|(Psychologist Abraham Maslow created a scale of needs to describe the human condition, from basic existence to optimum potential. The scale can be used to take the temperature of any of your dreams, but it’s especially helpful if you select a repeating theme from your dream journal for comparison. As an example, I’ve used it to classify the sweep of the flying dream.)
For once you have tasted flight
you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward;
for there you have been and there you long to return.
Leonardo Da Vinci
The wall shimmers as I slip through it. My breezy body ripples momentarily, caught in the drag of denser molecules. Then the grasp of gravity releases me altogether and I am free!
Beyond the wall, an inky blackness awaits. I pause and hover. Because I am awake and aware in dreamspace, I know there is no danger in this dark. Speckled with pinpricks of light, an infinity of open space invites me to venture further out. Since I’m lucid, I remember the goal I suggested to myself before I went to sleep. I want to cartwheel through the night sky. So I extend my arms and legs like the man in the Da Vinci circle.
Hands and head first, slowly, I turn over, but wind up just twisting around. Better to go flying, to get up the sensation of movement first. I lay out prone in space, in a Superwoman position and conjure up the feeling of air rushing past my body. A lighted scene springs up.
I am flying quickly, just a few feet above the surface of the ocean. Color is happening all around me, bursting through like some chariot sunrise. Above me, a radiant sky mirrors the vibrant waters below. Yellows, greens and browns gleam just beneath the surface of the turquoise sea. Jagged crags of igneous rock poke up out of the clear, calm waters.
My altitude’s low, so low that there could be a danger of collision. Yet, my direction is being adjusted automatically. I am swept back and forth, over the waves, past the crags, as if I were just missing the markers on a ski slope. The wind beats against my body like a burst of laughter. The brilliance of the light, the thrill of the ride, impels me to exclaim, “How beautiful! Oh, how beautiful!”
This experience is too good to keep to myself. “Anyone who wants to come join me...they’re welcome,” I say, extending my arms in a wide gesture. Suddenly, I am soaring over crowds of people seated on the rocks beneath. “Do you want to fly?” I call. They raise their hands. “Well, come along,” I invite them.
But no one joins me.
I awoke from this dream, my entire body bathed in the exhilaration and joy of what I had just experienced. I floated on the feeling as if I were bobbing on the surface of that beautiful inner sea. Once again, I had been lucid; awake and aware of dreaming. But this was a special kind of dream. A flying dream.
More than anything, I wanted to share the experience with other people. But how, I wasn’t sure. So I typed it into my computer. Several months passed.
The occasion had been a holiday party with my husband’s colleagues. I was talking with a woman across the dining room table. Our conversation had been stilted and formal, bogged in the mundanity of academic life. Then I told her that I was collecting flying dreams. She nodded, rather vaguely, and furrowed her brow, trying to place my words into some abstract context. Finally, her eyes lit up. “I had a flying dream once!” she exclaimed.
She leaned forward and related an amazing dream experience. She’d been zooming like Superwoman, not six feet from the ground, up, down and around, following the hills and valleys of the earth. It was all I could do to contain myself from shouting, “Yes, I know what you mean!” Hand gesturing in graceful movements to describe her journey, eyes sparkling, voice vibrant, I could tell she was re-living the event in her mind.
And so was everyone else at the table.
When she finished her story, we all straightened up and shifted back into our chairs. There was a short silence before anyone spoke again.
The Power Of The Flying Dream
That’s the power of an extraordinary dream. It moves us and we go along for the ride. The flow of the words, the action, they speak, engage us. We don’t listen stoically when someone else relates the tale. The story grabs us at the level of emotion and feeling. It draws us in and pulls us along so that we live the story from the inside-out. We are audience and yet also participants in the play.
And when we dream such dreams, we do not view from a dispassionate distance. We enter into the drama. We are the actors, the stars of the performance. We are dreaming selves, living life in the dream.
But even if we seem to be alone in the dream, we certainly come together in the retelling of our experiences. I’ve heard, no, *re-lived* many types of dreams told me by dreamers. In particular, flying dreams spark our interest and wonder.
“I was sitting in the hot tub one night,” a dreamer told me. “leaning my head back on the edge. I was looking up in the sky, trying to find my favorite constellations. And then I just wanted to *be* up there...to be there with all my heart and body. I just wanted to propel myself up into the stars. And that night I had a flying dream.”
“Flying is my favorite thing to do!” said another. “It’s even better than sex!” “And I bet you have *lots* of sexual dreams,” I deadpanned. She laughed, delighted. “Yes, I do!”
