Rock formations in Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Photo by John Dwyer

When I imagine caves for myself, they don’t usually astonish me with color, like the formations in John’s photo do. Rather they are dark and mysterious places, a perfect metaphor for going within to rest, to dream, and to learn what wisdom lies within. I picture a bear, or other wild animal, finding a cave to sleep most of the winter away, letting the mind explore through dreams rather than waking experience. So caves in dreams are, for me, self-referential, or a meta-level comment on the dream, its presence an invitation to me to remember that I’m dreaming.

Because I tend to equate hibernation in caves with bears, even though I know other animals hibernate, if a cave shows up in my dream, I’ll likely ask myself if I’ve been acting like a bear lately, Mama or Papa or Cub. That makes me remember that bear cubs are born in the depth of winter, born of dreams. Is there a part of me that is newly born?

Because hibernation is a long sleep, and sleep for me is about dreams and healing and integration, a cave evokes that sense of taking time to heal, to integrate, and to let the dreams speak. Time to rest. Every winter, I get a few days of feeling so miserable from some head cold that the only reasonable thing to do is rest. (Exactly the space I’m in as I write this.) It’s hard to learn to take the time to rest first, before the misery hits, but if I forget my body is willing to remind me. Illness is a “cave” time for me.

Of course, caves that hold darkness hold the unconscious. My fears lie in those shadows, as do the very gifts I need to stay conscious to larger patterns and bigger purposes than my human self tends to notice on a quotidian basis. So a cave in a dream is an invitation to explore my shadow self, to look deeply into the parts of myself that I like to believe it would be easier to ignore. In truth, if I ignore them too long, they will get my attention, through feathers or bricks. I always pray to be awake enough to notice the feather.

For me, a particular dream about a cave provided a whole different set of associations, which I’ll go into more next week when I discuss The Consort.

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3 thoughts on “Cave as Metaphor”

  1. I only remember one cave dream. I wrote it down, but haven’t gone back to look it up. I think it was a pretty straightforward memory of going on a tour, with a tour guide and a bunch of tourists, like we used to do on family vacations. There was a large chamber and metal stairs. I’ll see if I can find it sometime.

    As a kid, caves for me meant the fear of being trapped and crushed by falling rocks, as well as the fascination with total darkness and the amazing rock formations. A very mixed set of associations.

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