Satya Doyle Byock usually explores readers' dreams on Back of the Brain. This response includes reflections from the dreamer herself.
Q: In my dream, I am walking through a concrete landscape holding hands with Chris Harrison, the host of The Bachelorette, as if he’s a father figure. He leads me to a warehouse space where a lot of men work. When I walk in, I see a big fish in a tank in the center of the room. One of the men is reminded to change the water in the tank when I look at it. When he does, I see that the fish has turned into a robust mermaid, almost filling the whole tank. She’s still fishy, but her top half is definitely more human. She revels in the change of water and the movement it causes, and then settles back down, blissfully content.
A: Fabulous! I love how pop culture and archetypal imagery interact in this short dream. When we began exploring your dream together, you told me you had no idea what it meant, nor could you imagine where the dream’s characters had come from. You couldn’t remember any recent references to mermaids or The Bachelorette in your daily life. So where does that leave us? We begin our exploration of the dream with the shared assumption that it is not just a nonsensical collection of faded memories or forgotten thoughts. There must be more going on here.
In digging into the meaning of this dream, let’s begin with the fish! When fish or sea creatures arrive in dreams, we’re often seeing something coming out of the depths of the emotional, watery unconscious. This fish, appearing front and center in your dream, represents some feeling-based part of you that is not yet entirely familiar, but which seeks your attention. The fish’s transformation is critical. Like the alchemy of making gold from stone, something very valuable is emerging from something seemingly less valuable.
So what’s emerging? As in a good fairy tale, the plot and direction of a dream can often be seen by what is absent at the outset. What’s missing in your dream, at least at first, are female characters. You are the only female in a dreamscape of men. As the dream progresses, however, we see a rebalancing of things when the mermaid, a partial human woman, begins to emerge. I suspect that some aspect of your femininity is beginning to develop more fully…
The appearance of Chris Harrison gave us a good clue that this dream is also reflecting issues related to relationships and dating. As the host of The Bachelorette, Chris Harrison is a guide to love and romance. So let’s talk about your dating life... You shared with me that you have, in fact, started seeing someone recently who you’re pretty excited about. Congrats! When we start new relationships, old feelings, fears, and fantasies that we haven’t seen for a while can come to the surface, like fish from deep waters. (!) This dream is likely exploring some bit of inner transformation that this new relationship has evoked. When we dream, our life experiences get mulled over and integrated into our consciousness. Our conscious minds may well be offline when we sleep, but our brains are still digesting things, just as our stomachs do with food long after we’ve forgotten a meal. You’re chewing on something big, it seems…
I was heartened to hear that your associations to Chris Harrison were positive. You commented that his role on The Bachelorette is to support the woman looking for love — “he’s on her side,” you told me. Good. If your associations had been negative, we might have been looking at a different interpretation. Just as he does on the show, he’s acting as a guide in your dream. It is he who holds your hand and brings you into the building where you meet your mermaid, an important, evolving part of you.
Okay, so how does all of this come together? And what about the mermaid?? After all, that was the part of the dream that most thrilled you and piqued your curiosity.
Mermaids have appeared (however fleetingly) throughout the history of human storytelling, across cultures and centuries. There are seemingly endless mythological references, from Irish fairy tales to Greek legend. And in nearly all these myths, from the Sirens to the Merrow, mermaids are represented as sensual feminine figures, associated with their relationships to human men, sometimes in ways that bewitch and cause danger, and other times expressing loyalty, love, and devotion. These myths are an important part of what Jung called the collective unconscious, and they hint at the role of this fish-lady in your psyche.
For you (as you mentioned to me), the strongest association to mermaids is of having watched the Disney version of The Little Mermaid as a girl. The Little Mermaid, of course, is about a young mermaid, Ariel, and her desire to become fully human so she can be with the human she loves. Given the father-figure relationship depicted in your dream, I asked you about your thoughts on the father-daughter relationship in the Little Mermaid. Your associations were that her father is well-meaning in his love for her, but he’s also blinded by it. “He can’t see what she truly wants and needs,” you told me, “and she doesn’t want to disobey him to get it.” When you reported this, it was evident that it had struck a chord for you. The same dynamic applies to your inner mermaid. This feminine, sensual, romantic aspect of yourself is well-enough taken care of, but she's also quickly outgrowing the space in which she’s held. In your description, the men seem to care for her, but she’s not free to roam. She must express to the men around her what she truly needs to thrive. Let’s not forget too that, initially, the price Ariel had to pay to join her prince was the loss of her voice. Don’t make that your price in seeking love. For this part of you to become fully human, to come out of the unconscious and into consciousness, you’ll need to make sure her voice is her own, and that the men around her hear with their heart what she’s saying. When Ariel learned to declare what she needed, for her, her father was able to see that her joy was paramount and lovingly set her free. She joined her prince, with new legs and her voice restored.
A deep part of your feminine being is evolving. Something to do with your new relationship seems to have awakened a confidence in your sensual and romantic self. When I mentioned this, you nodded yes. You know what's going on. You’re learning, little by little, to express your needs and wishes more fully. You can feel yourself discarding old layers of the conventional expectations of womanhood for a way of life that feels more authentic, more you.
As in the ritual of baptism, the immersion in water represents a rebirth into a higher state of being. You're cleaning some old stuff, it seems — inner detritus and pollution — out of yourself, and purified waters are flowing in. In the new waters, this new oxygen and life, your mermaid revels in bliss. This dream portends deep changes for a subtle, embodied, authentic feminine. For this new element of you to become fully human, fully integrated into your conscious life, she’ll need to validate herself and her emotions more completely. As your dream seems to be telling you, no roaring or shouting is necessary to give her what she needs, just a quiet, confident way of being.
Satya Doyle Byock is a psychotherapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon, specializing in work with individuals in their twenties and thirties. Visit Back of the Brain if you have a dream you'd like to share with her.
Image via Flickr/HeyRocker