The Day I Stopped Dreaming About Monsters
The ideas and emotions I was chasing during the day were chasing me — even hunting me sometimes — at night.
I never saw what was chasing me during my deepest dreams. I just knew I had to run away from it.
The monsters were always changing depending on my age and fears. Some came at the time I was doing bad at school. Others appeared on the day I was bullied as a child. Most showed up after an undefined fear of doing something wrong.
In my youth, the monsters arrived with social fears and emotional troubles. When I grew up, the stress at work or the financial anxiety started to be present on the dark side of my dreams.
It wasn’t anything special. Just regular bad dreams. Those which wake you up a little in the middle of the night, and after you realize they are only dreams, you go back to sleep.
I used to dedicate part of my time and energy to my dreams. Well, like anyone else, I presume.
As a child, I always tried to remember every detail of the surreal stories that were projected in my mind after I woke up.
Further in time, as a young adult, I tried to interpret the content of my dreams. I was influenced, like any other in my generation, by Freud and psychoanalysis. What else could I do?
I never saw the face of any of my monsters, by the way.
In the beginning, because I ran from them and if the fear of being caught was too much I woke up.
Later on, because I discovered the monsters never show up when I stop running and wait to face them.
Of course, It wasn’t easy to discover that. Let me tell you how this happened.
I realized that those monsters and nightmares were simple extensions of my inner voice, always making stories.
Yes, the inner voice that is always worried about past experiences and future events. Or setting up scenarios and dialogues with mind simulations of my acquaintances and loved ones.
Of course, that’s what any healthy brain with a healthy inner voice has to do to protect us from the dangers of the jungle and make us survive along with the other cavemen.
The problem was that I was paying too much attention to my inner voice. And as I did that, I was feeding it with more material to tell stories.
Stories are always accompanied by emotions. Emotions are far from being negative. But they have to come and go in response to the actual stimuli.
When the stories stay and grow, so do the emotions. Next, you become attached to emotions that surge from thoughts of the nonexistent past or future.
That is far from being good.
For example, while I was walking down the street or waiting for a bus I used to have these mental rants about any irrelevant thing at any given moment.
Well, it looked very relevant at that moment. But believe me. It wasn’t. Then something used to distract me. Despite the irrelevance of the lost thought, I used to chase — even to hunt sometimes — the story and where it was before the distraction to keep the rant.
Or for example, after I used to wake up, I used to stay in bed pursuing the forgotten parts of my dreams to solve my mind puzzles.
Because I was training my brain to chase ideas and emotions during the day, those ideas and emotions were chasing me — even hunting me sometimes — at night.
As an adult, I first went to talk therapy for a year or so to manage anger issues. That helped a lot.
But then, I started to meditate. I went to guided meditations in a Buddhist place near my home. Then, I went to a couple of meditation retreats. I also started to do yoga.
I was a regular meditator and a yogi for several months, perhaps more than a year. The way meditation and yoga transformed my entire life is material for another story.
Today I’m just going to tell you the way meditation practice made the monsters disappear.
To be clear, the part of my brain that makes stories never stopped doing it. It still does. That’s its job. Instead, I stopped paying attention to it. I stopped feeding it.
When you meditate, you strengthen your capacity to stay quiet, present, at the moment. You try not to move your body nor your mind.
Your mind doesn’t understand that so it keeps looking for danger. “Did I close the door of my house before I left?” “How long have I been sitting?” “Did everybody else close their eyes?”. Well, some kind of danger.
I don’t want to sound simplistic in the description of what meditation is and how it works. I’m just trying to explain one unique aspect and benefit of the meditative process.
So, you train your mind to let go of those stories and their emotions without trying to attach to them. You stop chasing them. You stop feeding them.
That training helps you to stay calm, to not react immediately or overreact to the things that happen around you. It helps you to discern the true dangers of those who are not.
Like any other practice or exercise, you start doing it naturally or unconsciously after time.
And if that training works, you even do that in your dreams.
Once a monster appears at night while sleeping, you stay calm even inside your dream. Better said, once something scary appears while sleeping, you don’t make a story assuming it’s a monster.
So you stay calm, don’t run and wait for it.
I developed some kind of confidence when dreaming. The situations, events or people that could cause fear don’t bother me anymore.
I mean, they appear. Shit happens even in dreams. But somehow I feel confident that things are going to be solved.
The same started to happen when awake.
Well, it doesn’t happen all the time, of course. Now and then I have bad days and bad moments. On occasions, I have terrible moments.
Over time I also learned to embrace the impermanence of my beliefs and assertions.
This explanation of how meditation, emotions, and mental processes work didn’t come with the practice.
After that period of intense meditation and yoga, I left my job as a television executive and became a psychotherapist. And I have really studied those mental processes.
Awake or asleep I don’t run from my fears. I keep calm, avoid quick and big reactions, and face them.
The day you stop running from your monsters, they stop being yours, and if they aren’t yours, they aren’t.
That’s how I stopped dreaming about monsters.