Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dreams as Catalysts

From 2004

I'm thinking about dreams.

Not dreams in the sense of the neurological phenomenon that takes place during REM sleep, but rather the unspoken assumptions and cherished fantasies that animate our lives. As children, teenagers, and even adults, we entertain notions of what we would like to do in the future. As I've grown older, I've become ever-more fascinated by how these imaginings move us through life.

How our fantasies of the future play out, or if they even touch upon the real world in any meaningful way seems to vary greatly with each individual. I've reached a point where I have witnessed many of the possible outcomes for dreams. I have watched them realized among friends and family, and I have also seen them crushed by the weight of the world. More often than not they become ghosts, pushed to the back of the mind during life's necessary practical routines.

Sometimes neglected dreams unearth themselves when an adult enters into middle age. It can be a fearful experience for a person to realize that a lifetime's desire will never come true. I've watched desperation-fueled tragedies play out after this, sometimes leaving the person with far less than they began with. Others found renewed determination and made positive changes.

There are also the friends who are happily adapted to a life of eight-hour workdays and quiet weekends. They seem satisfied with dreams becoming daydreams—-silent fantasies to immerse themselves in during slow or peaceful moments. Others have actively made their dreams happen.

Dreams are not static. They are conceived, evolve, and can change into new visions along the way. They can be forgotten about, they can die, and they can be destroyed. Dreams can be a violent fuel that propels a person through life to success or suicide. Some must give up their fantasies in order to survive, and others die inside the moment they let go of theirs. Dreams are also not passive, they can be tenacious, deeply rooted, and dominate those who carry them, for good or ill.

"Better lucky than good."

There are a happy few whose dreams are well suited to the life they are born into. These individuals may simply be in the right place at the right time or possess a plethora of innate talents that allow them to easily succeed in their pursuit of happiness. These persons may never have to exert themselves to realize their dreams, and others must fight at every step in order to simply have enough to eat each day.

For the most part, our grandparents' lives were guided by necessity. Increasingly, however, in the wealthy developed world, ours existences are shaped by our dreams. What we do in life is no longer rigidly spelled out in the form of cultural expectations. Rather than shunting aside our dreams at age eighteen, getting married, and starting a family, we entertain many notions about what we might make of ourselves. What's more, we are now bombarded with dreams crafted by professional storytellers. We grow up within a cultural energy field of movies, books, and, graphic images, all of which shape our expectations.

At the pinnacle of our instinctual animal dreams reside the celebrities, the tiny handful who live out the primal ideals of beauty, status, lust and luxury. Even those with such privileged lives can still have more dreams than they have means to fulfill. There are unlimited wants in the human heart, but only finite time, energy, and talent with which to pursue these desires.

For chronic dreamers it often seems necessary to cultivate a sort of discipline of dreams--to weed out those wants that are idle and from those that are central. For those who have no dreams at all or have fallen into a rut, a similar, material type of discipline is needed. To find a new dream, a trapped person must often cease indulging in the shallow activities and banal pleasures that form a theater of distraction.

(I'm still trying to write an ending for this essay.  I suspect I'll need at least another twenty or so years of that research which we call living to do it right.)

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