November 22, 2019
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Writing through my Reckoning series (I just wrapped up The Mountains are Calling, a sub-series within a series) brought up something I’ve been wrestling with for some time.
How do we move forward with new dreams when old dreams took us places we didn't want to go? Landed us not in paradise, but in pain?
I have a well-programmed response to pain, suffering, difficulty and set-back. I ask myself the questions: Where in my past did I go wrong? Where did I make the wrong decision? What false promise or hope did I believe? What part of the plan was off-kilter?
And then to add insult to injury I mentally run through the alternative realities from that “wrong” decision to arrive at a life, in the present, without this current suffering or difficulty.
The combination of these kind of thought patterns and my own propensity to self-doubt and insecurity can make it challenging to move forward when I feel a sense of loss or regret about past decisions.
We had a dream. We pursued that dream. We got a little burned in pursuing that dream.
We had a dream and it was a good dream. We envisioned great things for our family, marriage, and vocations. But the dream was built on some unhealthy ideas of marriage and a limited understanding of ourselves. There’s only so much you know about yourself when you’re 35. (Which scares me for the present. There's only so much you know when you're 44!)
We don't know certain things about ourselves until we've acquired some life experience. And sometimes that life experience makes us question the very decisions and choices that enabled us to come to those conclusions in the first place.
from The loopy trail that is our lives (The mountains are calling)
We pursued the dream and many parts of it were amazing. Other parts were hard and isolating. Putting ourselves “out there” financially and relationally brought up a lot of stuff we didn’t know was under the surface.
As the stuff under the surface came to the surface we experienced the pain of that exposure and revelation in our lives. It felt like pursuing that dream had been a false promise and hope. What we got out of the experience was not what we had bargained for. We went back to the drawing board of our lives a little beaten down but also much more self-aware.
We learned invaluable lessons about ourselves, each other, and the world at large in that season of life. I don't regret the things we did, or the choices we made because it was how we learned all that stuff. But I wish the lessons didn't come at such a high cost.
I wish we could have the growth without the pain.
As I came through that experience I put a personal moratorium on dreams for my future. Damien and I had always enjoyed talking about our future and planning how we might get there but I didn't want to talk about the future when the future we had just realized had brought so much upheaval into our lives. I focused my mental energies on the work of home, family life and kids, and healing until I felt solid enough to start dreaming again.
As I've already mentioned in some of my posts, I've started dreaming again. I've been dropping those dreams on behind-the-scenes pages like my personal biography, IG posts, and nested into blog posts about vocation (what I do and want to do) and location (where I live and want to live).
But I haven't yet written a "these are my dreams" dedicated post. And this isn't it. Maybe I never will.
I don't have the same conviction I once did about dreams and pursuing dreams. Maybe it's just middle age.
Even when I had more conviction about going after dreams, it was a conviction based on inexperience, reliance on external supports, and misplaced hope in false promises.
The false promise was that there would be less struggle this way, less pain, less suffering. I don't know why I believed that. But it does feel like I'm always looking for the shortcut around those things. And it's embarrassing that I keep bumping up against the reality of pain and discomfort like a palm to my face, "duh, this can't be avoided". (But gosh darn I will keep trying!)
The external support was the way I looked to my husband for my sense of security as we followed dreams, measuring my own well-being with his sense of ok-ness with risk and uncertainty, following his vision because I didn't have one. (I think I did this both because of how I'm wired, seeking security and support, but also because of how I was conditioned in my faith tradition to follow a husband leader.)
Pursuing dreams should come with this warning label:
At times, doing this work is going to be a bitch, you might fail (you probably will). You'll end up somewhere different than you planned, and all you're really guaranteed to get out of it is personal growth (if you allow it). You'll probably get a bunch more stuff also, some of it will be good (yay!), some of it might be very good (double yay!), but overall results will vary. Proceed at your own risk.
This is not a particularly compelling sell.
Some people are born dreamers, they seem to have an expanded capacity and gift for seeing possibilities and opportunities.
I am not a "born" dreamer. I have to work for it. And once upon a time I worked really hard for it and some serious pain came out of it. Some really good stuff came out of it too. Even though that pain has healed, I carry the memory with me and of course I don't want to experience that again, if I can help it.
I'm scared of pain and loss. I'm scared of the unknown. I want to be brave and I know I'm going to have to be as I'll be faced with tough choices around balancing the loves, drives, interests and desires of my life.
Never mind the hard realities and choices required by the ecological, economic, and social changes of our times, the hulking elephant in the room that I rarely address in my writing because all of that is just too much for me to process.
And when I think about life on that larger scale, and about the big picture issues that will affect the livelihood and lifestyle for myself and my children, but mostly my childen and their children, it makes all of this "I'm scared to dream" angst feel like self-indulgent drivel.
Moving right along then.
My decisions will not yield what I expect. And this terrifies me. In many cases they will yield something better, more beautiful than what I could imagine. In some cases they will yield pain and loss. In many cases it will be both/and, both beauty and loss.
I have to start putting the wheels in motion on this next dream. Though in truth, the wheels have already been in motion, all past decisions and current realities are wheels in motion for the future.
I have no idea where I will end up and what loss I'll experience along the way, and that freaks me out. Also, what if pursuing one dream takes me out of range for other dreams I have? And what about all those other dreams I see on the internet and how beautiful they look for other people's lives? Maybe those are better dreams. Will my dream yield for me what I project other's people's dreams yielding for them? Happiness. Contentment. Meaning. Joy. Belonging. Paradise-on-earth?
When I started writing this post it was going to be a "takeaway" post, with three somewhat tidy conclusions about how to start dreaming again after loss. What wishful thinking that I could actually publish a post with a bullet point summary.
I have the bullet points in my notebook, but it seems I can't get there in the actual writing.
I have one takeaway that feels honest to my experience and is about all I can muster. And maybe it works for the big picture stuff too.
Here it is.
This could go sideways but what other choice do you have? Whether you have a clearly defined long-term vision or not, you cannot stay here. Here is already in the past. Life keeps moving forward, so you might as well try to move in a direction that feels positive and life-affirming. It will be hard. Good luck!
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