How To Use Your Thoughts To Break Free Of A Nightmare

by Stacey Curnow on · 8 comments

Have you ever had the feel­ing that your thoughts were more foe than friend? For me, there’s always a theme to my stress­ful thoughts and they involve events over which I have no control.

In the spring of 1999, a tor­nado ripped a mas­sive old oak tree out of my back­yard and threw it into my neighbor’s dri­ve­way, crush­ing three cars. I’ve had night­mares about tor­na­does ever since. And ever since I was a lit­tle kid, I’ve had night­mares about being engulfed in tsunami-like waves.

Just last week, I dreamed that my son had a bunch of friends over to play. One of them opened the back door to go out­side and said, “Look at that cloud!” It was a fun­nel cloud headed right for our home.

I screamed for every­one to get inside, but I couldn’t find my son. In that moment of panic I real­ized I was dream­ing and told myself to wake up. But some­how I chose to find my son first. My panic con­tin­ued to rise as I searched for him in vain, and then, just as I felt the tor­nado suck­ing the air out of the house, I com­manded myself to wake up. I woke in a cold sweat.

Carl Jung said, “When an inner sit­u­a­tion is not made con­scious, it hap­pens out­side as fate.” No, I don’t think my dreams are invit­ing another tor­nado to come roar­ing up to my house, but I do think my recent uncon­scious expe­ri­ences pro­vide an oppor­tu­nity to look at other things in my life I con­sider unde­sir­able, or even night­mar­ish, and invite myself to wake up to the real­ity, which is storm-free.

Even in my night­mare I wanted to make things right — I wanted to find my son and keep him safe before I would wake up. How often do I try to force a con­clu­sion — what I con­sider to be a desir­able out­come — instead of find­ing what is per­fect in the moment? It hap­pens a lot. That’s why, I think, I chose to keep the night­mare going rather than wake up to reality.

A cou­ple of years ago I attended the “Who Would You Be With­out Your Story?” event hosted by Byron Katie. For three days she helped peo­ple wake up from what I con­sider the worst night­mares — death of a child, sex­ual abuse, chronic pain, addic­tion — and see that our biggest crises are our great­est teach­ers. She said, “If you see any­thing as the enemy, your mind gives you all the con­cepts to believe it. To break free, we need big teachers.”

I want to share a bit of dia­logue between Byron Katie and a woman who had a son, sis­ter and mother die from can­cer. She said she was in con­stant pain because of her losses. She said can­cer was the enemy and she hated it. Katie invited her to do the Work with her. I’ve shared Katie’s (to me) rev­o­lu­tion­ary process in other arti­cles, and you can read more here if it’s new to you. But here is her con­ver­sa­tion with this woman:

BK: What image do you see when you think the thought, “Can­cer is the enemy and I hate it.”

Woman: I see my son dying.

BK: Go back to what you were doing when he was dying…

Woman: I was lov­ing my son.

BK: That sounds beautiful.

Woman: He said, “I love you…forever.” right before he died. I guess I can hold on to that thought.

BK: What did can­cer teach you?

Woman: It taught me that I’m a lov­ing mother. I used to doubt that.

BK: Give me another exam­ple of what can­cer taught you.

Woman: Can­cer taught me to live. It taught me not to take any­one or any­thing for granted.

BK: Can­cer is a great teacher.

If you have a prob­lem with a per­son, or a con­di­tion, you find unde­sir­able, Katie invites you to put your stress­ful thoughts on paper and ques­tion them using her process.

The ques­tions edu­cate you. They teach you that it is not your sit­u­a­tion, but your thoughts about your sit­u­a­tion that make it unde­sir­able. If you do the Work, you learn to replace the stress­ful thoughts with non-stressful thoughts that are as true or more true when com­pared to the ones you’ve been having.

We think we want con­trol over unde­sir­able sit­u­a­tions, but don’t we all really want peace? After all, every­thing “out there” really is out of our con­trol. But our thoughts are under our con­trol. As long as we are aware of them, we can write them down, we can invite them to tell us what they want to say, and we can find out from them what we need to learn.

Bad feel­ings are an alarm clock, sig­nal­ing to us that we need to wake up from our dream. What do you do when you find your­self in a night­mare? Please share in the comments!

by Stacey Curnow

Stacey is a pur­pose and suc­cess coach who helps you give birth to your BIG dreams. To find your pur­pose and pas­sion, check out her FREE eBook, The Pur­pose and Pas­sion Guide­book.
Stacey Curnow
View all posts by Stacey Curnow

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

kathryn September 10, 2012 at 12:32 pm

I agree fully with the idea that your thoughts create your sit­u­a­tion, along with your feelings, attitude, and choices. I love Byron Katie’s work…a wonderful reminder to get back and work with her process again!


Stacey September 10, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Hi Kathryn!

Thanks so much for letting me know that Katie’s Work resonates with you too. And I’m so glad this article could encourage you to work with her process again.

I once heard Katie say, “First you do the Work, and then it does you.” and that really has been my experience! Now I really have to *work* to hold onto a stressful thought! :-)
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Evan September 10, 2012 at 7:09 pm

No, your child dying is not made desirable by how you think about it.

How you think about bad experiences can help you learn from them and become a better person. This doesn’t turn them into good experiences.

The credit belongs to you for dealing with the experience bravely, compassionately and intelligently – the awful experience doesn’t deserve the credit.
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Stacey September 11, 2012 at 6:43 am

Oh, gosh, Evan, I’m so sorry my article made you think I was suggesting that we could ever find a child’s death, or any traumatic experience, desirable.

I simply tried to share a process that has been very helpful for me to find peace in times of great stress. I can understand how there can be some confusion about how it works, and I know it doesn’t work for everyone.

I completely honor your feelings, and again, I’m so sorry about the confusion. I completely agree that the credit goes to the person for responding to a stressful event with bravery, compassion and insight.

Thanks so much for sharing!
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Evan September 11, 2012 at 7:00 am

Yes, I wanted to make the point forcefully because of sentences like, ” They teach you that it is not your sit­u­a­tion, but your thoughts about your sit­u­a­tion that make it unde­sir­able.”

There is a lot of loose talk about awful situations being good teachers and so on. I personally hope it soon dies out.
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Stacey September 11, 2012 at 9:45 am

It’s a very important point — thanks again for making it! xx
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Mokus September 11, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Sometimes it can be really hard to break free of a nightmare, when you wake up and can’t decide if you are in a dream or already awake…
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Stacey September 12, 2012 at 11:14 am

Hi Mokus!

Thanks so much for sharing your thought-provoking comment. I had a dream last night that felt SO real, and it prompted me to wake up, turn on a light, and write a SONG — and I’m not musical AT ALL. It really felt like I had one foot on each side of the veil, you know?

Bright blessings to you!
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