Electric Dreams

The Lucid Bird's Words
Nightmares: Things that go BUMP in the Mind
Lucidity and Confronting Your Fears

Marc Vandekeere

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  Vandekeere, Marc (2000 Oct). The Lucid Bird's Words: Nightmares: Things that go BUMP in the Mind Lucidity and Confronting Your Fears. Column. Electric Dreams 7(10). Retrieved December 31, 2001 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams

As a child I used to experience nightmares as I am sure most children do. I still have many strong memories of these ghastly experiences. Some of these memories are more vivid than my recall of what I did last week. There was the sinister tin man who had smoke blowing out of his ears. There was the eerie amorphous face that used to really creep me out by whispering incomprehensible words to me. I even had one horrible dream in which our house was robbed and my family was slain. I became so terrified that I woke up to see if my family was still alive. I ran to my brother's room and his bed was empty. Horrified that it may have been real, I darted across the hall and found my parent's room was also empty. At that point I was really traumatized. The lines between reality became extremely blurred. Still in the grips of sheer panic, I ran downstairs to find that my parents were sleeping on the couch, and after they soothed my fears they explained that my brother was sleeping at a friend's house. "It was all just a bad dream," they said.

Now that I have been working with my dreams for several years, I notice that there has been a steady decline in the number of my nightmares. I rarely if ever have them anymore. Luckily, I have been conditioning myself to use intense emotions (especially fear) as a "dream trigger". If I am awake and become extremely fearful or even extremely happy I perform a 'reality check' in which I will scrutinize my environment to determine whether I am dreaming or not. Dreams seem to have such intensity of emotion that in some cases this intensity is rarely rivaled in our waking lives. Colors can become extremely vivid and what might normally be perceived as 'no big deal' in our waking life may become an extremely frightening experience in a dream. Luckily, this emotional intensity in our dreams can be harnessed to provide an ideal way of realizing that you are dreaming while you are dreaming.

When people find out that I am very interested in dreaming, many of them will ask about nightmares or explain how they have the same recurring nightmare. I will always explain that this is a good sign. It is something that can be used to their advantage. Nightmares are not bad dreams. They are the perfect opportunity to 'wake up' to the fact that you are dreaming and transform the nightmare into something positive. As with most fears in general, fear exists only in your mind. It holds power over you only because you believe that it is a "real" threat when in fact the fear itself doesn't even exist anywhere else but in your head. The robber who approaches you in the alley may be real, but the fear of his approach is not real. It is a biological response that has evolved to provoke a response: Fight or Flight. In our dreams the lines between "reality" and "dreaming reality" become even more blurred so it no wonder that any runaway fears can develop into major hysteria and often transform one's dreams into nightmares.

By facing our fears when they pop up in our dreams we can learn more about ourselves, develop enhanced self-confidence and increase our self-assertion. Instead of training yourself to wake up during the throes of a horrid dream I recommend not waking up and instead start training yourself to realize that you are dreaming. Once you become lucid in the dream you will truly have nothing to fear but fear itself. You cannot be harmed in your dreams, and even more importantly, you can confront whatever it is that is scaring you. If it is a huge menacing villain you can ask him why he is bothering you. I often find that these intimidating foes will melt like butter and become your friends merely by facing them. Telling them that you have nothing to fear and realizing that they may be a part of yourself that needs attention and love can create profound effects. Once you address them as such, they will often become friendly, or they may transform literally from that 300 pound rabid gorilla into a smiling comrade or long-lost friend.
In The Lucidity Institute's Newsletter, The NightLight, Fall 1990, Volume 2 number 4, there is a wonderful article that covers nightmares and the effects caused by becoming lucid in your dreams. It states:

"In a questionnaire study of the dream experiences of 698 college students, 81 percent of the 505 who said that they had had both lucid dreams and nightmares reported that becoming lucid in a nightmare usually improved the situation...Lucidity is about seven times more likely to make nightmares better than worse."

From my experience this research is right on the mark. Not only is lucidity an excellent way of dealing with your nightmares, but what is often overlooked is the fact that nightmares themselves are an ideal vehicle for inducing lucidity especially if you are prone to having nightmares. To set the foundations for transforming your nightmares into lucid dreams, you can simply meditate before bed and say to yourself, "If I become extremely scared or if anything bad occurs, I will remember to realize that I am dreaming. In my dreams I have nothing to fear because I cannot be harmed." For best results you can repeat this mantra over and over before bed. Instead of counting sheep you repeat this affirmation until it is the last thought in your head before falling asleep. Along the same lines if you have a recurring nightmare you can change the affirmation to match your bad dream. For example, you might say, "The next time I am being chased, I will realize I am dreaming...." or "The next time I am late for an important meeting, I will realize that I am dreaming..."

With a little bit of practice and determination, we can all learn to make our nightmares work for us. We can use them as dreaming cues to clue our awareness into the fact that we are dreaming. Upon becoming lucid in our dreams we can then take full advantage of the situation by consciously confronting our fears. The beauty of dealing with nightmares in this way lies in the underlying acknowledgment that nightmares hold no power over you. They are as amorphous and insubstantial as the thunder from a passing storm in your mind's eye. There is no such thing as an inherently good dream or an inherently bad dream. It all depends on how you choose to deal with the situation at hand. If you believe the fear is real, it will become real whether you are dreaming or wide awake. It is our ability to confront and transform our fears in our waking lives and in our nightmares that allows us to not become frightened when things go BUMP in our minds.

Dream well,

Marc Vandekeere ^v^