I dream of a wise little girl. I’m very drawn to her but am interrupted by her father arriving before we can connect. He is urgent, speaking another language. He is difficult to understand and stressed out. He has crumbs all over his hands. I am asked to tell stories to the children, which I very much want to do. I see the little girl grown up now, on stage singing in a night club. She has a very unique voice, not like anyone else I’ve ever heard, but she can’t seem to get enough breath behind it. I get the feeling she has been too coached by her father, who is still hovering.
Imagine you had meticulously collected footage of yourself looking and behaving heroically in a number of scenarios, hoping to broadcast it to the world at large. But before your release, someone comes along and splices all your outtakes together instead, showing you at your most unrehearsed and vulnerable. Our dreams are like this. While our well-manicured personality sleeps, our roughness hits the town and is caught in an unprepared, nightly act.
I often get asked why we dream, but it’s just as unanswerable a question as why we live. It helps me, however, to think of dreaming as the rehearsal stage on which we play out the possibilities of our future self. It is a safe forum in which we can try on the new and unfamiliar, feel and react to the things our persona doesn’t make room for. It is where we live out our unlived life.
If you are a creative person, like the dreamer above who is a writer, you probably dream often of children. They are the dream embodiment of your creative life, your babies. They may be little geniuses speaking and acting far beyond their years, or saying and doing things you might not attempt in waking life. This is because the childhood in you still lives. It is most at home in the imagination and unselfconscious about what it doesn’t know. Its genius comes through playfulness, unhindered by self-judgement.
Many of us get caught in the terrible trap of perfectionism. We learn that unless we appear organized and cool, with it all figured out, we might be ridiculed, humiliated and left behind. But while it seems more comfortable to stay in our comfort zone, there comes a time in every person’s life when, as Anaïs Nin points out, the risk to remain tight in the bud is more painful than the risk it takes to blossom.
This dreamer has reached such a place. She wishes to connect with her playful genius through storytelling, a medium that comes very naturally to her. But she is thwarted by the inner father, who hovers with his coaching voice and pushes her towards academic writing. In this dreamer, the intellect makes things more convoluted than they need to be, it steals her wind and weakens her voice.
But it is hardly ever prowess that inspires others, but rather the degree to which we can let ourselves be seen. Real bravery is letting the content of your person come through, even while still a work in progress, giving others permission to do the same.
A great friend and mentor once told me that we should always follow the cats and listen to the children in our dreams. So, to this dreamer, I tenderly propose that you brush your father’s crumminess off your fingers, forget ambition and the deadly stuff of perfection. Find instead that which nourishes your childhood heart, and you’ll find the wind you need to carry your voice into the world.