Muddy sea monster reveals the meaning of life

Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Someone very close to me – a person intimately connected to the matrix of life and nature, as expressed in her highly symbolic art – had a dream this morning that I found extraordinarily significant for reasons I'll soon explain. In her words:
I remember being chased by a huge mud monster that came to the shore from the sea. It would eat anything in its path: bushes, plants and eventually all humanity, because it was heading inland. I and my colleagues managed to run and find shelter in some sort of laboratory, where we would be temporarily out of the path of the monster. While in the lab, I and another woman were supposed to take a test (as in a school test), but we had to choose the test ourselves. I assumed that the more exciting and difficult the chosen test was, the higher the grade could be. I found an interesting crossword puzzle with images, but I thought it would be too easy and not the type of test I was expected to choose. At some point, I dropped the test and left the safe zone of the laboratory, moving to another, non-secure area that was in the path of the monster. I did it because I wanted to save a child who was left there, in harm's way. There was a constant feeling of fear, despair and hopelessness.
So to help you understand the amazing significance I see in this dream – its symbolic portrayal of the meaning of life and of our present historical nexus – I will share with you a possible Jungian interpretation of it. I'm not an analyst, but have been a dedicated student of analytical psychology for several years now.

Spiritual Protection, by Selene's Art.

Dream interpretation

The monster comes from the sea, which is a symbol of what Jung called the 'collective unconscious': a deep, vast, but obfuscated region of the psyche shared by all humanity. Being a monster, it represents a threatening, animal-like, instinctive, unthinking aspect of ourselves. Its muddy character links it back to the ground, to something primordial, earthy, intrinsic to our animal nature. In the terminology of analytical psychology, the monster represents the collective shadow of humanity: a negative and destructive force within us all that we normally do not acknowledge.

The land represents our ordinary waking state of consciousness, which is where the dreamer's ego dwells. For as long as the monster was in the sea, not only was the dreamer's ego unaware of its existence, it also felt safe ('ignorance is bliss,' as the saying goes). But by leaving the sea and coming onshore, the monster penetrates the realm of self-reflective awareness, thereby directly threatening not only the dreamer, but all humanity. 'There was a constant feeling of fear, despair and hopelessness,' she says. The dream's message here is that the dreamer is becoming increasingly aware, in her waking life, of the destructive potential of humanity.

The monster 'would eat anything in its path.' This is an evocative symbol of humanity's compulsive, addictive, unthinking extraction and consumption of resources for selfish short-term satisfaction, as well as of the environmental destruction it leaves behind. The monster is insatiable and never gives any consideration to what it is doing. It is interested only in fulfilling its primal desires (symbolized by eating voraciously). As the shadow of humanity, the monster represents our own behavior towards the Earth today and its ultimate consequences for ourselves. The dream is unambiguous on this point: 'eventually all humanity' will be consumed.

But the dreamer's ego finds refuge in a laboratory. Naturally, a laboratory is a place where research – inquiry – is done; a place where we discover the secrets of life and nature. The lab has a secure zone that is temporally out of the destructive path of the monster. This suggests that humanity still has time to figure something out before the destruction is complete and irreversible. There is still hope, but we cannot waste any time.

The dreamer was going to undergo a test. This implicitly suggests that she could be admitted as a staff member of the laboratory if she passed the test, thereby becoming a researcher. But the dreamer had the freedom to choose the test herself, which suggests that she could automatically become a researcher simply by choosing one that she knew she could pass. In other words, everyone is qualified to do research simply by proving his or her own skills, no matter how simple or insignificant these skills may appear to be. Every contribution is helpful and important. That the dreamer felt she had to choose an 'exciting and difficult' test betrays her unnecessarily severe expectations of herself, based on a mistaken notion of self-worth. It also betrays her need to meet external expectations, instead of simply focusing on what she can naturally – and therefore effortlessly – contribute to the research effort.

However, before she could take the test, the dreamer felt an irresistible urge to save a child who was in harm's way, despite having to risk her own life in the process. This symbolizes a choice between living from the head (taking the test and doing research) or living from the heart (surrendering to empathy and the expression of compassion). The dreamer's choice was clear. Saving the child was a symbol of our potential to save the whole of humanity by pursuing the path of the heart. 'If any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole of mankind,' says The Holy Quran (5:32).

Seclusion, by Selene's Art.

The meaning of life according to the dream

In my new book, Brief Peeks Beyond, I write:
Life is a laboratory for exploration along only two paths: feeling and understanding. All else exists only as connotative devices: ‘tricks’ to evoke feeling and understanding. All meaning resides in the emotions and insights unfolding within. (p. 184)
The dream symbolizes the path of understanding with the laboratory. The path of feeling is symbolized by the dreamer's impulsive, self-sacrificial act of rescuing the endangered child/humanity.

