I have a recurring dream. In the dream, I am running from a masked dark figure, who I think is a man in his twenties or thirties. He has a bag over his head. And it’s night. He is chasing me down a dark alley, the alley behind my childhood apartment complex in San Diego. At a certain point, I turn and face him. Because I am tired of running. And he kills me. And then I always wake up. Confused.
For the longest time, I always thought the dream was about all the scary things in life I was running from. All those bad people who did bad things. And the evil despots, and mean aunts and scary schoolteachers. And coaches. And politicians.
A few weeks ago, the dream changed a bit. Instead of being killed by the masked figure, I turned and embraced him. And we both disintegrated, like the characters at the end of the Avengers saga.
And I woke up. Confused.
And then I heard a story yesterday about a Buddhist monk who went into a cave to face his inner demons, and he fought and fought, until at one point, he put his face in one of the demon’s mouths. And he realized—he was the demon devouring himself.
I thought—maybe that is what my dream has always been saying.
Maybe the dark figure chasing me in the alley was me. Maybe it was me saying, hey, I’m feeling some really shitty stuff right now; would you just stop and listen to me? Please?
I never wanted to. Maybe because there were acceptable and not acceptable feelings. Maybe because I was afraid the not acceptable feelings would swallow me whole. Maybe because I was just trying to survive. So I pushed them away.
Did that ever work? In the short-term. Sometimes. Maybe. But in the long-term no. Because shoulding all over ourselves is not a good long-term policy.
What are some typical shoulds? I should be more grateful. I shouldn’t be taking this so hard. I should get on with it. The list goes on…
I’m not advocating not having regrets! It’s important to look honestly at ourselves and our lives, past and present, and see where we have harmed ourselves or others. This is how we learn and grow. This is how we make positive changes in our lives.
But shoulds are different. They go deep to the core of who we are. They do not leave room for mistakes or growth. They don’t allow us to feel all our feelings. Shoulds look at some image over there of who you want to be—you know, that perfect person who has it all together, has the perfect career and perfect family, never has dark days when she doesn’t want to get out of bed or feel unloved by, well, everyone, and wonder what her life is all about…hypothetically speaking, of course.
Does that person even exist?
But, the truth is—what is, is what is; what was, was what was. I’m sad today. Okay, be sad. Sucks, but it’s ok. Be sad. And being sad doesn’t preclude me from also being grateful. And angry. And a bunch of other things…Our path to inner peace and outer peace is paved with the truth of who we are and what we feel.
Maybe it’s time to stop trying to outrun the masked figure in the alley. Maybe it’s time to turn toward all that we are trying to outrun, throw our arms around him and tell him we love him, all of him, smiles and warts and all. And maybe it’s time to sit and listen to what he has to say.