Big Questions

…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


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.

Questions like…

  • 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:


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.


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.


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.


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 do you know about dreams? Please share your wisdom here so we can all live the questions.



18 thoughts on “Big Questions

  1. Patty,

    I love your questioning approach. Living in the question is the surest route to epiphany. We share deep fascination in the world of dreams as well. I will come visit again soon. Thank you.

  2. Hi Harried Mystic – Welcome, I really appreciate you coming by to visit. And thanks so much for your very kind words. It’s a lifelong journey for me to live the questions and I’m certainly not there yet, but I’m working on it. Hope to see you back here soon.

  3. Hi Patty, I really like that quote. To live the questions seems to me a lot more fun and meaningful than forever seeking and never finding answers. In a way, I think the unanswerable questions add dimensions in a way that the answerable questions don’t.

    Regarding becoming and being, I don’t know. Becoming, though it has its challenges, seems easier to me. I’ve noticed a formula of sorts in the way I become: know what I want to become, come up with a plan, then invest the time and effort needed to become. (Harder than it sounds.)

    Being, I struggle with a lot more…

    • Hi Belinda – I agree. Becoming seems like a road with sign posts all along the way. Yes, difficult, but being is an every day challenge for me, waking up to the dream and deciding to allow myself to live it that day in that moment. Sounds like we’re having a similar experience of it. Thanks!

  4. Hi Patty!
    WONderful post! Questions – wow – they can sure hammer away can’t they? No end to them! I celebrate the ability to question and then I sometimes exasperate myself trying to answer them, wasting time on many that I really must just let go of and get back to (as the quote says) living the questions.

    I like how you said there are dreams and there are dreams – the ones we have as “goals” and the ones we have in our sleep. I really do see a connection. I keep a journal (I’m an addict – journal junkie) and try to record my dreams when I wake. There are often strong messages, more often tiny clues, but it never ceases to amaze me! But just as often, what I write in my journal first thing has answers for me on a whole range of things, mostly little, but nonetheless, VERY helpful! I write questions all the time, dialoging, probing, and it is mind blowing that my answers are all there. I may be a nut case, but wow this works for me! Pretty cheap therapy!

    • Hi SuZen – Thanks so much. Love what you shared about journaling. I think what comes from that, especially right at the beginning of the day, is much like a dream. Full of images and symbols. I’m fascinated by images that come in waking life, because the more I pay attention, the more I see that they are truly images from the unconscious, and as you say, show us that the answers are all there. Oh, and if you are a nut case, we should all be so!

  5. Patty — I loved this post for both the subject and how you put your words together. I always think a writer has a lot in common with a weaver; it’s the ability to find the threads and put them together to create something new. You did this for me in this post.

    As I read it, I thought about the fact that most of my life I have dreamed stories, meaning I’m not actually a character in my dream. I used to think this was very weird. Yet,as I’m discovering what I really enjoy about writing, I realize that story telling is an important part of my writing. Perhaps my dreams were telling me that.

    Thanks for this beautiful and thoughtful post:~)

    • Why, thank you, Sara, I really appreciate your words, and in turn, your thoughtful comments. Absolutely it sounds like your dreams were mirroring a deep call to be a storyteller. Makes perfect sense to me. In fact, I think it is very special.

    • Hi Eduard – Welcome! So nice to have you pay a visit over here. Thanks so much for the lovely comment. I never thought of it like this. I guess they’re not the kinds of questions we normally go to. I’ve always been a bit quirky, though, so I think you’re right.

  6. I love the opening quote. It parallels my personal philosophy of enjoying the journey.

    Today I live my dreams of yesterday, and tomorrow I will live my dreams of today. That sounds pretty cool, it just came to me, but I think it’s a good way to approach dreams.

    • This is so right on, Eric! I think you’ve opened us all up to actually create a ritual around it: at the end of each day, we ask: what dream will I live tomorrow? And then as soon as we wake up, we commit to live it and make every action count towards living it. Thanks so much for bringing that to the conversation today.

  7. I’ve learned that many things I would once have thought were banal are literally worth dreaming about. Example: After I’d reached a point of being unable to be positioned for any form of bathing with soap and water – baby wipes only – I started having recurring shower dreams.

    I guess we often live the dreams of others without noticing. Maybe through most of our lives “living the dream” is mostly a matter of just noticing that we already are.

  8. Hi Paul – Absolutely. Thank you for reminding me that our circumstances change our perceptions of words and definitions of things like banality. When I think of banality it’s not so much about the doing of daily life – washing, cooking, maintaining – but more about the soul-sucking, spiritless pursuits I can find myself sinking into as a way to pass time or “recharge.” And I have to say, my heart goes out to you, buddy; I always appreciate you coming over here and being honest and just bottom lining things. Thank you.

  9. Pingback: Where Do Dreams Come From?

  10. Hi Patty

    I love this; “Lately I’ve noticed the nature of my dreams has shifted. It’s a daily vision rather than a big vision.”

    I find great solace in this as I do feel it is in our daily vision and our daily doing that we find in the end our dream.
    I feel every day closer to my dream even if I already live where I love.
    Life is a flow, and forever going towards a vision, a bigger and a daily one.

    • Love that Wilma – “life is a flow.” A river that’s moving us along and really, the river is the dream. Thank you!

  11. Saying “I don’t know” is an easy out. It initiates the end of realizing our dreams. I think it starts when we are young. I remember being in class as a child and being asked a question by the teacher that I didn’t know. Many of the teachers would usually ask another student if I said I didn’t know. When I got older and had classes with teachers that would require me to work out the question until you found the . Thats when I realized that I don’t know was crutch.

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