My friend Carole Parks and I recently discussed the subject of nightmares.
Dreams have always given insight and guidance to my life, even the bad ones. When I was a child, my sleep was plagued by nightmares, sometimes as often as three or four times per month. Most of my nightmares involved supernatural or demonic beings, but some represented more earth-bound fears like family arguments or an upcoming math test. As a child, my nightmares often paralyzed me for hours, but as an adult, I learned to tell their stories. The act of re-telling the details of a frightening dream seemed to diminish some of its power. Nowadays, I rarely have scary dreams, but when I do, their message takes center stage. If something demands my attention with such great urgency, I should probably listen.
Recently my friend Adam Brown loaned me the book Dreaming True by Robert Moss. The author offers an insightful statement about nightmares that makes a lot of sense and confirms my attention to dreams.
"Dreams come in gentle and timely ways to show us challenges that lie ahead. If we ignore our dream messages, the dream messenger becomes louder and more strident, like a friend who will phone or come round in the middle of the night because she has vital information for us. That information may involve something very challenging or unpleasant. Maybe the message is that we could lose our job, our relationship, or our health. And maybe we don't want to face such possibilities. So we slam the door on our dreams even as they grow more vocal and dramatic. Now the dream messenger pursues us in terrifying guises, and we flee from the nightmare - the aborted dream - back into the dream of waking life, mumbling, 'It was only a dream.' What happens in the end is that the issue presented in the dreams will bite us in the throat in waking life.
"...How do we get beyond nightmare fears?
"First, we need to stop running, turn around, and brave up to what is pursuing or threatening us. Start by getting yourself calm and strong enough to ask whatever you fear in the dream, 'Who are you? Why are you pursuing me? What do you have to tell me?'"
Image credit: Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781.