Studio for the Healing Arts

Warning Dreams


If you've been following my blogs of late, by now you have learned that dreams inspire our creativity, guide us through necessary transitions in life and encourage us to change and grow. However, like a loving parent or mentor, dreams will also warn us when we are moving in a direction that inhibits our growth. These warning dreams assume many forms, but today I will share with you two main types: Personal and Collective warning dreams.

Personal Warning Dreams

There are two main categories of personal warning dreams; dreams in which our most heart-felt intentions are repeatedly frustrated or blocked. Alternatively, personal warning dreams show us the consequences of our actions if we continue on our path.

When I speak of dreams in which we are repeatedly frustrated, I mean those universal dreams we have all had in which we find ourselves, blocked or lost despite great conscious effort: “I am on my way to a party. I know the way, but I keep getting lost no matter how closely I watch the street signs.” “I am trying to call my ex-husband to ask his advice, but no matter how many times I dial, the call won't go through.”

In each of these above dreams, we have an intention that is thwarted and it is wise to consider that our psyche—the source of our dreams—is the bearer of greater wisdom than our ego. It is often the case that we are being told by our psyche, indeed warned that our behavior is not serving a constructive purpose and in fact, may be harmful to us if we continue on that path.

For example, many people have shared their “blocked phone call” dreams with me or ones similar in which they are unable to communicate, can't be heard and so on. In unfolding the meaning of the dream, the drama of that ex-husband, wife, friend or lover we are unable to reach, often reflects an old habit of over-relying on someone for help instead of practicing greater self-sufficiency. Alternatively, the person we can't communicate with may be resistant to helping us and we have not accepted that reality in our waking life, e.g. "I'm sure he will change if I keep trying". In effect, our psyche may be saying, "Give it up already!" or "Face facts this is not someone to depend on".

Similarly, in dreams of “getting lost”, it may be helpful to consider the experience of being lost as a warning that in a particular area of our life, our goal or strategy is not in our best interest or is impractical.

Alternatively, that goal may be attainable but not right now. For example, a man I know had a recurring dream of trying unsuccessfully to board a beautiful sailboat, which in waking life he wished to buy. The boat represented for him a new time in life free from overbearing responsibility and stress. Such dreams may be advising or warning us that there is still work to be done first and in the man's case, he had to finish grieving the death of his father, before he could “get on board” with the next phase of his life. To ignore this task of grieving was to limit the future joys he could find in life.

So it's important when frustrated in a dream to give the benefit of the doubt to the guiding wisdom of our psyche and to the possibility that our own ego strategies are misguided or poorly timed.

In other personal warning dreams, we may find ourselves engaging in some old behavior that we thought we had thankfully given up long ago. For example, it is common for alcoholics and other recovering substance abusers who have been sober or clean for years to suddenly have a dream of being drunk or high. In discussing these dreams from which one usually awakens upset and scared, dreamers often discover they have slid back into old attitudes or behaviors that were associated with their substance abuse in the past.

In these dreams our psyche is not ever judging us, but simply presenting the hard, cold truth as if to say: "Remember how out of control and depressed you felt when you were drinking. This is the feeling and situation you are moving toward again."

A friend of mine who had successfully quit a lifetime cigarette habit, began to be aware of his wish to start smoking again. He dreamed:

"I am pushing a lawn spreader over the most beautiful, plush green lawn I have ever seen. I happen to look into the spreader and I see it is full of nicotine. I wake up with my heart pounding and feeling disgust at the thought of feeding poison to my healthy body that is so full of life."

Collective Warning Dreams

Finally, there are dreams that warn us not only personally, but also collectively as a society or culture. In The Third Reich of Dreams, journalist Charlotte Beradt collected over 300 dreams from German citizens between 1933-1939. Beradt charts the evolving climate of fear and repression through dream images that forewarned the demise of freedom and creativity in Germany and Europe. One of those interviewed dreamed of posters placed everywhere that listed the twenty words people were not allowed to say. In another dream which warned about the growing loss of privacy, the dreamer said, "As far as the eye could see, no apartment had walls". A woman dreamed: "An SS Storm Trooper invaded my kitchen and opened the oven door where he could hear all of the words my family had spoken against the government".

Journalist Beradt also documented the dream of a man who wept in grief and horror as he told her his dream in which he found himself "inch by inch, raising my arm in a Nazi salute". A young man dreamed: "I no longer dreamed of anything but Christmas cookies, because it was forbidden to dream." A doctor dreamed: "I am being accused of writing down my dreams". In George Orwell's 1984, disobedience to Big Brother began at the level of the dream.

Yet there is a beautiful and awesome lesson in all of these stories. While as human beings we seem willing personally and collectively to violently repress our own freedom and creativity and ignore the guidance and warnings of our psyche, our dreams will never be silenced.

May your dreams guide you swiftly and well along your path.

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