You are facing a killer wave, rushing at you like a moving mountain of water. You are fleeing from it, but you can't escape and it crashes over you, pushing the air from your lungs and you surface from sleep terrified and gasping for breath.
This is a rather widespread experience in sleep dreams. I've heard versions of it from hundreds of dreamers. What's going on here?
You could be dreaming of something that will blow up in your life with the emotional force of a rogue wave, even a tsunami. The dream may be a prompt to look at the kind of situations in your regular like that threaten to overwhelm you, and how you can better cope when those situations arise. This may lead you to shape a survival strategy that is simple as this:
- Remember to breathe
- Let the storm wash over you
- Put yourself in a protective bubble
Then again, your dream of a killer wave could also be a psychic preview of a natural disaster. Many people shared dreams with me in advance of Hurricane Katrina and the terrible Asian Tsunami of December 2004 that appear to have been rather exact precognition of coming calamities. There is nothing strange about such premonitions. We are connected to all life on the planet, and mass events cast a shadow before them in the collective mind. Let's notice that a dream of a tsunami - or any other natural disaster - may be both personal and transpersonal. It may symbolize overwhelming stress or emotional drama in your life and also contain a vision or preview of an external event.
My research into the evolution of J.R.R. Tolkien's mythic imagination has led me to think about another possible context of understanding for dreams of a giant wave. The author of The Lord of the Rings was haunted by a recurring dream that first came upon him in early childhood, of a great wave that overwhelms a whole country and hurls its people and cities into a rift in the earth. In a letter written near the end of his life, Tolkien say this about the "ineluctable Wave" that came upon his again and again:
I had the dreadful dream of the ineluctable Wave, either coming out of the quiet sea, or coming towering in over the green inlands. It still occurs occasionally, though now exorcised by writing about it. It always ends by surrender, and I awake gasping out of deep water.
Tolkien became convinced that his dream of the Wave (note his upper case) came out of "ancestral memory" of the fall of Atlantis. By his own account, he only escaped the recurring terror of the Wave when he attributed his dream too Faramir (the character in The Lord of the Rings he said was most like him, "except for the courage") in The Return of the King. Tolkien did not see the dream of the Wave as symbolic. He thought it was a vision across time of the actual cataclysmic event, one he was called to remember and chronicle.
We are not condemned to go on being drowned or overwhelmed, in our dreams or in our lives. A dreamer with whom I have worked reported a very happy evolution in her initially terrifying dreams of a monster wave after she began to practice our Active Dreaming techniques, which include going back inside a scary dream - wide awake and conscious - and seeking to confront and resolve the fear on its own ground, which in this case is the flooded beach or the seabed.
When she agreed to go back into a dream of being drowned by a killer wave, she found that she was able to imagine herself inside the protection of a glass bubble. As the wave crashed over her, her heart pounded but she was able to breathe. She stayed in this scene until the wave receded. Later, in a spontaneous night dream, she discovered - to her amazement and joy - that her dream self could actually catch the wave, and ride it. She carried the happy energy and poise from this dream into waking life situations that had previously overwhelmed her with a sea of emotion.
Even if we feel we can't change the dream of the monster wave, we can learn from Tolkien to borrow its raw energy and apply it to creative work. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that with out his terrifying dreams of the "ineluctable Wave", Tolkien might not have been driven to give the world his greatest work.
Graphic: "The Fall of Numenor" by Darrell Sweet