“Mummy, do the people in my dreams die when the dream is finished?”….”No darlin’, the dream just finishes and a new one starts, sometimes we don’t even remember how”
Why don’t children grieve the loss of their little people dreams? Did working out I had no desire to be a fireman, that it was unlikely I would be an astronaut or that it is impossible to be a ballerina-mermaid, carve out my initial experiences for letting dreams go?
Nearly 4 years ago, I became separated from a dream I had held since I was 9 years old. I’m still living with the echo of dull distress from the day I felt it tear away from my sole focus like velco ripped sharply apart. I cried so hard I heard the last energy I had fizzle like a dud firework inside my chest. It’s taboo to admit that I let a single person, who shouldn’t have got me down, who I know demonstrated more of their own incapacities than mine in their brutal evaluation; get me entirely and suddenly out of love with my pursuit. Out of love and sapped of energy, yet grieving the whole it left in my identity.
This was my childhood dream that stitched together a childlike, Christmas-every-day feeling to an otherwise plain version of adulthood. I read about how elder tribes treated people when a member became ‘separated from their soul’. I felt separated from mine.
The realisation came, it was not the grand display of verbal underestimation of my desire and talent that put me off. Blame is easy. I came to understand that I stopped playing with my dream and started pushing, started measuring, started comparing. Push, push, push. I didn’t allow myself to be the student of my own ambition, I tried to be the master of it. Hindsight has helped me realise there had been little room for experimentation, for relaxation, for pointless motion, little space for simply waiting to see what arises. The spontaneity of dreams is what makes them feel otherworldly to me. When broken into sequences, mini goals, assessed for atypical signs of ‘success’, when I am participating because I feel I should, not because it feels good, I jam up. I had been hollow in my own dream for quite some time. So many questions arose. Am I hollow because the loss of love is genuine and I should officially move on? Should I be trying to heal what needs to be healed to recover my passion for a 14-year long focus? If I’m deciding to move on, why can’t I do it with conviction, without the grieving, and simply pick up the next new thing that excites me? Why am I not excited anymore?
“You’ve got your dreams mixed up with your capabilities”
For the longest time, I thought it was actually a saying everyone knew. That everyone knew dreams and capabilities were mutually exclusive, or dreams were awarded to those who lived with a realistic expectation of their capabilities, much like a reward for being virtuously humble. Or perhaps the images in our dreams can also be the shiny, magic carpet we escape from inadequate feelings that our current ‘whatever’ somehow isn’t good enough. In adulthood, dreams can quickly become self-imposed pressure. The measure of who we want to be versus who we are now, and the horrifying chasm of difference between those two pictures of self. The beauty of children is they don’t measure how far, how much, or how they’re currently lacking when they dream big. The saying does little to show how we can employ capabilities, strengths, and persistence in the direction of our dreams.
I can remember wanting to be a bird, so bad. I strapped polystyrene wings to my arms and put feathers in my hair and ran down the slippery slide. Despite any law of physics, I had so much belief it could be possible, possible by means of magic if all else failed. I just wanted to try flying like in my dreams, just once, in real life. Later I rationalised it was impossible to be a bird (Not because I was a human. Not because I felt let down by magic. Those things just required more practice), but because I developed a fear of heights. You see, my little person dream disappeared with a logic that measured not what was possible but what I was capable of.
Why shouldn’t my dreams stay positively associated with my capabilities? One of my favourite quotes is by Anais Nin “I seek a dimension in life where dreams and reality are fused. I hunger for magic”. What is an actualised dream worth if we lose the magic along the way?
I’ve discovered so many amazing things when surrender finally happens. I still suck at accepting the invitation to be spontaneous. But when I started measuring life in terms of spontaneous possibility, I could see all options full of potential to make a good life, instead of measuring the few possibilities limited to my capabilities. I gave myself permission to dream things that logically ‘don’t fit’ with the idea of what I wanted for my life. I’ve rediscovered that dreams can be a lot like love, you will be found by them even when you’re not looking, and when you lose them, they will always find you again.
Perhaps children can dream big, and when they decide they don’t want to be an astronaut anymore, there’s no sense of loss, they just find a new dream. In wondering if I’m lost because I never became what I wanted to be when I grew up, I ponder on why we even ask the question of young minds at ease with the fluid transition of identity from dream to dream. When children aren’t dreaming, they’re playing, not planning. They’re certainly not wallowing in existential emptiness like me today. I watch children and their capacity to be so many things in each new moment. Unlike me, their new dream isn’t cultivated from the thinking that they failed at the first one. Yes, I watch children embrace so many new things in each moment and wonder if, in fact, I haven’t failed to be the thing I wanted to be when I grew up. Maybe the key is never growing up in the first place.
So how do I keep the magic?