image of a girl looking into a gloomy forest but with light ray shining through
Image by Willgard Krause

Narrated by Marie T. Russell. 

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The following sentence is the most important thing I have to say about dreams and dreaming: AFTER A DREAM IS OVER, IT BECOMES A MEMORY!

This is the key to mastering your dreams.

From A Nightmare To An Adventure

The essential element that makes a dream a nightmare is the sense of helplessness in the face of events that you have no control over. If you become able to do something about these events that removes the helpless feeling, then the same dream becomes an adventure, rather than a nightmare.

A nightmare only occurs when you are under heavy stress of some kind, and stress translates into the body as muscle tension. When tension is strong enough it can interfere with body functions, and this may evoke a kind of visceral fear that produces a nightmare or even a series of nightmares.

When the tension is relieved by any means, the nightmares cease. If enough tension recurs, even by recalling the nightmare, then the same or different nightmares may happen again, or may produce fear and helplessness in the waking state.

Can You Banish Nightmares?

Aside from drugs that suppress or mask feelings, some psychologists are currently using a technique in which clients, when recalling a nightmare, are advised to switch their thoughts to something pleasant. This has resulted in some clients having fewer nightmares in a given period and is therefore considered to be a very effective technique. It works by relieving a certain amount of tension, and it is a fact that if your muscles are relaxed enough you will not be able to feel anger or fear, both of which require muscle tension to exist.

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It is also a fact that being aware of or thinking about good things, like counting your blessings, will relax tense muscles and produce a sense of well-being. However, this technique does nothing about clients’ beliefs and insecurities that come from a lack of self-worth, self-esteem, and self-confidence. Such beliefs may build up more feelings of helplessness, which result in more nightmares.

Another technique is to train people over a period of months in lucid dreaming so that they are able to modify the nightmare in progress to some degree. This has been successful for some people, but it takes a long time and is inconsistent.

Healing the Memory of the Nightmare

Now, however, it is time to present the most efficient and effective set of techniques you will ever find for dealing with nightmares. Efficient, because it usually takes less than five minutes, and often less than one minute. Effective, because it deals directly with and changes the feelings of helplessness. How does it do this? By working with the real problem: the memory of the nightmare.

During a nightmare, you are subject to whatever feelings of fear and helplessness that the dream situation brings up. When you wake up, though, you are no longer dealing with the nightmare itself, which is over, but with the memory, which lingers sometimes for an entire lifetime.

Without any further discussion, here is what you can do about it. I will use my own dream experiences as illustrations, though I have helped hundreds of others with the same techniques. Pick whichever method most appeals to you, or feel free to experiment with each.

The essence of these techniques is that you are working directly with the memory of the nightmare, which still exists, and not with the nightmare itself, which is over and done with. There are two very important consequences of this.

1. Because the original experience no longer exists, it is the memory that is the problem.

2. Because the memory is the problem, you don’t have to go back to sleep to deal with it. You can work with it directly while awake and aware.

Option 1: Change Your Reaction

After you wake up, as soon as you are able, pick a point in the memory of the nightmare where you reacted to something that was happening, and with your conscious imagination, change your reaction. Sometimes this changes how you feel about the nightmare, and sometimes it results in a spontaneous change in the characters and events that turns the nightmare into just an interesting dream.

My wife gets very angry because I haven’t piled up her clothes properly and I’m thinking I should pick them all up and put them away and she yells at me and I angrily pick up one of her panties and put it on a pile. I still think I ought to put the clothes away, but I’m getting confused and it’s hard to think clearly. She begins yelling again that she has no respect for me and I get more angry, but still look at the clothes in a confused way. We get into a shouting match and I wake up very upset.

The Change

When I wake up, eyes still closed but awake and remembering the dream, I decide that the dream needs changing, but find it very difficult to do. This is unusual for me, but indicates that some strong beliefs are at work. I keep working at it and finally am able to imagine picking up the clothes and putting them in a box in a room of my own upstairs, and this leaves me feeling satisfied and happy. Oh, and by the way, my dear, sweet wife never gets angry with me like that in Waking Life.

Option 2: Change the Story

After you wake up, as soon as you are able, pick a point of your choice in the memory of the nightmare and use your imagination to change the story. Remember, you are working with the memory of the nightmare, not the dream itself, which no longer exists. So give yourself the freedom to change the story any way you want that makes you feel good. In addition to feeling good, this technique has the benefit of helping to change your beliefs about yourself. Here is what I did when I was in high school.