“I don’t fly in my dreams,” said a third dreamer. “I levitate. Once I had a dream where I was with a group of people. We were all suspended in the air, like statues. Then after a while, we’d shift our arms and legs into another position. It was like a slow, dreamy ballet. It was exquisite.”
Flying dreams seem to be particularly prone to picture and support our feelings. They seize us at the level of vision, sensation and emotion. They stir up some primal instinct common to us all. How strange that the grounded human species has always had the urge to fly. To reach and experience a seeming impossible dream.
So when I talk to people, I consistently find the greatest enthusiasm for the flying dream. It certainly tops the list as “most enjoyable” in any survey I’ve ever seen. And yes, statistically speaking, it even outranks the sexual dream. The flying dream can certainly be a peak experience type of dream. It’s not the only one, just the most popular.
But the fact is, not every flying dream is a peak experience. There are flying nightmares, flying disaster and anxiety dreams. Not everyone loves to soar to the heights; quite a few people fall instead of fly. Some fail to get off the ground.
The least favorite dream is the traumatic nightmare. It's the one rated highest in avoidance. The dreaming self runs away or tries to wake up. The waking ego wants nothing more than to forget the whole thing. Sometimes it succeeds, but it's most frightening when it does not.
The low level of consciousness in a nightmare creates an antipode peak experience. But the nightmare occurs in a state of consciousness just as focused as the peak experience. In either state, the rest of the world disappears. One becomes totally entranced, cut off from earthly knowledge, unable to access the other memories of being. Getting “lost” in the peaks means you can become lost in the depths. Fortunately, such experiences are usually short-lived. The positive type can be enjoyed while they last. We can act to shift those on the antipode into a higher gear.
These are the dreams at the extremes. Terror and bliss are at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. But because both contain high concentrations of energy, they can also shift directly from one to the other, without the intervening stages. When dreamers count flying dreams as their favorite type of dream, they refer to controlled flights or being propelled through a lovely environment accompanied by pleasurable feelings and emotions. But the tides can quickly turn when the peak experience goes too far, too fast.
“We were having sex,” he told me. “It was a very intense experience. I was really into it. And then I climaxed and suddenly I was shooting out-of-body into the ends of the universe. I was really zooming forever. And then I freaked. I thought if I went too far, I’d never come back. So I slowed down and stopped. And then–it was like a rubber band–I crashed back into my body. It really shook my up. I’m scared to go out-of-body again. But I *do* have flying dreams.”
Flying The Map
If I had specialized in flight at the basic level of dreaming, I would only have recorded dreams like these:
• Escaping from danger
• Barely rising off the ground
• Struggling to fly at a low altitude
• Running into telephone wires
• Burdened by packages or people
• Wearily climbing the air
• Treading water or swimming with exhaustion
• Pumping my arms up and down, bird style
In fact, for 38 years, I recalled only nightmares. One repeating theme had me trying to fly away from the outstretched arms of the Men in Black. However, as I read about, thought about, dreamt about other sorts of flying, my specialty remained the same, but my plateau of development shifted upwards. In my dream journals are also these flying dreams:
• Levitating as if I’m rolling around on an invisible skateboard
• Flying arms backward, like Isis
• Diving into water and up in a swirl
• Floating in a yoga position
• Sliding atop ocean waves, like an ice skater
• Flying on my back, as if carried by the wind
• Soaring through the skies, then doing somersaults and flips
• Rocketing through space at warp speed, past stars and planets
• Suspended upside down above my bed
• Dancing in the air with a friend
The flying dream is versatile. It ranges from the agony to the ecstasy. That’s why I find it to be such a great measure of dream health. Flying–how well, how high, how often, if at all–tracks my health and well-being. It’s my thermometer of weather in the underground. While the nightmare is a storm warning, other flying dreams can whisper, “follow me to clear skies ahead.” In the long and short run, it’s a guiding star that has served me well.
The Range of Dreams
My dreaming self does not fly in every dream; no one’s does. Even if I were seeking only upbeat dream activities, I certainly wouldn’t limit myself to flying. The land of dreams is rich in content and experience.
What dream content describes the optimal or detrimental conditions of your psyche, the basic or growth level dreams? That, you can only determine by watching your dream tree through all the seasons of dreaming. Set up your dream journal as a farmer's almanac. By tracking themes through a series of dreams, you will find those that indicate problems and those that highlight your potentials. Whatever criteria you use, the process is the same. Discover what helps and encourage it. Uncover what hinders and act to change.
