The Elevator Dream

Have you had this dream? You step into the elevator (typically at work, but it could be anywhere). You’re minding your own business, push the button to get to your floor, and wham the elevator starts hurtling sideways! You’re thrown against the wall hard. There must be some mistake. You push another button and wham now it goes the other way, but still sideways! This may go on for quite sometime. You push the buttons, you get something entirely unplanned, frustrating and frightening. That is more or less the sideways version of the dream. But wait…there’s more.

The Upwards Version: In this version of the story, you get in the elevator and you know what floor you want. Something easy, like two floors up. You push the button, but the elevator takes off like a rocket, slamming you down with dizzying speed as it races upward. You see the buttons lighting up and realize you’re heading for floor 999 or something wacky you had never heard of before. Now you’re getting a real fear of being up so high, in addition to the pretty unnerving adventure of having an elevator run away with you like this. At this point, some of us experience the elevator actually bursting through the top of the building and taking off into the air. That is the worst, the ultimate “too high” emergency elevator situation.

The Plummeting Downward Version: This is the classic, the one that starts when we’re younger. In this version, you get in the elevator, push your button and instead of moving smoothly to your floor, the elevator jerks and makes an unhealthy noise. No. It will be okay. But there it is again, that’s not good. Ker-thunk. Then, incredibly, you can feel the elevator breaking loose from whatever it is that holds those things, and it’s plunging downward. At this point, most of us awaken, feeling a little queasy.

What They Imply: Although some folks do have a fear of elevators, that isn’t what seems to be behind these dreams. Instead they seem to coincide with work and life frustrations.  The stressors are different for each of us, but there do seem to be a few patterns. Like many contemporary frustration/anxiety dreams, the elevator running amok seems to be a reflection of our disappointment and dread that arises when we are getting a result that is not at all what we had in mind. Its the old push-button life not working out. The horror of the elevator ride is the psyche screaming: “Wait! I didn’t order this, there must be some mistake!”

One woman who continually had the horizontal version of the dream had done a great deal to make progress at work, but instead found that all her promotions were actually lateral moves that increased her workload and frustration but actually took away her sense of control and authority. She thought she was following the rule book and would be rewarded, but instead was experiencing deep frustration and anxiety. She took the dreams as a kind of reality sandwich about the company where she was pouring her heart out, and eventually changed industries to one where she is rewarded for her leadership abilities and her unique perspective. She is no longer haunted by demonic elevators in her dreams.

When my first book came out and I ventured into doing interviews with the media, I was unprepared for the reality I would encounter. I was ill prepared, intimidated, confused and swamped with invitations to inappropriate venues that thought dream work was a zany parlor trick. I accepted all invitations and drove myself crazy for a few years, during which time I continually dreamed I was riding a crazed elevator that would burst through the roof, sending me wildly through space. I felt like I’d been shot out of a cannon, and my dreams reflected that sense of panic and overwhelm. It took a while to settle down and sort through what was useful, and how I could try to teach and encourage listeners rather than merely appear as an oddity.

Dreaming of the plummeting elevator is sometimes associated with a sense of falling in life, of things going out from beneath you, or losing ground. It is, like most elevator themes, a crisis dream.

How To Respond: Elevator dreams ask us to do three things: First, we need to recognize that something is out of whack. There’s no point putting a cheerful face on things, something is getting on your nerves and irritating your soul. Identify where you’re getting such a different result from your game plan that its giving you nightmares. Second, evaluate what this means in the big picture. Do you want to make a change in your life, or do you need to make a change in what you are holding as the top priority? Third, compare your current situation with your sense of what matters most. Maybe you have a spiritual faith or reality that you use to find what’s important; others have a philosophy they live by or a code of some kind. Whatever you use to find your truth, take it out and dust it off now, and use it to find what matters most in the present situation. There is an invitation in these elevator dreams, not only to problem-solve our frustrations, but also to evaluate how we have been moving through our journey of life, and to see how it stacks up with what we have learned to be the most important of all. If you check these three steps, you’ll find your situation, as well as your dreams, straightening out as you get back into the flow.

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