As a teenager, I believed I had no anxiety. I think it’s because I could often sense anxiety in others and would then distinguish myself—I’m not anxious like them. I am chill. And in a lot of ways I was, because I just completely denied myself, denied what bothered me, denied it all for the sake of group harmony. Something I would say, and really felt was true, was that I was happy if the group was happy. Whatever the group wanted, was chill with me, because I was chill.
I had been a student of dreams for about three years before I recognized the bodily sensation properly labeled as anxiety. That’s something that dreams taught me. How to properly label bodily sensations as particular emotions. Words are quite a flimsy tool to label our emotions—we can say we feel anxious, but actually be referring to a variety of felt experiences in the body. Dreams provide us with images, 3-D experiences to reference particular feeling states so that we can come to quickly and more accurately identify what we are feeling.
For example, the watershed dream that helped me identify a very deep level of my own anxiety: I was outside, at some kind of festival. Suddenly there is a big explosion—at first I think fireworks, but then I realize it is a bomb. The anxiety hits my stomach. I am in panic mode. I am part of a huge pulsing crowd trying to escape. I get to a subway station underground. There are so many more people on the platform than could possibly fit onto the train. But I am utterly determined to make it through the crowd, to make it on the car. Survival mode.
I had that dream in 2011, but still remember it quite vividly. More than anything, I remember the feeling of it, that deep, guttural fear, flight or fight mode, but really total flight. Breath shallow, eyes narrowed, sensitivity heightened. Life or death. When I had this dream, my teacher asked me if this feeling was familiar, and I said yes, but I couldn’t really think of how. He told me that I was feeling this way all of the time. I knew he was right, but it was hard to fathom this. This level of anxiety/fear was not something that I allowed myself to be aware of very often.
But once the dream awakened me to this state, I began noticing this feeling all of the time. I realized it was heightened around other people. Me, the person who could get along with anyone—was filled with anxiety whenever anyone else came around. All of the energy I had been spending trying to please suddenly made more sense. Learning to acknowledge this energy inside of myself, and that it was coming from me is still something I am working on. But from the very beginning, the simple act of recognizing my anxiety for what it truly was—and letting myself experience it inside of myself without story, judgment, or avoidance—was an immensely healing experience.
This is the specific way that dreams can help us to gain better understanding and mastery over our feeling states. A mantra I like to give my clients when working with being overwhelmed by their feelings is “This feeling is not about what my mind is telling me it is about.” When we are anxious, tense, or stressed, our mind can work extra hard to tell stories about why we are feeling the ways that we are. 9 times out of 10, these stories give us external reasons why we are in a particular state—(because I might have cancer, because I said the wrong thing, because I’m late, because I’m wearing the wrong clothes, etc…). By recognizing that ultimately the feeling arises internally, we can detach from the stories and allow ourselves to sink deeply into the visceral experience of the feeling. While this can be quite intense and uncomfortable, it is also the quickest way to allow the feeling to move and transform.
The reality is, feelings, when deeply felt, move. For when we allow ourselves to be fully immersed in our internal feeling state, we are tapping into a deeper river of felt experience, a river that naturally flows. When we tap into the natural rhythm of our own experience, we become students at the feet of our deepest and most self-evident truth—the way we are feeling at any given moment.
This is where water comes in. Water has become an extremely potent symbol for me of being in the depths of one’s heart, immersed in a feeling state. Esoteric associations between the heart, feelings, and water persist in many fields—in astrology, water signs carry the potency of the heart, in tarot, cups filled with water—or not—can symbolize the ways feelings are manifesting in our lives.
When I first began studying dreams, in fact, I was taught that water represents feelings in dreams. This was such a broad pronouncement; it was somewhat difficult to wrap my head around. But even now this equivalence is a north star I use to navigate the significance of water in dreams. Lately, I’ve come to feel how in some sense water in dreams represents not just feelings as they exist individually, but truly this idea of flow, a more encompassing sense of allowing ourselves to be immersed the internal depth and movement of our experience. This intuition is deeply imbedded within our own language—thus the cliché, to be flooded with emotion. And isn’t this the way that we physically experience our most visceral emotions? Through our salted tears?
