Years ago I knew a woman who achieved great success in her difficult profession. After climbing to the top, however, she experienced a kind of nervous breakdown and health crash. Her healthcare providers warned her to take early retirement to salvage her health. Fortunately, she was in a position that enabled her to do just that, and she began the slow but effective recovery to good health.
A high-energy gal, she took some volunteer positions to “keep busy” as she put it. One of these volunteer positions involved her working in precisely the same capacity that had been her prior occupation. She began having stress nightmares and anxiety dreams almost immediately. In one such nightmare, she was seated at a banquet table at her old company, and was eating a meal she knew to be poisoned. In the dream, she doubled over with violent stomach cramps from the poison, and fell to the floor. Although she insisted she was not “stressed” by her volunteer efforts, her dreams seemed to imply that there was a powerful and unhealthy process taking place. Far below her own threshold for feeling stress or anxiety, her dreaming mind was illustrating her emotional allergy. Through prolonged overexposure to certain stressors in her past, she had become sensitized to them, so that she had a powerful negative reaction, in much the same way we can over-do a certain food or environmental allergen, and actually develop an allergy.
At the same time we were exploring these dreams, she also began to develop the real life physical symptoms that had been part of her cycle of illness prior to her retirement. The dual messages from her mind and body finally got her to take this invisible emotional allergy seriously. She decided to extricate herself from her volunteer position as soon as she could. The dreams of illness, and the physical symptoms, went away. She learned an amazing lesson. Although she still does volunteer work, she does not do the type of work she used to do in her prior profession. She remains happy and healthy to this day.
Dreams often produce story lines that transcend the time-line. There is a sort of dual timing at work, in which our dreams process current events, and also keep an eye on the horizon, reflecting outcomes that lie a month or two ahead given our current trajectory. Rather than wrestle around with morbid fear about our worst scenarios coming true, we should embrace and explore this characteristic, because it can help us take action to avert the very things we wish to control or avoid.
One woman with chronic knee problems had seemingly exhausted her healthcare options to restore function and reduce her pain. Just as she was resigning herself to a life of reduced mobility, she had a dream that someone was sticking a hot needle beneath her kneecap, right into the midst of the joint. Although it doesn’t sound pleasant, in the dream, the hot needle felt wonderful, as it struck the very core of her painful symptoms, warming, soothing and radiating all the soreness away.
She felt better as she lay in bed that morning, as if the dream had actually had a healing effect. She considered what kind of treatment might be suggested by the dream, and in a flash decided to try acupuncture, something she would not otherwise have considered. She went in for treatment, and just as in the dream, found immediate and wonderful relief from the pain and stiffness. She had several acupuncture treatments and afterward said this was the most effective treatment of all, and that for her particular situation, it was a life-changer. The last time I spoke with her, she was off to take social dance lessons with her new sweetheart, so clearly she is feeling pretty nimble.
Not every dream of course, will provide such clear and accurate health advice; but considering your dreams in light of your health, your habits, your self care and your stress level can be immensely useful.
When working with clients to explore their dreams, I am always searching for the following themes, because they can be so empowering. Apply them to the dreams you are curious about, and see where they take you!
1. What does this dream reveal about current stress levels?
2. What does this scene suggest about the need for greater balance?
3. Is the dreamer in a crisis mode, or a spiritual emergency, in need of special help or emergency support system?
4. Is there frustration exacerbated by doing “more of the same” and striving for a new result?
5. What clues does the dream imply about making small changes that will create big ripples of healing or peace in the dreamer’s life?
6. What could the dreamer do to take better care of herself?
7. Is there a “lifestyle review” present in the dream? Something that needs to be avoided or something that needs to be sought after?
Unraveling what the dream “means” or reflects is one thing; exploring what it implies is the second half of the process, and sometimes the most important. Consider using your dream as a coaching template, a loose text from which to consider improving your current situation and planning for a better future. This “action plan” approach can sometimes lift your dreams and your waking life into a smoother and more rewarding territory. Always make sure that your conclusions make sense according to what you know about your life, your health and your beliefs, but don’t be afraid to take a position suggest from your dreams and apply it in a way to make your life better, less stressful and more filled with joy.