Dream of Being Wounded by a Dirty Rat

Well, the title says it all, or almost. 

The Dream

My dream this morning was that I was young again (youthful body) and in the double bed with my little sister back home, trying to sleep at night. However, my sister and I could not sleep because these three large brown rats were scampering all over the room, destroying my binders, writings, and more. They were running back and forth on the dresser. I could see them in the dark somehow, and they made a lot of noise.

I was anxious because of the rats, both for myself and out of protective feelings for my sister. I thought about the Black Death, the Bubonic Plague, which was thought to be spread by rats. I thought about calling out for my mother, but I knew she wouldn’t believe me and that she would tell us to just go to sleep. Defeated, I turned on my left side (in theory, sleeping on this side puts the masculine side forward, whereas the Buddha died on his other side, putting the feminine forward, which helps dreams become lucid). I directed effort at ignoring the rats and my fear. 

But then a fourth rat was felt burrowing under my legs, in the bed! This was just too much! I moved to jump up out of the bed, but not before that rat bit me!  He bit me on the inside of my leg at knee height. Now, what is interesting about the location of this wound is that it is precisely where I have been experiencing pain from something I strained while meditating in a half lotus position a couple of months ago. I mean it is the exact location and exact size of the pain!

Later in the dream, during the day, I went around showing everyone the wound – my parents, my future husband, my teachers at school. No one at first believed I was wounded by a rat, but I pointed to the distinct tiny teeth imprints, which were very visually clear in the dream. 

My brother-in-law Buck, who died this past February, showed up in the dream with a fleet of three silver Volkswagen Beetles. (Note all the traveling I’ve been doing in my dreams for many months now.) He alone believed me, was attuned to me. He gave me one of the Beetles so I could drive away from my hometown to someplace where I could sleep without rats

Then I was in Chapel Hill, sitting outside with an old Selectric typewriter from the 1980s, typing a note to Daniel. It was only about five lines and looked like a poem. I couldn’t read it, which should have prompted me to become lucid. I was graduate school age at that point in the dream. It was a perfect spring day, cloudless, like it is at present. 

Dream Evaluation

I loathe rodents, especially rats, fear and loathe them. I associate them with nocturnal nefarious destruction of property, such as my meditation binder and writings in the dream; biting; and disease transmission. Interestingly, I recently had a hypnagogic vision of a Plague doctor in typical black robe and bird mask (deception): “Hypnagogic Vision of a Plague Doctor.” Of course, the Plague is thought to have been spread by rats.

Daniel is a medical doctor, and I was writing to him near the end of the dream. The Plague doctor vision happened on my birthday this year. Last year, Daniel and I had a four-day fight (four rats?) that began on and ruined my birthday, an event which felt like a betrayal. I remember losing sleep during that fight and walking around Duke Chapel and Duke Gardens with my son during one of the days of that fight, feeling grateful that my son wasn’t contaminated (plagued?) with the family curse (alcoholism).

Dreams about rats are common, I’ve read. They typically symbolize deceit and betrayal, especially if they bite, which this one did. I’m not sure why there were four rats instead of just one. Three were boisterous; the fourth was sneakier, silent, invading the bed.

The initial setting was the room I slept in with my little sister when my father would fight with my mother in the kitchen while drunk. I used to be terrified that he would hit my mother. Sometimes my sister and I hid under the bed, in fear that he would come after us, too. He never did, although he did occasionally hit my sister Judy, who looked like his own mother, who abandoned him when he was nearly dying as a child from scarlet fever. Ah, intergenerational suffering. It spreads like the Plague.

My later showing everyone my wound in the dream, including my high school drama teacher, was an attempt to have my feelings validated, as my mother would not have validated my fears if I had called out to her in the bedroom scene. 

The note to Daniel seemed to be a communication from the past, Chapel Hill, where we both attended school during the same years, to now (perfect spring day). It was an attempt to prevent suffering by forewarning. But I could not read it to edit the communication, and I awoke before it reached its recipient, who was in form completely absent from the dream.


My teacher has instructed me to notice how my ego moves through my dreams. I tend to be gullible and let others lead me along into situations I should resist. I also tend to get hurt by assuming the Helper role, which is my personality type in the Almaas enneagram. This unquestioning other-directedness is a “cloud,” a lack of clarity, lack of lucidity (rigpa). Eventually, rigpa needs to be 24/7, as we say, meaning awareness is lucid in dreams, and even in deep sleep, not just during the day. The ego that moved through this rat dream was seeking validation that she was a victim. This is another nudge that I need to be willing to be more assertive and independent, even aggressive when I need to be during the day, instead of identifying with the victim pole of the victim-perpetrator duality. 

I had a tense situation at work the past week and a half. Although I tried to be assertive, my boss seemed to misinterpret it as defensiveness. I didn’t feel defensive or invested in editorial decisions. I was just expressing that I was in a Catch-22 because the process was so murky and I’m held responsible for delays. Anyway, I really didn’t succeed at response.

Thursday, my teacher and I talked about the way my gains have recently deepened with respect to emotional reactivity. He said that I’m in a temporary phase where reactivity has greatly diminished, but I’m “just there,” in situations, in a state of “unknowing.” Eventually, he said, I’ll know how to respond and do so.

My dream ego was also trying to prevent the spread of the suffering into the future, too, but her communications to the Other miscarried. I need to be alert during the day to falling into the role of Helper and blanketly agreeing to do things for others when it is their stuff causing them chaos and should remain theirs. 

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