Can meditation stop nightmares?
That depends on the cause of your nightmares, and whether we are talking about meditation or creative dissociation.
Writing by Debbie Farrar
Awesome surrealist art by Naoto Hattori
Most of these pictures are for sale as prints here: http://wwwcomcom.com/index.html
Can meditation stop nightmares? Asked a student. I would have liked to say yes. Maybe then she would have paid me some money to come to my meditation groups? Meditation is often sold as a panacea. A magical cure all. Like yoga.
However, much of what passes for meditation does not look like meditation to me at all. Much of it looks like a means of practicing dissociation. An attempt to shut off the bad things so we can enjoy the good things. Sounds too good to be true, no? No wonder so many people do it.
However, things that sound too good to be true are, more often than not, too good to be true. If it were as simple as that there would be no suffering anywhere in the world and we would all be residing in perpetual inner peace.
Our mind is a reflection of our experiences, the things that we choose to fill it with, and the things that sneak in there when we are not paying attention. We cannot change our past experiences, and if your nightmares are a result of them, perhaps you are better seeking advice from a professional, rather than reading an article on the interwebs, or trying meditation. Meditation aims to bring us closer to reality. If your reality is causing your nightmares, then a good psycho therapist could help you contextualise your past and this might go some way towards alleviating your nightmares. Meditation might actually bring them into sharper focus.
Sometimes nightmares are a replay of images we have seen or stories we have heard in media, whether that be on TV, in video games or on social media. Sometimes they are your mind trying to contextualise these horrific images and make sense of them. Like the late night horror movie giving you a nightmare. Or the scary part in the book you are reading making its way into your sleep.
Media regularly bombards us with horrific images. Sometimes we do not even realise this as they are everywhere. And sometimes they just happen to pop up on our social media feeds and on TV, even when we think we are making a conscious decision to avoid them.
I think it is wise to remember, that not all of these images depict actual occurrences. Even the media are now admitting that, as fake news becomes increasingly obvious. Not so long ago, we would not have been privy to such images unless these events actually happened within our own small community. How many times do you know for certain that these events actually happened in the way they are portrayed? The line between reality and fantasy is beaming increasingly blurred.
Will meditation help? If we use dissociative practices that masquerade as meditation; we may be able to immunise ourselves to these images and our nightmares. However we will be moving further away from reality and into the realm of fantasy. Whilst fantasy can be good, it can also be bad. It can fertilise our dreams and our nightmares.
If we distance ourselves from actual reality, we would also be distancing ourselves from the reality of the beauty that is present within our own lives. We cannot dissociate from horror, without also dissociating from beauty. Unfortunately, no amount of meditation is going to be able to eradicate these images from your mind as there is no magic off button in a mind. You cannot unsee things. We can however contemplate on what they are stirring in our own shadows. What compels us to such images?
We all have a shadow side. It comes out from time to time. Sometimes, it is necessary; sometimes it is useful; sometimes it is essential for our survival. Sometimes it pops out unintentionally, and when that happens, we can feel guilt and shame and all these healthy emotions that serve the purpose of driving us to reflect and maybe apologise.
The problem is that sometimes, others pretend they don’t have their own shadows. This can lead to our healthy feelings of guilt and shame becoming toxic or repressed. Or to us becoming the receptacle for the disowned shadow projections of others. These are a bit like subliminal images that pop up on your social media feed. But even trickier to spot.
If we are not careful, social media can be like swimming in a stream of everyone else’s disowned shadow projections. Everyday life contains enough of them, but social media is not real life. It allows us to dissociate from reality so that all the things that we don’t like about ourselves and the world but are not prepared to face or do anything about, can be disowned and projected onto everyone else.
On social media, we can pretend we are enlightened, whilst simultaneously projecting our disowned shadows, guilt and shame onto someone else.
I have noticed a lot of shame projecting on social media. You are a bad person if you do not sign this petition. If you do not share my politics. If you do not like and share my post. Hang on, don’t just share, but copy and repost. That will really show that you are a caring person — like me.
Looking at and sharing horrific images is as addictive as swimming in the stream of unconscious disowned shame projections. Both cause us to secrete stress hormones as we wonder whether our tribe will disown us if we do not share, like or sign. And unfortunately, many of us are addicted to stress hormones. We live in a world where being an adrenaline junkie is acceptable and even encouraged in our behavioural patterns.
However, the good news is that there are a couple of real life off buttons. The television has one. And there is the real option of unfollowing people on Facebook, or leaving it alone for a while. If your Facebook tribe forgets you if you take a Facebook break, they were not a real tribe, but a fantasy tribe. Even if you know these people in real life, if they are really your friend, they will understand if you do not follow them or like their stuff. If they get upset with you, they are a fair weather friend. Their friendship was conditional on you doing what they wanted you to do, and not what was best for your health. You can explain this stuff to a real friend and they will not mind. They will support your decision.
Practically speaking, I wonder if sharing a disturbing image on Facebook ever changed anything, apart from upsetting the people who see it. Maybe it made someone sign a petition? Maybe that petition did some good? Some do. Maybe it eased the upset a little? But for whom? Did it also ease the guilt of our privileged easy life?
The nightmares will never go completely. And you would not want them to as if they did, so would the dreams. But you can ease them. What really helped ease my nightmares, my upset and my guilt is getting my own hands dirty.
Getting engaged in what is actually happening in your own life and community is life changing for all concerned. Pour your energies into what you can do, and your nightmares might just cease enough for meditation to allow you to enjoy the reality of the beauty, truth and peace within you.
by Debbie Farrar