I am running down a street, scared to death because I am being chased by two BMOCs (Big Men on Campus, translated as “bullies”). I see a basement restaurant on my right and run down the stairs. The restaurant is empty, so at the bottom of the stairs I try to hide under a table. The BMOCs run down the stairs after me, see me under the table, kick it over and start to beat me up. I wake up very afraid.

The Change

I am under the table and as soon as the bullies reach the bottom of the stairs I stand up and throw off the table, stomp over to the two boys, crack their heads together, and, one by one, throw them up the stairs and into the street. Then I set the table upright, order a beer from a pretty waitress, sit down, and drink it (and boy, did that ever feel good).

The result? No one ever bullied me again, and I never had another nightmare like this.

Option 3: Continue the Dream

Odd as it may sound, I have discovered that, in your recall, if you will allow the nightmare to continue past the point where you woke up, no matter what the situation, it will always resolve itself in a positive way, though in some cases that may take a while.

Again, pick a point of your choice in the memory of the nightmare, including the beginning if you want, and keep it in mind when you reach the ending that woke you up. In this one you do not try to make anything happen; you just allow the story to unfold in its own way until you reach a resolution that feels good. More bad things might happen, but stay with it if you can.

Some people have gone through great danger into a religious experience. One man that I know of, troubled by a recurring falling dream, allowed himself to fall to his death and stayed with it until angels came and took him up to heaven. Some get powerful insights that help them resolve relationship problems. What follows is one of my experiences when I was thirty-seven.

A guy threatens to beat me up unless I produce a license ending in thirty-seven. I finally find one hanging on a rack, but he still comes after me. A black cop crosses the street. I take advantage of the diversion to hide behind a bush. The guy passes and I race in my car toward the beach part of town, going through stoplights, etc. Then I am on a bike or running on the sidewalk and crash through branches.

The Continuation

While awake and starting where I left off, “I crash through the branches and my bike goes tumbling over and over and I land in a yard. The guy hears and comes after me, but a big bulldog in the yard chases him away and comes back to lick my hand.”

Precognitive  or Troubling Dreams

You do not have to limit these techniques to nightmares. They work just as well with any unpleasant or troubling dream, including those that seem to be precognitive. One student of mine dreamed that her child fell out of a tree and was injured. She redid the dream so that the child fell on a mattress. Two weeks later the child did fall out of a tree but got up and walked away without harm.

I want to emphasize the simplicity and effectiveness of these techniques, and the fact that they can be done right after you wake up from the dream, or even years later if the dream is still troubling you. Remember, all you have to do is work with the memory, because that’s where the problem is.

©2017, 2020 by Serge King. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher
Bear & Co, an imprint of Inner Traditions Intl.

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Dreaming Techniques: Working with Night Dreams, Daydreams, and Liminal Dreams
by Serge Kahili King

book cover: Dreaming Techniques: Working with Night Dreams, Daydreams, and Liminal Dreams by Serge Kahili KingDreams can change our lives in profound and tangible ways. In this guide to mastering the art of dreaming, Serge Kahili King, Ph.D., explores techniques to harness the power of dreams for healing, transformation, and changing your experience of reality. Drawing on his analysis of more than 5,000 of his own dreams as well as those of students and clients from his almost 50 years of clinical work, he examines the types of night dreams we have, how to remember them better, how to make use of them to improve our health and well-being, and how to interpret them. The book also explores daydreams in depth, including fantasy, guided imagery, meditation, visions, and remote viewing and provides techniques for using daydreams for healing, insight, and creativity. 

For more info and/or to order this book, click here. Also available as a Kindle edition. 

More books by this Author.

About the Author

photo of Serge Kahili King, Ph.D.Serge Kahili King, Ph.D., is the author of many works on Huna and Hawaiian shamanism, including Urban Shaman and Instant Healing. He has a doctorate in psychology and was trained in shamanism by the Kahili family of Kauai as well as by African and Mongolian shamans. He is the executive director of Huna International, a non-profit worldwide network of individuals who have dedicated themselves to making the world a better place. He lives on the Big Island of Hawaii. Visit his website at