Dreams of Healing: Marathon Bombing Anniversary #1

Dreaming is a healing process…a vital means by which we bind up our wounded spirits and rekindle our hopes for the future.” (Kelly Buckeley)

Welcome dreamers,

Last year the Boston area held the world in horrified thrall during the terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon.  Stories have appeared in the news media off and on all year about the healing and recovery of the survivors, and stories of courage and selflessness of responders.  Many are planning to run or cheer on this year in honor of those who were killed or affected by the bombing and it’s aftermath.   As a Watertown resident, I have walked the streets less than a mile from my home where the suspect was finally recovered.  Scenes of the bombing on Boylston St., of the responders and victims that day, the lock down in many towns, the images of SWAT teams patrolling the quiet neighborhood and banging on doors, to the final recovery of the second bomber under the boat- these images have been engraved in many of our memories.  For some, they have shown up as persisting nightmares in various literal or symbolic forms over the past year.  While the distress has abated for most as the year unfolded and life returned to the new normal, as the first anniversary approaches the city and our psyches are revisiting that time, and we can hope to use the anniversary to mark healing and courage and our unwillingness to be bowed down to the false gods of violence and terror.

Kelley Buckeley  (Dreams of Healing, 2003) tells us that we make meaning out of tragedies publicly when people build monuments (think 9/11 or the Vietnam Memorial) or set up spontaneous memorials (think piles of running shoes and flowers on Boylston Ave.).  Inter-personally, we have conversations and prayer circles, and internally people dream dreams.  Our dreams can guide us in the direction of hope and healing; our job becomes to pay attention to them, and to direct them toward resolution and wholeness of being.

Our dreams can be both landmarks of our internal process when “bad things happen to good people”, (to quote Kushner), and a source of healing and solace as we attend to them and use their generative powers to move forward: to creating meaning out of chaos, hope out of despair, and a forward-moving life force out of the depths of darkness and sorrow.  A hallmark of a therapeutic modality called AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy) has as some of its tenants that we are all wired for growth, that we all have the capacity to experience joy and delight, and that nothing that feels bad is ever the last step.  I love these philosophies!   It reminds me of what the proprietor of the hotel in the movie “The Exotic Marigold Hotel” also tells us (in his lovely Indian accent): “Everything will work out in the end.  And if it hasn’t worked out, then it isn’t the end yet.”

Post-traumatic nightmares can actually be a sign of a vigorous life force that is pushing forward to bring in potential allies of deep powerful inner strength and resilience that need to be brought forward into consciousness.  Dreaming in and of itself is a healing process- it is one of our system’s ways of digesting and processing information.  (With the legacy of trauma, the body/mind adage  “what isn’t sufficiently metabolized can become metastasized” can have great meaning).

Dreams that follow a crises do not aim to simply return the dreamer to the status quo, rather they aim to develop a whole new understanding of the self and the world that encompasses the trauma, and help the dreamer to rise out of the ashes of their broken self to find new hope, structure, and meaning for their world. (Buckeley)  Dreams are one of our most powerful sources of meaning making.

Buckeley continues, “Nightmares are more like a vaccine than a poison.”  This understanding follows the homeopathic principle of that a minute dose of a negative substance inoculates us to the disease or distress. Our dreaming selves are struggling to deal with the psychological distress and spirit anguish caused by traumatic events.  “…Although dreamsharing by itself does not cure a disease, it does have the power of enhancing conscious awareness of both our deepest fears and our greatest strengths…  At times of great suffering and vulnerability, this kind of enhanced self awareness can have a deeply re-vitalizing effect.”

We can assist our dreaming selves in this healing process, whether the nightmarish distress is from trauma, loss, illness or parts unknown.  We can incubate dreams at night before going to sleep; spending a few moments quietly tuning in, then writing in our dream journal our desire for our dream guide to send us healing dreams in the service of our highest good and best interests.  We can be general or specific, depending on what we already know about our nightmares or our day distress.  We can orient ourselves, as recommended by the Talmud, to find the gift in every dream.  We can hold the expectation that if it hasn’t worked out, that it is not the end yet.  And you are all invited to participate in a day retreat workshop on Sunday May 4th on  “Dreams of Healing: Dreamwork and Transformation” where we will learn dreamwork principles, journey together, and find our way in the nearby woods for a short waking dream  journey.  Click here to find the link to the flier for registration.

