The Downside and Upside of Dreams

By Ken Wells - 01/08/2021


I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man? — Zhuangzi

The magic of dreaming begins with children. Many of us would not have made it through childhood if we did not know how to dream. We lived one block off U.S. Highway 45 in central Illinois and I would watch 18 wheelers make their way through our small town before falling off to sleep in my upstairs bed next to the window. I would wonder where they were traveling. St. Louis? Memphis? New Orleans? I would fantasize about how cool it would be going somewhere- anywhere with food in the cab and a sleeper, headed for an uncharted destination!

I used to dream about playing NBA basketball. I would go to my neighbor’s house who had a nice basketball court with lights. Alone I would play a game between my favorite team which then was the St. Louis Hawks and another NBA team. I would make up a game to 100 and shoot baskets from different parts of the court, pretending to be the different players on both teams. I knew the names of the players, what their points per game average was and would imagine trying to shoot like they would shoot, except for the dunk, which I could not do. I would keep the stats in my head as I lost myself in an imaginary NBA game. I’ll bet I played close to an entire imaginary season! I never let Zelmo Beatty, Bob Petit and Richie Guerin and the Hawks ever lose a game!  I can still recall the roster of the Hawks and many of the other teams at that time. This is the way of fantasy and dreaming for a kid. 

Many people allow their dreams to define who they are. When dreams are left unfulfilled, they conclude that their failed dream characterizes their personal destiny. I have read about famous basketball players who failed to achieve a championship or other goals, and even years later confide that the failure illustrates their frustration throughout life. That seems sad to me. 

Addicts often make the same conclusion. I know recovering addicts who have established stellar years of sobriety in their recovery. Yet, they allow their struggle with emotional balance in life to define who they are. Sometimes, they lose sight of the significant accomplishment of achieving sobriety. 

Allowing dreams to become who you are is a way of losing yourself and making your dream bigger than you are. Dreams are meant to be enchanting experiences in relation to life. They are not meant to be life itself. The events and experiences of your dreams are designed to shape you into something different. When you do not complete a particular dream, moving on to the next phase of life doesn’t mean that you are settling for less. There is a kind of evolution that occurs in your life. Rather, you emerge from one life experience into another. You never really are what you emphatically declare that you are. Everyone undergoes a constant evolution. Once you identified with one occupation or role in life and then later it changed to something else. Inevitably, it must be recognized that you are an energy source that keeps evolving and transforming. For example, I go to college to become a businessman. My marketing training and ability is later revised and revamped into becoming a pastor. Later the pastoral skills of shepherding people are modified and adjusted into being a therapeutic healer. The evolution of my dream is similar to the way a cocoon morphs into a chrysalis and then into a butterfly. We don’t fail when our dreams are transformed, we only evolve into something new. 

Finding bliss and rapture in your dream becomes real when you realize that all of life is a progression in evolution. Many years ago Bob Dylan was correct when he wrote with certainty that “the times are a changin.”

Nothing is designed to be permanent except the pervading peace that resides within when you settle into the here and now. It is only by letting go of what you have to be can you be present in this moment which is the only point in reality you will ever know. The role you play in life will serve its purpose and then will fade. For instance, once a professional athlete retires, h/she must transform into something else. As a counselor, I have worked with many athletes who have struggled with the transition away from their sport to the next dream of their life.  For many, an accumulation of age and broken bones throughout their career prevents them from further participation in athletics. Dreams are meant to modify and become reshaped into something new. They will serve their purpose and then fade. We can have fond memories of yesteryear best when we choose to not remain stuck in faded memories. Many old ballplayers struggle with living in the past after the stadium cheers have disappeared.  

Dreams are meant to be transcended into the present moment. Sometimes our dreams take us into the adventure of something new and material. Other times, our dreams take us backward into the simplicities of life. Howard Thurman is cited in The Book of Awakening exclaiming “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  Surrender and acceptance of the present moment and circumstance you are living will bring to life to the here and now.

The purpose in life is simply to live- to be present for the days we have on this earth. No matter how important your dream may be to you, there is no grand spectacular signal that you have now arrived except to live and simply be. Shed the grand purpose that you have about living. Stop planning, organizing, working, fantasizing and even writing about living and just live. Living can be your existence in doing what you do but, it’s the living that must be recognized, not the doing. Listen to the sounds around you with a simple cup of coffee or the routine of taking your dog for a walk with your life partner. Being present in these moments is often lost when your dream becomes more cherished than the moment you are in. The panorama of life experience is designed to include the menagerie of all the dull colors of your days. There is a temptation to focus on the sensational bright neon lights of living.  Collectively, when your colors are meshed within the community of others, a stunning montage of meaningfulness is created. It is described as connection with others.
We uncover peace in our lives when we learn to be present to the seasons of life. The combination of success and failure, bitter and sweet, ups and downs all create a rich tapestry called living. We pride ourselves for peace by embracing the flat everyday moments of life. Sometimes, it takes the loss of health, loved ones, and dreams to help us hone into this reality. In The Book of Awakening, Mark Nepo wrote that “living up to a dream is rarely as important as embracing it for all it has to teach”.

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