Chasing our dreams has less to do with what we can and can’t do, than with our willingness to hear that voice inside that will not stay quiet. Emma Johnson explains how to start listening
The compulsion to chase our dreams has never been more visible. From Ted Talks to self-help podcasts urging us to throw off the shackles of expectation and demand the very most from our lives, the ability to dream has been commodified just like everything else.Where previous generations have been burdened with duty or status, the current world offers a cornucopia of options for dreamers.
Yet what is often unsaid is how terrifying the thought of chasing our dreams really is. What if we fail? What if it changes everything? What if we can’t do it? What if we can? What if it’s too hard? And so we push our dreams back where we think they belong, we keep them in the hypothetical world, not the one we live in. The fear of failure or conspiring circumstances can be nothing short of paralysing, forcing us to pack our dreams away quietly, in dark drawer, in a back room where no-one ever goes, least of all us. And there they stay, full of potential but shadowed in doubt and denial.
And it is sadly possible to walk through our entire lives without ever looking in that drawer again. To ignore the times when it calls to us, or when we’re reminded of what we’ve put in there. When someone shares their good news, we might let our mind flit briefly back to our box of dreams (note: always be aware of jealous thoughts – they can be signposts if you let them). We might remember how we felt when we allowed that dream to bloom in our hearts, when we tasted the possibility it presented, when we saw the colour and shape of what our lives could look like.
And, to make sure they don’t get out again, we fill our lives with things. And we make sure it’s so very many things that there’s isn’t space or time to think about those dreams anymore. We get phones, and tablets and laptops and TVs. We have Netflix, and Amazon Prime, and Sky, and Instagram and Facebook and Tik Tok. We have jobs, and bills, and money, and houses and holidays and cars and gardens and exercise classes and family commitments. We have toxic relationships and alcohol and overeating and shouting and running and hiding and denial. And keep on doing this over and over and over again so that voice inside, that beautiful dream that we created once, so long ago, cannot be heard over the din of our consumption and fear.
If we take this approach, our dreams will stay exactly where we left them, and that when we leave this earth they will remain just where they were. Unrealised, filled with potential, but useless. But our lives are bound for more than simply school and bills and getting old. ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ asks the poet Mary Oliver. What indeed?
Our dreams could fill our worlds with endless, incredible possibility if we’d let them. Sometimes we’re scared that listening to our dreams means we have to change our lives. Change feels scary and hard. But often our dreams help us to see how good our lives already are. And instead they give us the strength to build from those lives something even better.They give us a solid foundation from which to hope and plan. Our dreams open our eyes to living brighter, happier, wilder lives – they paint pictures of a future that is exciting, not scary. If we took the time to listen, we’d see that our dreams – our true, deep, real heartfelt dreams – are often not what we expected. But that they are the true embodiment of the things we want for ourselves and those we love.
‘Leaving what feels secure behind and following the beckoning of our hearts doesn’t always end as we expect or hope,’ says Steve Goodier. ‘We may even fail. But here’s the payoff: it can also be amazing and wonderful and immensely satisfying.’ But these dreams are no good to us if we can’t listen to them. And so, we have to start to slow down, to find the quiet places, to give our dreams space to climb out of their box, and start gently whispering their hopes for us.
We have to be quiet, and we have to listen. Glennon Doyle calls this ‘the Knowing’. Writing in her extraordinary new book Untamed: Stop Pleasing, Start Living, she explains how she trained herself to step back, to listen that voice inside and to respect what it says. ‘Beneath the noise of the pounding, swirling surf, is a place where all is quiet and clear. There, in the deep, I could sense something circulating inside me. It was a Knowing. I have learnt that if I want to rise, I need to sink first. I have to find and depend upon the voice of inner wisdom.’
Chasing your dreams isn’t about being noisy or aggressive. It’s not about big actions or bold statements. In reality, chasing your dreams is first about learning to listen and quieting the outer voices that are trying to drown everything else out. Your inner world comes before your outer world. ‘The more consistently, bravely and precisely I follow the inner Knowing,’ explains Doyle, ‘the more precise and beautiful my outer life becomes.’
BEGIN TO IMAGINE
Once you have learnt to listen to the voice, it then becomes about being brave enough to allow your dreams to take flight. To give that germ of an idea, that hope for future the space to flourish and to grow. Let possibility into your life and allow for all that you and your life can be. Get comfortable with uncertainty, get used to not knowing what comes next. You can choose the path but you will never know exactly what you find at the end, because dreams aren’t about destinations, just as happiness isn’t a place to get to. Take inspiration from Anais Nin who writes: ‘Throw your dreams into space like a kite, and you do not know what it will bring back, a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country.’
Allow yourself to dream as big or crazy as you want to, all the time knowing that your dreams are about what you want – if they feel wrong, they probably aren’t your dreams, so keep listening to that inner voice, keep trusting what you know, keep giving your dreams the space to breathe so they can become real. Dreams are about living as you want to, in a way that makes you feel free and joyful. ‘Let’s conjure up, from the depths of our souls, the truest, most beautiful lives we can imagine… may the invisible order become visible, may our dreams become our plans,’ says Doyle.
Of course, your dreams will always have a battle on their hands. Your fears are less biddable than your dreams, they won’ be put in boxes or pushed to the side. They’re shouty and loud and hard to ignore, so you must keep remembering to focus on what’s in your heart and not your head. To drown out the noise of your fear, turn inwards, and find your faith, whether that is a spiritual calling, a deep communion with God, or a trust in yourself – keep it at the forefront. ‘Your faith is that part of you that pushes you further than your fear will let you go,’ says Kintsugi Editor-in-chief Al Reem Al Tenaiji.
Trust the universe too – it so often presents the answer or the pathway ahead and if you’re open, if your dreams are alive with possibility, they will take the opportunities that are presented and it won’t feel hard, it will feel right. And when it does feel hard, that this too is part of life, of chasing dreams, of discovery, of self-development. We are not meant to stay the same, to reach the top of the mountain and stay there. Mountaineers will always find another mountains, scientists will always find another puzzle, we will always find another path. Keep dreaming, keep following your dreams, keep listening to them. ‘I am a human being, meant to be in perpetual becoming,’ says Doyle. ‘I am living bravely, my entire life will be a million deaths and rebirths.’