“What was it like to learn to parachute out of a plane?”
A statement like this one is very common in our normal conversation. I brought it to our attention not because we are going to talk about parachuting out of planes. But we often ask each other “what was it like?” The way the question is phrased is important. We are saying, “Compare your experience so something I know. Don’t tell me exactly about the experience. Instead create a parable of what it was like.” We all think in these terms even if we don’t know we do. We all think in symbolism.
When a public speaker wants to really connect to his or her audience, symbolism is used quickly. He might compare someone who is confused as “a deer in the headlights“. Right away, that image is easy to understand and we understand what is being said about the subject of the story. For someone who is awkward in a new job or social situation, we say he was “a fish out of water”. The image of that fish on the bank flopping around and desperately wanting to be back in familiar circumstances is a perfect analogy that we understand perfectly.
It isn’t too much of a stretch to say that we understand symbolic language even better than we do plain talk. That is because an image takes an idea and makes it visible. It takes an idea and brings it down what they call “the scale of abstraction” to something very real and something we can grasp. We learned our lessons this way as youth so we never stop communicating in symbols and images.
If our conscious mind is heavily symbol oriented, you could go to the next level to say that symbolism is the ONLY language of your subconscious mind. In order to try to process complex feelings, ideas and concepts, the subconscious constantly generates symbolism and images to represent the deeper things that it is “thinking about“. The time when the subconscious “thinks” is when you are asleep and the outcome of all that thinking is a long string of images, scenes and “stories” which make up the bulk of those thing we call dreams.
Just as you can easily communicate with someone if you understand his or her imagery, which fills up our language, the better you understand the imagery of the subconscious, the more your dreams will make sense. If you know that your subconscious is going to represent anxiety about your new job with a dream of you lost in a big building with lots of rooms, dreams suddenly become easier to interpret. The symbolism of the mind is personal as well as cultural. It is based on common experiences that you and your subconscious have that it can use to talk to you. Learn to listen to the language of the subconscious by learning to understand the symbolism it is sending your way through dreams. You will learn a lot about yourself when you can do that.