Last night I watched Glee, a show which I no longer love like I once did but watch still out of loyalty, or inertia, or some other force that commands me to obey. One of the characters was talking about dreams: her dreams were coming true, and she was sooooo happy. To a friend who was not so lucky, she advised him that he had outgrown his dreams, and that his current failures meant that he now needed to create new ones.
I still had these ideas on my mind this morning, as I was drinking my first cup of tea for the day, after preparing my third grader for his 7:10 pick up for 3rd grade, driving my kindergartener to her school a few minutes later, and then shuttling my 3 year old to Arachnid Day at his preschool. Looking over our somehow-still-green backyard, checking in on each baby plant’s slow progress, I began an all-too-common descent into self-doubt. Were my dreams the wrong dreams? Did I need to come up with new ones? Are my dreams coming true, or am I failing? Even this most basic of questions seemed difficult to answer. I could make a case either way, really.
The girl in the show whose dreams were coming true, she was feeling happiness because of her success. That was the promise of the episode, the hook that kept us watching: others achieve success, they are so happy, we can do it too one day, it could be us. It is so exciting! But, I thought to myself, I’ve heard this one before. Even more, I’ve felt this one before. The success/happiness combo that is held out so tantalizingly is somewhat of a mirage. Yes, of course dreams can be great and achieving them feels good, but the idea that this can complete you or fulfill you or completely define your life is wrong. It is an empty promise.
Last night, before bed, I realized that I was feeling a low level of stress, vibrating in the background, for no real reason. I am working on several projects right now—all things I want to be doing—but there is this general feeling of anxiety because I am not getting them done quickly enough, or I worry that I won’t do a good enough job, or blah, blah, blah. You get the idea. But a friend recently reminded me that these deadlines are self-imposed deadlines, and these goals are my own goals. No one is making me do this, so any stress I feel is also created by myself. Which is crazy. Why do I want to give myself stress?
When I was examining this idea last night, I realized that at the bottom of all of this lies a sense of urgency that I must achieve a certain level of something before I die. What, I’m not sure, but it’s there—this amorphous sense that I have to get somewhere, and the accompanying fear that I won’t. But when I looked at it more closely, I acknowledged to myself that I know that external success is not going to provide me with any giant explosion of happiness when I’m, say, 85 . . . an explosion so great that it will suddenly make everything else worthwhile and extend fabulous feelings backwards and forwards in time to make everything perfect.
So what exactly is it that I hope for, or (for they always go together) fear? At the end of it all, I decided that what I really don’t want is to squander my time on earth with actions and activities that are not as important to me. I don’t want to look back with regret, that I could have done so much and instead chose the easy route, or the less scary one. I want, at least in theory, to live my days with passion, surrounded by beauty, making choices with intention.
When I thought of it that way, I felt relief. This—to enjoy where I am, to choose what I most want, to experience feelings fully—these are all things I can do. (At least on paper, they seem easy. Ha!) At any rate, wrapping a life around these ideals sounds a lot more manageable that holding up a particular future achievement and hinging my entire life’s success or failure on it.
I’m so often living in the future. It wasn’t until I read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now that it occurred to me that this wasn’t the most fabulous way to live. Being a dreamer is great, isn’t it? Isn’t hope as essential for living as bread and water? Sure, some people think not, but aren’t those people the stick-in-the-mud types who would rather spend their days remembering the past and creating rules? And as for the hedonistic types who only live for the glory of the next moment, where is the anticipation and breathy expectation in that?
My jaw must have lost all its tension when I read the words that at once shone a spotlight on my narrow-mindedness and opened my eyes to a completely new concept: that living in the future (or the past, or anywhere but now) prevents us from fully experiencing life, that a day spent thinking about the future is a day spent asleep, and the only way to be fully awake is to stop thinking so much and to start noticing everything around you, right now, in the real world.
So stop worrying about my dreams, I told myself this morning, tea in hand, looking out at the golden yellow elm leaves fluttering down with every autumn gust. Stop asking what I should be doing, and instead ask what I want to do. I paused my thoughts to listen for the answer, and the only response was from the sunlight, calling to me, beckoning me to come stand in its pool of light and turn my face upward to it, much as my dog was doing at that very moment. Why shouldn’t I be more like my dog? That little guy’s probably got it figured out. But then all the reasons why I shouldn’t popped into my head. If I wanted to go outside, I would have to go put on my shoes and find my coat. I would have to move the chair into the sun. The chair would be dirty, so I would have to clean it. It all seemed like too much trouble. Laziness kept me standing still, but yet there it remained, my wish to feel the sunshine on my face.
And so I did it. (Whoa, throw a parade, I know.) I went to get my shoes and my coat, I moved the chair, I cleaned it with a baby wipe (because I no longer know of any other way of cleaning things). And I sit here now, in the sun. The sunshine is so intense that my hair is hot to the touch on one side of my head and cool on the other, just like when you sit by a fire. I’ve been typing this post here, now, in the backyard, under the sun. I’ve been doing it because it’s what I want to do, not because it’s what I think I should be doing or what anyone else told me to do. And I feel completely calm, completely at peace—moved, even. This is where the joy is, I learn for this moment (only to be forgotten by this afternoon I am sure), in this moment—not in dreams, not in hopes, but right now.
© Amy Daniewicz