Gloria and I were eating at a cafe by the side of the trail, enjoying a warm September evening after a bike ride. Our server was a young man named Phillip, a recent college graduate who is adjusting to his new phase in life — and new nightmares, too.
“I’ve started dreaming that I’m headed to class, but I don’t know which class or where it is,” he said. “I’m lost.”
We laughed with him and reassured him that’s a universal dream that stubbornly refuses to go away long after you’ve left school. It spans generations and haunts our sleep.
And not just school dreams.
A minister friend recently posted on Facebook that one of his recurring dreams for many years had him standing in front of a congregation with no sermon prepared. When I started as a sports writer, I’d dream that I was covering a game which just ended, and I didn’t know what had happened so I had no idea what to write.
It’s funny how so many of those dreams involve being lost or unprepared.
I’ve had other types of bad dreams.
When I was a boy, I’d dream that something was chasing me and I couldn’t run – my legs wouldn’t move. Or I’d dream about falling from a great height. When I got older and started flying as part of my job, I’d dream that I was on a jet coming in too low for landing, darting between narrow buildings.
The scary things that chased me never caught me, the plane never crashed, but the dreams left me unsettled when I woke up.
Our subconscious fears don’t stay locked away at night. They find the key to the cell door and escape. We get visited by ghosts of things that we regret from the past, fear in the present and worry about in the future.
Universal fears come out at night
Sometimes, we think that we’re the only one with bad dreams, especially when we wake up in the middle of the night and feel alone. Others on the block are having the same toss-and-turn moments as well.
It’s universal. You just have to raise the subject of bad dreams to find that out.
I’m glad Phillips had the courage to share his frightening dreams. One of the best ways to deal with them is to talk about them, bring them into the light of day, confront them and laugh at them.
That’s one way to break their subconscious grip on us. The alternative is to let those below-the-surface fears run our lives.
I wonder if we’ve become so divided and alienated lately because we’ve stoked those fears and let them direct our decisions. Our fears become driving forces in our politics, religion and society.
The fear of being lost, overlooked, alone, threatened, vulnerable, hurt, helpless – the plot twists for our bad dreams _ can settle into our waking hours, too, if we let it. We’re the ones who make our bad dreams come true.
By contrast, if we acknowledge our fear and talk about it, it loses some of its power over us. We begin to make decisions based upon hope and goodness rather than our nightmare scenarios.
A few days after our trail-side chat with Phillip, I drove past a local college campus. A group of students crossed at the corner. One backpack-toting student looked very young – a freshman, I assumed – and seemed to be very uneasy over something.
I thought about my first few weeks on campus – far from home, living with someone you don’t know, every part of your life turned upside-down. You’re challenged in ways you never imagined.
Keeping fear where it belongs
You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Unfamiliar things are all around. And those fears begin to form in your subconscious like a sludge that sticks and stays and gums thing up.
That young man will start having those lost-on-campus dreams soon, if he hasn’t already. If he shares them, he’ll realize he’s not alone. Others are here to reassure him and help him live beyond it.
That’s how we keep fear where it belongs – only in our dreams.