More importantly, the dream shows that, once a species emerges from the sea of instinct onto the shore of lucid self-reflection, the clock starts ticking on a natural time-bomb. On the one hand, self-reflection gives us the unique opportunity to understand life, self and nature through inquiry (symbolized by passing the test and becoming a researcher in the laboratory), as well as to become cognizant of, and therefore able to effectively express, our feelings (symbolized by saving the child/humanity). On the other hand, self-reflection also gives us the Faustian power – through technology – to overindulge in our selfish primal desires, to the point of destroying the Earth. The drive towards runaway consumption, symbolized by the mud monster, is an inherent part of being alive. Self-reflective life is then a race between self-understanding and self-expression on the one hand, and self-destruction by overindulgence on the other. Therefore, we must grab the opportunity to pursue understanding and express our feelings while there is time. The window of opportunity is limited by the very nature of self-reflective life and its associated collective shadow. The human species is a desperate gamble on the part of the Earth. The responsibility to make it count rests squarely with us.

By becoming self-reflectively aware of our own feelings, we get the unique chance to partner with them and express them lucidly in the world. Instinctive animals also have feelings, but do not know that they have them, remaining fully immersed and trapped in their instinctive flow. As such, animals cannot work with and express their feelings in quite the same way we humans can. By and large, they do not create art, express love and compassion, or seem to experience empathy at the level we do because of our ability to self-reflect. The uniquely lucid emotional life of humans is a vehicle for the expression of whatever it is we are.

Similarly, while immersed in the flow of instinct, we cannot hope to comprehend whatever it is we are. We remain slaves of our own nature, lacking any level of self-understanding that could lead to inner peace and completion (which Jung called 'individuation'). As I wrote in my earlier book, Why Materialism Is Baloney,
consensus reality is nothing but a metaphor for the fundamental nature of mind. ... What is it trying to say? A job loss, a new romantic relationship, a sudden illness, a promotion, the death of a pet, a major personal success, a friend in need... What is the underlying meaning of it all in the context of our lives? What are all these events saying about our true selves? These are the questions that we must constantly confront in a metaphorical world. We must look upon life in the same way that many people look upon their nightly dreams: when they wake up, they don’t attribute literal truth to the dream they just had. To do so would be tantamount to closing one’s eyes to what the dream was trying to convey. Instead, they ask themselves: ‘what did it really mean?’ They know that the dream wasn’t a direct representation of its meaning, but a subtle metaphorical suggestion of something else. And so may waking reality be. As such, it is this ineffable something else that – I believe – we must try to find in life. (pp. 206-207)
It is only through our ability to self-reflect that we can hope to interpret the metaphor of life, thereby finding this 'something else.' Interpreting life entails an effort of inquiry. The dreamer's laboratory represented humanity's limited opportunity to inquire – so to arrive at a hermeneutics of life and cosmos – before the mud monster of our collective shadow destroys everything. The clock is ticking. Again from Why Materialism Is Baloney:
We have been deputized by mind at large to look back at itself and try to make something out of what we see. For all we know, we’re the only game in town as far as being able to do it. But what do we do instead? We look away! We don’t like to be confronted with the darkness within ourselves, so we numb our psyches with every conceivable distraction, making sure that the ‘unconscious’ remains ‘unconscious,’ instead of being brought into the field of self-reflectiveness. We don’t like to be confronted with the darkness we see in the empirical world either, so we tell ourselves ‘That’s not me!’ And by disidentifying with it, we eliminate any chance we might otherwise have of making something out of all the suffering and evil around us. The tragedy we are faced with is that all this suffering might be for nothing, since the ones deputized to interpret it are looking away instead of trying to make sense of the metaphor. Instead of asking ‘All this darkness is part of me too, so what does it mean?’ we watch gossip shows on television. (p. 211)

The Womb, by Selene's Art.

Jung's 'collective unconscious,' through the dreams it grants each of us every night, may be instinctively trying to bring our attention to our essential role in the play of existence, as well as to our limited window of opportunity to play this role. The dream that motivated this essay has convinced me of it. Human life may be the pinnacle of nature's greatest, perhaps most desperate gamble yet: a race between lucid self-understanding and self-expression on the one hand, and self-destruction on the other. We may be in for a photo-finish.



  1. Wow! I've had almost the exact same dream several times, varying in details but same overall plot each time which follows the pattern of the dream described here. In my dream, I've even taken refuge in a prestigious university where I am offered a timed test that I, along with a few others, urgently begin taking, even though the apocalypse is happening around me. I leave the test to see if anyone needs saving, to bring them into the university for protection. Along the way I encounter multiple children and animals whom I frantically scoop up as fast as I can into a large shopping cart I'm pushing. It's getting heavier and harder to push and there are too many to save. Meanwhile I'm constantly worrying about making it back to the university in time to complete the timed test which I sense is somehow very important to the situation. I press on and keep saving creatures/people, half panicking that the dark blob will consume everything before I can get back. I don't recall how the dream ends but I've had it multiple times.

