Shark Dreams

Written by  //  February 3, 2013  //  DREAM JOURNAL, MY LIFE  //  2 Comments

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I dream all night, every night. Sometimes my dreams are so exciting that I wake up two or three times each night just to think about the events that were playing out and all of the possibilities of where the dreams came from and where they might have gone.

I have had many instances in which recurring themes, places, people, and events have shown up on a consistent basis and sometimes even months or years apart. However, there is one theme that has been the most pervasive, most recurrent and, at times, most upsetting:

Sharks.

The number of variations on this theme have been endless. There are shark dreams that occur in the middle of the dark ocean or above coral reefs. There are shark attack dreams that occur in weird buildings, such as this dream (http://mitchellcolver.com/?p=452) and one dream in which I was studying the sharks in some kind of science lab maze building with plexiglass bulwarks, tubes, floors, ramps, and viewing panes – almost out of a video game or movie. In one dream, there was a shark in a bayou guarding a bridge over shallow water and in another there was a shark large enough to attack an entire cruise ship.

The one overarching dynamic in all of these dreams is that somewhere, somehow, those sharks are going to find a way to eat me.

I used to be unnerved by it every time the attacks would ensue. Often, I would wake up at the very last jaw-gaping moment to find my real-self in a fit of panic. After experiencing the dreams for sometime, a strange fascination with the whole affair led me to attempt to stay in-dream to witness the carnage of my body being chewed apart. Sometimes this would last through the gruesomeness, sometimes I would become emotionally overwhelmed and wake up. And eventually, because of the frequent recurrence, I became so desensitized to the attacks that I would find myself lasting through the entire chewing and the swallowing, so as to end up in the belly of the beast with no escape.

If you asked where I thought these dreams were coming from, my face-value answer would be that I had watched too many JAWS movies at an incredibly early age. Actually, by age 6, I had seen all four JAWS films. I think that I was inadvertently allowed to see a few of them and have a distinct memory of seeing the fourth by devious means. One night, as I was ushered off to bed, my older siblings were turning on JAWS 4. I allowed my mother to tuck me in and then, after the coast was clear, I belly-crawled back out of my room and down the hall to the living room. One of the couches we owned, a soft white one, had six long wooden legs that created a space underneath the couch large enough for a 6 year old to clandestinely slip into. I watched the entire movie from this secret, hidden viewpoint.

These early experiences with JAWS led me to have certain paranoid beliefs about sharks, in general. Thanks, Steven Spielberg. For example, I used to be sure that JAWS herself had swum up through the sewer pipes to my very house and was lurking just beneath the bathtub drain, waiting to launch her attack on my poor, defenseless self. I also had the distinct impression that a great, white shark (literally large and literally white) used to live in the irrigation canal near my childhood home. Another time, when my family first visited Chicago, we happen to go to the shore of Lake Michigan at night and my older brother dared me to go and touch the water. I refused out of absolute conviction that JAWS was lurking there in dark, glassy (fresh) water waiting to strike. Years later, after hearing about the freshwater tolerance of bull sharks, who have been found swimming as far up the Mississippi as Minneapolis, I’m still not convinced that my premonitions about Lake Michigan that night were entirely wrong.

At any rate, eventually it occurred to me that these recurring shark dreams, while possibly born out of my experiences with horror films, would not be so persistent if they did not have some deep, subconscious meaning.

One unusual aspect of the dreams is that I have felt as though I am being consistently attacked by the same exact shark time after time. More striking, I have felt that I was somehow tethered to this shark in some weird way, otherwise, how was it able to find me so quickly every time? And, most unnervingly, each time, after being eaten, I would start out with a whole body (completely ungnawed) and ready to be eaten all over again, as if the shark was never actually digesting me in the first place.

These suspicious features of the dream finally came into fruition in one dream in which I was, in fact, tethered to the shark by the same kind of velcro strap that surfers use on their surfboard. Also, after being consumed by the shark in this dream, I fell out into the water through a giant slit in the shark’s belly, only to be eaten again.

Several years ago, when I was a graduate student, a professor named Gail Hicks spoke to our class and gave us some great insight into dreams. One way to interpret dreams, she explained, is to view each and every character or object as a representation of oneself. Regardless of using this viewpoint, she added, it is worthwhile to acknowledge that, whether or not characters within dreams actually represent ourselves, they are fundamentally under our subconscious control. Even the most sick and twisted characters with the most sick and twisted behaviors are born of our own subconscious narrative. As such, a valuable question one can ask oneself is: why would I be causing this dream to happen?

I asked myself this question many times about the shark dreams. What was I trying to show myself? How was I supposed to be benefiting from these dreams?

