The ‘Stuff’ of Nightmares

Things that we’re afraid of are gonna show us what we’re made of in the end”
– Blessid Union of Souls “Hey Leonardo (She likes me for me)”

I do not remember most of my dreams, and by most I mean nearly any.  Sometimes I wake up with an intense feeling that I had a particularly meaningful dream, but I spend the morning grasping for details that are just out of reach. Or, I remember fragments, but not the most meaningful parts.  Like the time I dreamt I met my spiritual guide, a Tarot reader in a mall, and asked her to do a reading to help me on my spiritual path.  I remember her drawing a large number of cards and going through them all in detail with me.  In fact, at the end of the reading she gave me a binder which included all the cards she had drawn along with the meaning and analysis of each of one.  When I woke up I couldn’t remember any of the cards or their meanings.  Undoubtedly, some of you may be thinking that my soul or subconscious retained whatever it needed from that dream even though my conscious mind doesn’t remember it.  That may be true.  Unfortunately, it makes the situation no less frustrating or disappointing for the ’waking’ me who is trying to find her way.  For someone actively walking the spiritual path (especially a follower of the Jung / Campbell tradition), being unable to remember dreams on a regular basis is akin to having a deep and abiding love of music, but being unable to carry a tune… Or worse, it’s like being sometimes able to carry a tune beautifully and other times (unpredictably) finding yourself rendered completely tone def.

This post, however, is not about all the dreams I don’t remember.  It’s about one I do.  About fifteen years ago, I woke one morning from a dream that changed the way I thought about myself and my life completely.  The dream has ’haunted’ me at times ever since.  Although I was already meditating regularly and actively walking my spiritual path at this point, it felt like communication coming directly from my subconscious, higher self, or the universe. I share this dream with all of you because i’ve been thinking about it a lot recently and because I believe it contains a powerful message, not for and about me specifically, but for and about all of us.

In the dream I was walking in my old neighborhood and needed to go to my childhood home for some reason.  Our once cheerful bungalow looked shuttered and abandoned and, while recognizable, more closely resembled something from a horror story than a nostalgic memory.  I knocked on the door and then pushed it open and made my way inside.  The house felt empty, but waiting.  A dingy and dark atmosphere greeted me, but sunlight streamed through from the windows dappling dusty clothes and papers strewn about on furniture. I was looking for something (I don’t remember what) and found myself digging in an old, packed, clothes closet upstairs when suddenly I came face to face with the menacing grimace of a skeleton!  I screamed and ran only to find another by the window. I changed direction and nearly collided with a third. I ran through the house screaming, trying to find an exit.  When I finally found the stairs, I rushed down them only to find a young girl with long white-blond hair waiting at the bottom.  I did not recognize her, but there was something very soothing about her presence.  “There is nothing to be afraid of” she told me calmly and then pointed up the stairs, “Take another look”. Begrudgingly (and with some trepidation) I trudged back upstairs moving very slowly and carefully. I spotted the skeleton by the window and my initial terror gave way to curiosity as suddenly something about the skeleton struck me as very strange.  I moved in for a closer inspection and realized that it wasn’t a skeleton at all…or well, not a real one; certainly not any monster out to get me.  It was a Halloween decoration; all crepe paper and card stock.  I reached out to touch it and a piece came off in my hand.  I turned back to the closet where I had found the first skeleton only to realize it was another Halloween decoration, this time made of vulgar white plastic.  All the skeletons were fake and, under examination, there was nothing real or scary at all about them.  Feeling an immense weight lift from me, I made my way back downstairs where the young girl was waiting.  She motioned for me to follow her and pointed to a small window under the stairs.  “Look” she told me “this is what’s inside of you”.  Through the window I could see only black and as I leaned over to look through, I nearly fell into the oblivion beyond.  My first thought was “empty – inside I am empty” and something like disappointment settled in my heart.  As my eyes adjusted to the infinite black space, though, tiny specks of light became visible.  They were stars.  I wasn’t looking into empty space – I was looking into actual space.  I was looking at the universe.

I woke from the dream with great clarity on what it had meant.  Often, in literature and even in real life our homes (or the state of them) represent us.  So, my childhood home represented me or some aspect of me.  Perhaps the state of the home represented my years of neglect, of not -in fact – even living there. My presence there at this time, looking for something may have been a reference to my meditation and self-study in my waking life.  The skeletons represented all my fears.  I think it’s worth noting that, in the dream, it wasn’t that my fears weren’t real….or we’re nothing.  They were ‘physical’ entities.  It’s rather that, under scrutiny, I could view them more objectively.  They seemed terrifying but were, in reality, decorations crafted to be scary.  It was I who had made them personally threatening, the way a child will do with shifting shapes and shadows in their room at night.

Although everyone has to come to terms with their fears in their own way, I think the message from this dream is a relevant one for everyone to mull over, not just me.  The most important message, though, was that inside all of us, in the houses of being and life we have built for ourselves, once we have realized our skeletons are all paper, we find our connection to the universe.  This piece of us may at first seem distressingly empty, but only because we cannot easily grasp infinite space.  Once our inner vision adjusts, we realize that what we’re seeing within our own hearts is the starry sky we look up at each night in search of our dreams.

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