I went to bed feeling incredibly beat last night. As I settled my head into my pillow and curled up on my side, I could almost taste the good night sleep I was about to get. But, instead of floating on white clouds, I spent the night fighting off a giant lizard with only my television remote (attached to the end of my cell phone charger) and my seventy-pound karate-chopping brother at my side. The giant lizard thing was licking its black teeth with its elastic tongue and dripping with full intent to eat my brother and me for a late-night snack. We screamed as we struggled to barricade the door to my room. The worst part was that, just when we thought we had shut the nasty thing out, it proved capable of turning my door knob and letting itself back into my room. Scaly green lizards with pointy claws aren't supposed to be able to do that. The struggle went on for what felt like hours and hours as I thrashed about in my bed, believing I had a chance against the slimy monster. Then, as I slowly reentered the conscious world, I vowed that when I woke up, if I woke up, the first thing I'd do was fix that lock on my bedroom door.
Sometimes it's difficult to figure out why we're having nightmares. Everything might seem okay in school. Our conscience is clear. We're even getting along with our parents. But, anxiety lurks deep below the surface. So deep, we may not even know we're struggling with it. It's probably best not to spend too much time interpreting our dreams. So what if the green lizard represents your girlfriend's father and you secretly hoped he'd eat your little brother first? Yeah, of course nightmares mean something. But, probably more important than figuring out what they mean is paying attention to why we might be dreaming at all. Even better, is figuring out how we might be able to come up with a better night's sleep.
So, if your sleep is filled with slimy green lizards, you might want to try this: Before you go to bed, sit on your bed--upright. Close your eyes, maybe rest your hands on your lap, and empty your mind of all thoughts. Dump everything that happened that day, everything that might happen tomorrow. Actually picture those things flowing out your ears. Now, sit there longer, with an empty mind, no thoughts, no worries, no fears, nothing. Just an empty mind.
You're shutting out the thoughts. But, they're stubborn, those fears about whether you passed your calculus test, they'll keep sneaking back into your head and you won't even notice. Take notice. Then, kick them out. Keep your mind empty for as long as you can. Try it again in the morning, maybe while you're brushing your teeth. You can clear your mind while you're driving (turn Eminem off). The more often you can empty your mind, the better.
Now, when it's time to shut the light and get in bed in search of some zzzzs, you'll have more than a television remote and a skinny little brother to keep the giant lizard away.