“I am single and recently met a new man. After our first telephone conversation I had a dream about him. He was lying on his back and blood was seeping out. He wasn’t hurt or dead. The blood was in the shape of butterfly wings. I distinctly remember thinking it looked just like an inkblot. Obviously, I interpret the dream as a sign of new beginnings with this person. I woke up from the dream feeling very happy.”
The problem with most dream dictionaries is that they reduce our symbols to mean something other than they are. “If you dream of a butterfly it means new beginnings.” It’s normal to feel dissatisfied with this kind of interpretation because the dream-experience is being objectified & made static. In actuality, symbols are living, breathing beings that change depending on how we view them.
If two dreamers dream of a dog, but one of them was viciously bitten as a child while the other considered a dog his best friend, their dream-dogs will have very different meanings for them each.
Instead of interpreting the dream, which might be satisfying in the short-term, the more rewarding approach is to live your way into a relationship with your symbols and watch how you are both transformed. This is why it’s best to work with a series of dreams, so you can try on different ideas and see how your symbols respond over time. You will know you’re on the right interpretive track when you get an “a-ha!” feeling, or when synchronicity starts to appear in your waking life.
Symbols are often made up of compound-images to create a paradox. Like with the dream above, the butterfly wings are also made of blood. While a butterfly may suggest a “new beginning” is possible in this relationship, we can’t ignore the fact that there is also a loss of life-force taking place.
The dream makes a profound statement by putting these images of transformation and wounding together. Maybe the dreamer is remembering the bloody mess of relationship, the pain that accompanies love. The butterfly then becomes poetry; the wings of survival that can grow out of being hurt. Since she sees the blood as an inkblot, the dreamer might be coming to an awareness that it is how she interprets her own pain which gives it meaning.
To properly honour our symbols, we must be willing to enter into paradox. Paradoxes help us to break out of diametrical thinking by integrating the opposites into a combined, new awareness.
Though it’s tempting to analyze our dreams down to a single bottom line, the more valuable undertaking is in asking interesting questions. If it were my dream, I might wonder why the pain of the dream character’s wound isn’t being felt, despite how fresh it seems to be. But maybe that’s just my own inkblot talking…