Saddling the Night's Mare
It is the feeling of helplessness and powerlessness--the certainty that no matter what we do, we are doomed--that is most characteristic of nightmares. There is no question that our dream feelings of powerlessness can emanate from our experience in our waking lives. It follows, then, that as we feel more empowered in our waking lives, we will feel empowered in our dreams. But it can work the other way as well. If we are empowered in our dreams, so are we empowered in our waking lives. The border is permeable and the traffic goes both ways.
The Temiar people of Malaysia recognize the connection between waking consciousness and dream consciousness. In their understanding, people can use the strengths of their waking lives to aid them in their dream lives. If a person is generous and caring and helps others in his waking life, he may call upon his friends and neighbors to aid him in his dreams. In his nightmares, the Temian adult is able to rely upon a network of support. In fact, dream support is a keystone of Temiar society. Adults encourage children to advance against dream monsters, and if a child defeats a dream monster or ghost, it becomes his slave.
For the Temiar people the only real adversary is fear. If a Temiar child dreams of smoke, he need not avoid it, as he might in his waking state to prevent the stinging of his eyes. Instead, he must go directly into the dream smoke, for inside he might find the spirit of the smoke, which he can overcome and make his own.
On the surface, the Temiar approach to nightmares and fear is very simple: As we enter into nocturnal fears we can transform them from enemies into allies. But beneath the simplicity of this lies a wise understanding of the blurred line between waking and sleeping consciousness and an acceptance that what we do in one directly affects the other.
There is intensity to a nightmare. Its fear is alive and electric. On one level the Temiar suggest that our fear is simply energy that doesn't feel good. But if we can turn this energy around, it can feed our power instead of feeding on our powerlessness. We can transform it. After all, our fear is ours and we can do with it what we will.
DREAM EXPLORATION ONE: EMBRACING THE BEAST
This exploration follows the practice of the Temiar people. Fear holds us back. Once we face it in our dreams, we bring ourselves to a place of power. Remember, the border between waking consciousness and sleeping consciousness is blurred. The resolutions we make in our waking state help us when we are asleep. Our intention is of primary importance.
1. DETERMINE THE NATURE OF YOUR NIGHTMARE. Is something pursuing you? Is something happening to you? What is the fear?
2. ONCE YOU HAVE DETERMINED THE SOURCE OF THE FEAR, WRITE IT DOWN. Make it as simple as possible. For example, "A murderer is pursuing me but I can't run." Or "Monsters are behind the door and will leap out at me. I try to run but can't." Or, "I am falling and will crash."
3. CHOOSE A FEARLESS COURSE OF ACTION AND TELL YOURSELF YOU'LL FOLLOW IT. What would be the fearless thing to do in your dream? After you have figured out the essential fear of the nightmare, then decide on a fearless course of action and tell yourself each night before sleeping that this is what you will do. If you are running from a pursuer, for example, the fearless thing to do would be to turn toward the one who's chasing you. If you dream you're falling and you fear crashing, facing the fear in the dream might mean you accept the fall, you embrace it. Be patient with yourself, keep at it, and remember that even changes with strong intention don't happen overnight.
DREAM EXPLORATION TWO: LOOK AT IT FROM THE MONSTER'S POINT OF VIEW (presented with thanks to author Jeremy Taylor for the idea of changing the vantage point in a nightmare)
1. CHOOSE A NIGHTMARE. It can be one you had a while back, one that's recent, or one that's recurring. It would be best to pick one with other people or creatures that are in some way creating the fear in the dream.
2. WRITE DOWN THE DREAM. You may already have written it in your journal. If you have, write it again as you remember it and as you remember feeling it.
3. NOW REWRITE THE DREAM FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE CREATURE OR PERSON CAUSING THE FEAR. If there isn't another creature or person in the dream, then create one and write it from that perspective. What's that character's reason or justification for his actions?
4. NEXT, SEE IF THERE'S ANY CHANGE IN THE WAY YOU EXPERIENCE THE DREAM. Does some of the fear go away? Do you have a better understanding of it?
DREAM EXPLORATION THREE: SPIT IT UP, THROW IT AWAY, BURN IT
1. FIND AN OBJECT THAT APPEALS TO YOU AS A RECEPTACLE FOR YOUR NIGHTMARES. Make sure it is something that you can get rid of-water in a paper cup, for example, or a piece of paper. Don't use that priceless vase that has been in the family for three hundred years.
2. 'TALK' THE NIGHTMARE INTO THIS OBJECT. Tell it the dream in great detail, and then tell it what you want to have happen. For example, you might say, "My nightmares are with you and with you they will stay."
3. GET RID OF THE RECIPIENT OF THE NIGHTMARE. For example, if you were to use a glass of water, you would speak the dream into the water, throw away the water, and clean the glass thoroughly (to avoid having to throw away the glass as well). If you were to use a piece of paper, you would write down the dream in great detail, then burn the paper.
Whatever your beliefs about the origins or causes of nightmares, and whichever method you choose to use in dealing with them, it is sure that in journeying through these nighttime fears, we access a great deal of power and blur even more that border between our waking and dreaming beings.