There’s a lot of talk in our culture about the importance of our ‘dreams’. We’re told we have to follow our dreams, make them come true, live them, and never give up on them.
If you Google “dreams” you’ll find an array of cute, inspiring, Instagram-ready memes. “Don’t live your life,” one of them implores, “live your dreams.”
I’ve always been a dreamer, and I believe it’s important to have a vision for our lives. But I’ve also come to realise that all this talk of dreams can be something of a trap.
What if it’s not more dreams that we need? Life is already a dream. Maybe what we really need is to start fully living.
The Danger of Dreaming is You Forget to Live
Life is here, now, in this present moment. There’s no place else you’ll ever find it. It’s not in the past or the future. And it’s short. We can’t sacrifice it for some mind-created fantasy of what we think we want or need in order to be happy.
The most dangerous risk of all is the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later — Alan Watts
This is Life — and it’s begging to be lived, loved, celebrated and enjoyed.
Dreams can be sweet, but they rarely stay that way for long. That’s not the way dreams work — nor, indeed, life. Both unfold in a constant state of flux. Things are always in motion; perpetually changing and shifting. Sooner or later, elements of discord creep into even the most blissful of fantasies. One moment I might be lying on a tropical beach drinking Mojitos, and the next I’m being chased through McDonald’s by jihadis dressed as Shirley Bassey. (Did I mention that dreams can be bizarre?).
A dream can change into a nightmare pretty quickly. Life can be like that too.
One of the most important things I have ever learned in life is that we don’t need to manipulate the circumstances of our lives in order to be happy.
There’s nothing stopping us, of course, and as long as we’re alive we’re going to be doing that anyway.
But seeking our happiness and peace of mind from anything external is a recipe for a lifetime of constant frustration and suffering.
The Bitter (and Liberating) Truth About Life
There’s nothing out there capable of bringing us lasting happiness.
Because, like a dream, nothing stays the same. Things are constantly changing, and the source of our joy today could just as easily be the source of our heartache tomorrow.
Anyone who’s ever had a relationship go wrong, or a car that turned out to be a money pit, or a dream job that ended up a heart-attack waiting to happen can attest to this.
Psychologists have shown that one of the main reasons people tend to be unhappy is that we’re actually not very good at judging what will make us happy. There are so many unseen variables that we can never account for. And pinning our happiness on some imagined future event or goal often robs us of truly enjoying the present moment (which is the only place life is. Ever.).
So, why not forget about our dreams for a while?
Perhaps what we need more than anything else is to wake up.
Instead of constantly projecting our happiness into some imagined future, the secret of true happiness is to learn to enjoy the journey just as much as the destination. To be happy, we must see and appreciate life for what it is, right now — and, indeed, to see and appreciate ourselves, and others, for what we are.
We don’t have to continually do, be, have, or acquire in order to be happy.
Sometimes all we have to do is simply open our eyes, look around, and appreciate what we already have.
By living mindfully, and bringing ourselves back to the simplicity of the present moment, we come back in touch with the wonder of the life around us — a life that’s presenting itself to us in every moment as so many different forms and experiences.
When we’re no longer lost in compulsive thinking and the dreams, desires, and inbuilt dissatisfaction of the conditioned mind, we come to appreciate ourselves as the dreamer — that which witnesses this whole wondrous show. There’s immense power and liberation to be found in this realisation. It’s called enlightenment.
A Live Well-Lived
I’m all for goals, dreams, and future plans. But there’s a great danger in getting swept away by all that and forgetting to actually live.
To live wakefully, lucidly, with our eyes, mind, and heart open wide, is worth more than all the gold in all the dreams in all the dreamt-of worlds. The person living in a slum in India who has realised this truth is infinitely richer than all the Wall Street brokers put together.
Coming back in touch with the living world around us — to throw ourselves upon the beauty, majesty and power of this simple, present moment, is the secret to the greatest treasure of all.
When a life is lived well, what dreams are needed?