When analyzing our personal dreams, it is important to always bear in mind that we are the experts. Dream specialists can guide us, offer us insight, and provide examples of possible symbolism—but, ultimately, we are the authorities on the meaning of our dreams. The following dream and personal analysis, provided to me by a family member, is an excellent example of why we are the best analysts for our personal dreams.

“I am on the upper floor of a shopping mall. I hear a lion roaring and people screaming. I can’t see anything, but I can surmise that the lion is tearing people apart. I start to go and look, but then I think that it doesn’t matter if I see it. I can hear it, and I was certain about what was going on. I know that I have to do something quickly, so I start looking for a place to hide from the lion and save myself. But there is nowhere to hide. Then, I spot this half-door, like a swinging bar door. Because it is only a half-door, I would be half-hidden and half-exposed. Also, it didn’t lock, so I knew that it would not protect me. Then, I see this ledge, like a big sconce way up high. It looks like the perfect place to hide, and I muscle my way up to the top of it. It starts to peel away from the wall, but it is still holding my weight. Crowds of people start running frantically towards me, screaming. They see me in this safe place, so they start scrambling up the wall in an attempt to get on to something that is, inevitably, just going to fall down. It is barely holding my weight alone. I am torn between trying to help them, and knowing that if I help them, they are just going to bring me down with them. As they are crawling up and grabbing at the ledge, it starts peeling away from the wall even more, and the weight of their bodies is pulling the ledge down.  I realize when I am up there that it is silly and futile, and that it is just a matter of time before I go down with them and get torn apart by the lion. I remember being so purposeful and realistic and calculating about my situation; realizing that anywhere that I could go, it was just prolonging the inevitable. That there was no point in trying to get away, because it was going to happen; and even crawling all the way to the top was not going to make any difference. But people just could not see that and did not realize the inevitability. So, finally, I was just like, ‘Whatever. Bring it on.’ I woke up when the ledge was crashing down. I never did see the lion; but I felt the danger it represented.”

Since lions are traditionally symbols for predatory behavior and aggression, my initial reaction to the dream was that the lion symbolized some sort of destructive threat, predator, or “attacker” in the dreamer’s daily life—possibly, an aggressive and brutal supervisor, co-worker, or family member. Because the lion in his dream was tearing people apart—and was, ultimately, going to do the same to the dreamer—it seemed to indicate a belief that this aggressive force in his waking world threatened to destroy him. However, before I could go any further, the dreamer stated that he knew exactly what his dream meant and why he’d had the dream—and it turns out that it was very high-level symbolism.

The dreamer explained that on the night of the dream, he had attended a 95 year-old relative’s birthday party. Seeing her physical decline had been extremely upsetting; and remembering how she had once been had forced him to confront the ravages of age not only in her, but also in himself. He stated that the lion in his dream was a personification of death—the ultimate predator. He explained, “I realized that we can’t hide from it. We can climb high, and try to hide behind doors, but it will eventually come for all of us. We can’t escape death. It’s the ultimate predator. But people live in denial, and they act like they are going to live forever. And they waste their life on pointless things. But it is just a matter of time—for all of us.” The dreamer had definitely unlocked the meaning of his own dream by understanding the personal symbolism of the lion.

To end on a positive note—perhaps, in the end, this relative’s dream was a lesson for all of us. Confronting our mortality can be very life-affirming. It can help us to live more fully and give us a heightened awareness of who and what is most important to us—and how we should spend the time that we are given. Acknowledging the fact that we are not going to live forever—and that the lion comes for all of us—can help us to better realize that we need to live our dreams, be true to ourselves, and find what makes us happy now because, as my grandma so wisely quoted, “Life is not a dress rehearsal” and “Someday truly is today”.

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