I had a nightmare the other night. That’s unusual for me.
True, there was the one last week where I had a bad dream that the wrong guy won the presidential election, and I awoke in a panic that the economy was about to go down the tubes again. But it’s not hard to see why I had that particular nightmare, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in it.
The one I had two nights ago — just a little too late for Hallowe’en — was different. Much darker. And even scarier.
In this dream I’d just woken up. It was still night. I was lying in a small, dark room, alone, in a twin bed against the wall. To the left was a window, which admitted just enough light for me to be able to make out a bedside table on which sat a lamp. The corner of the room at the foot of the bed was pitch dark, although I knew that there was a door there. But there was something else in the corner as well.
I knew, the moment I “awoke” that there was some evil entity lurking in the dark shadow by the door. I was terrified of this thing, whatever it was, but I wanted to face it, to see what it was. So I reached out an arm to switch on the light, but the switch must have been faulty, or the bulb dead, and the switch clicked uselessly. I found my iPhone, and opened a flashlight app that works by using the built-in LED flash. The app opened, but the screen became unresponsive to my touch and I was unable to turn on the light.
The evil entity still lurked at the foot of the bed, in the darkness by the door.
My terror mounted, and at that point I woke up. Or I should say that I “woke up,” because I was still dreaming. Now I was in my own bed, still asleep, but thinking I was awake. And I realized that this was not the first time I’d met this entity. It had in fact been a part of my life for decades. I had flashbacks to previous encounters with it. And the really terrifying thing was that I’d forgotten every single one of them. This demonic presence had the power to induce forgetfulness, so that I could face it over and over again, and each time was like the first.
The knowledge that I had been manipulated in this way by an evil force for basically my entire adult life was unbearable, and unspeakably frightening. How can we be so unaware? Are we really just the playthings of demons? Are our minds not our own?
Then I woke up again, but for real this time. I was still terrified, and it was hard to untangle myself from the idea that I’d been manipulated my entire life by a demonic entity. And in fact I remembered (for real) that in my early 30s I had a number of nightmares involving demons, not so different from the dream of two nights ago.
It’s hard to know what to do with a dream like this. It’s still with me, and I’m troubled by it. I’m writing about it as a way of helping me deal with it.
I think it’s good that my first instinct was to turn to face the demon. That, I expect, is the result of my practice. But although I wanted to see into the darkness, I couldn’t. Perhaps I should have taken a different approach. Instead of trying to shine a light into the darkness I should have simply looked into it, or talked to whatever was in there. Perhaps shining a light on it was too invasive. Perhaps we need to treat that which we fear with respect. These are questions that I’ll be working with in my meditation practice.
One thing I’m pretty sure of is that whatever was in the darkness wasn’t evil at all. It was simply something I’m afraid of. What we’re most afraid of we often paint as evil, because that justifies our fear. I suspect that what was in the darkness was a spiritual experience — possibly terrifying, but also beautiful and good. And on the other side of that experience was a door. And on the other side of the door was … what? That’s something I hope to find out.