The Power of Symbols, Dreams and Mandalas
By Marie Davis, MA, LPC and Tayria Ward, Ph.D
“At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.” ~ Warsan Shire
The concept of life as a journey is not a new one. Spiritual seekers of all ages speak of it as a journey of returning, a quest to find their true home. Home is a metaphor and a symbol at the heart of numerous writings describing the inner quest.
Marie: In my work, I find that metaphor and symbols allow people to talk about experiences and feelings that elude concrete description. Home is one such symbol. At one point in my life, when traveling to different places every month, I began to realize that home was where I was, a state of being that resided within me.
When I met Tayria, we clicked right away on our love for the language of images; we immediately felt at home together. Collaborating with her in our work has been affirming, stretching me and deepening the work that I do with my own clients. Through exploring how my life has been speaking to me in dreams, I am able to discover myself on a deeper level, bringing me closer and closer to “my true home.”
I grew up in a family that outwardly appeared well put-together, but was actually chaotic. While I knew that my parents loved me, I didn’t feel like I had a home, a safe place for me to unfold. Even at a very young age, I had a vivid dream life where my feelings of not being safe and protected showed themselves. I dreamed of being chased, of dark looming figures following me, of searching in a dark maze for something; I didn’t know what.
I would find myself in apartments, houses, condos, skyscrapers—various images for home—always exploring, searching, or looking for safety. Sometimes there would be people around, other times I would be alone, yet images of “looking for a place to live” were ever present.
As an adult, I began searching for ways to heal the wounds and insecurities of younger years, realizing a need to create a home within myself. To accomplish this, I had to re-parent myself so the “I” inside could unfold. Using psychotherapy, mind/body medicine, and spirituality that incorporated symbology, I began healing and my dreams changed. As I did this deep inner work, the weather in my dreams cleared; furnishings inside dwellings improved; people became more welcoming and friendly. Consequently, I began to focus on using dreams and symbols/images for healing.
Tayria: The function of dreams in general is to bring one home to oneself, to what is really going on inside, which isn’t always apparent in the outward gaze of daily living. Dreams speak a symbolic language. Every image, even the seemingly mundane, carries an important message from the unconscious to help the dreamer become aware of what the conscious mind does not yet know, but needs to: something relevant and important, something to bring balance, well-being and healing. By working with our dreams and their images, we begin a process of coming home deep within ourselves, the home we have been longing for.
When I met Marie, she lit up when she learned that I am a Jungian-oriented psychologist who works with people’s dreams. She described the powerful work she does creating mandalas, which seems a potent way of dreaming while awake. The mandala images, and the relationships among them, emerge from the same realm of the psyche as dreams do—the in-between land of dream-time.
The first dream of Marie’s that I worked with had a lot of imagery about home. The action took place in different rooms and areas around the house, each of which gave us insight into the “problem” expressed in the dream, along with helpful messages for her.
In dream symbology, “house” is a classic representation of the Self. Its structure represents the structure of the psyche. The front of the house indicates the part of Self that can be seen from the street, from the outside. The back yard is more private, generally known only to friends and family. Activity in the living area points to the more social or public parts of the personality, while the bedroom represents confidential or secret places. In a bathroom, cleansing and elimination are the focus. The basement can represent the subconscious—the attic the higher unconscious. What goes on and who shows up in these areas gives us clues to the inner life of the psyche.
This one symbol—home—is a rich example of how the Self uses imagery to show us what is going on subconsciously. The unconscious runs like a software program behind the scenes, directing everything: our perceptions, interpretations of what is said and what happens, thoughts and feelings, common reactions—everything! When we know how these programs operate, we can update or upgrade them, giving ourselves new choices for living.
Tayria and Marie were simultaneously inspired by each other and now collaborate to combine their complimentary perspectives. They have created an imagery series to explore dream work and mandala-making in small groups, to stimulate creative exposition of the images and tap into the personal and collective unconscious. The investigation of sleeping and waking dreams has been exciting for both.
Marie: By using the structure of the alchemical mandala, we have a form to address the images our soul offers. The mandalic structure is a visual representation of the process of alchemy—the transformation of material from one state to another, higher state. Using our dream imagery, we can help our soul transform the raw material of our unconscious into a higher form, thereby growing and evolving. Each step of this transformational journey brings us closer to our true home.
In our collaborative work together, Tayria and I offer group participants an opportunity to dialogue with their unconscious, using the language of its images. Each week, one or two members explore a dream with Tayria. By asking a series of questions to discover associations, she helps the dreamer understand the message within the symbols and activity.
Tayria: Every dream is personal, and also has a collective significance; archetypes and patterns in the collective unconscious, as well as for the individual, are revealed. Because of this, one person’s dream can become a rich source of insight for each person in the group.
Working with dreams and mandalas together brings the images into consciousness. It is fascinating to realize they are not just products of our minds, nor are they matter—the paper or substance that expresses them. They are actual living things that reside in the intermediate realm between mind and matter. Our work takes us into this “other” in-between realm, where transformation and healing begin. When we address these images in a sacred manner, significant revelations often occur. They offer strong medicine, capable of shifting mental and physical conditions.
A process of inviting the images back into sleep completes the cycle, which begins a further exploration and dialogue with the unconscious. Each symbol becomes a personal guide to further individuation.
“Home is where the heart is.” I once had a dream where I heard the words, “The heart speaks in images.” Much later, I learned that indigenous people say the same thing about the language of the heart. arie and I are excited about this journey to learn the heart’s language and venture closer and closer to its core.
Tayria Ward, Ph.D., a depth psychologist and dream analyst in private practice who does phone and face-to-face sessions. Her office is in Asheville’s Flatiron Building. Contact her at 828-329-0853 or visit www.tayriaward.com.
Marie O. Davis, MA, LPC, is an expressive arts and body-centered therapist in private practice in Asheville, part of Asheville Healing House collective. More information about her work can be found at www.bodysoulspiritasheville.com.