The answer to this question did not come until I had casually mentioned the dreams to a colleague at work, Judy McMillan. Normally, I only spoke with Judy about graphic projects that I would occasionally ask her to work on. One day though, during an impromptu conversation in the hallway, my shark dreams somehow came up. She was intrigued and wondered if I had ever considered that the shark might be a personal totem. I responded with interested, but admitted that I had never been aware of the concept. Yes, she explained, recurring animal manifestations in dreams are interpreted, by some cultures, to signify a personal totem or spirit guide that represents ourselves and some aspect or characteristic of our nature.

With Judy’s advice, I returned to the introspective drawing board to attempt to suss out whether or not these sharks were actually a manifestation of my personal totem. To be honest, if her hypothesis were true, my first reaction was disappointment. If anything, I had hoped that my personal totem would be something like an elephant, not a sneaky shark. I can imagine myself yelling Expecto Patronum! to produce a giant, majestic, white elephant, fully ready to trample my enemies and such. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that there is much choice involved in these matters, and so I have been resigned to accept that my totem might very well be a great white shark (majestic or otherwise).

But what characteristics or qualities of a shark would be so relevant to my actual personality as to prompt my subconscious to manifest the shark as my personal totem?

The answer to this question did not take very long to answer at all.

The most salient and distinguishing feature of the shark is that it is an eating machine. Everything about its entire physiology is design for it to consume a massive amount of sustenance in a extremely efficient manner:

– Rows and rows of teeth that constantly move forward to replace broken or missing ones
– Massive gaping jaws
– 4000 lbs. of bite force
– The way its eyes creepily roll back in its head and shut during an attack
– Its ability to smell blood in the water from a quarter mile away
– And, maybe best of all, its Ampullae of Lorenzini (jelly filled pores in its snout that can sense electromagnetic energy in the water generated by the limb movements of its prey)

Regardless of the details, one thing is for sure: the shark represents and insatiable desire to consume. Add a hole in its belly, like the one in my dream, and it would have all the more reason to constantly seek out, consume, and inevitably lose a great deal of everything it had worked so hard to acquire.

As I thought about my life and how this imagery might apply, the answers cam quite clearly: I have an insatiable appetite for novel experiences.

Whether I am buying a new CD or a new book or a new painting or a new DVD or a new board game or a new piece of furniture, I frequently do not know when to stop. In fact, there are many times when I have purchased a new DVD or CD or book when there are other, recently purchased and unwrapped DVDs, CDs, and books that I haven’t even digested yet. Pun intended.

What’s worse is that I believe strongly that I do the same thing with friends. Rather than appreciating the friends that I already have (the ones in my belly, so to speak), I’m always out to make new ones. In fact, I think that there are many friendships that I have neglected terribly simply out of not putting in enough time.

The theme continues in other aspects of my life, but it suffices me to say that, through these shark dream experiences, I became alarmingly aware that I was not (and am still not) doing enough to sew up my belly, so to speak, and take the time to appreciate what I already have.

This concept is related to something found in 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all evil…” Imminent biblical scholar Hugh Nibley has indicated that the phrase “love of money” is a weak translation of the Greek word “philaguria,” which actually means the love of having more than enough. As Nibley explains “There’s nothing wrong with having sufficient [for our needs]… it’s wanting more, that’s the thing, because more than enough is more than enough.”

This isn’t to say that, although I recognizing wanting more than what is sufficient is the root of all evil, I am willing to give up my appetite for novel experiences, or that this would even be wise. On the contrary, part of acknowledging that my personal totem is this shark is also having a keen appreciation for the fact that the sharks ability to seek out new sustenance, so to speak, is not only uncanny, but actually quite beautiful – that is, if the shark actually appreciates all that he consumes, rather than simply wanting more than can be appreciated. In fact, I believe that I am known amongst my good friends and students as an individual who is exceptional at conducting research, at collecting a wealth of useful (and sometimes not so useful) knowledge, at making new acquaintances & becoming close friends with them, and at being apprised of some of the most interesting factoids that one could hope to share. In other words, I am great at seeking and hunting and consuming. I also think that the shark, as a creature, has great intuitive, perhaps even magical-seeming insight into the world around himself. This, too, is perhaps manifest in my ability to sniff out the metaphoric blood in people’s water and get a sense of their motivations and such – just like the shark using its Ampullae of Lorenzini to sense the movements of the creatures around itself.

All of this is punctuated by the fact that seeking novel experiences is on penchant of the creative mind. One of my long time projects (10+ years in the works) is a model of personality that is fundamentally based around the idea that certain individuals have an insatiable desire for novel experiences and that this insatiable desire can either be a blessing or a curse, depending on how it is used (if used for creativity, it’s a blessing; if used for addictions, it’s a curse). Not surprisingly, these shark dreams outline one way in which the desire to have new experiences can be destructive: if the individual does not fully digest new experiences and friendships and appreciate them for what they are.

