Ask Me: What About Nightmares? Part 10: How Nightmares Offer Hope

I have been considering something I wrote last week and something I believe with all my heart – how scary dreams, when we face into them, offer hope. 

The Hope Woven into Scary Dreams

When writing about dreams with scary visions not just of our lives but that speak to our greater world, I said that these kinds of dreams can open our hearts.

How can that be possible? Seems important to re-iterate.

On a personal level, when our dreams open us to the fear we carry, it is not to re-frighten us, not to re-traumatize us. Our fear is not something that we need to get rid of, to be afraid of, to avoid.

Our fear is inside of us because we have experienced fear as an appropriate response – from the past, in the present and for our future – both personally and collectively.

At one level, the dreams want to help us feel our fear and work with it. If it comes from the past, then we are offered the chance of release and reconciliation. Of healing and integration. If the experience is about the present, the dreams offer ways to work with what is frightening us – to help us first acknowledge our fear and also to work with it. If about the future, the dreams, again, help us acknowledge our fear and work with it in new ways.

Notice I did not say “work through it”.

Do we need to work through our fear? Do we need to get through our frightening experiences? I feel that this kind of language is dangerous because we are never “through it” – instead we can be reconciled with our fear in a new way or the fear is released to something else and does not stay stuck in us. Or we live with our fear and let it simply be part of who we are. 

Because it is.


So, where does the hope come into this?

First, through this different approach to fear, horror, terror. To be with, to work with, to not feel we need to be somewhere else, to acknowledge our fear as normal and, yes, healthy.

When we react to fear, when we don’t want to feel it, when we are told to not be afraid, when we believe fear is weakness, then we work to try to close it down. When we close it down, we close not just a part of us, but also the information and even gift the fear has to offer us. 

We close it down – the feelings, the emotional and spiritual information we need, the gifts. 

When we allow our fear to be part of our humanness, part of our intuitive gifts, part of how we experience the world the same way we allow joy or pleasure, then we open again. 

When we open, then we can begin to see in new ways.

One way we react to fear is that it can narrow how we see – see ourselves, see the world, see the situation, see what is possible. 

What can happen, then, when we work with our fear is our vision of everything becomes wider. We can see more, bring more into our intuitiveness, be with the “wider view” rather than a narrow, often singular view. 

To open our view, to open to other possibilities or ways of seeing is to open our hearts.

Wheat Field with Cypresses by Vincent van Gogh [1899]

I think of it like this – when we are reactive to our fear [or to anything, really] and our vision narrows, it is like being a mouse skirting the edges of fields. All the mouse can see is her field and all of its places.

When we widen our view, then we become like the bird who rises above the trees to see a larger landscape, the wider view. Can see the whole field and the landscape beyond. Can bring a new perspective.

Opening our view, opening to a wider vision means we can be both mouse and bird, vole and eagle, whale and osprey. It means being with what we are faced with a new context, a new set of conditions, a different frame of reference. Or many different frames of references. It means we open to many ways of seeing.

It opens possibilities we cannot even entertain or even entertain the possibility of when we are not open. 

This is where hope and even more than hope – real newness – resides. For when we can open to new ways of seeing, we are open to changing our narratives, changing our stories even of the past, changing who we are and becoming more ourselves.

All this when we work with our fear instead of trying to get through it. All this when we can be tender with our scary dreams rather than trying to act like they do not exist. All this as we create new narrative and let our fear teach us, inform us. Alchemize us.