Photo credit Laura K. Deal

One of the most disturbing metaphors that dreams employ is that of death. A friend recently wrote to me after a dream that his son had died. The dream had been so vivid that he couldn’t shake the despair of it all day. As a metaphor, death represents, in Jeremy Taylor’s words, “profound psycho-spiritual growth and change.” Whatever dies in the dream represents that part of the dreamer that has changed so much that death is the only adequate metaphor. If the death in the dream is accidental, unintended, then I as the dreamer am changing in less than conscious ways. But if the dream is of suicide, then I’ve consciously pursued the change that the dream illustrates.

The problem with suicide dreams is that if they are taken literally, the dreamer may think the subconscious is actually recommending suicide as an option. This mistaken literalism gets in the way of understanding what the dream is trying convey, which is that change is necessary for spiritual growth. Even waking thoughts of suicide shouldn’t be taken literally, but only metaphorically. One of the great dream work teachers, Robert A. Johnson, used to say, “By all means, kill yourself, but do not harm your body.” It’s hard to reinvent ourselves, but it’s possible. Maybe all that’s needed is to find a creative outlet, or to pursue a creative outlet I already know with even more passion. I’ve been suicidal and I know how hard it is to think clearly, much less metaphorically, when all my inner demons have come out to play. But if I had known then what I know now, perhaps I would have sought ways to transform my life experience in a drastic, but non-lethal way.

A few months ago, a young woman wrote to me out of concern for her friend, who had had thoughts of suicide and dreamed often of an angelic being that came to her and took her flying. She also had dreams of being outside her body. The young woman who wrote was worried that her friend was seeing the dreams as an affirmation of her self-destructive thoughts. I offered this response:

 Flying dreams for me are often about creativity and my ability to express it in the world–a very good sign, if I’m flying. Having an angel by my side would suggest to me that my higher self is encouraging me to express my creativity. It’s often in creative acts that I get out of my worst funks and lose myself in the work. In my imagined version of this dream, the angel has come to remind me that I have freedom to be who I truly am here on this planet.

The out of body dream for me is a similar reminder that the life of the soul/spirit/higher self is eternal, and that the peace is available to me on this plane as well. I certainly understand the appeal of suicide–I’ve been in that space many times in my life–but I also know that something always comes along that makes me glad I stuck around, and that my work in this life isn’t done. If I had a dream where I experienced the profound peace described in your friend’s dream, I’d be encouraged (literally, filled with courage) to continue this life and endure its struggles knowing that the peace awaits me at the end. I know it’s hard to get through the days and nights sometimes, but with the advantage of being in my mid-life, I also know that the days and nights pass by faster and faster and that each day gives me some reason I’m glad to be here, even if it’s just seeing a flower in bloom or a beautiful sunset, or being able to hold the door open for someone who’s struggling more than I am. So if I were your friend, I’d take the dream as a sign that I can touch that greater consciousness of the universe (God, the Divine, whatever you want to call it) and take comfort in knowing that my higher self has given me this dream to comfort me.

Dreams of suicide and death are often disturbing and can have the impact of a nightmare. They get our attention. They’re asking us to find creative ways to change, to endure a metaphorical death. Or perhaps they’re showing us that we’ve already endured it. Either way, the subtext is always, “but do not harm your body.”



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4 thoughts on “Suicide and Transformation”

  1. Very beautifully written! This is SUCH an important message to get across, as you mention, not only for dreamers but also for those struggling with thoughts of committing suicide in waking life. Your honesty and candor when sharing your own personal struggles really helps to bring this crucial understanding of “not taking the urge literally” in crystal clear focus. I’ll be sharing this with some of the dreamers I work with.

    In fact, just the other day, I was working with a man who had a dream image of a warden in a prison enticing him and the other prisoners to drink water that the dreamer was certain had been poisoned. However, the dreamer continually described the water as “crystal clear.” The work progressed and my projections continued to move towards, “in my imagined version of this dream, am I supposed to drink the crystal clear water? Am I supposed to die so that I and the other imprisoned parts of my psyche can transform and be free?”

    I have such tremendous respect for the dreams as they always seem to choose the most clever (albeit paradoxical) symbol that helps us to grow and evolve!

    1. Thanks, Billie. That’s an intense dream image you worked with. In my version, it’s crystal clear that the metaphorical death is required, and the answer to your second question is a resounding yes.

  2. Thanks for such a positive perspective for dreams that challenge our desire to hang around and do the work. It feels so right and just like a dream to affirm the living.

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