Thinking on all of this, I have wondered if moving around so much as a child (26 houses in 27 years) isn’t partially to blame for my inability to properly exercise ongoing gratitude for friendships and possessions and such. Moving so frequently puts great distance between oneself and ones most prized experiences (quite literally). And I believe that there were many times that I had to leave friends behind in a way that eventually made me, sadly, desensitized to losing track of close friends. I also had to give up many possessions over the years, here a little and there a little with each move. Perhaps that also factors into my foibled mentality.

Regardless of the cause, now that I can see the defect, it is definitely something that I hope to work on. As I said before, I hope to sew up my belly and start fully appreciating my experiences and friendships, rather than wanting more than what is sufficient for my needs.

One primary example of how this has played out is my current situation at work. I love my job more than I have loved any job or school or position or place that I’ve ever been. It has brought to me more growth and delight and happiness and friendships and success than at any other time in my life. Interestingly, though, for the past three years (all three years that I have held the job) I have been trying to find something better… first, in 2011, I tried to get into the University of Chicago or Purdue for graduate school. When that did not pan out, I set my sights on applying for jobs within the University of California system, specifically at UC Davis. When that did not pan out, I devoted myself to an application to Standford’s School of Education. All the while, I was experiencing great rewards and blessings within my current position and, perhaps, letting so much of them fall out my belly without being fully appreciated, simply because I was spending too much time looking forward wanting more than enough.

Nibley continues: “…people start wanting things… and there’s no end. And you’re tempted first, you must own this and you must that, and then of course the Book of Mormon puts this beautifully: then the rivalries, the bitterness, and ending finally in murders and so forth; it builds up there. But the temptation and then the snare, you’re caught in the rapids and into many foolish desires for things… I’ve got to have that, I’ve set my heart on that…”

Well, I’ve just heard back from Stanford and, like the other opportunities, the answer was a no. Not surprisingly, I’ve already set my sights on the next opportunity, this time a teaching job in Seattle, but am left wondering if that is even the right course of action, all things considered.

The bottom line here is that I need to appreciate life and not consume it so thanklessly. And that sure gives me a lot to think about. “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Whether one is religious and believes that blessings and well-being come from a supreme being or whether one is not-especially-religious and believes that life is just good to us for no special reason, we can be sure that exercising more gratitude is not a bad thing: “Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering [that] they are given for the benefit of those who love me and keep all my commandments… not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts” (D&C 46:8-9). And the Qu’ran adds “Verily your Lord provides sustenance in abundance for whom He pleases, and He provides in a just measure. For He knows and regards all His servants.”

And perhaps that is my final problem. I need to not only focus on living a good life, but also remember to seek out the best gifts with great appreciation and a sure knowledge that God knows me and will provide for my family in just measure. More importantly, I need to acknowledge and appreciate and exercise good stewardship over all of the gifts that I already have been given (most of which are the people who fill my everyday life). Perhaps accepting that is the trick to sewing up my belly. And I certainly hope that I can be a better version of myself and live up to the promptings of my spirit-guide-totem-shark-friend that eats me every other night. =]

UPDATE: I shared these experiences with a former student and friend as we walked across campus this morning and, at the end, she said something that had not only never occurred to me, but that was incredibly helpful. In a very nonchalantly insightful way she said, “Maybe when you finally appreciate what you have, you’ll be ready for something more.” I enthusiastically replied “Yeah!” as we parted ways, but it actually took a few seconds for the depth of what she said to sink in.

Maybe when I finally appreciate what I have, I’ll be ready for something more.

Maybe when I finally appreciate what I have, I’ll be ready for something more!

I knew she was right! And as I sit here, and the paradoxical irony sinks in, I can see that what I thought the dream meant was that I should be satisfied with what I have and never expect any more. In reality, being satisfied is what makes us capable of appreciating something more, which thing I had never really supposed. So thanks, Ashly, for the added insight; it came just at the right time! =]

2 Comments on "Shark Dreams"

  1. Roy February 21, 2013 at 3:34 pm ·

    If a shark attacked you in the ocean, why not just appreciate the opportunity to see it feeding in its natural habitat? ๐Ÿ˜›

    • Mitchell C. Colver February 21, 2013 at 3:45 pm ·

      Yeah! Absolutely! There’s this little tidbit up in there: “After experiencing the dreams for sometime, a strange fascination with the whole affair led me to attempt to stay in-dream to witness the carnage of my body being chewed apart. Sometimes this would last through the gruesomeness, sometimes I would become emotionally overwhelmed and wake up. And eventually, because of the frequent recurrence, I became so desensitized to the attacks that I would find myself lasting through the entire chewing and the swallowing, so as to end up in the belly of the beast with no escape.”

      It’s kind of hilarious, actually, how our mind handles that kind of thing. =]

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