Category Archives: Falling awake: dream exploration

Throwing the towel down and being seen


My dreams are trying to tell me something about how I see myself and what a liberated version of me feels like. It’s hard not to ignore a vision of me running around naked with not a care in the world! And to feel the delicious caress of a breeze on naked skin is like a huge billboard advertising how good it would feel to just try this new idea or concept.

What I find interesting is that my mind has used someone I know with powerful energy in real life to drive a message across. To give you a quick background so you understand the context of my dream, M is a business colleague who is also an acclaimed writer, producer and comedian. We have met a few times at events and chatted about our lives. M is lesbian and has been with her partner for around 20 years. Her partner is a psychoanalyst and M was in psychoanalysis (obviously not with her partner!). M and I always chat about psychology, the meaning of our relationships and the effect that our past has had on our present. We also both keep dream journals. M can seem quite butch and intimidating but has a magnetism to her. She has been an autobiographical ghost-writer for two famous women and described to me how attached they became to her in the course of sitting together for many months. It’s hard to describe whether her magnetic energy evokes the feeling of a powerful but nurturing mother or that of a “sensitive” father.

Now to my dream about her. I have highlighted parts that have meaning:

I arrive at my aunt’s apartment, which I am looking after. Just as in real life, her apartment is trendy, airy and light. The walls are white and everything feels comforting. The only difference is that this dream apartment is on the ground floor, like a house, and is surrounded by garden. My gran’s little black poodle pup is there. I am not staying in the apartment but in a small attached cottage that seems outdated and misplaced. The furniture is a bit old. The place seems dull and scruffy in comparison. I am about to shower and lock the door connecting the cottage to the apartment. As I do this, I hear the front door of the apartment being unlocked. I wrap a white towel around me and go to see who it is. It’s M.

We are surprised to see each other and she says my aunt gave her a set of keys to the apartment for emergencies. Today it is my aunt’s birthday and she has come to drop off and arrange purple lilies in a vase in her kitchen as a surprise. While we speak, I feel quite vulnerable and exposed in my towel. She asks why I am covering myself and I am surprised by her question because I think the answer is quite obvious (you don’t show yourself to people you don’t know). In the moment, I am ashamed I am not more confident about my body. She appraises my body. I leave her to arrange the flowers and tell her I will be in the cottage. As I am about to take my towel off in the cottage to shower, I see boys playing cricket outside and they notice I am semi-naked. I try to draw the curtains closed. They run away. I look through the window and see my gran’s dog playing in the garden. Dogs from other apartments are running across the lawn and into our property. I am scared this will put her in danger because she is so small. I run outside to chase away the dogs and M comes through because she hears a commotion. My towel flies off as I chase after the dogs. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter that I am naked anymore. I am aware that M is looking at me but I feel beautiful in the moment. Her loving, appreciative gaze radiates. As I run, I feel the grass tickle my legs and the breeze caress my bare skin. I feel free and sexy at the same time. I manage to scare the dogs away and grab my gran’s dog in my arms before walking back to the cottage.


I think the comparison between the apartment and cottage is like a comparison between myself and my aunt. She is comfortable in her skin, confident, bubbly and a true role model in the assertive way she tackles life. Growing up, I have always tried to emulate her but felt like I paled in comparison.

M adds something beautiful to my aunt’s space. The shade of purple is quite spiritual, intuitive and healing. She leaves it in a transparent vase in the kitchen, a place of nourishment. She has used her key because it is an emergency, what she describes as celebrating a day of birth (or re-birth).

I am in this dingy cottage trying to clean myself but never getting around to it. I am naked save for a fluffy, white towel. I feel vulnerable but at least it swaddles part of me.

My gran’s dog is a symbol of the wild, spontaneous and carefree animal urges. She is very affectionate and I feel safe, close and loved when I have her in my arms. She has a child-like playfulness to her. The pet dogs running amok represent the natural drives that, despite usually being well socialized, have a tendency to revert back to their wild, spontaneous state. I scare these away because they are a threat to my playful but more well-trained poodle pup. Scaring them away and having her in my arms feels like I have a healthy balance between the two sides of the animal.

And the running free part is quite self-explanatory. The fact that my senses were ramped up in the moment made it particularly memorable. Could it be that M’s adoring gaze, as someone interested in women, made me feel confident enough to truly be seen? Or did she act more as an archetype of the loving parent, a somewhat androgynous being in that she is female physically but more male mentally… a union of both parts shining the way to self-acceptance.

