“Bad deem, bad deem!”
I was two years old, routinely had bad dreams, and apparently wanted the rest of the congregation to know it as the rabbi started his sermon on the topic. I, to this day, as a 36-year-old woman, have “bad deems.” Some are one-offs and some are recurring. Scary dreams, uncomfortable dreams, sad dreams, anxiety dreams, dreams where I’m doing the same thing over and over again without making any progress (usually packing or editing an Excel spreadsheet).
I try to push away the bad dreams through avoidance of anything that might trigger one. I avoid scary movies, and my threshold for what’s scary is scarily low (I have to avoid horror movie commercials too). I’ve learned what I cannot eat within a few hours of going to sleep: no chocolate, no cheese (especially cheddar). I read something light and uplifting before bed like a silly novel or travel magazine; nothing work or self-improvement related or else I’ll stress dream about it.
Even though I try to avoid a bad night’s sleep at all costs, if a bad dream crops up, the next day I try to dive into what it may be reflecting back about the subtle emotions or stressors that are happening in my real life.
For example, a dream about a parent dying likely means I’m feeling sorry that I haven’t called them in a while or was short with them last time we spoke.
Often the subject of the bad dream isn’t actually a cause for fear when awake, like those Excel spreadsheets. In reality, it’s not about copy and pasting cells; it’s about messing up, being reprimanded, not feeling fully comfortable in what is expected of me.
These bad dreams teach me, and I can appreciate the opportunity to be better: to be mindful of how I speak to people, to prepare as much as possible so that I can feel comfortable and confident. These are good lessons.
But what about the bad dreams that don’t seem to have an obvious lesson or waking-life corollary?
The most all-out frightening dream I’ve had in recent memory was while I was on a work trip to Syracuse, NY. I was staying in an old inn, and after falling asleep, I had one of those dreams where you are in the exact place you actually are – lying in a bed in Syracuse, NY – and it feels completely real, as though you are awake. In the dream, my husband was lying on the other side of the bed, but as I scooted over towards him, his body turned into a skeleton with frightening black eye sockets beaming in the skull.
My eyes snapped open, staring at the spot where the skeleton was a moment before. Needless to say, I was shaken; I half fell back asleep with the lights blazing and ESPN on TV (no chance of waking up to a random scary movie or show that comes on in the middle of the night).
I ran out of the inn in the morning for my client meeting and then went to the airport to fly back home, still with this vision in my head. When we landed and I turned on my phone, I had a voicemail from my dad saying that one of our elderly cousins has passed away overnight. He had gone to college at Cornell, about an hour from Syracuse. Weird.
In fact, this information came as a comfort to me. What seemed like a random, heart-pounding nightmare was probably a farewell visit from someone I knew. I do believe that as people die they may visit familiar places or people, and we may feel their presence, if we are open to receiving.
But for some of us, that “sixth sense” never really closes off, and maybe we shouldn’t try to shut it. Instead, we should cultivate an openness to the universal flow, subtle energies, and yes, perhaps even spirits, in order to live more fully attuned to our interconnectedness and to strive to act more kindly.
As with all of my bad dreams, both terrifying and generally anxious, I try to avoid them, but it’s something to consider. Should I be more welcoming of any dream, whether good or bad, as an invitation to learn about myself and tap into insights beyond my conscious mind?
Hannah Lowe Corman is a painter and yoga teacher in NYC inspired by nature, movement and meditation. She has a young son, and she is working on figuring out this whole new mom/entrepreneur lifestyle, which is overwhelming. Follow her on Instagram and on Facebook. Make sure to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in being considered for one of her 2019 painting commissions.
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