If you’ve ever experienced sleep paralysis, you know how terrifying it is. You are conscious enough to know that you can’t move your limbs, but too asleep to shout for help.
When I was a junior in college, this happened to me a lot. I would lay down to sleep and, as I drifted off, I’d hear calliope music. That in itself is creepy. Then, I’d feel my arms and legs freeze up, and I’d get sucked into a nightmare. The nightmare had many variations, but the theme was there was a monster chasing me.
I had all sorts of defense mechanisms to evade the monster. I’d ”switch channels” to a different dream. I’d try to stay up so that I was so exhausted I wouldn’t dream. But none of it worked.
The nightmare drained my vitality. After ‘running’ all night, I’d wake up feeling like I hadn’t slept at all. I was so sleep-deprived that I started hearing the nightmare’s calliope theme music while I was awake. Imagine sitting in a philosophy lecture and being dragged into a nightmare while you were awake.
I couldn’t keep going this way. Something had to change.
One night, after the calliope music played and paralysis set in, I let myself get sucked into the nightmare, without resisting. The monster burst out of hiding. It raced toward me.
For the first time ever, I didn’t run. I turned to face it.
“I’m too tired to run from you anymore,” I told it. ”Hurt me, kill me, do what you will. I don’t care. I can’t do this anymore.” I held out my arms and waited for it to attack.
Do you know what it did?
The monster hugged me and whispered, “All I wanted was for you to recognize me.”
I pulled out of the embrace to look at the monster. And that’s not what I saw. I finally recognized myself.
That’s what I’d been running away from—all the unloved, hurting, parts of me that I’d tried to keep locked away.
I embraced my shadow self again to show how much love I had for her. And that ended the dream. No more paralysis. No more calliope music.
I stood and went to the bathroom, tendrils of the dream still clinging to me. I washed my hands and looked into the mirror.
That’s when I noticed something was off about my reflection. My eyesight isn’t great, and I wasn’t wearing my glasses, but some kind of additional fog or smoke was passing between my mirror reflection and me.
As I stared, the image of my face began to flicker. It became several different faces—all with the same green eyes. I couldn’t make out what was happening for a moment because the faces flashed by too quickly. At some point I realized that I could recognize some of them, that the string of faces had a beginning and an end. Once I figured that out, some of the faces lingered for a second. As they came around again, they’d stay a little longer.
Then, they started to speak to me. Not in words, per se, but impressions. I got flashes of their lives. Emotions. Pain. Longing. I understood that I was meeting people I’d been in previous lifetimes. I saw a common thread we shared. Some of them shared my love of music or were poets or artists, like I am. “You are the last of our line,” they whispered. Then the mist receded and I was left alone to wonder if it was all a dream.
I experienced that vision thirty years ago. Why did it take me so long to write the novel it inspired?
Stay tuned . …