Ask Me: What About Nightmares? Part 7: Change and Fear

We are at the end of the season of rituals, turnings, marking things, celebrations and into a new year. Ritual, as we explored last time, is key to being human, marking things key to honoring the turnings of mystery inside of us.

In our conversation about scary dreams, we are exploring the nature of fear and the different ways it works within us. 

We have fear around the unknown and the big mysteries which can, if we are open, also be exciting.

Let’s explore our fear around change.

Our fear around change can be marbled with our fear of the unknown, for change always carries some aspect of the unknown. But change is sometimes just that – a change.

The etymology of the word change carries many things – words like crook, bend, alter, become different and even barter. I think of the word exchange in terms of the barter part.

A switch, a trade, a bend in a trajectory. 

Change can be something in our waking lives – a change of job, a change of address, a change in relationship – and it can also be something that is altered in our inner lives. I think of a change of heart around a specific belief, a change of goals, a change in our expectations or desires.

With change, we may not be going into the unknown, just into newness.

Which does carry a great deal of fear.

It is scary to change jobs, move, work with relationship in a new way. It is scary to change within as well. For we can become quite comfortable in our lives, in our ways of thinking and being. Change provokes – no, invites – us to move out of our places of comfort that we may have worked really hard to create.

Why fear is so deeply woven with change is because of this – change is rarely comfortable.


Let’s look at an example that is more cultural than personal. In my country, the U.S., the national narrative is that it is a culture of change and growth. The narrative speaks about how “progressive” a country we are in these kinds of terms – freedom and liberty and the right to pursue dreams. It is a great story.

It has been and continues to be an incredibly difficult road to change this narrow view of a narrative to include historical and current facts. When a group steps in to speak about their experience in the U.S. culture, there is almost always a great deal of pushback. 

The land of the free is actually not true. We are the land that enslaved people from other places in the world for hundreds of years and built the narrative of progress on their backs. We are the land who enslaved and committed genocide on the peoples who lived here before European settlers arrived. We are the land that did not give women and people of color the right to vote until the late 1800s and are still struggling to give basic human rights to all the people who live here.

To bring these truths into the narrative of my country, for me, is a way to bring truth and to bring change. When we acknowledge our past, we can grow in new ways. But just acknowledging our past in simple ways is still incredibly divisive and so threatening to some that people are moved to violence when that narrative is “threatened”.

Simply because we want to change the narrative to include wider truths.

Because to include wider truths means we must address those truths and change how things are now. Which is uncomfortable. For those who benefit from the power dynamics of the old narrative, they do not want to change because they fear losing power. They will, in one way. But they do not see that there is more power and possibility in treating everyone as people and being with what all that people can bring to the table. All the different ways and viewpoints and possibilities. 

So, the privileged continue to guard their power. They spin stories, often to provoke fear of change, to rally people to that narrative.  It is what creates deep violence and mistrust and wild inequities at every level of daily life.


And, it is true in our personal lives.

We are often terrified to make changes in our lives, especially in our inner lives and narratives, which makes us cling to our old narratives in the same way a culture clings to its narratives. 

In my work, I recently had a dream where a fierce Anima figure told me it was time to leave a lovely, comfortable place. I did not really want to, but I knew she was right. Here’s the dream:

It is after the big celebratory wedding and I am sitting down to have a nice cup of tea. A warrior teacher comes to me and tells me it is time to leave, that I can no longer stay here. “What?!” I say, but I know she is right. I reluctantly leave my cozy chair and head out of the house to where she points. A passage leads me to the mountain behind the house where I find two paths. One is an easy one and one is a cave that leads into and through the heart of the mountain. I know I need to go into the cave, but I let myself be persuaded by someone there to go the easy path. As soon as I take a few steps, I am back in my comfortable chair, with my tea. My warrior teacher is astonished. “What are you doing here? Why did you take the easy path? Of course it will lead you here!” So, I get up and leave again, am faced with the same choice and try the easy path again, which leads me back to the comfy chair and my astonished and now annoyed teacher. When I leave the third time, I finally turn toward the cave. 

An Overgrown Mineshaft by Carl Gustav Carus, [ca. 1824]

Oh, I so did not want to go into the cave. I so did not want to go on the path that went into darkness and wound through the mountain. I wanted the easy, comfy path. My teacher was like – NO!

What does this mean in my outer life? That there is a way I am taking an easy path right now that is not good for me. On one level, I feel this is very true in my creative life. I feel how I am writing in a comfortable way and scared to move into more unknown kinds of writing.

Scared because it means changing a story I had about who I am/was as a writer. I had a narrative that writing and being a writer was not possible for me, not possible for me to ever have a book in the world, not possible for me to be engaged in the literary world. Part of this narrative comes from an old story I learned in my very conservative family that “girls” are not as smart or creative as men. I have lived with that story in my body. 

I have proved that story wrong. I do have a book in the world, I am engaged in the literary world. But.

But, I realized, when working with this dream with my dreamworker, that I have been not trying new things, not stepping deeply or fully into the world that has opened for me. That I am schlumping into some old way of being and not challenging myself.

There is more here for me. I have worked to create more opportunity, but then back away from it. 

For it is scary to be with the fact that I am a writer and that it is not as terrifying as it has been in the past. That there is an actual ease for me around writing, around my creativitiy that I have never felt. That, too, there are opportunities for me that I can step into if I just get out of the comfort of my old story.

My old story is not even true. 

So, it is about facing into the fear of the next leap, the next steps of my journey. Which means to really let go of the narratives I received as a girl and to stop using them to hide, to not take the steps. 

There is unknown here, yes. But it is not the same unknown as when I first entertained the possiblity of being a writer, of writing my first poems. That step was about breaking silence.

I have broken silence. Now it is about singing my heart out.

Wow, even just writing that brings fear and a thrill into me. 


This fear that comes with change, like the fear of the unknown, can be/usually is marbled with our trauma, so it does require having our trauma as part of the process. 

And it is not just about that. It is about moving out of our comfort zones, moving out of something created to discover newness. A narrative, a way of thinking/believing, is a safe place to live.

To break out of narratives to see what else is there is scary. Which is why our dreams confront us to show us our fear.

In my dream, I did not feel any fear. It was hiding under the reluctance to go the path I know I needed to go. I am working with this dream in this way – whenever I feel the tug to do the easy thing [in writing, in relationship, in my work, in anything], I know I have fear to do the new thing. When that cozy cuppa is beckoning, I am turning toward the heart of the cave instead.