Nightmares are healing gifts. They may come in nasty wrapping paper but when we unwrap them with lucid awareness, wonderful transformations can occur.
Working with nightmares can offer healing and wholeness. When we illuminate a nightmare with lucid awareness – while dreaming or while awake – we unleash healing.
Most people these days have heard about the wonderful state of lucid dreaming: when we know that we’re dreaming while we are dreaming. When we are conscious that “this is a dream!”, we can react in spontaneous and healing ways within any “bad” dream or nightmare. This direct interaction with our unconscious can be immensely healing, allowing us to change deep psychological patterns, transform our relationships, face our inner demons and gain insight, self-understanding and compassion.
But what if we almost never have lucid dreams?
People often ask me: how can my nightmares help me if I never get lucid? I’ve developed a wide range of practices to help work with dreams and nightmares in transformative ways, bringing lucidity to the dream while awake and responding to it as if we have all the possibilities available to us in a lucid dream.
One of my most popular techniques is the Lucid Imaging Nightmare Solution. Charmaine* worked with this technique on this terrifying nightmare:
“A throng of women in grey combat uniforms barge into the condo and order us to sit in a circle and hold hands. The bulky leader of the pack eyes us like an eagle. Suddenly, she thrashes the butt of the gun into my head. I collapse, letting go of the other hands.
Then I’m on my knees facing a window ledge with my hands tied behind my back as if I’m the victim of a terrorist beheading video.
The leader yanks my head towards her and sticks the gun muzzle at my nape. She pulls the trigger.
What felt like a bullet was actually a blast of compressed air. She plucks my limp body back up, thrusts the muzzle into the same spot and hisses, ‘This is what it feels like to die.’
She shoots again. I see my lifeless body floating in a bathtub of blood from above.”
“The nightmare emerged during a period when I was incredibly anxious about my future and experiencing inner conflicts. After waking up from the nightmare in a fit of sobs, the terror from the dream followed me everywhere that day. During one of Clare’s workshops, while entering into this nightmare again in my mind’s eye, I decided to turn toward the woman in the grey uniform and face her. I realized that throughout my nightmare, this woman, this person embodying terror, was always situated behind me. I had always felt her presence hovering over my shoulders and the terror she evoked, but I had never seen her.
“The act of turning toward her, facing her head-on, seeing her human face, somehow relinquished her power over me. It seemed to me that she might embody the rigid and controlling side of me that was immensely afraid of uncertainty and the unknown. The fact that I could turn toward her made me aware of how I’ve grown to become more comfortable with uncertainty and seeing her face reminded me that my desire to control is natural and part of the human experience. The increased awareness of this side of myself and the acceptance of it felt new and profound to me.”
The power of lucid awareness
Charmaine’s brave example shows in a very literal way that the simple (yet at times terrifying) act of consciously turning to face our fears can instantaneously reduce their power.
Nightmare work – while lucid in a dream, or while awake – can help us to identify the shadow sides of ourselves that we sublimate so expertly that we barely recognize them as part of ourselves. Until they burst into consciousness in the form of a terrifying dream.
Once we recognize our shadow side, we are able to integrate these unconscious or unwanted parts of the self, and begin to lead a brighter, lighter, freer life.
*The above example from Charmaine is in Clare’s newest book, The Art of Transforming Nightmares: Harness the Creative and Healing Power of Bad Dreams, Sleep Paralysis, and Recurring Nightmares (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2021).
Learn how to apply Clare Johnson’s Lucid Imaging Nightmare Solution and other healing nightmare techniques by enrolling in Jung Platform’s three-class course Nightmares & Anxiety Dreams In Times of Crisis.
Dr. Clare Johnson, PhD, was the first person in the world to write a PhD on lucid dreaming as a creative tool. A life-long lucid dreamer, she is the most recent past President of the International Association for the Study of Dreams.More Posts by Clare Johnson