What Stress Dreams Have to Say


oke up from stress dreams yesterday feeling lost and frazzled.  At some point I was in a dark hallway, middle of the night, with my mom, and once we parted ways I had to tiptoe back to my tiny dorm room without alerting any ominous security guards.  But just as I had reached safety and crawled into bed, I heard a crew of men approaching my door (which consisted of a blanket hanging over a space in the wall).  The men were delivering packages from a source I vaguely understood to be a relative.  They started pushing boxes under my blanket-door: laundry baskets full of my high-school clothes, crates of old books — more and more boxes, until my itty-bitty room was filled to the brim.  I sat rigid in bed, staring, anxiety mounting.  The last box they pushed in, at 3 in the morning or so, contained a fancy TV that you’re supposed to screw into a wall.

For some reason the TV was just too much for me.  Pitching a small fit, I decided I needed to immediately return it, and the rest of the boxes, to the well-intentioned person who had sent them.  I jumped in my car and set out on the highway, sun rising alongside.  But two or three exits down the road, I realized I had forgotten to bring the TV and all the other crap!  Damnit!  So I got off the freeway, crossed an overpass, and tried to turn around and go back.

Unfortunately, the opposite onramp was missing.  Instead, there was a pop-up restaurant festival: a labyrinth of noodle joints, flax-oil-greasy-spoon diners, aquariums, and succulent plant displays.  I parked the car and tried to find my way out of the lunch-maze.  But I just kept getting more and more turned around.  Finally, I asked one of the cooks (at a caramelize-your-own-sushi station: I remember this vividly), and he began to give me directions.

Then I woke up.

Now, typically stress dreams stress me out (surprise!), and as I said, this one was no exception, at first.  It’s not hard to tell from this dream that I am feeling somewhat overwhelmed with expectations, a bit lost and directionless, and uncomfortable in new environments — maybe with a certain class confusion thrown in there, too.  Dreaming about problems amplified my worries about those problems in real life.

But all of a sudden, I thought about the inflammatory TV in relation to a dhamma story from Goenkaji.  I wrote about it here, back in the summer of 2009: it’s the story of how to stop accepting presents that we don’t want.

And just like that, I relaxed.  The stress dream became a reminder of a helpful lesson, rather than a compounder of fretting and reactivity.  Whatever my dream-life and waking-life throw at me, I actually have choices in how to respond (internally and externally).  Even the pop-up-restaurant labyrinth, in retrospect, seemed neutral, or even interesting, rather than frightful.

Imagine that.


One thought on “What Stress Dreams Have to Say

  1. Roger Nehring December 9, 2012 / 11:36 am

    Choice is a good thing for so many reasons.

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