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The Case of the Radiating Contractor

Dear Dream Detective:

I had a nightmare the other night that I was microwaving something and then noticed that the microwave oven was leaking radiation. I woke up very anxious.

Thornton Buncombe

Binghamton, NY

Background Clues

The dreamer, a man in his late thirties, owns a building contracting business. He is very busy, working on several projects at once. The little time that he does have to himself he spends in an illicit relationship with a married woman. He complains of feeling exhausted, needing to slow down and wishing to regain his sense of the big picture.

The Solution to the Mystery

Dear Thorton:

The deadliness of speed, of life lived in the fast lane, is the theme of your dream. The microwave oven in the dream symbolizes your effort to get it fast, to have what you want without waiting. The microwave is a monument to the impatience of the modern age. But a fast lane life has side effects, which are symbolized by the microwave’s leaking radiation. The radiation can cause cancer and cancer, which is thus implied in a dream, often symbolizes the pernicious effects of egotism. This is because cancer cells — in their uncontrolled speed of growth– do not consider the survival of the organism as a whole, but merely their own growth and self-aggrandizement.

It should also be noted that the microwave oven, like all containers, is symbolic of the female sex organ. Your illicit relationship with a woman who, in less "enlightened" ages people would call "fast," is also symbolized by the speed of the microwave oven. Likewise, microwave cooking, unlike other forms of cooking, does not leave much of a mess. Symbolically, you are seeking to avoid a "messy" relationship, one in which sex results in pregnancy. Thus the prophylactic quality of what you seek in a relationship is belied by the fact that the microwave is leaking. In other words, your dream is warning you that your relationship may result in pernicious side effects.

Lastly, a sealed container (the microwave oven) is an alchemical symbol. Alchemy is the science of converting our leaden desires into the gold of self-knowledge. Alchemy requires a sealed container, known as a crucible. You’re then symbolically placed in the crucible. Finally the crucible, with you in it, is placed over a fire! The crucible symbolizes a situation with no exit — either you must evolve into a person who is superior to the situation, or else be destroyed. You’re interested in watching other people, those women with whom you become involved, undergo transformation in the fires of suffering, but you are naturally hesitant to dive into the crucible yourself. But the crucible/microwave oven is leaking, meaning that you have lost your status as a mere observer.

You are still fairly young and hungry for the fullness of experience. How then to live? If your lust for life were directed inward, toward finding yourself, your life would soon bear fruit. Of course, even self-knowledge must be pursued with patience. A Buddhist sage once recommended for those searching for themselves: "Make haste slowly."


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