How can a really sad dream be a really good thing?

A sad dream can make you feel out of sorts all through the following day, but it may be Nature’s way of helping you to cope with stress. Here’s how it worked for me.

As I mentioned in my last post back in July, I decided to take the whole of August off, and headed North for four glorious weeks living mostly under canvas. All that fresh air and freedom… when the time came, I did not want to come back.

Paddling across to Oransay from Colonsay at low tide with Barbara Gay from New Zealand. Fun!
Paddling across to Oransay from Colonsay at low tide with Barbara Gay from New Zealand. Fun!

I had been redrafting 24:7 right up until the day before I went on holiday, so I arrived home to a messy house and a garden full of weeds, as well as a stack of paperwork in my study that I had been putting off for months.

Top of my to-do list was my tax return. Enough said. Two days of hair-tearing and tedium.

Second was my self-publishing venture, a new e-book edition of Help your child to handle bullying, which I had abandoned back in June. Everything about it made me feel anxious, and there were endless technical problems with the formatting that had to be ironed out (thank-you draft2digital – you were very patient)

Even deciding which endorsement to use on the cover was stressful
Even deciding which endorsement to use on the cover was stressful

Frazzled and still fed up about not being still on holiday, I moved on to seeking copyright permissions for the forty or so quotes I want to use in my child-of-the-heart book, ‘Writing in the House of Dreams.’ This entailed days and days of tracking down publishers and agents, writing emails and filling in lengthy forms.

More stress. Would I be able to trace all the copyright holders? Would they grant permission? Would they demand a fee I couldn’t afford?

And what was the best way of producing the book and bringing it to market? Alongside seeking permissions I began doing research, which turned up a bewildering array of possibilities. I opened discussions, asked questions, discovered even more possibilities. More stress.

All the time, I was aware of the other things on the list, including coming back to my blog. I decided to quit the team on girlsheartbooks, where I’d been blogging once a month, and thought about taking this one down.

There were lots of lovely things on the calendar, as usual, those first weeks home from my holiday, but I was still cross about being back at work and stressed out by all the things I had to get through on my list.

'The Taming of the Shrew' by an all-female cast at the Minack theatre - one of the lovely things on the calendar
‘The Taming of the Shrew’ by an all-female cast at the Minack theatre – one of the lovely things on the calendar

Then one morning I woke up in tears, from a really, really sad dream. I don’t remember now what it was about, just that the sadness carried over into the day. I lost the will to start work, or the energy to stick at it. I read a bit, walked a bit, sat in the garden. Sighed and cried. Watched the birds.

That night, I slept better than I had for weeks and woke up feeling calm and clear, like the rain-washed sky after a storm.

Stress, like drink and drugs, can be an avoidance of ‘legitimate suffering.’ Life is hard sometimes, as well as wonderful, and one way of coping is by shutting the feelings out.

When you’re stressed, your whole focus is in your head; you spiral up into thoughts and ideas about what you should be doing, and push yourself so hard that you have no time to think about anything else.

Dreams connect you with your emotions, whether they are sad, frightening or euphorically happy ones. When you’re spiralling into stress and stuck in your head, it may take a very powerful dream that spills over into your waking life to slow you down and bring you back into your heart and body.

Instead of letting myself wallow as I had wanted to when I got home from my amazing holiday, I decided to ‘pull myself together’ and ‘stop being silly’ and get on with what needed to be done. My dream forced me to feel the feelings I had been avoiding.

Coming back to my blog after, as it’s turned out, two months away, feels really lovely. I’ve given it a new look, which I hope you’ll like, and got lots of lovely articles planned which I’m looking forward to writing.

The list can wait.

Have you ever had a dream that’s brought you down or lifted you up when you really needed it? I love to hear your thoughts and comments.

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24 thoughts on “How can a really sad dream be a really good thing?”

  1. Lovely post Jenny. I have been feeling really stressed contemplating moving to a full time job and how that will affect my writing, but I’ve been meditating for 25 days straight now, and it’s helping me to focus on those feelings of fear in the body, which in turn keeps my mind clearer, and less frazzled. A bad dream last night about still being in an old damaging relationship left me feeling relieved and ready to plough on…

    1. Hi Josie – what a lovely response! Thank you. Since my dream, I’ve been meditating again – that’s something, along with yoga stretches, that went out the window when I ‘didn’t have time’ after my hols. A friend of mine had a brilliant one of those exes dreams years ago – she was pulling a piece of wood out of a bush – she woke up laughing!

