Dear Claire,

I was hiking alone, deep in the forest, and I was incredibly confident about what direction I was supposed to go in. I wasn’t scared, and it wasn’t like I was lost or concerned, because I knew exactly where I was going. I got to the point where there was this really strong, raging river in my way. It was impassable. I remember standing at the river and saying to myself, “Well, @#%$! This sucks. What do I do? I have to go across this river because that is the exact direction that I need to go in.” I tried to walk down the river for an easier place to cross, but there wasn’t one. I thought, “OK, I have two choices.” I was in a position where I could either try to backtrack, or I could try to cross the river. My feeling was that if I go back, I am not going to make it because I am too far into the hike. But if I go forward, I probably won’t make it, either, because of the current. Backtracking was just not something that I could do because, for some reason, in my dream, it was more dangerous than crossing the river. And since going forward meant making it closer to my destination, I felt compelled to just go for it. So, I fought the current, I fought the rocks, and I made it to the other side and thought, “Wow, that was really easy! That wasn’t hard at all!” But now, here’s the weird part. I wanted to go back across the river and do it again. For some reason, I thought that crossing the river had been too easy, and I wanted it to be harder and more of a challenge; so, I decided to go back and do it again. Only this time, when I tried to go back across the river, I didn’t make it. I slipped on the rocks and started getting swept down the river and pulled under the water. Then I woke up. I have some idea of what this means, but what do you think?

Forests and rivers are merely extensions of two of the most powerful and obvious symbols for life: trees and water. Like trees, forests are constantly growing and regenerating forms of life—and so serve as symbols of life, growth, and rebirth.

Rivers, because they are composed of water—which is the source of all life—have become classic symbols for life, reformation, purity, and salvation (think baptisms and other ceremonies which use rivers and water as symbols). However, both rivers and forests are wild, changing, and uncertain—and, as a result, can often symbolize the wild, uncertain, and unknown in life, as opposed to the orderly and certain.

As an isolated symbol, rivers, because they are constantly flowing and moving, can also symbolize change and transition in life, as well movement from one place in life to another or one state of existence to another (an example of this would be the River Styx in Greek mythology, which separates the living world and the world of the dead). Furthermore, rivers can represent passages and journeys in life – and many cultures even place the ashes of their deceased in a river, presumably to further them on their “journey” through the afterlife. Additionally, because rivers are actual boundaries or barriers in the physical world, they can serve as symbols of separations, barriers, challenges, or struggles in our dream lives – and a river that is “raging,” as in the above dream, would most probably indicate great difficulty or challenges in life.

Hiking or exploring in a dream usually symbolizes some sort of path, transition, or forward movement in our waking lives, especially an uncertain one, because, when we go hiking or on a similar journey, we are often leaving behind what is familiar to explore the unknown and unfamiliar. Because the dreamer in the above dream is on a hiking journey, and because all of his significant dream symbols are representative of life, growth, transition, change, and journeys, my first thought would be to ask whether he is going through, or wishes to go through, some sort of transition or transformation in his waking life.

As to the dreamer’s lack of fear and confident, forward movement on his hike, both appear to be positive indicators of how he is feeling about his ability to move forward in his waking life—and his success in crossing this seemingly impassable river is also an extremely positive sign. However, the fact that the dreamer believes that going backward would be more dangerous than moving forward—even though moving forward means crossing a raging river – as well as the fact that the dreamer is swept away when he attempts to re-cross the river, indicates that there is some angst regarding his direction or pathway in life.

After contacting the dreamer and discussing the symbolism, he believed that the dream had to do with the path of his working life. Business had been poor for quite a while – but he had made it through the financially challenging times, and his earnings had started to improve. However, while he had always been confident that he would make it through this difficult period, the struggle had made him weary of his career choice – yet, he felt “too far into the hike” to go back and start a new career. He said, “If I go back and start all over, I could totally ‘crap out’ (lose). At my age, I have a much better chance of just moving forward on the path that I am currently on and fight the obstacles, challenges, and ‘raging rivers’ that I am familiar with.” He acknowledged that he did long for new challenges and adventure in the workplace—which was probably why he had the desire to re-cross the river – but felt more confident about sticking with his current situation to avoid the risk of being “swept down the river and pulled under the water.” He did state, however, that when a new path which he has more confidence in presents itself, he will not hesitate to take it – but that, in the meantime, he will continue to move forward on his current career pathway.

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