Let me begin by saying two things:
1 – the feeling of falling you get as you fall asleep that suddenly jerks you awake is a biological reaction, and not in fact a “dream.” Usually referred to as “Hynagogic jerks” or “hypnic jerks” these involuntary muscle spasms are believed to effect up 70% of the population and are entirely normal, if not completely understood. Whether they occur as a result of misfiring muscles, an ancient genetic memory from our simian ancestors to stop us falling out of trees as our muscles relax, or something else, the fact remains they are not actually a dream, and not at all dangerous. (You can read more here: https://www.livescience.com/39225-why-people-twitch-falling-asleep.html and here: https://sleep.org/articles/hypnic-jerks/)
2 – which leads me to the second point, that common concern that if you don’t awake from a falling dream before you hit the ground, that you will actually die in reality. Perhaps this belief stems from the first point, a deep belief that we must cling to safety in order to survive, as a monkey in a tree might… You can google yourself the countless articles that refute this, but if scientific research is not enough for you, I can give you my direct personal feedback that if you dream of falling and keep dreaming to hit the ground… you will NOT actually die in waking life. Though in my own personal experience, I did in fact, die in the dream. And went on to keep dreaming… (By now I have hoped you realise that the laws of physics and commonly accepted constraints of “reality” do not apply here…)
So, what DOES it mean to dream of falling? This is a rather complex symbol, as it contains so many inherent opposites. “Falling” in so many instances has negative connotations. We talk about “falling from grace,” falling “from esteem,” “falling into depression,” to be “down on one’s luck,” to be at your “lowest point,” to “hit rock bottom.” If all that is associated with “highness” and elevation – joy, social status, wealth, opportunity, spiritual state etc. is seen as “good” then any aspect of falling, must by measure of what is lost, be “bad.” And yet we know this isn’t the whole story. We also “fall” in love, we “fall” asleep. In this aspect “falling” implies a beautiful surrender, a sense of letting go to something greater and more enriching than the mundane day to day. We also speak of “falling on our feet” when chance and accident benefits us, of “falling into bed” when passion overtakes senses, of “falling down to earth” when we regain our sense after a period of distraction. We can “fall for” someone we love, but we can “fall apart” when that love is lost…
What then, is the unifying theme that can help us make sense of such complexity? One of the common themes here is a sense of control, especially when countered against voluntary surrender versus involuntary losing of control. Another common underlying thread of a falling dream is about freedom and release.
To dream of falling may question us to look at what we are holding tight to, and whether that thing is beneficial or not for our growth as a human being. So many dreams of falling begin by holding tightly to something, that desperate hanging on, the terror of losing a grip that may result in the fall… In waking life then, we may like to consider: What is it you are holding on to that you really need to let go (if not at least, loosen your grip?) What do you need to let go of in order to develop, to move on? What are you afraid would happen if you stopped clinging to something? And if you were to lose it, then perhaps you were the only one trying to hold on, and it is something that should perhaps be freed…And perhaps, in the releasing, you would also be freed yourself.
Sometimes the dream is not of “holding on tight” but of balance, of trying to move precariously along a cliff edge, the ledge of a skyscraper, between towering buildings, along a tree branch etc. Such dreams speak to us of compromise, of trying to internally manage various different expectations we think others have of us, and we have of ourselves – often of trying to be everything for everyone, being afraid if we fail, if we stop for just an instant, the whole world will collapse around us. This kind of pressure is unsustainable, and will eventually do harm not only to ourselves, but to the very people we are trying to serve or protect in the long run. A dream of falling in such a situation may be nudging us towards seeking help, support or simply to know when enough is enough, and when to say “no.”
Dreams of falling may also seek to remind us that we are not in control of a random universe, and as long as we try to convince ourselves we are, there will likely be chances and accidents that come along to remind us that fate has a larger play in our lives than we might like to admit.
It is no coincidence that falling dreams are associated with flying. They are like two sides of the same coin. A dream where you begin by falling but somehow then learn or start magically to fly is a very positive sign that you are mastering your own drives and limitations, finding balance between where to control and where to surrender, where to give help to others and where to nurture your own Self.
Another aspect we can consider when looking at the falling dream is the question of fear. In dreams of falling we may experience some of the most primal of all our fears, that physical, gut turning sense of immediate mortal peril, which often feels quite different to the frantic need to escape of a chase dream, or the looming, lurking threat of other shadowy fearful dreams. Falling dreams here seem to have a special quality of addressing loss. If you dream of falling you will often have lost a deep love, a profound life affirming dream, an identity defining role in life – or you have come close enough to understand what that may feel like, and fear the loss. It can be heart-breaking, soul-crushing and gut wrenching to lose these things. Loss like this may feel like a death of sorts. And it is. It is a death of old ways, and old life, and old belief system, and old sense of self.
There are a few options in dreams when such a disruptive event occurs in our lives:
- we can wake ourselves before we hit the bottom, take temporary relief that we didn’t have to truly face up to our fears, and try to ignore that sense there is something more we should think about – that thing that is lurking on the edge of our subconscious, willing us to pay attention, to consciously realise what we are choosing, what we are afraid of, and what is holding us back… until we keep having bad dreams, or get sick, or have an accident that forces change upon us. This of course is a kind of non-option. We can live in denial or we can face what most deeply worries us. To even admit we are afraid, we worry about losing, and that we should communicate these things with those nearest us will go a long way in addressing these underlying feelings.
- we can learn to fly in our dreams (and metaphorically in our waking lives) – to embrace change as it occurs, sailing with the winds of subconscious instinct and moving on to the next new experience as it arises, gracefully leaving behind what we need let go of. Sometimes we manage this by sheer dedication and much conscious effort, but my own experience is that such moments of blissful wholeness are often associated with grace, and by their very nature not something we ca control. We can invite them, and be accepting when they appear, but sometimes even the most willing and open will still struggle for this experience. And I do not think that is a fault, simply that there is still another valuable lesson to be discovered. Sometimes flying dreams are the breath of life to keep us going through tough times, sometimes they are the reward for hard work, and sometimes they just tun up because life is amazing and you never know what is around the next corner…
- we can hit “rock bottom” in a dream, suffer a “death” of sorts and yet realise that something of us lives on – whether we call this spirit, soul, a transformed Self or whatever… While this option seems to lack the grace and New Age prettiness of flying, I believe sometimes this is an even better option than flying in a dream (though to be frank, flying is more fun!) Flying in a dream implies a mastery of an element in your life and a blissful freedom. But “dying” in dream, while less glamorous, offers a path towards true transformation and liberation from an outmoded belief system, a chance to truly re-define Self as you build from “the ground up.”
Just as “falling in love” and “falling asleep” offer a chance to delve into blissful surrender, a merging of the “Self” with “other” – into something greater than an individual identity and a blending with a more profound “wholeness”; so too do I think that falling dreams where you hit the ground bring you back to earth, back to groundedness, and connection with the Mother Earth, as well as our physical bodies. Falling dreams can ask us to stop living in our heads, in a world of ideas, or as dissociated from nature, our own bodies and our own deepest Selves. Deepest is sometimes the opposite side of the coin of Highest. Sometimes we seek the highest ideals but need to reconnect with what our deepest desires are. Falling dreams offer us the hope of wholeness, of uniting the lofty with the base, the spiritual with the physical, control with surrender, of loss with the eternal that can never be lost…