By David Jones
So I had a teaching dream, and it was my waking self’s job to suss out the lesson it contained.
I know some folks dismiss dreams and their interpretations as complete bunk. But in my experience, even if breathing water sounds ridiculous to a human, the fish does it anyway.
Now I’m not recommending dream dictionaries or one-size-fits-all interpretation guides. If you like those and they work for you, cool. But while they might help explain a particular symbol they usually can’t go any further because they lack your personal context.
Dreams come in many different shapes and sizes.
Some are there to do mental housework, helping your mind tidy up and clear away the mundane detritus of life that accumulates like dust. Some are entertainment; dreams can give you a way to engage your fantasies and fears without waking-world consequences.
And sometimes dreams carry lessons your mind really wants you to learn. Regardless of what you identify as the teacher—your subconscious mind, an Angel, the Divine Feminine, your Spirit Animal, a God, the Cosmos or something else—what matters is learning from it.
How can you tell when your dream is a teaching vehicle? A big tip is whether or not it’s still “right there” once you wake up. That goes double for dreams that seem familiar or recurring.
Surprisingly the lesson might be something you already know but still need to understand how it applies to the self. It’s easy to know something without internalizing it, just like it’s easy to give a piece of advice without taking it ourselves. Been there; sometimes still am.
My dream was pretty straight forward.
I’m with a woman and a man (they’re armed, I’m not), trying to sneak into an old farmhouse via this root cellar. It’s the old tension-ratcheting bit of moving a few steps—one by one—then ducking behind something to make sure we weren’t seen.
We reach the space under the house. The guy steps in and ducks behind a support post, the woman crouches behind a sloppy stack of cinderblocks, and I pause a few feet away. We do this painstaking Ballet of Inches until we’re all finally inside. I squint into the dim gray light under the house. The familiar smell of damp earth and mildew hugs me, the cave-like chill raises goosebumps, and draperies of cobweb grace every surface.
And that’s when I stopped being a minor character in The Spy Who Annoyed Me, because my attention came to rest on a spider’s nest which had suddenly appeared and stretched across my path, blocking my way forward.
Here are some more tips that you’re having a teaching dream:
- Aspects of the lesson draw your attention and focus, like the way a camera lingers on an item in a movie.
- Generally, you can’t (and shouldn’t) dodge or skirt the lesson being presented.
- All your options will be pre-considered and you have to decide how you deal with this: on one hand you can be reactive, and on the other you can be intentional and choose a new, more mindful approach.
The web nest fit in with the rest of the stage props, and it didn’t exist when my two traveling partners went through here, but suddenly it’s all (rather literally) in my face demanding I deal with it. As I considered it, strand by luminous silken strand, I noticed four small silk globes—the spider’s egg sacs.
I have a history here. I’ve had many dreams wherein a large spider becomes conspicuous, gradually getting closer and closer. No matter what I try to do (attack it, run away from it, delete it) it leaps onto me and I wake myself up in a panic to find my neck pinched against my shoulder. Every. Time.
You know the saying “If it was a snake it would have bit me”? Well, that was another dream with these particular lessons. Rattlesnakes are coiled all around me, tensed to strike. There’s no doubt I will get bit, so I just let it happen. After a couple of those dreams I never had them again.
The spiders in a dark cellar represent the same basic principles as the snakes in my bedroom (acceptance, among other things). Still, because scenarios differ, a lesson often needs to be relearned so it can be applied in a variety of situations.
A snake has never bitten me, but a brown recluse did, so I have a relationship there, a connection. This dream had no spiders though, only cobwebs, one active web and four egg sacs. So I started slipping my fingers through the web gently and with intention, greeting each strand as it stuck to my fingers. As I touched each egg sac it absorbed into my hand. I became their protector, and they became my responsibility. We were united.
Here’s the last tip that a dream is a lesson vehicle: when you’ve awakened to the wisdom being offered, the dream ends organically. No jump scare, no bolting upright in bed scaring the dog, no suddenly remembering you wanted to buy a waterproof mattress liner for some reason. It simply concludes and you wake up at that point with a little more awareness. Good job!
Briefly my lesson was about how I handle conflict (hint: poorly), and how to better deal with it by engaging it with mildness and compassion rather than getting all defensive or retaliatory.
There’s meaning to almost everything in the dream: my traveling companions were armed and I wasn’t, it’s all cobwebs except for exactly one active web, and even the fact that I encountered egg sacs and not spiders is very important.
Your most effective teacher is already within you, ready to start teaching as soon as you slide down into the warm, nurturing womb of Dream. Just pay mindful attention to the outstanding details, and remember to stay awake in class.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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