Shadowplay: A mindful approach to dark dreams

Dreams have long been thought to reflect our waking wellbeing. So it’s no surprise that over the last few months our night visions have been transformed by the Coronavirus pandemic. According to reports, our dreamscapes have become increasingly intense, shot through with surreal representations of the virus and symbols laden with anxiety.

These dreams can seem dark and disturbing at times. But, says lucid dreaming teacher Charlie Morley, they are not to be feared.
In his book, Dreaming Through Darkness, Morley says:

“Nightmares don’t mean to hurt us, they mean to grab our attention. […] In many cases having nightmares is a sign that our mind is ready to reveal and heal its shadow side.”

Embracing the shadow

Our shadow side contains our ‘negative’ or difficult emotions and impulses that we try to block out. It can be powerfully triggered by turbulent events, such as the pandemic. And it often manifests in nightmares, when our unconscious mind takes over.

By taking a mindful approach to our dark dreams, Morley believes we can begin to unlock and work with this bound-up energy. Instead of pushing our nightmares away, he recommends embracing and exploring them, using tools such as writing or creative expression.

This can seem counter-intuitive. After all, it’s natural for us to reject things that make us feel uncomfortable. Yet like anything we repress, these shadow aspects only grow in latent power. By acknowledging them, we can start to address and integrate them, releasing their charge.

As a result, rather than dreading nightmares, Morley believes we can view them as an opportunity for healing. And as he says, “This new perspective may spill over into our waking life, too, and we may start to view nightmarish situations with new eyes.”

Natural sleep aid

For those suffering from sleeplessness and fear, Morley also recommends the following breathing technique, which acts as a natural tranquiliser for the nervous system:

  1. Sitting on your bed, ready for sleep, place your tongue behind your upper front teeth and exhale completely and audibly through your mouth. 
  2. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for a count of four. 
  3. Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  4. Release your breath through your mouth audibly for a count of eight.

Repeat this process four times for the first few times you do it, then increase your repetitions as you like up to 12 times.