On the periphery, dreams quiver and shake into life.
They dance like birds, looping, and spiraling closer into our mind’s eye. We follow them across oceans to distant lands. They are always out of reach and that is where they like to stay. This is not to say that one cannot reach them, but like caged birds, they soon stop singing. Then another dream is hatched and out we go into the wilderness. Grasping, reaching, searching.
Western culture teaches us that outer goals and dreams cultivate inner happiness. In a society obsessed with future projection, I have been a steadfast dream catcher, casting my net far and wide. Recently, I’ve been pondering our need for dreams and goals. Is a lifelong need to attain dreams just a distraction from being fulfilled and happy in the now? Does a lack of dreams equate to a lack of ambition?
Often, dreams are woven around a sense of self. We imagine a slightly more successful, beautiful, intelligent version of our self thriving.
As a child, I remember being shouldered between my sisters in the back seat of the car, the familiar churning of the removal van as it pulled away. My father managed woodlands and areas of outstanding natural beauty, so as a family we were continuously moving house—always to breathtakingly beautiful, remote parts of England—our dreams evolving and shifting depending on the location, with many new beginnings.
I would flick on my Walkman and create new worlds in my head. Dreaming became an antidote to not fitting into these already established rural communities. The need for change became deeply ingrained in my psyche and continued into my adult life. I churned through new starts. I spent so long squinting into the distance that I didn’t realize I had the tools to be happy now.
When we define our success through our dreams, and they don’t manifest, or worse they don’t live up to our expectations, then where are we? Fragmented, dejected, discombobulated. Dreams keep us moving forward, but they don’t foster qualities of self-observation and non-attachment.
The constant search for fulfillment through attaining outer goals is directed by the ego. It wants to belong, to feel loved, and admired. The inner ‘I’ is always attached to things on the worldly level. But we are infinitely more than our wants and desires. Dreams are illusions, shape shifters, and their content is interchangeable. What lies beneath the dream is a restless need for acceptance, for love. By becoming aware of this desire through self-reflection and presence, we can free ourselves from these shackles.
In yoga, there are many paths which lead to Santosa, contentment. Paradoxically, yoga was another outward manifestation of my dreaming predisposition. Yet, through the practice, I started to see that when we are extrinsically motivated, we drown out our inner wisdom—that voice that says, “Be here now.”
My future projection became so glaringly obvious in my late 20s. I had no choice but to face it head-on. My partner and I bought a house and for the first time, I could see myself growing roots somewhere. Yet, I felt propelled forward by a life of unfulfilled dreams. I slammed on the breaks and asked myself, “If I gave up dreaming, would this be enough?”
Dusk rolled in, and the horizon grew dark and ominous. Without dreams, what would be our drive and purpose in life? Would this be enough? I brooded on this question until an answer came. A resounding yes. This shift in perspective allowed the little moments in life to become Karma yoga, where every action is turned into a spiritual practice. When we practice Karma yoga, there is no extrinsic motivation. Instead, the belief is that through selfless service, completing an action as an act of sacrifice, we lose the identity which is built around the little “I”—the ego. The in-between moments start to become significant: the touch of my boyfriend’s hand, riding my bicycle to work in the early morning glow. When we invest in the small moments, our dreams become less imperative.
As the great Sufi poet Rumi once wrote, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” By looking inward, I started to realize that nothing that I gained, or lost, could take away from the essence of my true self, which is so much greater than my thoughts and desires.
When we operate from this grounded place, we learn to practice non-attachment to our actions. We realize that we are already what we seek. Our dreams then become less important because our sense of self no longer relies on them. We can still dream, but we start to enjoy the journey instead of the destination.
Let us begin to break down the walls we have built within ourselves so that we can start to discover our true self beyond our desires. Let our inner peace blossom out into the world so that our dreams become the hummingbirds that banquet on the beautiful nectar of our presence.
Bonus: 5 Mindful Things to Do Each Morning.
Author: Beth Selman
Image: Jordan Sanchez/Unsplash
Editor: Angel Lebailly
Copy & Social Editor: Nicole Cameron