May we all dream together of inner and outer worlds of peace

Linda Yael

 

 

 

Things That Go Bump In the Night

 “I don’t use drugs: my dreams are frightening enough”.  M. C. Esher

Nightmares.  We’ve all had some version of them, from a single mild disturbance to all out panic and repetitive horror shows.  This next series of blogs will begin to address the “full catastrophe” of this ubiqitous phenomenon. (to quote one of my favorite characters Zorba, who is in turn quoted by John Cabot Zinn).

 What causes nightmares?  The whole range of things that influence our dreams (remember those layers from the last blog?) contribute to nightmares as well.  Yes, that spicy pizza we ate last night can be an influence.  More to the point though, they are usually generated by upsetting encounters or life circumstances that we’ve had over the last few days, stuck emotions or unsatisfied places in our life that we haven’t figured out what to do about yet, or long term unfinished business from our childhood or beyond.  That “beyond” includes sensory and image memories that have not been encoded into language, or scenes from other lifetimes that seep through the thinned veil of our consciousness when we are asleep.  Repetitive nightmares are an SOS from our unconscious- something is not right in Mudville, and our dreaming self is trying it’s darndest to get us to sit up and figure out what it is, and what we need to do about it.

First, a few words about kids and nightmares. Kids dreams are also affected by what is going on in their lives, but it is also important to know that having nightmares is a normal developmental stage for many children.  From about 4 or 5 until about 8 or 9, many kids are just beginning to recognize that their previously “infallible and all protecting parents” are not perfect protectors, and that the world can be a scary place.  This comes as a shock!  “What do you mean that you can’t make Joey my hamster alive again?!”

It seems that this dawning consciousness that parents can’t do it all, and that they (the kids) will have to leave the nest for increasing periods of time, make this age span a common time of nightmares.  They have to come to terms with how to negotiate and stay safe in the world, and anxieties can seep into sleep.  For many kids, the nightmares resolve by themselves, with just a little TLC and good parenting techniques.  For others, some of these tried and true methods may help restore them to feeling competence and power in their worlds.

Here are a few techniques that are helpful for kids to gain some power over their night monsters: (ps- they can work for adults too!)

 

Vanquishing the Nightmare

1.    Never underestimate the power of a good nightlight to chase away the scary dark.

2.    In addition to an actual nightlight, some kids love to have a “monster vaporizer” in the form of a flashlight, that when pointed into all the dark corners and under the bed, will automatically vaporize any lurking dangers.

3.    Have them tell the story of the dream out loud, and join them in deciding what objects, other people, or magical/spiritual beings they want to bring with them into the dream or into the room to keep them safe.

4.    Draw a picture of the nightmare, and then change the picture around by making it humorous  (i.e., put a funny hat on the monster), or adding the magical safety items from #3 to the picture.

5.    Talk back to the monster, once it is safely contained (i.e. put it in jail, or a cage, or behind a fence or a force field). Even “Na na na na na – you can’t get me!” can be very powerful for a certain age set.

6.    My daughter’s personal favorite when she was that age: Draw the dream monster or bad guy, then scribble over it with a heavy black magic marker until it is completely obliterated.  Then, if that is not yet enough, rip the paper into tiny shreds.  Then, if that is not yet enough, burn the shreds of paper safely in a big pot or container.   Then, if that is not yet enough, flush the ashes down the toilet!  (part of this method is adapted from “Gentle Reprocessing”, developed by Diane Spindler as a variation on EMDR using imagery.)  Keep going until you get to until you get to “Dayenu!” (from the Passover Haggadah, meaning “It would be enough!”

7.    Have a conversation with the dream monster or bad guy: Find out why it is there, what it wants, and how to appease or befriend it.  Feed it a cookie.  See what gift it has brought for the young dreamer.  (A great book you can read to young readers, and older ones can read to themselves is “The Wizard of EarthSea”, the first book of “The EarthSea Trilogy” by Ursula Leguin.   This great allegory/story closes with the young wizard Ged learning how to face his monsters.)

8. Don’t forget about Native American dreamcatchers: hung over the bed, they “catch” the bad dreams, and the hole in the middle lets the good ones come through.

9.   And, of course, hugs, and lullabies, and cuddling, and the power of true and loving presence.

Next time- adults and nightmares: the long and the short of it: methods, techniques, ways to empower yourself, when to seek professional help.

Sweet dreams,

Linda Yael