The one feeling that is most associated, almost synonymous with nightmares is.... FEAR!

I will begin this talk by remembering a woman in our dream group in 1989, who had a dream in which a ferocious BEAR loomed up large onto her dream-screen. She was terrified and awakened sweating and shaking! Prior to this dream, she had been very withdrawn and soft-spoken in the group. She drew that BEAR on a large sheet of butcher paper and brought it to the dream group, taping it up on the wall before we began the evening session. That BEAR was a member of the dream group that night.... and we spent the entire time talking about her dream and its possible implications. We agreed she would be best advised to consult with her medical doctor, given some of the information revealed during our dreamwork.

During the next week she was diagnosed by her medical doctor as having lymphatic cancer. The BEAR was warning her that something had gone seriously astray in her body. My dream mentor of the time suggested that that BEAR was an angel in disguise. If it had not been for that dream, she would probably not have consulted with a doctor.

The next week in dream group, she brought another dream, which we very attentively focused on all evening. This dream contained the Rx for her treatment. It’s a long story, but this woman, who had been told by several medical doctors that her type of cancer was almost certainly terminal, followed the advice of the bear and subsequent dreams and is very vitally alive and well, to this day, 16 years later. I certainly do not mean to imply that this was an overnight process or that the dreams were exclusively responsible for her healing. This woman was very thorough and discriminating in choosing among medical and natureopathic options to help facilitate the healing process; she incorporated dietary and physical fitness changes into her daily routine, etc. Her healing was a hard won victory. Her dreams and the work we did together as a group to unravel their meanings, were however extremely significant in her path to healing.

The best culture we can look to today for teaching us to deal with nightmares is a little known band—now probably extinct, but discovered in tact in the 1930’s & 1940’s—called the Senoi. They were a nomadic band of the Temiar tribe from the Malay Peninsula. This tribe is reputed to have been the "Dream People" because they made most decisions—from the personal, to the family to the community levels—based on their dreams. Dreams were an integral part of their lives and culture. It is believed that parents, having been raised in a culture where dreams were so revered, were well equipped to educate and enlighten their children using their children's dreams as a primary parenting tool.

In the mornings at the breakfast table, much of the discussion centered around what each member of the family dreamed the night before. Children were encouraged to share their dreams from the time they were able to talk about them.

It has been discovered in modern day research, that children of all cultures frequently have nightmares. In most cultures, it is common for children to dream of being chased by monsters or hideous beasts of some sort, or to dream of flying, and beginning to fall. Do these dream themes sound familiar to you? Did you have similar dreams as a child? I did.

In most western cultures parents have not been, until recently, provided with information about how to work with their children through these nightmares. The Senoi, it is believed, knew exactly what to do. When a child would report a dream of being pursued by a monster and of awakening, frightened, the parents would calmly and quickly inform the child—the next time they had a dream of this nature— to become aware that they are dreaming, to recognize that their dreambodies cannot be hurt, to not to run away from the monster/beast, but rather to turn and confront whatever is threatening them. Ask it what it wants. Do battle with it, if necessary. Demand a gift of it.

If the child reported a dream of flying and beginning to fall, they were encouraged not to awaken but rather to go with the fall, to recognize that they were being called to go within the Earth and that their dreambodies could not be injured by the descent... or, they were encouraged to become aware that they were dreaming and go back into and enjoy the flight.

In this way, the Senoi were teaching their children at a very early age, to confront their fears on an emotional level. This is a very important point and one of the empowering ways our dreams bring opportunity to us. In our culture, we put extraordinary emphasis on educating the intellect, but until recently very little emphasis on educating our emotions. Dreams do help us to heal wounded emotions and gain emotional maturity.

So when you have a nightmare, don’t be so quick to say to yourself: "Whew! It was only a dream!" Find someone to help you explore the meaning of the imagery, the symbols, the story of the dream. Be willing to face your fears and you may come to value your nightmarish dreams. They may just be your angels in disguise as well!

Author's Bio: 

Roberta is a dreamworker and the publisher/editor of Dream Network, a Quarterly Journal/magazine which exists to help you better understand the meaning of your dreams