  2. Since learning from you some years back, I’ve found all my dreams are a way of connecting with what I really feel. Even the frightening or sad ones are enriching. On a different tack, there’s something about the North, isn’t there. All those huge vistas and weird peaks get you back to being human size again.

    1. ‘Even the frightening or sad ones are enriching’ – yes, yes! And I think that attitude towards dreams spills over into our experience of waking life, so we’re more able to celebrate it all. Yes about the wide vistas and weird peaks as well – I think the way they make you feel human size is what makes the far North feel like ‘soul country’ to me.

  3. Yes, excellent post Jenny- I’m still moving from summer into autumn and now it’s October, can’t deny it any longer. I’m dreaming a lot – not remembering much but the moods definitely colour my mornings.

    1. Thank-you Vicky – I’ve been feeling that seasonal transition so strongly this week, looking out at leaves on the lawn and the last geraniums in the pots on the patio. I love the way you express the way your dream moods colour your mornings. Your comment suggests to me an intriguing idea that dreams may reflect a seasonal adjustment…

  4. Jenny This was beautiful simple post showing the extraordinary value of dwelling with a dream for a day. Posts like this are really valuable to read (and perhaps write?)… Don’t give up your blog!

    1. Joe – thank-you for your encouragement! It’s very affirming coming from an experienced dream-worker like you 🙂

  5. Welcome back, Jenny! Your post made me cry (in a good way). I think this is a very emotional time of year. I have just come to an end of a four book series plus a lot of stress with my backlist titles, and feel a bit like you – and I did have a vivid dream while I was away at the weekend after my event for the Bath Children’s Festival… of being involved in a car crash with someone else driving, and getting trapped under the car when it rolled into a field, except I wasn’t scared because I kept thinking “I can crawl out”. Then I woke up in tears… so what does that one mean do you think?

    1. Hi Katherine – what an interesting idea, that this is an emotional time of the year. Thinking about it, we do associate autumn with the end of summer (nostalgia, loss) rather than the beginning of winter, except in a negative way. It’s also interesting that your waking-in-tears dream seems to have come after a period of great stress, like mine. As for the meaning, I suppose I’d be looking for echoes of the feelings in the dream in your waking life. If it were my dream, I might ask myself, ‘Where do I feel I’m not in the driving seat? Where do I feel stalled? Where do I feel trapped?’ And of course, the overriding feeling seems to be the sadness you brought into the day – so a situation which does not feel fatal or frightening, but makes you feel upset. I personally don’t push it further than that – if parallels between the dream and waking-life aren’t immediately obvious to me through puns and such, and don’t emerge on gentle questioning, I’m inclined to leave it and simply acknowledge the dream, pay it gentle attention, and see what evolves

  6. Jenny,

    This is a lovely post – and so true. Yesterday, I was feeling a little stuck, so I tried a little tarot reading on myself – my first real one. In response to the question of “what frees you?” came the Ace of Cups. This post confirms that message! Thank you for taking up the “pen” (keyboard?) again on this blog. Although I just discovered your blog and haven’t been following for long, I would miss you if you took the blog down! I love the new look, by the way : )

    1. Thank-you, dreamerly – I’m so glad you like the new look. Tarot is a wonderful resource – I’ll look forward to reading more about your experiences and explorations into it on your blog

  7. Some of my ms has been written because of dreams I have. When I am really into the story, I remind myself before I go to sleep to dream about it. Or I wake up early in the morning, and start thinking about my protagonist or other important characters and fall asleep dreaming about them. I have had many of those ex stories, and I am so happy when I wake up and so grateful for my current husband who also has a strong belief in making your dreams come true. The good dreams, that is!
    But, Jenny, I have an urgent question about these quotes you are talking about. I am putting lines from a poet to begin each chapter of my novel. I had contacted the son of the poet (the poet is dead – which is an important part of my story). he said he would write up a contract, but when I sent him more info, I never heard back from him.
    Well, I happened to contact a poet whose poems were published in The Sun (magazine). I discovered that he translated many of Pablo Neruda’s poems to English. I mentioned my predicament and he said that I did not need permission OR a contract. That I should put the poet’s name. And it would be nice if I put the translator’s name(s).
    He has made books for his students with many poet’s works in them so I am pretty sure he knows what he is talking about.
    But now, reading your post, I can’t help but wonder. Who should I ask?

