I rushed into the hotel banquet room five minutes late, and the workshop participants were already milling around the room making verrry deliberate eye contact with each other. I found my name tag at the unmanned table near the front, slapped it on my yoga wrap and joined the group, unsure of what to expect.
Signing up for this three-day workshop was part of an experiment. I was testing out the hypothesis that I might be interested in this whole coaching thing. Six minutes in, it was not going well. The group leader paused the milling around to ask us a question.
“What is your dream?” she said provocatively. We were asked to share our answer-- repeatedly-- with different participants. Everything in me wanted to punch this lady in the face. What is my dream? What kind of question is that? An offensive one for sure. I didn't let on to my rage. Instead, I plastered a smile on my face, walked through the room and made shit up.
It took me months to get to the bottom of why her question made me so violently angry. And a few years to finally admit it.
I didn’t have a dream and I felt wildly ashamed about that.
I didn’t have a dream because I hadn’t let myself dream for a really long time. I knew what wasn’t working any more in my life, and I knew I needed something different, but I hadn’t dared to really let go and imagine possibilities that might really light me up. I didn’t go big, because for so long, I felt really, really small.
As a little girl, I was all imagination and fairy dust. I lived in the world of my mind, creating stories, building worlds. I was always in charge, forever the quiet and mysterious star of the show. It wasn’t a single event that shut me down or forced me to stop believing in my superpowers; it was decades spent meeting expectations that didn’t exactly match my own.
Remember what you loved to do when you were 10? That’s one of my favorite questions to ask people. It’s less confronting than “What is your dream?” (how dare you) and has the potential to spark much more insight. I believe that what we loved doing when we were little-- before our parents and teachers and the world told us who we should be -- is a clue to what might be missing in our lives now. That’s where I went looking-- my early childhood. While spending time remembering what I loved, I rediscovered the joy of telling you stories like this.
How does all of this relate to you, fellow creative, and finishing your creative project? Maybe it doesn’t, if the project is just something else to cross off your to do list. BUT if the reason you want to create in the first place is bigger than that-- maybe somehow part of your dream-- then listen up, because you’ve got work to do. The fun kind.
Your job is to imagine the most beautiful dream you’ve ever dreamed. Lie on the grass and look up at the stars, or close your eyes or lay on your bed, and get quiet. Tune in. No distractions or shoulds. Just you tapping into pure Youness. The young part that remembers what it’s like to play and create. Then, when it’s all so vivid you can feel it, write it all down. Write it down in the present tense, like it’s happening now. Read it back. Read it out loud. Read it to someone who loves you. This is how you start to build a bridge between your imagination and reality. This is how you start coming home to yourself.
On Monday, I watched the house next door to ours get demolished. The woman who owned the little green bungalow moved out a year ago after selling the property to a developer. After living there for 25 years, I know she didn’t want to go, but could no longer afford to stay.
The excavator took bite after giant bite of this house, reducing it to splintery bits as our family stood by watching in shock. We knew this was coming, we didn’t know when. Gaping at the rapidly changing landscape, I remembered the tire swing in front where I used to push my son. I remembered the woman’s daughter with her crazy blonde curls and bright pink cheeks running up the driveway with a wand in her hand. I watched as the setting of so many memories practically disappeared. A deep sadness came over me.
“Everything changes, nothing stays the same,” I can hear my meditation teacher saying. And usually I welcome change. I like it, actually. I really didn’t like the situation that was happening next door. The woman had allowed her property to be turned into an illegal grow house with dangerous electrical wiring and a cast of shady characters cruising the perimeter at all hours. When the police took the grow house down, the woman transformed her garage into a pit bull puppy mill. By then I was desperate for drastic change. We considered moving, and then, finally, she was gone.
This sadness, it’s stayed for days now, magnified by the constant noise and rattling from the bulldozers and trucks, as the demo next door continues. By the end of the first day, the excavator hit the wall next to our house and dislodged part of our roof. It’s a big deal. Dangerous, expensive, and thoroughly unsettling. Nothing stays the same. This time, though, I want to run away. With Covid and the state of our union, running is not a viable option just now. For this moment, as the dust from next door fills the air and the rubble is being carted off, I am doing my best to be a witness to the chaos, to stay open to what’s being unearthed. Not only next door, but within me.
Whenever I have a client who wants to run away from something in their lives, I’ll ask them to reflect on what’s behind that urge. For every one of them, it’s fear. Fear of the unknown, of rejection or failure, of being seen, of not being seen. Once we explore the fear and its roots, I get excited, because there’s always something beneath the fear, too: DESIRE.
So, this is a reminder to myself as much as it is for you. It’s okay to want to run away. It’s human to feel scared. (In this case, I’m fearful of my house being irreparably damaged, and scared that if it’s not, it’s somehow going to cost us a fortune to fix. I’m afraid what breathing in construction air for the next 8 months will do to our lungs, scared that we’ll never be able to move out of this house. Underneath that are more existential fears that I find myself hesitant to share.)
But let’s not stop at scared, okay? After investigating the fear, let’s grab a flashlight and unearth the longing beneath it. When I do this, I get quiet and just breathe for a few minutes. Deeply. I like to close my eyes to drop in, slowing way down, and tapping into the wise part inside me that knows. That part isn’t afraid; she’s got my back. (Your wise part has your back too.) After I’m still, I ask her,
What’s underneath the fear?
Here’s what I learn: I long for a safe, clean, peaceful and beautiful home. One with enough room to have dinner parties. I long to be able to dance in the living without tripping over the furniture. To have guests stay the night after an evening of talking and laughing and drinking wine in the dreamy backyard with the twinkle lights. I long for space and serenity. This isn’t a new longing, but reconnecting to it in this way right-sizes the fear. The longing brings me back to love. I ask one more question:
What’s the gift in this experience?
On the surface, it looks and feels like a nightmare. But now I’m tapped in. So here’s what I come up with: the gift is that I’m more motivated than ever to make what I’m longing for become my reality. Now I've got a powerful place to come from. Now I'm ready to get into action. It's a start. And from the looks of the empty lot next door, there are about to be a lot of new beginnings.