The Metaphoric Meaning of Dreams


Dreams symbolically represent underlying truths of which we are unaware. Dream events, like those in fairy tales, fables, myths and films have allegorical, metaphorical meanings. Rarely are they meant to be taken literally. My dream about the unsuitable new house didn’t mean we would move into a new house I would hate. It was a picture of some repressed emotions I was feeling about my profession that my ego didn’t want to acknowledge.

The ego is very good at repressing uncomfortable truths. My ego is no exception. The ego is a slow learner. Ditto my ego. Despite numerous dreams that dramatized the same issue from a variety of perspectives, eight months after the dream of the unsuitable new house I still didn’t understand what was wrong with me. I didn’t know because my ego didn’t want to know. Then came the following dream:

#209: Running Out of Gas. It’s a dark night and my car runs out of gas. An old woman pulls up behind me and pushes my car to a doctor’s house. As she walks me to the door I ask her what kind of doctor it is. She says he is a psychiatrist. I was hoping she would say that. We go into the living room. In the center of the floor is a large open book. A young girl in a ballet costume flutters across the room on toe shoes as the doctor tells her how lovely she is. An intense young Russian man expresses a desire to stay in the United States. When the others tell him to stay, he says he can’t disappoint his father; he has to go back to Russia to pay him back for his education. A woman in a cowboy hat sits quietly on the floor in front of me with her back to me.

This dream wasn’t warning me to check my gas tank, see a psychiatrist, take ballet lessons, or travel to Russia. These would be literal interpretations. The metaphoric meaning was that I was “in the dark” (confused) about my life’s journey, and “running out of gas” (energy), but had access to the guidance of a wise old woman (Sophia). The people in the house (the inner world of my psyche) were unknown aspects of my personality gathered in the living room (the place where I was living my life.) The doctor was my wise inner healer who was helping me with my inner work. The lovely ballet dancer symbolized my desire and potential to return to the graceful, innocent state of my childhood when I felt free to pursue my real interests. The intense Russian (he came from an alien “land” far from my conscious awareness) was the part of me that felt indebted to the Father (the patriarchal system I grew up in) for its investment in my education.

The Russian student was the key to the meaning of my dream. Pursuing a job I disliked was sapping my energy. I longed for meaningful work but believed it would be wrong and ungrateful to disappoint the teachers and mentors who had given me so much support.

And the peaceful woman in the cowboy hat? She was the me I was yet to become: the maturing woman who would quit her unsuitable job, sing her own song, dance her own dance, write her own books, buy her own horse, and wear a cowboy hat with glee! Two months later I quit college teaching for good and stepped into my real life, the one for which I was born, the one I’m living now.

Moral of the story: Do dreams really have meaning? You bet!  But try telling that to your ego!


Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. E-book versions are also at KoboBarnes And Noble and Smashwords. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc.


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0 Responses

  1. Just want you to know that I’m loving your postings, and look forward to them all. It is like a gentle, caring class. Thanks!

  2. Dear Jean,
    What a sweet description: “…a gentle, caring class.” I love that! Beautiful music to the ears of a teacher! Thank you for your thoughtfulness in letting me know you are reading and loving my postings. It’s wonderful to hear from you. It means very much to me.

  3. Jeanie, perhaps you know the story of the Taoist master, Chuang Tzu, who said, “One day I lay down in a field and dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting between one blossom and another, all across the field. When I awoke, I was surprised to find that I was Chuang Tzu. Now I must ask, I am Chuang Tzu dreaming he is a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he is Chunag Tzu?”
    The directness and plain-spoken quality of this piece belies its metaphorical intricacies. First of all, are we to believe that one of the East’s great philosophers is so naive? Obviously not. What is he searching for in this metaphor? The butterfly.
    Universal symbol of metamorphosis, the butterfly represents the wholly transformed self, the enlightened being. Now we enter Chuang Tzu’s dream. He wonders if his enlightened self is dreaming this ego-personality of everyday life–or whether his ego-personality is dreaming his enlightened self. In other words, who is my real identity? I am really this timebound ego or this immortal awareness? His dream becomes our dream. His question our question.
    Utilizing the simplest of metaphors, the old master shakes us in our sleep!
    You are doing such a wonderful job of making us all think, Jeanie!
    Thank you so much,

  4. Dear William,
    I do know the story, but never quite realized it addresses exactly what I’ve been working on and writing about! There are so many dots to connect….. Thank you for expressing it so perfectly and succinctly in your big question: “Am I this timebound ego or this immortal awareness?” I love that! You are such a treasure!!

  5. As usual, you’re a dream wizard, Jeanie, and your posts help me read my dreams and follow my heart’s desire. I love the cowgirl hat, since I’ve become a woman who drives a tractor and even though it’s not a horse, driving the orange Kubota makes me feel like a cowgirl. I often dream of roads that are impassable. Usually there is a detour, a ditch to get across or a longer and less direct route, but still a way around the construction or another road that needs to take to get where I want to go. This image is less alarming than the many dreams I had a few years back of driving with eyes stuck shut or no lights or zero ability to control the car. There is a road now, and even if there is a detour, I will reach my destination by going another way. And I’m driving with open eyes. Just where am I going? That remains a question, but there are clues. Thanks for your stimulating posts.

    1. Thank you, Elaine. It’s so cool how dreams use the same settings but different actions to say different things to different people, depending on what they need to hear. I’ve had some impassable roads occasionally, but my dreams about cars on roads have usually been of the too dark to see, going too fast, and my feet can’t reach the brakes variety. Yeah, that’s alarming! It’s been a while, but I’m finally getting it that I need to slow down and ease up, which is why I’m taking this “sabbatical” from writing just now. Having a house full of grandchildren and other family and friends this summer is quite enough, thank you, and I’m over trying to be WonderWoman! Much love, Jeanie

      1. I wish you well with the new plan. I practice a steady tortoise pace, hoping to win the race in this way. I’m better at rushing and getting frantic, so this is a meditation in itself. Thank you again for your ongoing wisdom and help.

  6. Thank you. I’ve been more rabbit in the past, but am becoming more tortoise every day! It is, indeed, a meditation practice. And a very valuable one. I appreciate your companionship on the journey. Jeanie

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