Ask the LifeQuake Doctor – Nov/Dec 2014
“People underestimate their capacity for change. There is never a right time to do a difficult thing.” – John Porter
Dear Dr. Toni:
I am thirty-three years old. I am a professional woman and I live alone. For two years I was addicted to prescription Xanax to get to sleep. I either didn’t dream or didn’t remember my dreams the entire time. After going into a treatment facility, I have successfully gotten off this dependency and have been in recovery for six months.
Recently, I began having what I would call nightmares. I have had a recurring dream in which someone gets killed. In the first dream there was a terrorist shooting everyone and then he aimed his gun at me. The last dream I had I dreamt that I had arrived at a workshop only to find out that the workshop leaders were going to kill each of us by the end of the weekend and we knew it was going to be a painful death. I agonized the whole time about how they were going to kill me imagining being burned alive or having my head chopped off. At the end of the weekend they announce that this was all a ruse; they put us through this experience to see how we would prepare for our death. Then the dream ended.
I am curious as to what you think it means. You have mentioned in other columns you do dream therapy so I just wondered what your take is. My therapist doesn’t deal with dreams much. His approach is very “here and now” in this reality. I should add that I do remember seeing a documentary with the former psychologist and guru of sorts Ram Dass. He said that when he had his stroke, he didn’t think of God. He just went into a lot of fear about dying or what was happening to him. The meditation practice I follow talks about a practice of being ready for your death at all times. So, what do you think, doc?
First off, congrats on getting clean and getting help to get clean. Tranquilizers are tough to kick by yourself. Sometimes when dreams return early in recovery, they come back in a ferocious manner. One can speculate endlessly as to why that is, but I prefer to devote the time here to address potential meanings of your dreams.
Recovery brings a kind of death with it. We can no longer numb ourselves to our fears or emotional responses to life’s stresses. It can also unleash the inner critic (terrorist) while we sleep in the form of nightmares. Given that the documentary about Ram Dass had a profound effect on you, perhaps there is a powerful message here in this new chapter of your life. How are you now living your new life every moment? If you knew you were going to die a painful death in two days, do you want to spend the last precious hours you have obsessing about how you will die or do you want to be as present as is possible? Many spiritual teachers have said that our state of mind at the end of our life is most informed by our thoughts right now. So, what parts of you are you ready to let go of? What parts are you ready to let die?
We are dying every day. In my book, The LifeQuake Phenomenon, I spoke of a practice I give my clients I call “Death Becomes You.” I invite all my readers to do this one at least once:
Imagine you’ve just been hit by a car or are a passenger in a plane that’s going down and you know you’re going to die. You have ten minutes. As you recall your life, what do you regret having done or not done? Think of three things. Now, how might that inform choices you make from now on? Is there someone you need to clean things up with or words that you’ve felt toward someone, but haven’t said? Is there a life change you could make that would transform having any regrets at the end of your life?
Now, imagine you are invisible at your own funeral. You have the opportunity now that you’re disembodied to hear people’s real thoughts. What do you imagine people will say about you after you’ve gone? What would you like them to say? Now write your most ideal eulogy. Imagine it being presented at the service. What do you need to let go of or change about yourself to live up to your ideal eulogy?
May your dreams bring your soul homeward.