…Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
-Ranier Maria Rilke
BIG QUESTIONS. I LIKE THEM.
They sure are difficult to answer, though. But that’s good. If we can get past the gut response of, “I don’t know” and actually hold a space for them, accept them, then they open us up to larger lives. They beckon us to insight and action. They let us live them.
I tend to favor big questions that zig and zag through the paradoxes of human existence: life and death, connection and isolation, freedom and dependence, meaning and meaninglessness.
- What pulls me forward?
- What gifts have I refused to honor in myself?
- How do I let go?
- What is it to belong?
- How can I be real in the world?
- What will wake me up?
- What must I do to transcend the banality of life?
- How can I be in partnership with my deeper self?
- How do I move from emptiness to engagement?
Given my proclivity to muse about such things, my radar’s always tuned in to catch the big questions. New ones. Questions I haven’t thought of before.
And this week, over at The Art of Great Things, Jeffrey Tang proposed a standout:
WHERE DO DREAMS COME FROM?
My radar got an immediate hit from this question. For many years, my husband and I have presented a performance and workshop – “The Path of the Dreamer.” The title was inspired by a poem from Amanda Bradley:
A dream is a path to the future
A quiet belief in the heart
A small secret wish nurtured deep in the spirit
Where all great accomplishments start
A dream is a quiet unfolding
That only the dreamer can see
A dream is a challenge to all that you are
A promise of all you can be
Yes, all this time I’ve been talking about what dreams are, encouraging people to follow them and make them real, but never actually asking, point blank: where do they come from?
How short-sighted of me!
It’s a good question to ask, because so often we doubt a dream’s worth and value. We put it under the microscope, dissect and dismember it, analyze and evaluate, until there’s nothing left to hold on to. Like Barbara Sher says,
We brush our dreams off the table as being impossible, and then we say, ‘I see no dreams here.’
Nothing left but a few measly crumbs. No real sustenance there.
But maybe if we allowed ourselves to reflect on the origins of our dreams, we’d treat them with kindness and loving care. We’d nurture them like little birds. We’d push them from the nest only when we knew they were ready to fly.
THE ORIGINS OF DREAMS
Okay, a disclaimer here: I don’t know. And yet, I do know. You see, we’re in paradoxical territory again. We’re in the gray areas. This is a question to be lived, not answered.
Of course, we could speculate until the cows come home about whether dreams come from nature or nurture. We could set up a spread sheet and list the pros and cons of each in an attempt to move out of those gray areas. But dreams don’t stand up to that kind of reasoning, because dreams run deep, and we’d never discover the answer.
And just to make sure we’re all on the same page, I’m talking about waking dreams, the kind that go:
- I dream of writing a great novel (that’s Jeffrey’s dream)
- I dream of having a child
- I dream of traveling the world
These dreams are different from sleeping dreams. We’ve all had those, right? Our unconscious presents us with images, stories, metaphors, symbols, and patterns, and asks us to make sense of them.
BUT ARE SLEEPING DREAMS AND WAKING DREAMS ALL THAT DIFFERENT?
I don’t think so. They both spring from that deep place within us – our core, substance, spirit, inner self, soul, marrow, essence – whatever you choose to call it. And anchoring each dream is an enduring archetypal story: the story of the creator/artist for the novelist to be; the story of the caregiver/nurturer for the would-be mother; the story of the seeker/adventurer for the world traveler in waiting.
Whatever the stories underneath our dreams, they’re universal. But they’re also ours alone. (Another paradox). They belong to us. And they are without a doubt asking to be lived.
So our job is to claim them and hold tight. Be aware of both their virtues and quirks.
Often these archetypal stories feel rough and unformed to us. So it’s a little scary to think about taking them along on the rocky road to bringing dreams into the real world. Actually, it can feel a lot scary. But if you’re not feeling any fear about your dreams, they’re probably coming less from your depths and more from the expectations of the people and institutions around you.
A THOUGHT ABOUT MY OWN DREAMS
Lately I’ve noticed the nature of my dreams has shifted. They’re more about being than becoming: being creative every day, being in community with others, being in nature, being in a conscious relationship with my husband. It’s a daily vision rather than a big vision.
Of course I have goals too: I’m working on a book and a play, expanding my business through additional training, planning a move to a place I love in the next few years. But those don’t feel so much like dreams because they’re in progress and I think they will happen.
And somehow, it feels more challenging, this place of being my dreams rather than becoming my dreams.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR DREAMS?
What do you know about dreams? Please share your wisdom here so we can all live the questions.
WHY NOT START NOW?