Tag Archives: nightmares

Q&A: Help! I Can’t move!

Ryan Hurd, today’s guest blogger and expert on Sleep Paralysis, sheds light on a sometimes-frightening sleep phenomenon

Q: What if any relationship exists between sleep paralysis, which I’ve experienced when I was 15-40 years old, and dream states?

A: Sleep paralysis is deeply tied to dreaming. In fact, the easiest way to think about sleep paralysis is dreaming with your eyes open, while also experiencing the muscle paralysis that comes with dreaming sleep. Body asleep, mind awake.

Most of the time, sleep paralysis (SP) is a harmless symptom that occurs when the brain does not shift its neurochemical gears all at once. For most, SP comes when sleep is disrupted and we are stressed, bodily and mentally. In these cases, SP can be managed by attending to personal sleep health as well as stress management. However, for thousands of others, SP is not so gentle, and is a symptom of a larger health issue such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea, as well as other health conditions that rob the body of healthy sleep. In these cases, SP is treated clinically to manage the symptoms, although there is no cure.Sleep-paralysis-book-cover-300

The feelings of paralysis, which can also feel like a weight on the chest or throat, generally last less than a minute or two. Dreamers say, “I feel like someone is holding me down!” The paralysis is actually a normal part of REM sleep, which we experience every night unawares. With the big skeletal muscles offline, the sleeper is free to engage in the energetic REM state without fear of acting out a dream, so as not to be a danger to self or sleep partners. But during SP, the sleeper can feel not only the paralysis but is also well aware what is happening, giving the episode a strangely lucid feel that some people say is “realer than real.” Others are adamant, “It was not a dream. I was awake!”

Beyond Paralysis: Fear and the Stranger in the Room

The defensiveness of being awake and aware is probably due to the more unusual qualities of SP that are not really hinted at in the bland medical term.  Many feel terrible and heightened fear, sometimes strong enough to be labeled death anxiety. Others detect a “sensed presence” or stranger in the room, the uncanny feeling that they are not only alone, but being watched keenly by an evil presence. This aspect of SP is no doubt the root of hundreds of ghost stories and folklore.

About 20% of sufferers of SP experience not only the awareness of the paralysis and mental clarity and the fear, but also strange dream-like visions, known as hypnagogic hallucinations. This is where SP really begins to sound more like a vision state than a dream. The hallucination generally is a person, or perhaps I should say an entity, as the personage can be an animal hybrid, an ethereal spirit, or a pale and thin toothed alien other. The paralysed dreamer sees the entity standing over them, and may also watch helplessly as the entity holds them down. The occurrences can get violent, and in fact often are sexually violent.

In Medieval times, the entity was known as the incubus—a male demon that sought out unsuspecting female dreamers. Men were similarly visited by a succubus, who could be alluring but may morph into a terrible form during the sexual act.  Dozens of “supernatural assault” traditions are known around the world today. In the West, sleep paralysis symptoms can be seen in alien abduction lore. What is unclear today is how common are sexual hallucinations that come with sleep paralysis, and indeed, how many of them are nightmarish compared with more pleasurable experiences.

On the Bright Side

In my studies, I have been surprised to discover that there are also completely positive accounts of sleep paralysis-related visitations, including ancestral visits, deceased loved ones, sexually healing encounters, as well as contact with positive healing figures such as angels and medicine men.

By affirming that one is safe within the sleep paralysis encounter, and with an attitude of curiosity and courage, many dreamers have found sleep paralysis to be a portal to several other extraordinary states of awareness, such as mystical guided journeys, lucid dreaming, and out-of-body experiences.

Personally, I have had both the positive and the negative encounters, and sometimes, even after all these years, I get frightened and must resort to ejecting myself from the encounter. At least, I figure, I can try again, as it seems I another encounter with the creatures of sleep paralysis is just around the corner.

For more on this topic, check out my book on the topic: Sleep Paralysis: A Guide to Hypnagogic Visions and Visitors of the Night.

About the author:ryan-hurd-headshot

Ryan Hurd is editor of DreamStudies.org, a website dedicated to sleep, dreams and consciousness studies. He is also the curator of Dream Studies Press, where he has published several ebooks and showcases other interesting dream-related products. Ryan lectures internationally, and teaches at the Rhine Education Center. He is also a current board member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, and a member of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness.

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Q&A: Bad Dreams? Good News.

