06/13/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Dreams of Falling and Flying

What is the difference between falling and flying in dreams? Some people would say it is a matter of attitude, not altitude.

Several years ago on a long plane ride I fell into a fitful sleep, and dreamt that I was plummeting through the air. I startled awake from this anxiety dream, only to slip back into it as I dozed off again. The feeling of vertigo made my stomach lurch, and was not helped by the bumpy ride we were experiencing.

This happened several times, until I became lucid enough in the dream to remember some of my aikido training. When falling in aikido, the most important thing is to get our center under us again. We slip into a ready stance, a hanmi, and open our awareness to be ready for the next attack.

With this body memory in mind, I drifted back into the dream, where I was still falling from 35,000 feet. As I tumbled through the sky, the lucid "me" in the dream organized my energy and got into a ready stance. Effortlessly my body stopped rolling and became upright, and soft as a feather I landed on ground that was not two inches below my feet.

I felt buoyant and relaxed, as we do when we experience a moment of grace. It was such a profound reversal of fortune, such a sudden shift, that I think of it to this day when boarding airplanes. I also think of it when people talk to me about their flying dreams.

Many dreamers consider their dreams of flying some of their most ecstatic experiences. As a dream consultant, I have known people who choose to fly every time they become lucid in their dreams. They can't imagine a more positive thing to do in dreams, and are surprised when I offer them a few caveats.

Yes, flying is ecstatic. It can speak of great creativity and imagination, a capacity for joy that affects everyone around us. But flying can also mean avoidance, an inability to focus and follow through on things, and a lack of concern for others.

Questions I ask these dreamers are: What is happening immediately before you fly off? Is someone expecting you to do something, or have you just completed a task? Are you being chased and then take flight, or does the flying arise from witnessing something beautiful?

More often than not, our urge to fly is a combination of several factors. The important thing is to view it in the context of the entire dream, so we can better understand our own motivations.

And what about dreams of falling? Sometimes plummeting from great heights is good, or at least necessary, especially when we have been living beyond our means or have an unrealistic picture of what is going on. Falling can also be due to disappointment, being "let down" when we have relied on someone or something that fails us.

But sometimes we fall in order to learn that things are not quite as bad as we fear. It can be one of those sickening feelings that reminds us to re-center, take a deep breath, and let our inner calmness ground the situation. Maybe the earth will rise softly to meet us, as in my dream, or maybe we will suddenly remember that we can fly, and begin to soar.

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