Animals in Dreams

Even sixteen years later, this dream and the helpful greyhound still engage, refresh and guide me:

I am waiting in an airport check-in line. Even though travelers at the head of the line finish their check-ins and walk away toward the gates, I never move forward. I rush to the end of another line. The same thing happens. I try another. Again, my turn never comes.  I have no idea what to do. I give up and slump into a chair.

A greyhound materializes out of the crowded terminal and walks toward me. As if it were the most natural thing in the world, she sits down in the orange plastic chair beside me, tilts her head close to mine and says, “I understand your situation. You don’t have to stay here, you know, waiting for a turn that never comes. You don’t even have to go home. You could do a world of other things. It’s up to you.”                                                                                                                                                   

In the art of dream interpretation, very little can be pinned down to mean this or that. An exception is the appearance of animals in dreams. Animals are us at our deepest level. They present our instinctive selves, and the helpful animal is a great gift and a powerful ally.


Photo credit: Butler County Tourism & Convention Bureau (

On Google, I can search the word, “chocolate,” or I can search for the image of chocolate. The first search offers millions of words about the history and content and availability of chocolate. The second search delivers a picture of the thing itself: lush, creamy, dark or light, shimmering shapes in foil and ribbons, or plain bars. The image gets me closer to the essence of chocolate, to chocolate-ness itself. And while it’s useful to know that chocolate comes from cacao beans and that dark chocolate is good for me, the image of a milk chocolate truffle powdered with cinnamon affects me on a different set of circuits.

It bypasses my left-brained intelligence as it stirs and attracts me. That image goes right into my nervous system, into my senses. My mood lightens, my mouth waters. I think of candy I’ve enjoyed recently. I notice I want some. Now.

Images are a powerful language, older than words and deeper than thought. They speak in our dreams free from limited day time logic. They affect us if we give them time and attention. Hover with an image from your dreams this week. See where it takes your thoughts and feelings. Allow it to affect you. Learn something new about yourself and your life.

I Had a Dream, But…

I, and most of the people who talk to me about their dreams, tend to separate them from the rest of our experiences. We don’t let them take up space in the part of the world we call Real. We treat them like cartoons, or fairy tales. Sometimes interesting, but merely a joke the unsupervised mind plays on us.

In short, we resist our dreams. I hear, “I don’t dream” or “It’s only a dream.” Or “I had a really strange dream. You’re going to think I’m crazy,” or “I had a dream but it didn’t make any sense.” There are endless ways to minimize these nightly course corrections.

There’s plenty of cultural support for denying our dreams. They are messy, unmanageable, even subversive. They are entirely personal and idiosyncratic. They rely more on instinct than intellectual prowess. The daily demand for logic and unquestioning productivity erase their significance and lead us to devalue them.

But they are real and have been since humans began reflecting on their beings. Dreams are imagination at full tilt, an elegant blend of chemicals and electric, memory and instinct, emotion and narrative. Dreams are answers to questions we haven’t asked yet. They are another way of knowing the life we’re living and invitation to expand our awareness of who we are.

Just for this month, notice, welcome, your dreams. Allow that they are. Try not to dis them.

Minute to Minute

The first of the year, first of the month, the first waking hour of the day—these are culturally shared new beginnings where we observe change and make change.

Yet every minute is a threshold into something new. As we tumble forward through our lives, we are continually altering and being altered. Each breath refreshes the oxygen in the blood and expels carbon dioxide. Cells respond in nanoseconds to what we need to be safe. New ideas arrive. Consciousness shifts intensity and hue many times a day. While we appear solid and steady, we are walking and talking versions of Busch’s “edge habitats (Life on the Edge (NY Times, 12/27/13).”  In our constantly changing selves, spirit, chemistry, electricity, flesh, bone and blood do an endless, intricate dance with each other and with the environment.

How would our perception of ourselves change if we thought of ourselves as evolving from minute to minute? How would our experience in the world change?

Curious and Mindful

The beginning of a new calendar year is a vivid example of transitional space. I bring home The 2014 Collection of Nights and Days. I take down the old calendar and hang up the new. Experience meets possibility. What was known gives way to unknown.

Liminal time calls for questions and wondering. Am I willing to exchange believing that I know what’s going to happen for being curious, mindful and present? Am I willing to allow change and development that I haven’t thought of to proceed?

The Place Where Everything Changes

Akiko Busch’s article, Life on the Edge (NY Times, 12/27/13) addressed the meeting of the old and new years using an ecological metaphor. 

He described the ecotone, the space where two habitats merge, like pond and woods, woods and lawn, lawn and garden. He calls it the “edge habitat, where everything—soil content, vegetation, moisture, humidity, light, pollination—changes.” It’s a charged and vital place. Unusual encounters can occur. The balance of things changes.

Busch’s ideas about two years meeting reminded me of Jung’s psychological concept of liminality. Liminal, from the Latin word “limin”, means threshold. The place of being between. Not who we were and not who we will become. There’s more “I don’t know” than “I’m sure of this,” and more awareness that anything can happen. Rules may bend and possibilities multiply, marked by spontaneity and feeling. Am I open to more vitality, more vulnerability, more risk? 

Come to Your Senses: Tips for Managing Anxiety

One in a series of articles on anxiety and other psychological topics. As all the best disclaimers say these articles are not meant to substitute for psychotherapy.

Our physical senses—sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste—are built-in tools for managing anxious feelings. When we shift attention to what the senses perceive, we are escaping from anxious thoughts about a situation, and anchoring ourselves more firmly in the here and now. Senses bring information in a different, deeper language than the word language of the left brain. Give it a try.

Taste, really taste the food on your plate. Hold it in your mouth, roll it around and experience it as if this is the first time you’ve used this sense. Notice where, on your tongue, the taste is sharpest. Concentrate on the experience.

Look around. Notice shapes and colors, movement and stillness. Notice the difference you feel when you look at yellow, as opposed to grey. Listen, really listen to your favorite artist, or to rain, or silence, or your own footstep. Allow sound to come to you.

Touch and notice texture, temperature, and quality of a surface. Hold an ice cube in your hand. Touch denim or a steering wheel.

Smell. Take a deep breath and focus on a scent. Lavender can be very soothing but you may have your own favorites: cinnamon, wet grass, leather. With each sense, you are returning to the solid present, lowering your anxiety, and preparing yourself to move forward more calmly and with more capacity for pleasure.



Panic is like being lost in a fun house—the old kind of fun house that had slanted floors, floors that broke apart into moving pieces, cobwebs that grazed our skin, spinning barrels we had to walk through, dead ends, distorted mirrors, benches that collapsed us onto slides, and sound tracks of demonic howling. we never knew where we were. 

Will someone come and get us if we can’t get out of here? 

The rules had broken down. Our usual smarts couldn’t help us.

It was illusion.

We knew that going in, but we forgot. 

Panic is like that. Illusion. 

Knowing that going in helps.