Q: I follow you on Facebook and am interested in joining one of your dream groups. The timing is especially good because I’m going through a big change. My husband recently moved out after over twenty years of marriage, and I think it would be good for me to join a group. Here’s the problem, though: I only have bad dreams. Why would I want to sit around and talk about them?

Signed,

Bad News Dreams

A: Dear Bad News,

I truly empathize with your situation. Well, half of it anyway. You see, some six years ago, my partner of nearly 20 years moved out, just after my daughter went away to college.  I was blindsided by all of the changes … well, I knew my daughter would be going to college, but everything else knocked me off my feet. I knew my partner and I had problems, but I thought we could work through them together. Even more, I was totally unprepared for the emotional pain that the breakup unleashed in me. I’ve always been a strong, independent woman, but now I was reduced to seemingly unending tears. And yes, I had my share of disturbing dreams, too.

However, unlike you, Bad News, I’d long ago learned that my bad dreams were really good news. You see, awake we can distract ourselves with Netflix, Facebook, outings to the mall and back issues of the New Yorker. But asleep and dreaming, it’s just us and – well us. Those nightmares show us what we might be shutting out during the day. I knew if I looked mine in the eyes, they’d reveal what I needed to see. I knew, too, that unless I did, I’d get the bad news in more bad dreams, over and over, until I finally relented and paid attention.

This is kind of a tough sell, I know, but I want to sell you on it. Not because I want to sell you on a dream workshop, but because I’ve stood where you’re standing now—and my dreams showed up for me like a best best friend who’s not afraid to call me out on my denial, my bravado, or my bad behavior; a friend who, with all the love in her heart, will tell me what I don’t want to hear.

So, when I received your question, I wondered how I could convince you of the merit of looking into those dark dreams in a group of supportive others. I thought I could tell you what my therapist told me: “The only way out is through.” But I so much hated it when my therapist told me that that, that I figured you’d hate it too. Then I thought of all kinds of profound stories I could tell you to drive home my point. And then I thought, just tell her the dream.

So here it is — a dream  I had when I was in the depths of my despair after my breakup:

I am stranded at the side of a highway in the middle of the night beside an abandoned tollbooth. My car is gone. I’m all alone.

Then, I hear a disembodied voice telling me to look up to the sky. But I see only black emptiness above.

Look closely, I’m told. All I see is darkness.

Keep looking, the voice instructs.

Little by little I make out the tiniest pinpricks of starlight.

Finally, those little hints of light increase until before I know it the lights are intensifying and magnifying.

Now I am looking up into the most beautiful display of light; a combination of fireworks and falling stars all mixed up with a sense of cosmic celebration.

And wouldn’t you know it, I woke up feeling happy.

Happy, not because my situation had changed, but because now I understood: There’s no way, out, I realized, except (well, yes, my therapist was right after all) through.

I had to stand in the dark and look directly into the biggest scariest void in the universe (that void was in my heart, not the sky, you understand). It wouldn’t happen all at once, or even according to my timeline, but eventually I’d be happy. Truly happy. Maybe again. Maybe for the first time.

That’s what we do with our dreams, Bad News, we look them in the eye–even if it’s the eye of a Cyclops, or the eye of a raging storm. We squint till we find the pinprick of light in that anxious or scary or terrifying darkness. And you know what? It’s always there: a glimmer of hope that, if we let it, eventually grows into a light show that dazzles even the most frightened heart.

So, why would you want to sit around and talk about your bad dream? Because your bad dream, Bad News, joins someone else’s bliss dream, and someone else’s crazy repeating dream about mail stacking up on the stoop of her childhood house (oh, that one’s mine … well, anyway), and we put them all in the circle and we find our way through to the healing seed that’s in the center of each one. And then that seed grows.

Got it? I hope so. ’Cause we’re saving a seat for you.

Dreamily yours,

Tz…

…zzZZZZzzzzzzz

Want to learn more about your dreams? Contact me to find out about upcoming dream groups in western Massachusetts, or individual dream sessions by phone, Skype, or in person.

Have a Dream Question? Send it along! I’d love to hear from you.

For another take on nightmares, click here.

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Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science Confirm The Healing Power of Dreams

“An unremembered dream is like an unopened letter from God.”

The average person dreams from four to seven times every night. That means that by the age of 80, they will have had between 116,800 and 204,400 dreams. However, most people are confused and mystified by their dreams, and as a result they largely ignore them. When asked why they don’t pay attention to their dreams, many say dreams are too complicated to understand, or that most of their dreams are nonsensical at best and disturbing at worst.

