My father learned of a dream-based culture that had a technique for managing nightmares. As an amusing experiment he taught his four year old daughter what that tribe taught their children about nightmares. He told me that the next time I had a bad dream, I should make the Bad Guy give me a gift.
That very night:
There once was a A Little Girl, the daughter of a woodsman, who lived in a cottage at the edge of a big meadow. The Little Girl loved nothing more than to roam the sun-scented meadow and explore the forest near her father’s cottage. Her father had warned her about a Wolf that lived in the vicinity, and advised her what to do if she should meet him. The Little Girl was comfortable and competent in her world; she didn’t worry about that Wolf at all! Not one bit.
One particular day, The Little Girl was carrying a basket of goodies to her Granny, who was in bed with a summer cold. The Little Girl had to cross a field of grasses that were nearly as tall as she was. Insects hummed and she smelled the pungent smell of crushed yarrow in the grass tunnels of the meadow. The Little Girl walked slowly, chasing and catching the grasshoppers that were buzzing all around her.
Gradually, she became aware of a shadow pacing behind her. The Little Girl walked faster through the tall grass – which she now realized was very easy for Wolves to hide in. Her throat tightened and her breath flattened like the grass beneath her bare feet.
She began running as fast as she could, faster than the swallows could dip and sway above the flowering grains of the field, but The Wolf swam effortlessly through the grass, unseen and invisible, other than the wake of his passage through the shimmering field. The Little Girl could only hear the susurration of the grasses and the rapid blowing of her breath over her tight footsteps.
“Make your enemy into your friend,” the Little Girl heard her father’s playful voice. “Make him give you a Gift.” Panting with fear, but knowing she could not outrun him, the Little Girl whirled to face the Wolf.
Her breathing slowed, time nearly stopped, and the buzzing sound of the grasshoppers rose in a cacophony and then abruptly faded away. The Little Girl’s vision narrowed until all she could see was the whorl of fur at the top of the Wolf’s snout, right above his nose leather.
The Wolf pulled back his lips from his teeth. It occurred to The Little Girl that he had very big teeth.
“You have to give me a Gift,” the Little Girl demanded peremptorily, masking a quaver in her voice. She wondered what she would do if he refused. She understood that she MUST prevail.
An insect landed on her arm and buzzed when she brushed it away. She waited. If she failed in her resolve, she was lost. “You must give me a Gift,” she repeated, firmly this time.
The Wolf broke her gaze and began patting his belly and legs as if looking for pockets. Embarrassed, realizing he had nothing to give, he turned his hairy back to he. He crouched in the meadow and began to gather poppies and yarrow and milkweed into a pungent bouquet, which he handed to her.
The Little Girl accepted the offeringt, and stood barely breathing, as the Wolf retreated through the swishing fibers of the meadow. Only then did she continue to Granny’s house with a basket of goodies and a large bouquet of flowers.
Forty-five years later I found myself being treated for breast and thyroid cancers. My father and I were estranged, and he passed away May 18, 2012, while I was in treatment, never knowing that he had taught me how to wrest Gifts from a terrifying living nightmare.