In dreams, we often find ourselves at the edges of water, or witnessing water flowing where we feel it shouldn’t be. This reflects our ambivalence about allowing ourselves to step into the rhythm of our own hearts, that ever-flowing rhythm of our soul. Allowing ourselves to dive into the water—to experience the flow of water around our bodies, to be cleansed by the purity of the water that holds us and nurtures us, these are all ways that we can begin the process of healing our hearts. These are all steps on the path towards awakening to the deepest expressions and vibrations of our souls. And these are some times choices that we are presented with inside of our own dreams—to jump in, or not, to turn off the faucet, or not, to breathe the water—or hold our breath.
Sometimes I visualize pent up emotions as a shorted electrical wire, sparks flying, a high pitched buzzing coming from the center, reverberating out and sizzling all who come in contact. I use this to understand the moment when this sizzling wire comes in contact with the water. Because that is, in a way, what I’m asking people to do when I say step into the water. It’s truly in that first moment of diving in that we experience the most resistance—and it can be totally devastating. There’s just something so excruciating about those wires, filled to the brim with illusions about who we truly are meet the unbounded and encompassing love of the water, the knowledge that all that is, is well. Even though we know the relief that will be there to comfort us just on the other side, getting through that moment can be so scary.
All I know is that we can’t take these steps alone. We are not meant to be who we are in a vacuum, it is not our job to figure ourselves out or fix ourselves or make ourselves better. It is our job to simply be, trusting that we will be held when we do so.
I often say the moment of being at the edge of your own feeling state is like being at the ocean’s edge, considering a swim. It’s quite common to spend months—even years—at the edge of a particular feeling, pulled there by its vastness and power, but completely unwilling to jump in. We fear the water will be too cold, that we aren’t prepared, so we put it off—tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. But of course the longer we wait at the shore the more tension is created between the two states—a tension we try to ease with drugs or sex or work or exercise or food whatever it is. But it cannot be resolved through any other means but diving in. It’s necessary for us to jump.
I’ve been feeling in a larger sense that it is time for humanity to jump. There’s so much lost in our hesitancy. The time to linger at the ocean’s edge has come to an end. There is too much at stake for individuals to resist their own natural feeling states. This resistance is at the root of so much dis-ease in the world, and it is each individual’s responsibility to recognize the feelings they are lingering at the edge of and find the courage to submerge themselves.
Isn’t it always better when we do so? How often have we regretted the moments where we let ourselves loose and just dived into the water—even if we had to jump right back out?
Because there’s no shame in jumping out, as long as you jump back in. It’s a flow and rhythm of its own. Something I’ve learned in the past five years of working with this idea, facing into my feelings, letting myself feel them, diving into the flow of our my own heart—is that it is far from a linear process, and I feel quite certain I will never be complete. One shouldn’t jump into the water with the goal of achieving something specific, solving some particular external issue or becoming some kind of divine reflection of enlightenment or anything like that. The jump itself is a leap of faith—a trust in the depths of your very own self, a sense that your vessel is whole, that it can contain you fully, just as you can contain it. Because of course if we jump into the flow then we are consenting to the transformation that is part of it—changes that when flowing, we have no control over.
I invite you all to examine the dream moments that water shows up. Really feel into the moment as deeply as you can, taking in all that is present in that dream experience. Resist the urge to tell a story about it, and simply feel it. Then, as you turn your inner experience to the water in the dream, ask yourself—is there a feeling that I could let myself sink into in this moment? Is there a place where I could open up my heart just a little bit more, attune myself to my own inner flow? If I was resisting a feeling in this moment, what would it be? What is the biggest feeling that comes up in my body, as I take one step closer to the edge of that water?
And as always, it’s vital to acknowledge each individual’s diverse and deep connection to water, and how this element will utilize your unique connection to it in dreams to guide you. Like any other symbol in your dream, the most potent and important thing you can do is feel into it for yourself, and truly from yourself, digging in deeply from your gut to get a sense of what that symbol is bringing up for you in the particular circumstance your dream offers you. In this way, you will come to know your own symbols, and in time, speak the language of your dream with fluency.
Sweet dreaming dear ones,
If you are in the New Orleans area I will be doing a ceremony on Water Dreams this upcoming Tuesday, June 21st at 1112 Mandeville St. I am looking forward to celebrating and distilling the medicine of this sacred element as we join our dreams together in ceremony. I hope you will join :)!