One way of looking at a dream is to say that the whole dream comes from the mind of the dreamer, so all of the images in the dream are aspects of the dreamer. But that is just one way of looking at the dream.
If I look at waking life in that same way, I can also say that whoever or whatever I encounter in waking life is a projection of myself. Since I see each person through my own particular lens, the person I see is at least partially my own creation, and the way I see that person reflects certain attitudes and qualities of my own character. In one sense, it is true that everyone and everything I can perceive represents an aspect of myself; yet, of course, it’s also true that these people and things exist independently, beyond my projections, as well.
So everything in the dream world has something to do with the dreamer, but this doesn’t mean that the dream is the exclusive creation of the dreamer. The dream can also be understood as a world in itself, where beings with independent existence (the dream “characters” or “images”) come visiting.
Who creates this dream world? Who is the dream-maker? And who is the dreamer relative to the dream? The dream can go beyond the dreamer’s waking identity, can be larger than the dreamer’s imagination and ideas about reality—so clearly the dream-maker must be larger than the dreamer. The images within the dream may also have a life beyond the dream.
In his book “Dream Tending,” Stephen Aizenstat writes,
“Individual images make an appearance and show themselves in dreams on behalf of their own subjective reality as well as that of the totality of the interrelated ecosystem of the world. Thus each of our own dream images contains the mundane, the personal, the cultural, and the world levels all at once within itself.”-Stephen Aizenstat
So, let’s explore a dream that has an “I-character” in it (a clear projection of the dreamer’s identity), but also some other images that could be considered as independent entities. What is the nature of these images? Can they have a life of their own, and still represent aspects of the dreamer?
My friend, Anne, had this dream:
Bob [husband] is somewhere. I decide to go out in his boat. It is fairly large. I take off. It is a coastal area. I am doing fine steering the boat and am having a nice time. Now I am in what seems like more of an inland area. I pull up at a dock and get out. There are a couple of guys there. After a while I realize that my boat is gone. I must not have tethered it. I see an empty boat and approach it (swimming?). I can’t remember if this is the right boat. Can’t remember what the boat looked like. I am upset because I have lost Bob’s boat and also because I am stranded. And I don’t know if anyone will find me. Somehow, I am with the two guys on their boat and begging them to help me go find mine. They tell me they can’t help me if I can’t describe the boat. They clearly think I am a little off. Can’t remember any more of the dream.
(Anne adds: “In waking life, I am anxious lately about not remembering things. Bob does not have a boat.”)
So, “in my imagined version of the dream” [see Jeremy Taylor’s toolkit, #5], I could look at the dream as if everything within it is an aspect of the dreamer. For example:
My story begins in a coastal area—a liminal zone, in-between the known and the unknown. I’m aware that some aspect of myself [the boat]—my body, or a particular way of defining myself—is borrowed. It belongs to another aspect of myself [my husband Bob], who is currently absent. This body/identity [borrowed boat] is enough to carry me, and I take off, capably steering, enjoying it. But, when I step away from it for a moment [at the dock] I find that ultimately I cannot be limited [tethered] to this particular definition of myself, and it becomes lost.
Now, I’m still on the water but “inland”—which suggests that events are taking place in the inner world rather than the outer world. As I search for myself without clearly knowing what I’m looking for, I am vulnerable and out-of-my-depth [swimming], and my usual identity seems unfamiliar, unrecognizable as mine [the empty boat]. I cannot depend upon my memory to tell me who I am, because circumstances have changed. Parts of me still feel normally related to the usual roles and responsibilities of having a body and a regular life [the two guys and their boat], and these aspects of myself are rather judgmental about the part of me that is exploring new ways of being. I am critical of myself because I can’t provide a satisfactory description of the identity I have lost. I’m aware that the “me” I thought I was never belonged to me in the first place, and so feel concerned that I can’t account for its disappearance. Plus I am stranded. I am “a little off.”
When I imagine Anne’s dream as my own, and see how everything within it could be “me,” I notice that, from the very beginning, I’m aware that part of me [Bob] is somewhere else (the first line just says that he is “somewhere”). His existence, is established before anything else in the dream. This might suggest that I know there is more to me than the “I” that is here now, more than the “I” that I think I am. The dream goes on to explore what might happen if I lost myself, if I lost a particular way of describing myself [the boat]…
And here’s where I can switch over to a different way of looking at the dream entirely. If there’s more to me than I know, then perhaps I have some inkling that “I” (the dream ego) am just playing a part in a much larger story, along with these other characters or dream images. None of us—not “me,” not the boat, not the men—has the whole script. We’re all just acting out our roles, visiting this particular dream world, finding out what happens next. The problems I have within the dream are just experiences unfolding, and no one has anything to lose.
From this perspective, “I” am visiting this dream world to have a sequence of experiences, perhaps to learn something or open up possibilities by letting go of aspects of my personality that don’t really belong to me. And, maybe, “the boat” is visiting this dream to experience being borrowed, being steered, being lost, becoming indescribable. And, perhaps, the “two guys” are visiting this dream to experience being asked questions they can’t answer.
This is a bewildering but intriguing way of looking at dreams: We really don’t know what we’re getting into when we go into the dream world! I don’t know, Anne doesn’t know, and neither do any of the other dream images. We’re all just asking, just exploring, just visiting.
[Note: I’ve used the dreamer’s own words in the dream above, but “Anne” and “Bob” are pseudonyms, to preserve anonymity.]