Water Dreams

Now, here’s a dream from my mailbox and some general ideas for creative dreamers about what it might mean:

I dreamed there was a huge tidal wave and it was wiping things out miles and miles from the shoreline… I was running from the wave, trying to keep ahead of it. I was miles from the shoreline. Just when the wave would ebb back to the beach another big one would come and I would have to keep running…

Tidal waves dreams are actually pretty common, even amongst people who don’t live near the ocean! What do tidal waves mean? You could check your handy dream dictionary to find out. But, sadly, dream dictionaries are written by people who know little or nothing about dreams, and have just made up compelling meanings for various dream images.

Water is the only dream element all dream experts agree upon. It has represented the same thing across time and across cultures, and as such, it really does seem to be an archetypal symbol.  Water enables life and renewal, and psychologically, it symbolizes unconscious emotions, feelings we aren’t aware of. Creative people actually remember more dreams with water in them than those who are less creative. Creative people translate the unconscious as they create; this process seems to make its way into their dreams…

So, dreaming of a tidal wave suggests the dreamer is overwhelmed by feelings which come in “waves.” For this dreamer, just when one goes, another one comes crashing down, and they encroach far upon the “ground” (the foundation of the psyche). It seems to her like they are wiping everything out–and overwhelming emotional crises do that.

Action of dreamer. It might be helpful for the dreamer to consider what she does when feeling overwhelmed. Here, she runs. This makes sense; most of us would try to run in such a situation! But this is the dream world, and the dreamer created the situation in which she finds herself. She might explore what else could be done with waves of feeling.

Now, if you were threatened by an actual tidal wave, what could you do? List as many things as you can, as fast as you can, without editing any (creative brainstorming). Build a boat? Snorkle? Dive under the waves? Find a vehicle and move inland at a faster rate? Get behind a large wall? Get help? Trust your ability to swim?  In a tidal wave situation, you are safer at sea!

Dream coping and waking coping. Remember that water represents deep, unconscious emotion, so the way we interact with water in dreams may indicate how we cope with feelings when awake.  Each of the possibilities listed above requires a different kind of coping with feelings (diving into them, versus finding a way to quickly move away from them through distraction, versus staying on their surface),  and might be less exhausting than running.  Imagine yourself doing one or more of those as vividly as you can. See if you feel differently (calmer, more relaxed) after having done so.

Naturally, if this were a real situation, you’d have to act immediately to save yourself! But, since it’s a dream, and you gave it to yourself, consider it a gift, showing you something about the way you characteristically might cope with being overwhelmed.  Try exploring some new options. You might find something that works or feels better!

Next time, in honor of the season, I’ll write about scary dreams, what they might mean, and what to do about them.  For now, time to refresh my tea cup, build a fire, and listen to the rain…

May you have a lovely day, and sweet dreams!

About Veronica Tonay

International dream expert, Dr. Veronica Tonay, earned her masters and doctoral degrees in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley in the early 1990s. She has been a licensed psychologist in private practice since 1997 (CA PSY 15379), and has taught psychology courses to undergraduates at the University of California at Santa Cruz since 1989.  Her work has been featured for over 25 years in many media outlets, such as Psychology Today, NPR Public Radio, abcnews.com, and The Chicago Tribune. Dr. Tonay was featured dream expert on the Discovery Health TV Channel's 3-episode miniseries, Dream Decoders. She has organized several dream conferences for the International Association for the Study of Dreams, and has published journal articles and three books, including: "The Creative Dreamer, Revised: Using Your Dreams to Unlock Your Creativity" (Ten Speed Press/Celestial Arts) and "Every Dream Interpreted," published in London by Collins & Brown.  She lives with her husband, Steven, in Santa Cruz, California, gardening, painting, writing, dancing, and dreaming.
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