From the sign for a bus stop to the universal figures representing ladies’ and men’s restrooms, symbols have become a part of our day-to-day lives. So much so that semiotics (the study of signs or symbols and their uses and interpretations) is as widespread in fields as diverse as advertising and Tarot cards. But what do symbols in our dreams mean?
Our subconscious selves also speak to us in symbols while we sleep, and understanding some of the more common dream symbols, or themes, can help us interpret what our “observers on the sidelines” are trying to communicate to us. Sometimes these messages are nothing more than a worry that we are unaware is niggling away in a dark corner of our minds. At other times, our dreams bring us much needed awareness or information that we might not have noticed when our minds are busy with their daily work. And still other times, the messages embedded in our dreams are prophetic, alerting us to events yet to come.
Though dream styles differ from individual to individual, there are a number of widely accepted translations of the frequent dream symbols and themes we often encounter. Here, then, are some definitions to help you understand what your sleeping mind is trying to tell you.
Water is associated with our emotional selves. When dreaming about water, it is important to notice the type of water (lake, river, small brook or huge ocean), as well as its temperament (calm, gentle waves, slightly choppy or raging waves). Are you looking at the water or are you actually in it? Is the water clean, clear and sparkling, or is it murky, silty, brackish or dirty? How deep is the water?
All of these qualities are important to the messages our minds are trying to share. A smaller body of water like a pond or lake would indicate that we are keeping our emotions contained within boundaries. A moving brook or river suggests that we are allowing our emotions to flow. An ocean or sea tells us that our emotions are unbounded. The water’s temperament gives us an assessment of our own emotional states: Are we calm and happy? Do we have a few worries? Or are we facing an emotional storm?
Our proximity to the water also gives us clues about what is going on emotionally. If we are actually in the water, then it is likely that we are allowing ourselves to experience our emotions, while standing outside of the water could signify that we are simply observing our feelings rather than feeling them. If we are in the water and are at risk of drowning, then there is a good chance that we are feeling completely overwhelmed and need to find an emotional life boat.
Being naked in front of a crowd is another common scenario in dreamworld. In this type of dream scenario, it’s important to note if we felt comfortable or not. If we’re comfortable it signifies that we are “at home in our own skin,”and comfortable showing our true selves without the protective covering of clothing. If we are embarrassed or ashamed by our nakedness in the dream, it could indicate that we feel exposed, defenseless or unprepared.
When people dream about teeth, the theme usually involves losing or breaking teeth. For many, the attractiveness or health of their teeth is crucial to their sense of physical beauty or self-esteem, so losing or breaking teeth would seem to indicate that the dreamer was feeling less than beautiful/handsome, but the symbolism of teeth goes much deeper than that.
Teeth can also indicate major life changes and the loss of a tooth can have positive or negative connotations, depending on the situation. Was the tooth loose before it fell out? If so, it is likely that this change has been developing for some time. If it fell out suddenly, the change was probably unexpected and, if knocked or pulled out, can represent a radical change that we are unable to make on our own and for which we need assistance. Like change (expected or unexpected), the loss of teeth in a dream is not necessarily a negative thing, so it is important to identify our emotional state during the dream.
Being chased is one of the most terrifying dream themes for many people and generally signifies that we are feeling overwhelmed by a situation from which we feel powerless to escape. But we need to keep in mind that this is occurring in our minds and we are not powerless in the waking world. When waking from these dreams, we may feel very anxious or agitated and taking a few deep, slow, deliberate breaths will help put us back into our bodies and leave the unpleasant emotions behind.
Finally, we have my favorite dream scenario—where I am soaring joyfully, unaided by wings or a plane, over a beautiful landscape. Flying represents freedom, liberation and being in control of ourselves and our lives. If we are flying without interference, the feeling is usually exhilarating and instills a sense of well-being. If there are obstacles to our flight (such as telephone lines), then we need to assess our goals and, perhaps, formulate a new plan.
Feeling fearful while we are flying often indicates a fear of success or transcending our limitations. Occasionally, we might dream of someone trying to prevent us from soaring. In these instances, our dreaming mind is sending a clear message and we need to objectively look at how or why this person is attempting to restrict us.