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Animals in Your Dreams
The animals we dream of express the wealth of our own feelings and depth of our unconscious understanding of life.
Few of the things we do as an individual in today’s world are uniquely human. Like other animals we build dwellings, we eat, sleep and reproduce. We care for our young with the same passion and self sacrifice seen in other mammals. We follow leaders and develop hierarchy as do wolves and primates. Above all else, we share with our fellow creatures our existence in a physical body we have inherited from a long line of forebears and pre-human animals. From this long past we carry traits and urges, fears and dispositions that underpin our self aware human personality. In dreams, these largely unconscious responses to what we face in life are shown as animals.
For instance some of these traits we know as the flight, fight or freeze response; as the new born baby’s instinct to suckle and bond with its parent; as our urge to find a partner and mate; and particularly we see it in the drive to survive and thrive. But there are many more subtle aspects of the animal inheritance we carry with us. Some of these we see in our social behaviour, as when we shrewdly asses a person’s character, or discover what we call the ‘chemistry’ that exists between us and another person. Such things arise largely from our unconscious intuitions and senses. Such senses and responses were developed over millions of years by our animal forbears. In fact we are like a small face on top of a long line of beautiful animals.
This ancient heritage that dreams portray as our animal is not simply a psychological belief. It is built into our body and is very evident in the fact that we have three interwoven brains. The most ancient brain, one we share with reptiles and birds is called the R complex – R for reptilian. This part of your brain deals with deeply instinctive behaviour such as flight or fight, swallowing, automatic reflexes, inbuilt mating behaviour, territorial defence and aggression. This R complex developed about 200 million years ago and is still an underpinning part of what influences your behaviour today. Dreams often portray these urges in you as snakes or lizards.
The second part of your brain is called the Limbic System. This is wrapped around the R complex, and is something we share with other mammals such as cats, dogs and horses. It developed about 60 million years ago and deals with your emotions, feelings responses to people and events, the subtler inner life you feel in love and sex, and it provides a deep wisdom about social and individual relationships. Dreams often use mammals or apes to portray the influence in your life of this part of your unconscious drives and intuitions.
Many people are frightened or terrified of their dream animals. That is rather like being terrified of a picture on a cinema screen, for dreams are nothing more than moving images on the screen four sleeping mind. Like a computer game you can be attacked or even killed many times but you are still whole and unhurt. Face up to the animals in your dreams and make friends of them, because they are really helpful assets to have. See Inner World
Is there any concern about the animal’s health?
The third part of your brain is the Cortex. This is unique to humans and takes up five sixths of the brain mass. It deals with all the things that are distinctly human, such as logical thought, writing, analysis, self awareness and conscious movements.
An American advertising company, describing these three brains in its instructions to planning advertising campaigns says, “Our Reptilian Brain is more powerful than the Limbic (emotional) Brain, which in turn is more powerful that the Cortex (thinking) Brain. It is best to take all three brains into account when planning a marketing/branding campaign.” See Animals.
Meeting your dream animals
What has been said about your three brains and what sort of dream arises from them is of course a generalisation. When you are looking at your own animal dreams you want to know specifically how they refer to you. So we will move from the general to the specific in looking at the dream meanings of animals such as a dog, cat, snake, horse, tiger and elephant. Those are mentioned because they are, in the order given, the most frequently dreamed of animals.
As explained in an earlier chapter, these are not to be thought of as symbols. They are more like computer desktop icons that if you connect with them lead you to awareness of, and ability to work with, what are usually unconscious processes in you. To gain even the beginnings of insight into your dream animals, you first need to remember that you as a person are a tiny spark of consciousness. You are a little bit of self awareness riding an incredibly ancient animal you call your body. Remember that your body has formed from cells and genetic information that has gradually developed over millions of years. It holds that information in it unconsciously. To actually make a living connection with your dream animals see Acting in your Dream
Therefore ask yourself the following questions about your animal dreams, and write down any responses. If the answer is no to a question, move on the next one:
Is your dream animal struggling to survive?
Survival is the most powerful and fundamental drive in your body and personality. Survival skills today are often linked with managing to remain alive in difficult terrain or harsh countryside, but we all live in the midst of challenges even in civilised surroundings. Your everyday social, work and political environments confront you with enormous difficulties. Also, every cell in your being is trying to survive. Your body and its systems are constantly involved in maintaining balance amidst powerful counter influences, or even against your own bad habits. Understanding what difficulties you face in surviving, and what resources you have to handle them is a huge step toward a better life. If you had the reptilian brain and the mammalian brains removed you would not function.
Therefore define if you can what your dream animal is struggling with or against in its efforts to survive. Look for connections with your everyday life. In doing so remember that the dream is putting into graphic form, perhaps like a mime, something that needs to be lifted into everyday words and perceptions.
We all have so many aspects to what we need in life to survive as a whole person. We might be doing very well in work or social recognition, but our need for warmth and love might be struggling. So it is helpful to list the facets of your own life, such as physical health, mental health and vitality, emotional needs, finance, acclaim, and so on, and asses their survival rating.
Is the animal domesticated or wild?
This illustrates the difference between urges within yourself that you have completely socialised or learned to cooperate with, and those that are in conflict with your conscious actions or what other people expect of you. An example of this can be seen in youthful rebellion, and in the difference between what is instinctive and spontaneous in a young person, such as aggression or fear, and what is expected of them by others. The rebellious youth might allow their unsocialised urges to express as criminal acts, or disruptive social behaviour. On the other hand they might express it in the form of music or art that, while it is still anti establishment, is rewarded, as with the Rolling Stones.
So the need here is to recognise what of your feelings or urges are involved, and ask yourself if the wild is healthy as it is, or does it need a better relationship with your social or work activities? On the other hand, sometimes social restraints or needs deaden the spontaneous and natural in oneself, and so need to be reduced for greater personal harmony.
- Is there any concern about the animal’s health?
- Is there an indication the animal has been injured?
- Does love, caring or affection enter into the dream?
We have inherited and enlarged the great tenderness and care seen in other mammals.
- Are sexual feelings involved?
- Does the animal show unusual intelligence or ability to speak?
- Is the animal giving advice or showing you something?
- Are baby animals involved?
- Is the animal attacking or being attacked?
- Is there a herd or group of these animals?
- Has the animal been neglected or mutilated?
- Are you trapped by or running away from an animal?