Steps for gathering the medicine in “bad” dreams
All Dreams come in the service of health health and wholeness.Jeremy Taylor, The Wisdom of Your Dreams
Even Nightmares or “Bad” Dreams. In fact, Taylor suggests there’s no such thing as a “bad” dream.
When you’ve just had a terrifying Nightmare, your heart is racing, and you can’t quite get a grip on what elements are the dream and what elements are your Waking Life – it sure doesn’t feel like all dreams are “good” dreams, does it?
Nightmares can be pretty disturbing right? Often they throw our Waking Life into a tailspin. Have you ever had one of those lingering Nightmares? That stays with you for days or weeks? Or sometimes even years?
What do you do? How do you work with them?
This Field Guide aligns with the belief that all dreams come in service to you – even Nightmares. It is intended to give you practical steps to work with the gifts and Big Medicine your Nightmares are bringing to you.
That’s right. A Nightmare is actually a Gift to you. And when you actively seek out the gift, you unlock layers upon layers of healing, release, and transformation.
Let’s examine that a little further. If all dreams come in service to your health and wholeness, then why would you have a Nightmare?
The answer lies in the Nightmare itself. Think about it:
- Nightmares get your attention
- Nightmares ask you to face something scary, uncomfortable, disturbing, or upsetting
- Nightmares elicit Big Feelings and tend to exaggerate situations
Nightmares are trying to get your attention.
Most likely, other dreams have been coming to you asking you to confront or integrate a feeling, transform a situation, or heal a wound or trauma as a path to resolution and healing.
If you aren’t doing regular dream work – or even if you are particularly invested in keeping this part of you hidden from yourself – you might not willingly turn inward and engage with what is asking to be seen and heard.
When I’m coaching my clients with Waking Life wake-up calls that beckon us toward transformation and healing, we talk about the whisper, the shout, and the 2×4.
In Waking Life, we often get an inkling about something that wants transformation, healing, or resolution in our life. This could be a health concern, a relationship, too much stress at work – any number of things.
We’ll get that whisper of intuition first.
If we ignore it, the Universe will tend to shout – maybe this comes in the form of something really stressful. Maybe you deal with it on the surface, but then fall back into old habits and soon enough, you forget or ignore the shout that came. Life is busy right? You don’t have time to dig all that stuff up! You’ve got stuff to do, hamster wheels to keep going!
When we ignore the whisper and ignore the shout, Life will hit us with a 2×4 – often in the form of a crisis. Perhaps you get gravely ill, experience loss or a relationship or job, find yourself depressed and unable to function. This is the 2×4 that let’s you know you it’s time to face whatever it is that wants to be resolved.
Nightmares ask you to face something scary, uncomfortable, disturbing, or upsetting
It serves as a “wake-up” call for you. It’s coming to you so you can avoid getting hit with the 2×4!
And for that reason, they are not to be dismissed. And they are not to be taken lightly.
But how to work with them?
Nightmares elicit Big Feelings and tend to exaggerate situations
This is your Field Guide to working with your Nightmares – so you can see them as the gifts they truly are. I know working with Nightmares can be overwhelming and frightening.
It helps to know a few things before you start working with a Nightmare:
All dreams come to us in service of health and wholeness
A dream or nightmare will never bring you something that isn’t ready to be faced, resolved, and healed. Yes, it’s true a nightmare might bring up a pretty significant trauma or wounding from your past. However, the dream brings this to you because you now have the skills, resilience, support, and tools to work with this trauma and heal.
You don’t have to do this work alone.
If your intuition is telling you this Nightmare holds some pretty heavy stuff for you, you’re allowed to get help and support. Seek out a Dream Guide, a Coach or Therapist; share your dream with a trusted and affirming friend. Find a support group.
Unfortunately, the ancient practice of working with our dreams has been usurped by the belief that because we’re working with the subconscious, only a highly trained professional can tell you what your dreams mean and help you heal.
The truth is that
You will be better for working with the gift of your Nightmare
With that, let’s get started on your Nightmare!
Steps to working with your Nightmare:
Step 1: Write down your Dream.
Give your Dream a title – something brief, like a newspaper headline – that sums up what the dream is about or highlights a particular image in the dream that feels important. Then write the dream in the present tense with as much detail as you can remember. Record your feelings, colors, locations, and anything else that occurs to you.
Your dream won’t “make sense” to your Waking Mind sometimes. Try to avoid making things “neat” and “sensible”. Write it down exactly as you remember it – not adding or taking anything away.
Step 2: Make a list of your feelings, both in the dream and about the dream.
I had a nightmare once where I was terrified in the dream, but upon waking, I thought it was hilarious and ridiculous. It reminded me of the spell in Harry Potter – Riddikulus! – that turns the scary images of the boggart into something laughable. A fantastic technique for facing our fears!
I wondered where in my life I was fearful of something that perhaps wasn’t as big a deal as I was making it. And in fact, if I could just turn toward it, because of this dream, I felt confident that what I was fearing would lose it’s power immediately – like a balloon loosing its air.
Notating what might be very different feelings in the dream and about the dream gives us a clue as to what might hold the key for the antidote to our fear or discomfort.
Step 3: Looking at your list of feelings and taking a moment to breathe and turn your awareness inward, ask yourself what feels familiar to you in your Waking Life.
Where do you feel these feelings in Waking Life? About what? Where in Waking Life do you feel chased? Or like you’re drowning or falling? Where do you feel like something is hidden or threatening? Where do you feel like you’re “dying”? Where do you feel trapped? Where do you feel attacked?
Step 4: Imagine that every single aspect of the dream represents an aspect of your Self.
One of the most common Nightmares people ask me about is Snake Dreams. Yikes!! How on earth do I work with this image when it’s just sooooo….scary and icky??
First, it helps to have a practice in Waking Life where you know how to observe a feeling without getting swept up and overtaken by the feeling. Mindfulness practices are a fantastic way to develop this skill. The video at the end of this Field Guide will lead you through such a practice so you can work with these images.
Jot down the qualities of the images that illicit the most feeling. What aspect of your Self is represented by this image? This step can be tough. I find often that a significant amount of shame or self-judgement can appear with this step. After all, I don’t want to see myself as a Snake!!
Step 4: Cast Your Play. Turn toward your characters with loving kindness and compassion
The Karpman Drama Triangle (developed by Dr. Stephen Karpman) is a representation of the roles we tend to play in the most common strategies we use to manage our fear and anxiety. Staying in these roles and continuing to cast others in the Drama Triangle keeps us locked in a problem orientation to one another and therefore conflict.
We can apply the Karpman Drama Triangle – and its antidote, The Empowerment Dynamic – to our Nightmare dramas too!
Step 5: Choose an Action Step
As stated above, your nightmares are coming to you as a wake-up call. They are asking you to do something.
They may be asking you to start taking better care of yourself. They may be warning you of an impending medical condition. Your nightmare might be urging you to get out of or change an unhealthy relationship. Or to leave a stressful or unfulfilling job.
Your nightmare could be asking you to begin work to heal a past trauma in your life.
They could even be a warning of something to come – a car accident, a flood, or violation. Robert Moss believes it’s always a good idea to ask yourself “Is this something that could actually happen in my Waking Life?” and then taking Action by taking precautions.
Another Action you can take is to Re-enter the dream to have a different experience. The video below leads you through that process.