Have you ever awakened after sleeping, whether it’s morning or the middle of the night, with a feeling of dread or negative anticipation?
Everyone has had a nightmare, or felt impending doom, or been nervous about an idea that crossed their mind….and everyone’s been surprised by someone else’s behavior.
But if you feel the looming dread, it’s pretty uncomfortable. Or downright debilitating. You might have images of that mean person who hurt you floating through your psyche. Maybe even from a very long time ago….so long, you hardly remember.
Even though the present moment is fine, you’re in a room sitting or lying there and nothing threatening is actually happening (usually the case when you wake up from a bad dream) you’ve got a feeling you can’t shake.
The thing is, that fear or sense of being haunted feels like something visiting you. It affects you. Even if all that’s going on is you’re lying in your bed…..with thoughts.
So….what to do?
What I’m about to say won’t be that surprising.
Even though I know how to do The Work and question my thoughts….I don’t always sit down, take out my pen and paper, and start to investigate.
Instead, there’s a kind of built-in impulse.
It’s called Fight or Flight.
We perceive there is a dilemma, a threat. Something hurt us, or is about to hurt us. It hurt once, it could hurt again.
So we say “I’m gonna KILL that evil person who stabbed me in the back!!!” or we say “I will never, EVER put myself in that position again!!”
Attack or Run.
And there’s nothing wrong with you if that’s where your mind goes. It’s a very natural, innocent reaction to the fear.
So how can you get out of that reactive mode when you’re really overwhelmed, and you might not exactly WANT to do The Work in that frightened moment? Here’s a suggestion that’s worked really, really well for me, that might be helpful for you, too.
Grow the fear even bigger.
Yes, you read that right.
Clearly define your nightmare, your most terrible fear, the WORST that could happen. What is most terrifying thing you’re nervous about, in that vision, in that feeling of dread?
This can be tricky….so here’s an example from my life. A situation where fear appeared in my mind and body in the night, after I got triggered during the day.
Several years ago, I open a letter I get from the state government where I live. I am a credentialed Certified Counselor and I get mail from the Department of Health from time to time. No big deal. I’m curious. Maybe it’s about my annual fee that’s almost due.
I start to read the letter.
My heart suddenly skips a beat and my stomach flips.
The letter says that someone has made an anonymous complaint about me indicating I haven’t REALLY graduated and don’t have a master’s degree. There are a few more bullet points, a couple of them sound really bonkers and weird, like a slightly crazy person wrote them.
Huh? What the ?
I know the statements in the letter aren’t true, not a single one. So that’s not the worrisome part.
My mind goes to who on earth would do such a thing? I can’t get off combing my mind for WHO.
Why? Who? Why? Who? What have I missed? Who did this? Why would someone want to do this? Or even think this?
That first night, I can’t sleep in the middle of the night after waking. I’m thinking about this situation.
I know I have to turn and face this fear, and understand it, instead of ruminating and perseverating over who or why this has happened….because none of that is going to help me. I learned that the hard way.
I start to write.
What is the WORST that could happen?
I see made-up visions.
Police cars screech in to my driveway, men with uniforms handcuff me and push my head down as I get crammed into a police car. I am rushed to jail somewhere and there’s a newspaper story about how terrible I am….even though they got the wrong person.
I can no longer work, I am shunned, I can’t earn money, people walk away from me like I smell. I’m all alone, destitute and abandoned. No place to live, I can’t support my kids. I have to get a job doing something I don’t even like, working 9-5.
There’s a person with some kind of demented personality disorder, or a paranoid sort, someone really freaky who is also obsessed with me or angry with me for some unknown reason, who is going to jump out of the bushes, or take me down in some sneaky very creepy way…..starting with this lie.
I picture the worst with painstaking detail, I let my mind have it’s total conniption fit.
My reputation destroyed, I owe money, my current career over, and a really messed up sick person out there trying to hurt me.
Now I can feel the pain in my heart in a huge way. I see what I imagine is the most awful thing.
I am all alone, hated, rejected.
I can investigate this terrible state of aloneness, hate, banishment, rejection….and really examine the truth of it.
Being alone and betrayed is hell. And it’s someone’s fault. Not mine.
Is it true?
Yes. I can’t survive it. I’m too sad, too hurt. I am a victim of someone’s sick behavior. It’s wrong. It’s hell.
Can you absolutely know that you can’t survive? Are you sure you’re in hell? Are you positive you’re alone, and betrayed, condemned, unsafe, lost, banished?
Are you completely positive you are a victim? That this is someone else’s fault?
I’m not sure of anything here. All that happened is I opened a letter. I don’t have to know why, or who. I can stand here, noticing my reality is that I am in the world where tough things happen, people get upset and do harmful things, I am still alive and breathing.
Funny how quick to jump to the I’ve-Been-Done-Wrong story.
Who would I be without the belief that someone can hurt me? That I have been betrayed, falsely accused? That I’m in danger? That this MEANS I’m alone?
Without the belief that I’m a victim?
What if I’m safe? What if I could notice that reality is kind, not dangerous? What if this is an invitation…to relax into this experience without defending, without attacking, without needing to explain. A moment to feel the joy of seeing it differently.
….this is my opportunity for spiritual growth, for true forgiveness? To let go, to open my hands and stay right here, without making a punching fist. To notice that nothing is actually wrong.
What if this is my chance to not think of myself as attacked, as a victim?
“When you approach the barrier areas of your thoughts and emotions, it feels like going into an abyss. You don’t want to go near that place. But you can go there, and if you want to get out, you will go there. Eventually you will realize that darkness is not what’s really there.” ~ Michael Singer
Turning the original terrified statement around: Being alone and betrayed is not hell, it is heaven. It is uplifting. It is an invitation, an initiation. I am not alone, I am not betrayed. I am totally and completely connected. I am supported and loved. Whoever did this could be suffering and feels alone, or betrayed, confused, doing the best they can.
I turn it all around to myself, only.
I have had an inner voice that’s been really quite brutal. It criticizes, judges, pushes. Listening to that mean voice, I have betrayed myself, I have shoved myself into the dark. I have banished me, hated and criticized me, attacked myself. I have lied about myself and said crazy whacked things about me that were not true. I have thought I might not be able to really help anyone, I have thought I’m not good enough, I’ve felt less than, small, powerless. I’ve cut myself down.
“Perception is but a mirror, not a fact. What I look on is my state of mind reflected outward.” ~ A Course In Miracles
If I am not a victim, I cannot be harmed. I cannot be banished. Or permanently hurt, or damaged forever, or crushed, or destroyed.
I notice that right now, in that fearful state then and as I write this, looking back and remembering that night when I was scared….
….the sun has come up, gone down, life went on, and the silence in the center of my heart and soul has never been broken.
Exciting to notice.
No matter what strange things have befallen you, no matter what pain and terror you have experienced, or what confusion other people have created in your life….can you feel what’s here that is empty and joyful all at once?
Even if it seems like you can’t feel it….just wait.
“If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. Talk to your enemies.” ~ Desmond Tutu
Much love, Grace
P.S. If you’d like to see a copy of my master’s degree and all accompanying official documents…they are on my website now for all the world to see (smile).