There are many images to paint the sweep of your feelings. Your own psyche will select the pictures that best describe the dreams you will have. You might choose a repeating theme to serve as your measure of movement towards emotional maturity and health. Here’s some examples and their suggested range:
1. Water and earth journeys: are you struggling up a mountain or surfing across the waves?
2. Relationships with dream characters: are you loving or fighting, trusting or distrusting?
3. Houses, buildings or other boundaries: are you in a shack or a mansion?
4. Car: do you have a new sports car or a junker?
5. Clothes or body: do you have a torn shirt or strong arms?
6. Ability to speak, job or hobby skills: are you performing to an applauding audience or forgetting the answer to a test?
7. Weather or environment in the dream setting: are storm clouds approaching or is it a sunny day?
8. Colors and coherence of dream: are they jumbled images or vivid hues?
9. Lucidity: are you aware or oblivious?
Eventually, you may find an example of your dream theme at every level of Maslow’s Map, like I did. Below are samples from my dream log that feature the flying theme. You will notice that basic level dreams provoked me to do *interpretation,* while growth level dreams were a form of *inspiration.* One is dreamwork, the other my dream trek. (And creating this chart was a dreamplay experience for me!)
Flying Along Maslow's Scale
Dream: A pack of dogs have been chasing a fox. My back pressed against the side of a house, I levitate above their yappy, nipping mouths.
Interpretation: Animal-like conflicts drive me up the wall!
2) Safety and Security
Dream: I find Jan at the far end of the courtyard and breathing heavily. “What’s the matter?” I ask her. “My leg!” she replies, grabbing it. It seems she has pulled a muscle. A large winged creature suddenly falls on top of me. We fight under the lattice work. I take off flying over the sea with the creature pursuing me.
Interpretation: This was a response to a stressful, troubling day. A co-worker had trouble understanding an assigned task (pun on “unable to stand”).
3) Love and Belongingness
Dream: I’m flying over flower beds, paths and into a drug store. I land abruptly on the other side of some card racks, saying, “Ooof!” then fall down. I pick myself up and realize that a sheriff is looking for me. I try to put plenty of aisles between him and me. I maneuver to leave the store; he follows. Once out of the store, I try to fly again, but can only rise to his head level.
Interpretation: While engaged in phone solicitation by a sheriff’s organization, I cut off the man abruptly, then felt a bit guilty afterwards.
4) Self Esteem
Dream: A group of reporters demand to know how I can fly. I fly around the hills surrounding my home, but feel heavy due to the pull of their expectations and criticisms.
Interpretation: I was worried about an upcoming interview on a radio talk show.
5) Growth and Development
Dream: I bank to the left and soar through the city just above the roof line, following a cross hatch of city streets. I can see buildings several stories high, but no skyscrapers. Beyond is a beautiful, bright colored valley, glowing healthy green. Further on, I over-fly a marshland dotted with windmills posed to draw fresh strength from the sky.
Inspiration: After enjoying the aerial view of the dream’s landscape, I wondered if I could take flying lessons.
Dream: In unison with three or four other people–men and women–I levitate upward and dance in the air. The auditorium has a high arched ceiling with exposed girders. The audience, which fills the bleachers, can be seen past the misty spotlight. I smile delightedly at the audience, lift up my arms and leap even higher. Standing upright, I swoop around in a circle, like a skater. Another woman joins me to dance at the same level.
Inspiration: This dream become part of a published article.
7) Peak Experience
I find myself standing at the edge of a bottomless abyss. I decide to step off the cliff. I skate forward across the top of puffy whiteness. I can feel the wind stream past my face and the sun’s warmth on my shoulders. The feeling of wonder surges up from inside, straining to meet the expansiveness of the outer scene. I fling my arms wide as the feeling inside my body fulfills itself in ecstasy. The rush of energy brings me to lucidity.
Inspiration: When emotional and sensory fulfillment peaked, I became aware of the fact that I dreamed.
I find flying to be a valuable tool from the depths of the underworld to the heights of the upper world. It’s a way out of the caverns of nightmare, a tool for healing, an exercise in strength to move over, around, through and beyond trouble spots, through the prison gates and out into the land of freedom. When I follow the lure of the flying dream, I’m more apt to experience a variety of other extraordinary dreams as well. And whatever supports the growth and development of my dream life feels very healthy to me.
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