Keeping a dream journal is one way to track symbols across dreams. Even if you don’t keep one, though, you can still easily track symbols that appear in multiple dreams from the same night. By connecting them, you can see the development of something, clarification of something, or reinforcement of what the symbol represents. I had this happen recently with two dreams involving stairs that I had on the same night.
I wake up in my family’s old apartment and it’s night. I get up to go to the bathroom. I walk into the hall and find my sister has put a washing machine there. It’s in my way and I have to move it by pushing it aside. I push it so that it’s now standing near a staircase near the bathroom that leads downstairs. The staircase is unfamiliar and feels creepy. I think how I never want to go down there.
I’m standing at the open door to my apartment. It’s a bright day. There’s a staircase leading down to the ground level. I see my neighbor leading another guy up the stairs to his apartment, which is to the right of mine. Then I see someone else who looks androgynous standing at the foot of my staircase looking up at me. I don’t want to let this person in, so I close the door.
The symbol these two dreams shared was a staircase. There are three staircases involved, one in the first dream going down, one in the second dream going down, and one in the second dream going up (to the neighbor’s apartment). The first thing to establish is the general meaning of a staircase.
I generally see stairs as representing moving from one level of consciousness, awareness, or knowledge to another. We might learn something or become more aware of something and rise to a higher level of conscious awareness. Something might be at a lower level of consciousness or awareness, meaning that we haven’t yet learned something or become aware of something. Stairs also have steps, which implies the learning or awareness process is gradual.
In the first dream, I’m in the dark, which shows lack of awareness of something. When I see the stairs, they’re new to me and give me a creepy feeling. They evoke an emotional reaction, one of complete rejection. The feeling is that if I go down the stairs, I’ll be going into even deeper darkness than where I am now. There’s scary stuff down there, or so I believe.
Notice that I’m in a place where I used to live with my family. There are also two symbols of cleansing or purification in this dream: the washing machine and the bathroom. Issues from the past can “soil” us in the sense that they drive us to behave in ways that are inauthentic. The stairs leading down can specifically represent delving deeper into a past issue that’s controlling me in a destructive way. I have to go down there, find out what it is and what it’s doing to me, before I can be cleansing of it.
I woke up from the first dream and did some preliminary interpretation before I fell asleep again. I was struggling at the time with learning how to balance logical analysis with intuition in making a difficult decision. In the past, I’d rely almost entirely on logical analysis, weighing pros and cons and doing “what made sense” and often going against what I really wanted.
I came to realize that that this is an inauthentic way to make decisions. I then went through a period where I swung the other way, resisting any kind of logical analysis and making decisions based solely on what I was feeling. There’s a kind of in-the-moment experience when you do that, but I learned that this isn’t always appropriate for long-term decisions. When I had the dream, I had to make a long-term decision, but I didn’t know how much logical analysis was too much and what place my intuition had in the decision-making process.
Continuity of symbols between dreams doesn’t always have to be with the exact same symbol. You can connect symbols that have similar characteristics. The similarities will link the symbols, and the differences could show you progress (or lack of it) or give you additional information about the issue.
For instance, once I worked through the issue underlying these two dreams, I dreamt of climbing a sacred mountain. The mountain shares some aspects of a staircase. You move from a lower level to a higher level (or vice versa). You climb it one step at a time. In addition, a mountain is a classic symbol for illumination, and this one specifically had a spiritual quality. The sacred mountain in the later dream was a development of the stairs in the previous dreams.
The second dream reflects the quick interpretation I did after waking up from the first dream. Notice how there’s now light where there was darkness. The staircase now leads from inside a place to outside of it rather than from one level to another within the same place. That can represent the potential for gaining a more objective perspective, which often helps us see things more clearly.
I witness a neighbor, meaning a part of me, leading his friend (another part of me) up some stairs to another place next to me. We can see this as a process of gaining knowledge. The neighbor might be a kind of guide and the friend might be the part of me that’s about to learn from this guide.
At the end of the dream, though, I close myself off to further learning when I close the door on the androgynous person at the foot of the stairs. Someone androgynous traditionally represents the union of “male” and “female.” In this case, I identified those with logical analysis and intuition, since that was the issue I was dealing with. My androgynous visitor would need to come up the stairs, again a symbol of gaining knowledge, in order for me to learn how to find the balance between the two.
It’s not clear in the dream why I closed the door on this possibility. I ended up slipping into logical analysis in attempting to make the decision (pros and cons list and so forth), but luckily dreams steered me away from continuing with that. I eventually discovered that balancing logical analysis with intuition started with figuring out what would make me feel good and then analyzing the situation to see how I could make that happen. Conflicts over doing what makes me feel good just because it makes me feel good was the scary stuff that I was avoiding.*
As shown in this example, you gain some interesting insights when you link similar symbols across multiple dreams. This is most natural to do when the dreams are from the same night or subsequent nights. If you keep a dream journal, though, you have the benefit of linking similar symbols over longer periods of time. Since some situations take weeks or even months to resolve, tracking the same or similar symbols can give you a better sense of breaks in your progress and show you pitfalls that you might not see otherwise.
* I won’t go into the psychological distortions behind this, but I’ll just mention that it’s not uncommon for abuse survivors, particularly sexual abuse survivors, to avoid what makes them feel good.