But while dreams may have fallen out of favor in modern Western cultures, people around the world have long known that dreams can help them in down-to-earth, practical matters. In fact, an ancient quote posits that, “An unremembered dream is like an unopened letter from God.”

This traditional wisdom, is now backed by scientific research. Dreams have been shown to help with everything from emotional regulation to increased creativity. And studies show that working with dreams in a therapeutic environment can help people gain insight into problems and issues as well as heal from the loss of a loved one, or recurring nightmares caused by trauma.

In addition, dreamwork promotes concrete, positive changes based on deep understanding of the dream. People from all walks of life, from artists to scientists, have credited dreams with major inspirations and breakthroughs. And everyday people regularly receive guidance about physical health, interpersonal relationships, professional problems, and more through working with their dreams.

As a Certified Dream Therapist and as an individual who has benefited greatly from my dreams for years, I am passionate about helping others learn to listen to and understand their dreams. Toward that end, I am offering discounted dreamwork sessions (in person, by phone or Skype) all summer long, as well as a new ongoing “Listening to Dreams” workshop series that begins on Aug. 20th. For information on individual dreamwork consultations or workshops, please visit me at CLINIC Alternative Medicines or view my web site http://www.thirdhousemoon.com.

 

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Many ways to achieve lucidity … and not

Sometimes I get the feeling my dreams are playing games with me. Recently when I attempted to have a lucid dream, I instead had a non-lucid dream of a window with a little brass plaque hanging from it. I leaned in to read the words etched into the plaque and read: “Still and Clear.” The dream took me literally, I suppose. What is lucidity, after all, if not clarity and transparency (like a window).

Of course what I wanted when I requested a lucid dream was one of those dreams when you know you are dreaming. Most people experience this during a nightmare, when just before getting eaten by the monster or being backed into the wall of flames they realize: “This is only a dream …” and then they wake, safe in their beds.

But I don’t like to wait until a lucid dream happens, I like to encourage them to happen. But perhaps my dreams don’t like to be bossed around. Here’s another example of how my the dream played me, if you will …

This time I had been trying for several nights in a row to have a lucid dream, but with no success. Finally, after a week of this, and ready to give up, a friend at work mentioned that I was in her dream the night before. “Really?” I asked, “Tell me what happened.”

“Well,” she said, “you know those dreams when you know you are dreaming?” “Sure do,” I said, trying not let my envy show … It turns out that my friend had had a lucid dream that night in which I appeared, sitting on her bed, in fact, sorting photographs and putting them into picture frames.

Does it count as having a lucid dream if instead of having one myself I appear in another’s? At that point I was willing to “count” anything. In any case, the next night I finally did it, I achieved lucidity.

Why all the fuss about having lucid dreams? If you’ve ever had one, you probably know. There are a lot of fun things to do in the lucid state, such as fly, visit beautiful places, jump from tall buildings and not get hurt …

But there’s more, too. The lucid dream state is a powerful and creative level of consciousness where you can tap into healing powers, seek out information, solve problems, etc. A lucid dream is like a laboratory where you can explore the dream state itself. You can look beyond the dreamscape, interview dream characters and ask questions of the dream maker.

As you can tell from reading this post, I’m no expert on lucid dreaming at will, but with a few nights effort I can usually wake within my dreams. To do so I think about my intention during the day, asking myself at intervals: Am I awake or dreaming? The hope is that during the night the same question will occur to the dreaming mind and as soon as you can answer, “I’m dreaming!” then you’ve done it … you’re lucid within the dream.

I have found that this simple technique works …

… except when it doesn’t. One night, not long ago, my attempt at lucidity was just another opening for my dream to play tricks on me: In a dream I looked out the back door and thought, something’s wrong here. Then I asked the question within the dream: “Am I awake or dreaming?” My dreaming self considered the matter: “Well, if I’m dreaming I’ll be able to levitate that pumpkin in the driveway,” my dreaming self concluded. So, I focused my attention on the pumpkin but it didn’t budge. “That settles it,” my dreaming self said. “I’m awake.”

Well, hopefully you’ll do better. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!

(And if you want a fabulous resource on Lucid Dreaming check out Robert Waggoner’s book by the same name.)

Who says dreams can't be literal? I asked for a lucid dream and received a dream image of a window! Clear and transparent, yes -- but not what I had hoped for 🙂

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