Where ya headed?
Is it just us, or is everything in our culture about how to get ahead in the world? Skills, work, education—those are all great, but even if I am ahead in the world, where are we all headed? Our daydreaming editor is back this week to persuade you to think about where it is you want to go…before you git all bizzy trying to get there.
Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right
– Henry Ford
Go to Your Happy Place
It seems our 8-year-old daughter, Piper, has finally been exposed to enough scary movies, ghost stories, and Lindsay Lohan scandals that she is beginning to have nightmares on a regular basis. Besides having to send a poorly rested, grumpy girl to school each day, we also have a frightened little moppet coming into our bedroom at night also on a pretty regular basis. And that’s a problem, because…well, that’s a problem.
And so we find ourselves treading that well-trodden parental path—helping her isolate her imagination from reality, to show her that her dreams are not real and so cannot hurt her.
Now, coincidentally, I recently re-read one of the steps from our series, You Are There: 10 Steps to Your Own Family Sabbatical. This particular step urges readers to imagine themselves on sabbatical, to create a vision that will maintain the drive and discipline often needed in planning a sabbatical. The message, in a nutshell, is that dreams can become reality!
Upon reading that piece again I had to jump back, smack myself, James Brown style. Crikey, no wonder we adults have to be cajoled into visioning exercises and following our dreams; we unlearned everything we already believed in our childhood. As children we live in mere houses of straw that divide us from that gauzy world of imagination. But age and experience replace our walls with the brick of convention and the mortar of cynicism, and the world beyond those walls becomes nothing but fantasy.
But bad metaphors aside and practically speaking, what is a parent to do when faced with this dilemma? It ain’t necessarily so that dreams can’t be real, but we would also appreciate fewer nighttime visits to our bedroom.
Here’s what we’re trying: We no longer say that dreams are not real. We say that dreams are very powerful things that we create ourselves, whether trying to or not. Since these dreams are our own creation, we can master them with a little thought and work.
Consider your breath. Can you hold your breath? Can you slow your breath? Speed it up? Of course, you control this vital and natural thing that your body does. But when you sleep, does your body stop breathing? Not if you’re currently enjoying those chocolate frosted sugar bombs for breakfast, it didn’t. Because our intelligence, knowledge, and ability to control our world develops only through experience, our bodies have to start out with a really good auto-pilot system before that experience happens. But once it does, that system is also designed to accommodate a pilot in the cockpit who can eventually take the controls and make decisions about how the parts will work.
Would it surprise you to know that there are actually specific strategies you can employ to control your own dreams with your rational mind? There are; I looked it up (and am now trying to fly, though not right this instant). And I noticed the only difference in the corollary (controlling reality through dreams) is the application of physical effort. That’s it! Nothin’ to it. Aren’t you glad you read this far for that blazing insight? But wait, it gets better.
The thing is, you are already expending effort and making decisions. You are already working too much, watching television, commuting, reading junk e-mail, and reading about Lindsay Lohan’s latest collision with the media. Using your vision or dreams to steer your efforts takes attention but no more effort than you expend right now. Just like arriving in the kitchen but forgetting why you went there, you have fallback Standard Operating Procedures that determine your course of action in a given moment (“well, as long as I’m here, I’ll liberate that beer trapped in the fridge”). But keep that sabbatical vision alive in your mind and the seemingly insignificant decision to research Italian visa requirements instead of watching Lindsay Lohan’s latest court appearance can have life-changing consequences.
Remember, though, that your vision is not necessarily a goal. It is, like a goal, equal parts pull and push. It stokes the passion that pulls you like a magnet toward it. But it also creates the drive and motivation that pushes you to get the necessary things done to reach your true goal. Your true goal is not the place you imagine you’ll go on your sabbatical. It is not this physical location that can stir such great emotion in you. Your true goal is probably something like spending more time together with your family, or escaping the rat race, or exploring other education strategies for your kids. Your dream, your vision, is the bait for your lizard brain to help it feel or otherwise sense what it might be like to actually achieve your goal and get it to move in that direction.
My family lives in the mountains, so when we were planning our sabbatical, we had visions of sunny beaches, palm trees, hammocks, and the kids in uniforms walking hand-in-hand down a sandy lane to a school where they learn another language and make friends from another culture. Of all that, we only got the school part right. (We ended up living even higher in mountains than we do now, if in a more temperate climate). What we needed to drive ourselves to our goals of spending more time together, learning Spanish, discovering other cultures and environments, and making life a great adventure was a warm, beautiful beach (with maybe a couple cocktails).
So your mission tonight, is to think about what you will dream. Close your eyes. Imagine the scene around you. Breathe in the air, and guess the smells. Identify the sounds. Who knows, maybe you really will fly.
[Ed. note: Matt Scherr is the founder and editor of Radical Family Sabbatical, and right now he’s thrashing about in bed trying to fly.]