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Underground dreams are deep


Have you also dreamed about tunnels or exploring caves or crevices beneath the earth? What makes these dreams so fascinating is that, unless a miner, hermit or hobbit (!), humans spend all their time in the light and on the surface. Underground represents something quite mystical or foreign. A place of darkness, cold and fear. A home for hard minerals, dust and things that hide.

“I don’t dig that”…

This is a good analogy for how most people seemingly experience life. They take whatever comes at surface-value and desperately seek to stay in the light, where it is warm, safe and familiar. Many seem unwilling or uninterested in digging deeper. To dig deeper would mean having to confront pieces of themselves that they fear they, or others, would not be able to handle.

Typically, dreams of tunnels and being underground represent the exploration of the unconscious… the soup bubbling just beneath the surface. We are being told that something is afoot. All is not as it seems.

With that, I’ve chosen to share my second dream involving a tunnel. What follows after that is the subsequent insight gleaned by chatting to my therapist DS (Deep Soul).

I find myself in a garden. I realise I am at my last family home I stayed in before becoming independent. I am struck with a feeling that I have to leave the house as soon as I can. There are two holes at the bottom of my garden that lead underground. I enter the first hole and crawl through to my neighbour’s garden. I can’t get any further because there is a big locked gate in front of me, so I turn back to the other hole.

My name is Alice…

Here, I climb in head-first and crawl through on my belly. I find a subterranean tunnel which looks much like a mole’s home. Ahead of me, an open hole in the earth wall filters gentle, late afternoon sun through. The tunnel is dry and not too cold. As I crawl along the ground, I see little niches on the floor and in the walls. At the first shadowy niche on my left, a tortoise pops its head out. I say hello and crawl past. With my feet near its head, I take one last glance back and am surprised to see the “tortoise neck” is actually a big snake rearing its head. It is like a cobra waiting to strike but it doesn’t bite me. I am not scared to death but I am a bit freaked out. I quicken my pace.

Another hole beneath my belly has a yellow stringy, spongy insect or starfish hiding there. I am scared and fill up the hole with my teddy bear before crawling over it.

I come to the place in the tunnel where the sun is gently filtering in and casting a circle of light on the floor. Bathed in light are an assortment of blue china plates, bowls and tea cups. They are arranged in a haphazard fashion, almost like they have been left as an offering to some higher power. Some are filled with dry food, like flour. “It’s amazing that insects haven’t touched this stuff,” I think to myself. I wake up without knowing whether I get out of the tunnel or not.

(If you didn’t get a chance to read my about my first tunnel dream, here it is, along with some dream symbolism to help with your own dream interpretation:

Therapy is like archeology…

I shared both tunnel dreams with DS a few weeks ago. I told him that I was almost positive they were indicative of transformation.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t see a light at the end of either tunnel,” I remarked to him. Seeing the light in a dream would be a reassuring sign to anyone undergoing therapy or a shaky process of change and self-discovery.

In his typically insightful and gobsmackingly sensitive fashion, he replied: “Maybe you didn’t need to because the light is already inside the tunnel”. BAM. Why hadn’t I thought of that? Clearly, this is one of the many good reasons I am paying him the big bucks. It was so obvious once he had said it. Here I was thinking that hope and “enlightenment” lay at the end of the journey. But my dream was trying to shine a light on the nourishment and precious, delicate gifts I already have inside, just waiting to be used.

And what about the tortoise and snake? Both are ancient creatures with symbolic connotations. The tortoise is slow, cautious and protected by thick skin and a shell. It sounds a lot like how I’ve operated on an emotional level in the past. There is also a tinge of feeling slow and stupid because of people’s criticisms as a child. This tortoise magically transforms into a snake in the blink of an eye. In fact, it doesn’t transform. I just hadn’t looked at properly. I am not frightfully scared of snakes but have a fearful respect for them. My dream snake was poised to strike but didn’t. Instead, it was suspended in a position so graceful but worthy of respect. I truly believe this snake represents untapped strength. And that I can use this strength without having to strike out at others. Snakes shed their skin without fear because they know there will be renewal. I wish it was as easy for us to shed things which aren’t working anymore!

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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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