NIGHTMARES: A TOOL ON THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY, article in “Open Road Magazine” (Oct 2018), a publication of Edgar Cayce Canada. Michaels is the author of the flagship book on the topic, "Nightmares: The Dark Side of Dreams and Dreaming" (Sterling Press, 2018).
HOW A BLOND-MOPPED KID with the nickname of “Happy Tooth” grew up to write a book on nightmares is still a mystery. I think back on the unbounded optimism of my youth, at times muted by adult challenges, that still percolates its peaceful, loving scent, and reflect on what led to unravelling nightmares. After writing two dream books, I offered online dream analysis in exchange for the use of anonymous dreams in books and noticed that one topic was of great interest to dreamers. You guessed it. Nightmares! As I pondered a mother’s dream that her child gets sick and dies, or a wife’s dream that her husband is killed in a car crash, wisps of meaning sprouted into thoughts and patterns.
In a wave of enthusiasm I sent my literary agent Lisa Hagan an outline for a book on nightmares; she caught my vision and happily hawked the proposal to various publishers. Alas, word came back that the public was no longer interested in dreams; it was deemed a bottom tier topic. No publisher with a pulse on trends or the bottom line would touch the proposal. I tucked a personal dream into my back pocket about a publisher choosing a cover for my book on nightmares during Halloween and said “Okay.” Undaunted, I went on with my life.
A couple of years later, to everyone’s surprise, my book, A Little Bit of Dreams did way better than anyone expected and continues to do so as a contemporary best seller on the topic. So my publisher asked what I’d like to write next. You guessed it! I dusted off my notes and Nightmares-–The Dark Side of Dreams and Dreaming was launched and as predicted by my dream, the cover was selected during Halloween. That’s why I trust my dreams! That’s why I’m still an optimist, though I leave the unfolding to the Almighty’s expert timing!
Normal dreams are practical signposts for daily living. Nightmares are a desperate neighbor beating down your door, begging for shelter. Who is the frantic neighbor? Often an unacknowledged or unrecognized part of self, or a part of you that seeks a flashlight through life’s painful maze. Aside from dreams about death and traumatic or recurring nightmares which are covered in the book, here’s a glance at three nightmare tracks.
FEAR AND ANXIETY. The most common nightmare is prompted by fear and anxiety. A woman in an unhappy marriage had dreams of being on a ship or of lying in a bed that held bombs which were about to go off. If the marriage fell apart, she felt as if she’d explode. The nightmares confronted her with her anxiety. They also acted like an emotional digestion system. Like steam released from a pressure cooker, nightmares at times help maintain emotional balance, an overlooked side effect confirmed by dream researchers (e.g. Ramon Greenberg).
Cayce readings link fear, sin, and attunement, as in, “Perfect love casteth out fear. Where fear enters, sin lies at the door” [136-19]; and, “...sin is separation from God; righteousness is adhering to, at-onement with God's purposes” [262-125]. In this light, at times nightmares are a warning flare that, accidentally or by choice – we have cut ourselves off from Divine attunement.
NIGHTMARES THAT CONFRONT YOU ABOUT YOU. Some nightmares invite us to face limitations, negatives, and warts that we so easily hide from ourselves. It takes confidence and strength to see your total self and while there’s no rush, sooner or later, we all have to face the music. As one tool of self awareness among many, nightmare messages hide spiritual gold nuggets: every negative hides a positive potential. The flip side of anger can be leadership; the flip side of depression can be an ability to inspire, and so on. Once you face a negative, you release its hidden positive and wade into a cool stream of unleashed talent and energy.
In a blood curdling nightmare, Joel, a thirty year old manager in his family’s grocery business, saw himself as the Grim Reaper in a mansion full of children who had been kidnapped by an old woman. Giant spiders crushed intruders. As the Grim Reaper, he had to rescue the children by killing the old woman and giant spiders. Violent acts were foreign to his gentle nature but the children had to be rescued, so he carried out the task.
Joel woke up feeling gratified, yet terrified and confused. The nightmare told a story of taking drastic steps to destroy – in order to help! Unbeknownst to his family of grocers, Joel secretly longed to be a teacher, and the macabre story mirrored his inner struggle to be true to himself. As a confrontation with his true calling, the nightmare invited Joel to face a fear of asserting what he wanted, leave the family business, and become a teacher.
WARNINGS. Mystic Edgar Cayce who was called "the Seer of Virginia Beach" often hinted that dreams bring physical, emotional, or spiritual warnings [2218-1]. Though dreams may exaggerate to get a point across, literal warnings have telltale signs. You have the same nightmare several times with similar details, warnings are vivid and intense, they contain true-to-life details like people or places that you recognize, and the emotional reactions during and after the dream, are appropriate. Even so, it’s wise not to jump to conclusions; analyze a nightmare as if it is a metaphor, first, which is often the case.
A dreamer painfully watched a co-worker lose control of their motorcycle, crash and die. The associate owned a motorcycle and, following a painful divorce, later used it to end their own life. A young woman’s nightmares showed a new boyfriend with other women. In one, his best friend even said: “He loves them and leaves them,” a message she refused to believe until a reality check unveiled it was all true. A lady had a nightmare of looking into the mirror and seeing herself with huge, villainous, black eyebrows. It felt so real that she awoke up and rushed to the mirror to check. Relieved to see normal eyebrows, she knew it was a warning about negative attitudes that had begun to affect her career and spiritual life.
FINAL THOUGHTS. I understand the Cayce readings to say, “... as the soul reasons with mind during sleep [2218-1], it brings impressions to the conscious mind [3744-5] and lessons from its own experiences [4167-1]. Such is the nature of dreams and nightmares which is ours to nightly sift and cherish.