My dream teacher didn’t have a very positive view of flying dreams. He often characterized them as dreams about pride, or the dreamer wanting to be detached from their world, aloof and above.
Having this nut of an idea that there was something wrong when a dreamer came in with a flying dream has always been hard, because 90% of the time when dreamers arrive in session with a flying dream they are very excited about it. When asked how the dreamer feels when she is flying, the answer is almost always—amazing! Best feeling ever!
In the dreamwork that I do, a dance goes on between the feelings and interpretations the dreamer has about the dream and the way the dream resonates inside of myself as I listen to the dreamer. These two things shouldn’t always agree. After all, the dreamer won’t benefit much from the session if all of their concepts about the meaning of the dream are simply confirmed—then what would they need me for? At the same time, it’s vital to my understanding of this work that ultimately the healing and transformational power dreaming rests in allowing the dreamer to deeply feel and experience their own dream, an experience I can only facilitate and nurture, not dictate.
And so as the years have passed and more than a couple of awkward sessions have unfolded where I find myself with this bias, that dreams about flying are illustrating some kind of shadow aspect of the individual, and the dreamer feeling persecuted and/or judged by my lack of enthusiasm over what could very well be their fondest dream.
It’s also made it so that I’ve become especially attentive when these dreams come up, which is fairly often. And I realized there was a theme poking up that I wanted to share.
What I’ve seen come up again and again in flying dreams is the experience of contorting the body in particular, and often strange, ways so that flying can take place. Sometimes there is a struggle to maintain the flying state in some way or another. There are also dreams where the individual is not exactly flying the traditional sense, but is in some way floating, leaping, or hopping in ways that would not actually be possible in waking life, but simulate the experience of flying to some extent. These dreams can be filled with varying levels of frustration or enjoyment when looked at with focused attention, although often if any kind of flying is involved, the positive feelings of the flying experience elicits are what the dreamer remember most.
I have come to feel that dreams of this kind are related to the issue of embodiment. We may think that it is natural for us to live embodied lives, but working with dreams has shown me how foreign it can be to allow ourselves to live moment to moment with presence and awareness of our bodily sensations. I’ve found that dreams can help teach us how to achieve this. They show us the connections between our emotions and our bodily sensations, and remind us with powerful images of the places inside of our bodies that we can come home to in moments of external struggle or crisis. When we learn to utilize the experiences of our dreams and bring those experiences into our waking world, we find ourselves on a path of living in a more embodied and visceral way.
Often people ask me, why are my feelings so much stronger and more intense in my dreams than when I am awake? To me, the answer is that the feelings you have in your dreams are how you deeply you actually feel, but when your conscious mind is activated, you are much more adept at suppressing or avoiding them through the numerous little ways we develop to avoid our feelings and keep moving forward with our day to day lives. And what’s a major way that we avoid our feelings? Detaching ourselves from our bodies, numbing ourselves from the messages our bodies bring to us, and in a myriad of small ways, privileging our thoughts about what is going on outside of us over our inner, bodily experience of the moment.
And so, if you have a flying dream that is similar to the one described above—or truly, any other variation of these dreams where you are feeling disconnected from your body (trying to run but not being able to move your legs, for example), I would suggest that there are perhaps pointing to an issue around embodiment, and perhaps even at the ways you sacrifice your own embodiment in order to achieve something. Do you feel connected to the rhythms of your own body, your needs and energy levels? Do you feel attuned to the ways that you experience different emotional reactions within your body? Do you know how to connect to a sense of being supported, feeling loved, or being at home inside of your own body? All of these questions may be helpful in the context of looking at a dream where you are feeling disembodied in some way or another.
This material is tricky because of course, just because we are disconnected from our bodies in some way doesn’t mean we don’t feel exhilaration, pride, or even pleasure. And, I would say that if you have a dream where there is no struggle to fly, or where the flying just feels 100% natural and amazing the entire time, then probably this way of looking at the dream won’t be very helpful to you.
But if you have ever had a dream where you felt the exhilaration of flying but also felt the frustration or trying to fly, or had to contort your body and/or were doing unnatural things with your body in order to achieve that sense of exhilaration, I would wonder if there is something deeper that is being avoided in those moments. So much of the messaging in our society to for us to keep moving, keep achieving, fly high, fix our own problems, be responsible, be dutiful, and then we will feel joy.
I believe the dreams hint at another path. Where we slow down. Where we listen to the teachers all around us. Where we remind ourselves that it is not our job to fix ourselves, but rather our role to simply be who we are, be present with the feelings that rise up inside of us and choose to trust our inner experiences rather than the external pressures of the world. To me, this suggests that perhaps the greatest achievement in a dream wouldn’t be to fly, doing something that human bodies aren’t actually capable of doing—but rather to just find yourself somewhere beautiful, being completely present and contained within yourself, and supported to simply be.