    1. Hi Sherrie – it sounds as if you have a wonderful, easy relationship with your dreams – very creative. When it comes to your question about permissions, if you’re publishing and selling your book then yes, you do need permission to use quotations, unless the author has been dead for more than 70 years (in the UK – this may be different in different countries) You need to contact the first publisher (usually on the copyrights page at the front of the book), and if you’re lucky they’ll be able either to grant permission or advise you who currently holds the copyrights. I was afraid, with so many quotations, that it would be too expensive for me to quote from all these lovely authors, but so far only one has charged me a fee. It helps that my quotations are very short. Good luck!

  8. Thanks for this helpful blog Jen. I am feeling mega-stressed at present and so it rings bells for me. Also been dreaming lots. All the knowledge I’ve gained over the years about how to relax and bring calmness into my life simply isn’t working – that head stuff wins all the time! I love the look of your blog page. Those wide open spaces and big landscapes up north must have inspired you to introduce a feeling of space into your blog pages. Lovely! 🙂

    1. I hadn’t noticed that feeling of spaciousness, Pat! I thought I was just switching to a lighter, softer colour scheme and moving from dated entries to categories for navigation. Well, well. I’m really glad you like it. Maybe dreaming a lot helps regulate things at times of stress even when we don’t particularly remember the content or wake up feeling the emotional tone still around us. Writing can certainly do that too, and I think I wouldn’t have got so stressed out if instead of having to do permissions etc I’d been able to get stuck into a new story

  9. Really really wonderful reflections here Jenny, and very apropos on so many levels to my own life over this recent Summer and Fall. I’m glad you are still writing the blog here as it re/minds me once again of the importance of honoring the wisdom of the dreams and finding, through a kind of grace perhaps, ways to honor them and act with them in the waking life.

    I recently had what I’ll call a “crappy dream” and I share the experience of slowing down and having a quite emotional day afterwards, but then in the days following, feeling cleared out and ready to move on in a whole different sense than I had before the dream.

    Great stuff and so glad to connect more with your work and various offerings – Many Thx! TW

    1. You put it so well, Travis ‘finding, through a kind of grace perhaps, ways to honor’ dreams – it’s always felt like a blessing to me, that from very young I have walked the two paths of dreams and the waking world together.

  10. I just woke up from a 3rd extremely sad dream. The weirdest thing is, I almost never remember my dreams and if I do, the details are very fuzzy and usually fade completely.

    In the first one, I watched my son as he fell while hiking and crushed his skull. I woke up and it took a while to get that dream out of my head.

    In the second, I was talking to the mother of a childhood friend who I have recently searched for on Facebook. We were reminiscing about him because something had happened to him that he had died and she reminded me how much he liked me (true story). I woke up and remembered that he in fact had been killed a few years back. I had forgotten.

    In the third dream, I was so upset about a situation with my kids, I broke down crying and woke myself up crying like that.

    I really care about my current boyfriend but I’ve noticed a problem that is so big, I don’t think we’ll be able to work through it. It could effect my kids in a profound way. I didn’t talk to him much yesterday and vice versa. I think he gets serious about things then freaks out and tries to push me away. I’ve been patient, knowing he’s been hurt a lot and he keeps coming back each time, even more affectionate. I may have to end things with him though and although I felt sad about it yesterday, I actually felt pretty chill about it. Or so I thought.

    1. Thank you for sharing your dreams and situation here. The thought of breaking up with someone you care about, even if your head says it’s the right thing to do, is bound to carry so much sadness and anxiety, I’m not surprised it’s finding an outlet in your dreams. I hope things will resolve for you soon, and you’ll feel more settled.

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