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Dreams of Fear

Dreams are a mystery, don’t you think? For weeks now it feels as if I have not dreamt a thing. But while running our Bali retreat at the beautiful Zen Resort I had a particularly odd dreaming experience, actually a series of them.

All of the dreams were nightmares, and each of them represented an Arch fear. Honestly, I don’t know when I had a nightmare before this, years ago literally. The dreams were so intense that still now, six weeks later, I remember all the details. As I briefly share them, I wonder if you can sense what the underpinning fear might be?

In the first dream, I was running a session that a dear friend of mine was attending with a group of her friends. As the session went along, she and her friends kept talking and laughing very loudly. I asked them to be quiet and was puzzled as to how to handle it as they were not responsive at all. Their disruption kept growing and I could not connect with them, I could not reach them. I felt bad for the rest of the group whose session was being ruined. Eventually, I pointed to the door and asked them to leave. They did.

Sometime later, I met with my friend but she would not look at me. She packed her bag, and was ice-cold, indicating the friendship was over. I was surprised and felt devastated that we could not talk about it, that I could not reach her, that she was not open to connect and explore with me. I woke up heart pounding and distressed.

The following night I had the second dream. In this there was a man who was slight with dark, bristly, unruly hair, lying bare-chested on a bed. He asked if I would provide feedback on a presentation that he was giving. I agreed, but while he was doing his presentation he was fiddling with his penis. It didn’t feel sexual, just inappropriate. In the feedback, I mentioned that I thought it not a good idea to fiddle during a presentation (!) and he agreed, in a slightly dismissive way. Later that night he came and attacked me while I was in bed. It was very scary and intense but I eventually fought him off. Again, I woke up with the heart pounding.

The third night was the most frantic and intense nightmare. I had met someone in the street and exchanged something. This had been witnessed by a corrupt police officer who came to me and said that unless I gave them a certain amount of money by Tuesday at 1.30 they would kill me.

I didn’t have the money so I was frantically thinking what to do. I decided to hide in a small corner room under the roof of my dream house. As the time was getting close, I was running around in the space but at the last minute realised that there were windows all around my hiding space and they would be able to see me from the outside.

I had lots of loose sheets of paper whirling around that I tried to hide in. Just before 1.30, I realised that I had not told my son what to do when they arrived. He was only 9 or 10 and I shouted to him to say that mum was not here, that he didn’t know where I was. The franticness of trying to find solutions, a good hiding spot, trying to work out what to do to survive this imminent threat, all meant that again I woke up with a pounding heart the next morning. The impact of this dream could be felt in the body well into the yoga class.

Later I did a process around the meaning of these intense nightmares. Do you have any ideas?

For a long time, I have had a theory that we have three Archfears. To protect ourselves from experiencing these fears we have adopted anxiety management systems (AAMS) from James Hollis PhD ‘Living an Examined Life. All our fears are rooted in the three Archfears. The Archfears are raw, intense and interrelated. I shared the idea some years ago with Dr Dan Siegel of ‘Mindsight’ and he agreed with my observation of the three Archfears.

The first fear is the fear of the heart, fear of loss of connection, Heartlessness. This is fear of exclusion, loss of friendships, and disconnection. It was represented in my first dream. Our AAMS for this is pleasing, avoiding, and also playing the victim to get sympathy. When we are in fear of heartlessness, we say things like, “I don’t want to upset anyone, I don’t want to hurt anyone, I find it hard to have a difficult conversation, I just want us all to get along.” In my situation I didn’t want to tell my friend off; I knew the risk.

The second fear is the fear of the body, Powerlessless. In this, the AAMS is achieving, building physical strength, striving, controlling, and restlessness. We adopt these in order not to feel powerless. The antidote to powerlessness is being seen, being witnessed, doing, moving to the next moment, being in control, making things how I want them. Fighting the man was testing my physical power, my ability to protect myself.

The third fear, manifest in the third dream, is the fear of the thinking mind that we cannot come up with solutions, think our way through things, and Pointlessness. I could not think my way out of the situation, I felt completely frantic. The AAMSs here are to be hyper-rational, vigilant and a stickler, attending to detail. The underlying belief is that if I think things through, I will be safe. We create rules and beliefs to impose order and create meaning in this chaotic world.

We are vulnerable little creatures, and the world is a big, daunting place. To survive we adopt some protective mechanisms to feel safer, more in control and connected. But beyond these protective mechanisms lies the rawness of being human. My experience is also that when one of these Archfears sneezes, they all get a cold! When I feel disconnected, I am more likely to feel powerless or ask myself what the point of it all is.

The bigger mystery remains. Three nightmares in a row? Where from? Why there? And, of course, my interpretation is just one possibility.

Never cease to stand like curious children before the Great Mystery into which we are born.” — Albert Einstein

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