WILL WONDERS NEVER CEASE: DREAMS AND THE SYMBOLIC LIFE - A Little Bit of Symbols: An Introduction to Symbolism - Henry Reed

A Little Bit of Symbols: An Introduction to Symbolism - Henry Reed (2016)


A spiritual framework for contemplating life provides a very helpful context for engaging dream work and exploring symbolism. Perhaps the most general trend today in that regard would be that of integral philosophy. It has many contributors: the Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo, the psychiatrist Carl Jung, the mystic-psychic Edgar Cayce, and the contemporary scholar Ken Wilber are perhaps the four most influential of many who have helped shape this movement in thought. In this view, consciousness is the driver of evolution, which occurs through the integration of new awareness into current consciousness. Creation seems to intend to become conscious of itself. This dynamic shows up in later-stage human development as the drive to expand awareness to include a feeling of intimate oneness with all that is.

The dynamic duality of spirit living in physicality, of godlike beings having to exist and get along with mortal humans, creates a typical path of developmental challenges. A child’s spirit gets shut down in order to produce a socialized adult. In later life, adversities force suppressed qualities out of hiding and thereby evolve consciousness. Dreaming is a state of consciousness not limited by the dualistic focus of physical, sensory consciousness. Dreaming is a resource that serves the goal of evolution of consciousness in the context of the physical/social constraints humans confront.

In dreams we view our daytime experience from the vantage point of Mind-of-God. This vantage point provides correction, either encouragement or admonishment, in the form of compensatory experiences that help to bring us back closer to the mark. The purpose of the dreams is to help us empathize with that Mind-of-God perspective, so we can use it to help us in our daily lives. Empathizing with the symbols in the dream is quite consistent with the purpose of dreaming.

We can always look up the “meaning” of a dream symbol by doing a quick Internet search or looking in our favorite symbol dictionary. There we’ll find words that will attach to the symbol and further spark our imagination. The best use of such research tools is to treat their ideas as suggestions to the imagination. Don’t let the magic spell of words create the illusion of a symbol’s fixed meaning. Use definitions as arrows pointing out directions to explore in the quest for an empathic relationship with the symbol.

There is a way to create a personal dream symbol dictionary. First, collect a couple dozen symbols to explore. Find or create a picture of each one and seal it in an opaque envelope. Once a week, pick an envelope at random, not knowing the symbol inside. Make an intuitive heart connection with the unseen symbol inside the envelope, and then imagine the symbol stimulating soul memories. Relax into the breathing, and pray that the next breath will bring a memory that will provide a personal perspective on something the symbol is trying to express. Record the memory, and do some journaling about the “lesson” the memory contains for you. Then open the envelope, discover the symbol, and meditate on what the memory has to teach about that symbol. For the next couple of days, watch for synchronicities to direct attention to further insights. Invite the symbol to lunch! Let the inner child use the imagination to play with the symbol. Using improvisational writing as a medium of exploration, one might have a dialogue with a symbol. Ask the symbol, “What would you like from me? How can I help you become my friend? How would you handle this situation?”

It is safe to assume that a symbol in a dream has something to do with the dreamer. Suppose a person dreamed, “I discover a snake under my bed.”

In dream interpretation, we generally start with the assumption that all components of a dream mirror parts of the dreamer. I have found it helpful, therefore, to rewrite the dream in a special way: “I have myself discovered a snake part of myself under the bed part of myself.” This rewriting of the dream makes it easier to meditate on the symbols’ suggestive qualities within myself. The rewritten dream text is now in a language that mirrors how dream symbols come from within.

It is important to be sincere and invested in the investigation of a symbol, as the teacher appears only when the student is ready. The study of symbolism, if it is to be personally meaningful and constructive, is truly an adventure in growth and discovery, just like a flower blossoming. It’s hard to understand the river’s wisdom from the shore; better to step into the flow. Make an offering to the spirit of the symbol, for example, as an expression of good faith that the wisdom gained will be applied. Symbolism is not a spectator sport. Taking proactive steps to court the favor of the symbol creates an appropriate atmosphere of adventure.

I’ll share a final personal story that perhaps will answer the question, “How do I know I’m not just making all this stuff up?”

When I began my research with the dream tent at the A.R.E. Summer Camp, I did not know how to proceed in a sacred manner so that the spirit would be alive. I decided to meditate and to do so with the assumption that I know what I’m doing. After the meditation, I walked down to the creek and began an improvised ritual of finding the sacred center, circumscribing the protective circle around it, and establishing the four corners. I painted a picture of the thusly sanctified ground. Then I took a nap. I awoke with an image of a beetle in the middle of a circle. I then noticed that in my painting, where I had drawn a circle for the tambourine I had used in my ritual, there now sat a colorful Japanese beetle! After I erected the tent, I went for a walk, only to stumble down, face-first, into a bush full of Japanese beetles! It was uncanny. The immensity of this encounter shocked me. The iridescent, golden green scarabs shouted in unison that my efforts with the dream tent would have lasting, transformative value. It proved true, both for me personally and the future of dream research.

Such synchronicities create the magic by which symbols come alive and ring true. A new feeling of connection with the universe arises, within and around. The boundary between psyche and soma begins to dissolve. Opposites attract to integrate and create anew. Bare feet sprout natural shoes to caress the ground with a confident embrace. Wisdom and innocence coexist, and life overflows with wonder—from just a little symbolism.


To sleep, perchance to dream

Don’t let it bug you!

Is it poisonous or not?

A collage of the author’s symbols


There’s a rhythm to everything.

Following the evidence

A journey is a story unfolding.

A collage of the author’s animals