This too “shell” pass


I believe the unconscious blooms like a butterfly out a cocoon when we give in to sleep. Our dreams become a rich source of information to process, interpret and apply to move forward in life. One of the things I started doing this year was keeping a dream journal as I remember between one and three dreams almost every night. While I had always been fascinated (and sometimes freaked out) by the after-hours theatre in my head, I never really delved too deep into what things might mean or tried to connect recurrent themes. That changed when I went into therapy. It was rewarding to find that a) my dreams could be taken seriously and b) every person has inner wisdom if they just open their eyes (keep them closed when you sleep though). Symbols are the lifeblood of dreams and said to signify aspects of the self or others, such as thoughts, emotions, states of mind, fears or desires.

Two nights ago, I saw a new symbol in my dreams for the first time. I’d thought I’d share the journey of this symbol, a pure white fossilized shell that spiraled inwards, with you…

In my dream, I was searching for my therapist. In order to get to the therapy room, I had to go through a garden nursery and maze, competing against other people to find him. Only the first person at the end would get to see him. With my mom and sister beside me, I raced ahead. I tried taking shortcuts to get to the front. One of these shortcuts was a path enclosed with mesh. We had to get down on our bellies and crawl through the mesh tube like on an obstacle course. Once inside the tube, I suddenly had a different mission. I needed to find these small white shells that were buried in the sand. My sister was there to help me. My mom was on the outside of the tube watching on. At first, all I could see was dirt on the ground. But when I raked my fingers through the brown sand, I found lots of the shells just beneath the surface. I felt like I had achieved this mini-mission and could look for my therapist again. To do that, I had to crawl over hundreds of the shells to get to the exit. I freaked out because my belly felt exposed and I was afraid the shells were going to come alive and crawl over me. My dream changed before I could find out whether I got out the tunnel or not.


The spirals of the shell were mesmerizing. They somehow felt familiar. I was compelled to search for their meaning. Symbols around water usually represent emotions. The hard shell is a metaphor for the way we secure and protect ourself from the world. In doing, we hide who we really are or how we really feel. Protection thus becomes a double-edged sword because it means we become reclusive or emotionally closed off.

I imagine the inside of a shell is also quite cosy to the creatures who occupy it. In the same way, our shells (personas or defenses) help shelter, nourish and protect us from problems thrown at us in life. There is a purpose for everything which has been created.

Therapy is helping me find my shell/s that have previously been hidden just beneath the surface. I was living life without being aware of the shell around me. Therapy is a journey that has felt like a search and rescue mission at times, but something which has also evolved into a quest involving physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual planes. That I was crawling while searching for the shells shows my nature in real life… I do things cautiously and methodically after careful preparation. Babies also crawl. It is indicative of a necessary developmental phase that eventually gives you the strength to stand on both feet and walk tall. The tube I crawled through was like a womb. While I feel like I am progressing to the end of the tunnel, a rebirth, I still feel held back somehow. It would have been interesting to see what the end of my dream was. But perhaps the point is for me to find out for myself.

Ever curious, I tried to locate the name and species of the shells that were so clearly etched in my mind. They turned out to be ammonites which lived in the sea between 65 and 240 million years ago.

AMMONITE originates from Ammon, the god that many Greeks associated with Zeus. Ammon had ram-horns that were also spiraled. Ammon was the Greek derivation of the Egyptian god Amun, who was widely praised as the Protector of the Road. After chewing on this info for a while, it resonated that many people think wearing their shell is the only way to protect themselves on the road of life. I find it interesting that my shells were pure white- it could convey a sense of innocence and purity. The fact that they were fossilized may also be a sign that I’m seeing them as relics of my past.

The term Ammon has another fascinating link that I uncovered. The hippocampus in the brain consists of two parts- Ammon’s horn and the dentate gyrus. Together, they resemble a shape of a curved tube, which has been compared to a ram’s horn or seahorse. Most psychologists and neuroscientists agree that the hippocampus plays an important role in the formation of new memories about experienced events (either episodic or autobiographical memory). Part of the process of therapy is about re-framing memories. The hippocampus is also believed to assist spacial navigation- where we are in position to the world. Without a fully-functional hippocampus, we may not remember where we have been and how to get to where we are going.

I too am finding my place in the world. It feels uncomfortable to get rid of things which have been a part of me for so long. But as layers are stripped, I find my borders becoming more defined, not less. Perhaps the lesson is that by stripping myself of outdated protective measures, I do not lose myself or forget where I’ve been or who I was. Taking a cup of water out of the ocean does not mean there is no ocean left. The gap is replenished with something fresh and flowing.


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8 thoughts on “This too “shell” pass

  1. Wonderful and thorough. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Amazing dream, Jay!!! I am so glad you shared this post and wrote about such a fascinating dream!!

    You wrote: “The hard shell is a metaphor for the way we secure and protect ourself from the world. In doing, we hide who we really are or how we really feel. Protection thus becomes a double-edged sword because it means we become reclusive or emotionally closed off.”

    Quite synchronously, I was recently reading about Hillman’s take on protective habits after reading another blogger’s interesting post on his “Alchemical Psychology” …it asks if our protective habits as closing us off from our essence. It is this same idea of a double-edged sword that you speak of….we endure trauma, and so develop protective habits to cope, but while these habits (or shells) may protect us, are they not also keeping us from our true essence??

    Maybe becoming aware that we have these shells at all, (finding them within the sand like you did!!) is the first step ??

    Looking forward to more dream posts from you!


  3. “After-hours theatre in my head” is a great way to put it! I have always had vivid dreams, and have been trying to interpret them since I was a teenager. I write down the interesting ones so I can remember them. I have always found dreams fascinating.
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. I love reading about dreams as my mom embedded in me a great sense of reverence for them. Cool vivid description

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