Q: I follow you on Facebook and am interested in joining one of your dream groups. The timing is especially good because I’m going through a big change. My husband recently moved out after over twenty years of marriage, and I think it would be good for me to join a group. Here’s the problem, though: I only have bad dreams. Why would I want to sit around and talk about them?
Bad News Dreams
A: Dear Bad News,
I truly empathize with your situation. Well, half of it anyway. You see, some six years ago, my partner of nearly 20 years moved out, just after my daughter went away to college. I was blindsided by all of the changes … well, I knew my daughter would be going to college, but everything else knocked me off my feet. I knew my partner and I had problems, but I thought we could work through them together. Even more, I was totally unprepared for the emotional pain that the breakup unleashed in me. I’ve always been a strong, independent woman, but now I was reduced to seemingly unending tears. And yes, I had my share of disturbing dreams, too.
However, unlike you, Bad News, I’d long ago learned that my bad dreams were really good news. You see, awake we can distract ourselves with Netflix, Facebook, outings to the mall and back issues of the New Yorker. But asleep and dreaming, it’s just us and – well us. Those nightmares show us what we might be shutting out during the day. I knew if I looked mine in the eyes, they’d reveal what I needed to see. I knew, too, that unless I did, I’d get the bad news in more bad dreams, over and over, until I finally relented and paid attention.
This is kind of a tough sell, I know, but I want to sell you on it. Not because I want to sell you on a dream workshop, but because I’ve stood where you’re standing now—and my dreams showed up for me like a best best friend who’s not afraid to call me out on my denial, my bravado, or my bad behavior; a friend who, with all the love in her heart, will tell me what I don’t want to hear.
So, when I received your question, I wondered how I could convince you of the merit of looking into those dark dreams in a group of supportive others. I thought I could tell you what my therapist told me: “The only way out is through.” But I so much hated it when my therapist told me that that, that I figured you’d hate it too. Then I thought of all kinds of profound stories I could tell you to drive home my point. And then I thought, just tell her the dream.
So here it is — a dream I had when I was in the depths of my despair after my breakup:
I am stranded at the side of a highway in the middle of the night beside an abandoned tollbooth. My car is gone. I’m all alone.
Then, I hear a disembodied voice telling me to look up to the sky. But I see only black emptiness above.
Look closely, I’m told. All I see is darkness.
Keep looking, the voice instructs.
Little by little I make out the tiniest pinpricks of starlight.
Finally, those little hints of light increase until before I know it the lights are intensifying and magnifying.
Now I am looking up into the most beautiful display of light; a combination of fireworks and falling stars all mixed up with a sense of cosmic celebration.
And wouldn’t you know it, I woke up feeling happy.
Happy, not because my situation had changed, but because now I understood: There’s no way, out, I realized, except (well, yes, my therapist was right after all) through.
I had to stand in the dark and look directly into the biggest scariest void in the universe (that void was in my heart, not the sky, you understand). It wouldn’t happen all at once, or even according to my timeline, but eventually I’d be happy. Truly happy. Maybe again. Maybe for the first time.
That’s what we do with our dreams, Bad News, we look them in the eye–even if it’s the eye of a Cyclops, or the eye of a raging storm. We squint till we find the pinprick of light in that anxious or scary or terrifying darkness. And you know what? It’s always there: a glimmer of hope that, if we let it, eventually grows into a light show that dazzles even the most frightened heart.
So, why would you want to sit around and talk about your bad dream? Because your bad dream, Bad News, joins someone else’s bliss dream, and someone else’s crazy repeating dream about mail stacking up on the stoop of her childhood house (oh, that one’s mine … well, anyway), and we put them all in the circle and we find our way through to the healing seed that’s in the center of each one. And then that seed grows.
Got it? I hope so. ’Cause we’re saving a seat for you.
Want to learn more about your dreams? Join an upcoming dream group, or book an individual dream session by phone, Skype, or in person.
For another take on nightmares, click here.