    In my dream it seemed that the ocean itself had turned black and thick and was encroaching on land until most of the earth was consumed by this thick black liquid of death from which there was no escape. I am a physician. I graduated residency in 2011 so most of my life has been spent in school/training. Therefore I often have dreams involving tests and school. I had interpreted my dream as symbolic of my feeling of being overwhelmed by near constant academic evaluation/testing (symbolized by the blob) and my fear of being unable to save my patients and of being inadequate in my chosen field. However, Bernardo, your interpretation is deeper, broader, and more archetypal; I prefer it to my own because it's more intuitively satisfying (I know metaphors can have multiple layers of meaning).

    A skeptic might argue that the similarities in the two dreams are due to images subconsciously remembered by both of us independently from common external sources in the "real world" such as a disaster movie with scientists and monsters or fears of climate change and rising sea levels. While this is certainly possible, I don't think I buy that it's the best explanation. The similarities are too uncanny. Reading about this dream has been very exciting for me. I suspect something really cool may be going on. This is fascinating stuff! Thanks for the excellent analysis! It makes a lot of sense to me! Has anyone had a similar dream? How common is this, I wonder?

    1. Indeed, the similarities are too uncanny, especially given the completely different backgrounds between you and the dreamer. The alignment is almost perfect even at the minor detail level, let alone the complex story arch. These weren't short, single-element dreams like being naked on the streets. These are complex storylines full of twists and turns and specific elements (monster from the sea, blob-like form, eating voraciously, university/laboratory, tests, saving children, etc.) connected in a very specific and complex way. This indicates strongly that the dream content isn't personal, but collective.

      I've had several amazing experiences with dreams over the past couple of years, not only my own but other people's too. I've been witness to amazingly telepathic dreams, predictive dreams, and transcendent dreams rich in meaning. I know my statistics and the standard explanations, but they simply don't cut the mustard.

      Honestly, I'm in awe, since this is a relatively new discovery in my life. I didn't take dreams seriously until my mid thirties. If reason and scientific evidence weren't sufficient to debunk materialism, dreams would do it easily. Whether the things I've been witness to can be considered non-anecdotal evidence or not is entirely insignificant to me. I know what I've seen, and materialism looks simply pathetic in view of it.

      Thanks for having the courage to share your story!

  2. Jung used the term "big dreams" to refer to dreams in which archetypal elements arise which have implications far beyond the personal life of the dreamer.

    I find it particularly fascinating to look at the "dream like" nature of the events on the days immediately preceding AND after the dream. it's common to assume that the dream simply digests elements of the preceding day. But once you start looking at it this way, it's rather amazing to see how many precognitive elements there are in the dreams of the night before.

    The connection with your dream and that of Anita's is that the more you view your daily life as a 'big dream" - that is, as a localized reflection of larger world forces, the smallest events of each day - "accidentally" mistyping a search word and ending up on a page which you normally would never go to, but which has something significant for you; just happening to miss a traffic light, getting you to a restaurant a moment earlier than you might have, and running into someone you haven't seen for months - these kinds of things happen all the time but normally we don't pay attention to them.

    Then you read the news, or look at some footage of some world events, and start to see the patterns in the world reflected both in your dreams (giving someone refuge, taking refuge yourself from a monster, etc) and realize we're all living a big dream all the time, if we could only see it.

    if Sri Aurobindo is correct (just assuming for now) something truly monumental took place in 1956, which has changed the world (and humanity for ever). Up until then, all the spiritual traditions have told us that good and evil, light and darkness, are natural polarities that mean suffering must accompany the growth of self awareness. What Sri Aurobindo said - it was his primary focus for the last half century of his life - was that something has changed, and because of that change, it will possible to have a world in which everyone awakens and fully manifests the Infinite.

    Jean Gebser had an awakening experience in which he saw this new consciousness manifesting in the world - he called it the "integral consciousness". This occurred in 1932, and he attributed it directly - though he was living in Switzerland (or maybe it was Spain??) at the time - to being in the "energy field" of Sri Aurobindo (though Sri Aurobindo was in south india at the time).

    From this view (or vision), the world wide destruction occurring now is part of the dust raised as the Mahashakti - the Goddess - sweeps away the debris of the now dying, self-conscious ego, to make way for the true individuality which will emerge, and the collectivity that will manifest.

    1. An apocalyptic perspective of the finest tradition, Don. Intriguing.

  3. Thanks guys, for your thoughtful replies to my comment. You've given me much to think about.

  4. This is a sort of 'sidebar' comment: I loved your use of that quote from the Quran! This is one of my very favourite quotes from the Quran, and encapsulates (I feel) much of what faith - any faith - is supposed to stand for: goodness, empathy, love and openness of mind and heart. Sadly that's not what we see in the world at large at all.


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