t work. My boyfriend pulls the emergency brake but it doesn’t work either, and we crash into the wall. Everything goes black, and I’m dead.
This dream occurred at a time in the dreamer’s life when she had too much to do and not enough time to do it. She drove herself hard to accomplish it all and reached a breaking point. That personal context of the dream helps us to understand the symbolism and meaning.
Her inner drive and the fast pace of her life are symbolized in the dream as the car’s high rate of speed. Her breaking point (after missing her “braking point”) is symbolized as the brakes not working and smashing into a wall.
But why is her boyfriend a passenger? As an important person in her life, he is “along for the ride.” They are partners in life. Pulling the emergency brake is obviously symbolism when you consider that in reality the brake is not located between the driver and passenger seats, but instead is on the driver’s side floor. That discrepancy with reality has to be symbolism, and what it means is he recognizes what’s happening with her but is unable to do anything about it. That obvious use of symbolism is also a sign that the dream is not giving a warning that the dream could literally come true.
Now analyze this dream:
I’m at a friend’s house hanging out with him and a group of our friends, which is how I spend most of my waking time. I can’t stand it anymore and go to my mom’s car parked nearby, reach under the passenger seat and pull out a gun. I point it at my head and pull the trigger. Everything goes black.
The young man who had this dream has ambitions for his life but is unable to figure out how to make them reality. Instead, he wastes a lot of time at the house depicted in the dream, hanging out with the same friends. The feeling of helplessness to achieve his ambitions sparks thoughts of ending his life, an expression of hopelessness.
He grabs the gun from under the passenger seat of his mom’s car because she’s the person who gave him the idea that he wanted to do something more with his life than whittle away his time with other people who also can’t figure out what to do with themselves. But Mom can’t achieve his ambitions for him. He can’t be her passenger for this ride. He has to figure out his own way.
In reality, his mom does not carry a gun in her car, so the discrepancy is obviously symbolism. Focus there while interpreting the dream. If you figure out what one part of a dream means, you can use it decode the rest. Why is the gun in mom’s car under her passenger seat? Because her son has been along for the ride in her life till this point, and now he needs to figure things out for himself, and if he doesn’t, it’s like suicide. The answer to that question unlocks the meaning of the dream.
Next up, another dream featuring the dreamer’s mom, this time with a different twist. The dreamer is a teenage son.
My mom is driving her truck and I’m in the passenger seat. She drives on a snowy road and misses a bridge. The truck ends up on a frozen lake and the ice breaks. The truck sinks. I rescue Mom and grab some important things from the truck, then yell at her for her bad driving.
Being the passenger in his mom’s vehicle is a way of symbolizing this young man’s role and position. His mom is the decision-maker, the one who leads. As a teenager he’s like a passenger along for the ride.
The action of the dream dramatizes and symbolizes his observations about his mom’s decision-making. It’s bad, shown in the dream as missing the bridge and driving onto a frozen lake. In life, he has to come to her rescue, like in the dream. Once you know the context of the son’s life, the symbolism of the dream is obvious because he’s always coming to her rescue and fixing her messes.
Think Like a Storyteller
Every detail in a dream is used purposefully. Knowing that, you can reverse engineer the dream by asking why a dream detail is used a particular way in the story and gain clues to decode the symbolism. Any mode of travel can be used to describe movement in your life or the day to day activity of it, but some modes are better than others depending on what a dream is really saying.
- Driving a vehicle tends to be used by dreams to speak to the daily activity of your life.
- Flying in a plane tends to speak to life’s more distant objectives and bigger goals, or the desire to get somewhere quickly.
- Travelling by boat tends to symbolize the longer journeys of life and experiences with more depth, or the feeling of buoyancy.
- A motorcycle is generally a single-person vehicle, symbolically a way of saying “go it alone” or “independence.”
- A bicycle moves with leg power, a way of saying “leg work,” “effort,” “hustle.”
The dream storyteller uses driving, flying, boating and cycling depending on what it says symbolically. Whichever one best tells the story.
The follow post explores this idea further:
This introduction to dream symbolism provides a foundation for interpreting your dreams. Everything in meaningful dream is symbolism — except as noted previously. By learning to decode dream symbolism, you unlock the meaning of your dreams.
More Dream Symbolism Resources:
Callous over heart in a dream shows that the dreamer’s self-harming has calloused over her emotions.
A partner shrinking during sex in a dream shows that the dreamer is getting less enjoyment from sex.
Two tornadoes in a dream symbolize two writing projects the dreamer is working on.
Grab a copy of Dreams 1-2-3: Remember, Interpret, and Live Your Dreams if you want to better understand dream symbolism and get a comprehensive overview of dreamwork.
If you want to go into great depth about dream symbolism, I suggest the book By Carl Jung and three of his main students, Man and His Symbols.
Or watch this video for an audio version. Starts at minute 22, after the reading of the Forward.