But it may be said that a great many spinsters stay indoors and do nothing and never dream of stagnant water or of anything at all. That is perfectly true. A great many people have little interest to draw upon under any circumstances. The potentiality for interest is'not the same in different people; it may be satisfied by looking after a parrot and wrangling with a servant. The full development of interest in a yokel is not similar to its full development in a cockney. There is no rule to be laid down, save that there is no rule. The study of dreams and symbolism and their bearing on one particular individual does not necessarily throw any light on the dreams of another individual.
The symbol of water in dreams has frequently a significance similar to the one suggested in the above case. Another example can be given. It was the dream of a schoolboy. At the time he was in a form presided over by a man of whom he was in great terror. His terror interfered with his progress, and he remained in the form because his natural capacities were paralysed. The position was one from which he despairingly thought there was no escape. He imagined he would remain for ever at the bottom of that form.
" I dreamed that I was in a swimming-bath full of water. My form master stood on the edge, in a red bathing-suit, and pushed me away with a long pole whenever I tried to climb out. I swam round and round in despair."
That the symbolism of the dream has something to do with his position is not difficult to see. But what does the water represent ? It is water confined in a small space, and on the confines of that space stands the form master, whose stupid bullying is the cause of the lad's backwardness. What is the confined thing in the dreamer's self ? It is presumably his interest which cannot flow out and contribute to the growth of his mind and character. The boy brooded over his position with that peculiar absorption only possible in sensitive types. The tougher mind is constantly detaching itself from alarming problems, and keeping a requisite amount of free interest in hand. The sensitive mind has a much greater difficulty. It fails to detach itself without help, and accumulation begins round the nucleus from which it cannot free itself—in this case the problem of the form master—and the accumulation may proceed until an abnormal amount or potential, of unexpressed or nascent interest is held up, as a stream is held up by an obstruction and forms a lake. A symbol such as a swimming-bath filled with water might express the inner state of affairs in such a case. To the schoolboy we might proffer the useless advice that he should try to forget all about it; that is, that he should take his interest off the matter. But this is only half-way advice. The way of forgetfulness must be shown to him. Forgetting in this sense means the removal of an abnormal and useless accumulation of interest and comes only by drawing it off into another channel. The water in the swimming-bath required to be drawn away. His cure did not lie in mere negation, however passionate, or in a direct attack on his fear ; he was not equal to that. It lay in an active process, inseparable from growth. For so long as such a dream was possible,.so long did he remain in a state of arrested development. The pent-up interest, symbolized as water, represented that force that should have gone to personal development, and which then lay useless in confinement.
I have drawn together these two dreams, coming from divergent sources, because in each the symbol of water appears with a similar significance. It must not be thought that the symbol of water in a dream always denotes the same thing. There is no fixed symbolism. There is only a tendency, found also in art, music, literature, and common speech, to use certain symbols for expressing certain meanings. There is a symbolism that stamps each age, and while the spirit of that age remains uniform, its symbols retain a fairly constant value. The same thing might be said of individuals. But there is a gradual ebb and flow of interest round each symbol, for no one remains stationary, so that a man may interpret in one way when he is thirty, and in another way when he is thirty-five. The symbol of the Cross has a particular value now. That is, interest of a certain kind surrounds it. Two thousand years ago it had no such general value. Two thousand years hence it may have another value. A chemist might dream of water and associate it with a coming experiment; a soldier in the trenches might associate it with suffering; a theologian might see in it a mystical essence. And by the very fact that we give some fringes of conscious definition, through association and thought, to a symbol, we thereby alter it in some degree for ever in its personal application. It can never be quite the same. The balance of interest between the conscious and the unconscious has been tilted, however imperceptibly. A new adjustment has set in.
The idea of interest being comparable to water, in that it may run as a current, or be held up in stagnation, gives us a valuable key to the understanding of problems of personality. For it is then like electricity that runs through the subways of a city, and spreads out into a thousand visible expressions of force. It is like the steam that works a factory full of the most varied machinery. The conception belongs to the energic view of human faculties. The old idea of the facultative school was that the faculties were primary and irreducible qualities. But this view looks on the various faculties displayed in man as being the various manifestations of one force, just as the brilliance of the arc lamp, the coolness of the fan, the heat of the radiator, and the noise of the telephone bell are all expressions of electricity. We have, as it were, a number of instruments through which primal energy runs. We have various interests, and behind them all lies the same force—the force that reveals itself as interest.