There may be nothing more archetypal than the ocean. As humans, we’ve depended on its waters to provide food and entertainment (sailing, surfing), and we’ve suffered when its enormous power has risen up in unexpected ways. Tsunamis and storms remind us that we have not truly mastered natural forces.
In dreams, the ocean often represents the unconscious, but it can also be a great well of emotion. When dreamers have reported dreams of struggling underwater, there is usually, at least at one level, a place in their lives where emotions have overwhelmed them. By contrast, dreaming of breathing underwater suggests the ability to survive the great overwhelm of emotion.
I’ve dreamed of the ocean and its creatures many times. In waking life, I love walking along beaches and finding the treasures tossed up by the waves, with the sound of the surf helping me relax. I sense eternity when I watch the waves rolling in, and find comfort in the fact that my life, no matter how difficult at the time, is but a heartbeat in the life of the world. But in my dreams, the ocean comes to remind me that I need to be quick on my feet to dodge the tsunamis that life throws my way. Or that my little boat won’t protect me from the life I’m destined to experience. Or that I am not really so very different from the creatures that live in the water’s depths.
My mother grew up near the ocean and loved it her whole life, so for me the ocean in a dream carries my relationship with her in a symbolic way. Shortly after she died, I dreamed of helping her across a river between a street and a beach, and having to take my bearings on the beach before we started walking, so I’d be sure to find my way back. The building I saw was a symbol for my writing and creative life, and in waking life, I spent a long time walking in grief. It was, in large part, my writing that kept me anchored as those waves of emotion rolled in. Now when I visit the ocean, that grief always rises, but it’s gentler now, like waves in a sheltered bay.