Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
You may be familiar with the poem above by W BYeats; it’s a personal favourite and not just for the lyrical magical language and sentiments. The tragedy of the reality behind it gets to me too; the woman did not tread softly.
To dismiss or criticise someone’s dreams and hopes and ambitions is a terrible thing, and I’d be willing to bet than most people here have had it happen to them. I’d also be willing to bet that whether you admit it to yourself, you will probably have done it, probably unintentionally, to someone dear to you. From personal experience, it hurts disproportionately to have it done to you. So I’m treading very softly here and I would ask that you read what I say carefully because I know I will be treading a very fine path between clarifying my own thoughts and seeming to criticise others, indirectly. I am aiming at promoting self examination, not self mutilation.
I have dipped from time to time into the blog of writer Paulo Coelho. You are probably familiar with his most famous book, The Alchemist, which is a story that is often quoted as being about someone following their dream. I did rather enjoy the book, which is written in a naive and slightly fairytale manner. I don’t read the blog for Coelho’s words, but rather for the responses of the readers, and it has begun to disturb me enormously.
I’m rather hazy about exactly why it all disturbs me so much. I have a dislike of gurus, especially living ones, and find it hard to nail my colours so firmly to a mast as so many of Coelho’s fans have done, and become incapable of accepting that their guru has faults and failings, and does not hold all wisdom. Every little snippet of pseudo-wisdom is snapped up and devoured eagerly. The one that is most eagerly devoured is the concept of following your dream.
It is consuming many people and it terrifies me, because of the effects this will have. I believe that many people are actually destroying thir own lives because of a misunderstanding.
When I was a kid, one of my dreams was to become an astronaut. A little later it was to become a doctor and find a cure for cancer. You might smile, but these were very important to me then. But they changed. I began to realise not only would it be nigh-on impossible to become an astonaut, but also that it was something I didn’t actually want to do. I’d read immense amounts of science fiction, and was in love with the idea of strange new worlds to explore, of discovering the hero in myself and of a happy ending and a ticker-tape parade when I got back. This was not reality, nor was it anything I really wanted. I still read science fiction but I now explore the wonders of the Otherworld. The dream of becoming a doctor went the same way; I realised it was not MY dream at all. In some measure I had picked up subconsciously on what I felt my father would particularly approve of, and had woven that into my dream fabric. The reality would have been utterly wrong for the person I am. I’d make a good doctor now, maybe, with a great deal more humliity than I had then, and a world of compassion.
The truth is, these were not my dreams. Not the true dreams of the heart. They were fantasies. I fear that a great deal of what people believe to be their dreams are such as this, and have not changed since the person was a child. My faith is a different animal from what it was then, why not then my dreams? So many people never examine their inmost thoughts and deepest feelings, and see if they are what they once thought them to be.
So, you must know your truest, deepest dreams and then you throw everything after them, sacrifice family friends and everything to get them?
Again, no. If this is how you proceed, then it is not a true dream but an obsession. Yes, to make a dream reality you have to work at it and you have to make sacrifices. But you only have the right to sacrifice what is your own, not that of your spouse or children or parents or lovers. They too have their dreams. In chasing yours, are you destroying theirs?
And then there is natural wastage. For every success, a dozen or more failures. For every star, hundreds of wannabes who never make it. For every diva, a chorus line of hopefuls. Some of us won’t make it to our dream. But perhaps we may realise that the destination was not the dream at all but the journey was.
Finally there are those who achieve the dream and find it is dust in their mouths, like the Dead Sea Fruit that promises so much and delivers so little. They may have cast adrift everything on the way and if you ask them was it worth it, what can they say at that point but yes? To say no is admitting the failure of a dream to achieve the fulfillment we have been led to believe comes of it.
You see, what can you do when you finally achieve your dream? When there is nothing more to do than polish the trophies and savour the memories and hoard the gold? Alexander wept when he had no more worlds to conquer.
We are born in a state of perpetual motion, of striving and seeking. To stop means decay.
There are always more worlds to conquer. Don’t limit yourself to a single dream and chase it to the exclusion fo all else. Spend time with yourself and find what are your truest dreams and work towards them. Don’t expect things to magically fall into place and worry if they do. I used to envy JKRowling, author of the Harry Potter books because she had achieved the success I crave ( we are the same age more or less!); now I feel nothing but the deepest sympathy for her because what can she ever do that will match in the eyes of most people what she has already done. There are no more Everests of that ilk for her to climb.