what dreams are made of

what dreams are made of

I write poems for people. At parks, cafés, craft shows, art markets, and even sometimes (rather creepily) on the bus.

I fell into this accidentally. Initially, I held resistance to the idea. I thought people would hate it, or that it would be too much pressure to write on the spot.

But then I gave it a try and found that I love being able to share myself and connect with others in this way. I love the look on people’s faces when the words give them the space to feel heard, or seen, even if just for one moment.

Despite my love for this endeavor, it still surprised me when, at a pop-up craft show, someone I met said to me that I am “living the dream.”

I’ve gone through phases where it felt like the life I wanted to live was falling into place, quite effortlessly. And in those fleeting moments I was quick to forget the years of hard work I put in, prior to the eventual flash of a free-fall.

It was easier to credit a mystical power operating behind the scenes.

In my experience, when things stopped falling into place, or it turned out the magic-seeming happenings all served part of hard fought, higher lessons I needed to face, I felt distraught and discouraged.

This was perhaps the hardest part. The initial leap was scary, sure, but the crawl that came afterward was a thousand times more exhausting. I felt like I was drowning, most days. Until it suddenly dawned that I had been swimming all along.

Despite my resolve to keep moving forward, stroke by stroke,  it still feels like I’m a ways away from any kind of dream life. So when someone else saw me living my (or maybe, even, his) dream, it caught me off guard.

There are common misconceptions I think many of us hold, about what living a dream means, and how it should or should not feel.

Because messages tend to appear in less straightforward ways, and often in patterns, one of the people who has taught me most about chasing dreams, my father, recently sent me a poem I wrote for English class, about this subject, when I was 12.

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Reading this I laughed. I remember stretching myself to come up with this idea.

I was never terribly interested in school. It felt too rigid for me.

And I somehow doubt that 12-year-old-me had a ton of experience, with dreams.

Or maybe she was just too busy living in a dreamland to accept the reality of what chasing her dreams meant.

Because you see, now I don’t believe a dream is like a scarf, at all, really. But I think this is an illusion many of us face. We grow up with an idealistic version of reality, where one day we will wake up with birds singing and the sun shining and everything as it should be.

We cannot wait to return to the dreamlike place our minds spin without end, of a life where everything feels perfect and effortless.

In reality, a dream doesn’t keep me warm, although perhaps it does offer the slightest glimmer of hope-filled light, in the cold, dark winter.

Dreams in their true nature meet us with a rush of wide-eyed awakening.

Once we take the leap into chilly water, the presence of our dreams, looming ever nearer, leaves us shaken, and stirred.

A dream will bring you right up against yourself.

As soon as we seek out the comfortable dream—you know, the one that seems to fall into place, well, that is when we can rest assured we’re in for a nightmare. Or in the very least, a rude awakening.

Dreams should not feel comfortable.

From comfort, breeds complacency. And stagnation is the opposite of growth.

Growth comes from screaming muscles and tear-drawn eyes. From staring fear head on in a face first dive, allowing the panic to erupt in my chest before I move through the sensation, anyway. I have no other choice.

When we have a dream that calls for the chasing, there doesn’t appear to be an alternate plan.

Years ago I committed to living from heart over head. This has not been easy, rather it has been stock-full of lessons I needed, for whatever reason, to face. Writing poetry in parks has served a small piece in the puzzled picture of this deeper commitment to myself. Which I guess explains why I didn’t initially see it as “living my dream” – the real dream has roots that run further than I can tangibly comprehend. And despite having the poetry-writing opportunity, that I am grateful I have been called to pursue, truth be told, there are still other factors in my life that I am waiting to “fall into place.”

I doubt this will ever cease to be the case.

Sometimes we spend years climbing a hill, for a once-in-a-lifetime view, only to realize, once we get to the top, there’s another hill calling us by name, down the road.

A dream is always a relative experience from the vantage point of current standing. Hence my surprise when it appeared, in someone else’s eyes, that I was living mine.

Perhaps so, from where he stands. In my mind, I’m forever still chasing the deeper meaning of the dream.

In this chase, we shed every unnecessary layer, including those composed of the things, both physical and intangible, we may or may not have grown up with. Because the true testament to how badly we want something is what we are willing to give up.

We let go of everything that does not align with our dreams, and then some. For in the end, the whole point is not, actually, the dream, itself. What we have been seeking all along is appreciation for the chase.

So, as the finish line nears in sight, we realize we long ago gave up our dream to begin with.

It was never about fulfilling yet another goal or achievement. It has always been about the journey.

Because the one similarity, I would say, between my 12-year-old, idyllic version of a scarf-dream, and what I understand of dreams today, is this: I firmly believe dreams are meant to be held (or, tied) loosely.

See where they fly, on their own.

A dream wrapped too tight chokes the words from my mouth.

A wish want with fervor contains no solid roots.

And we all need a grounded place to find nourishment. The substance that turns dreams into reality stems from Earth.

So we watch, as our dreams sprout and change shape and form. The textured body, once wisp-like, becomes hot lava. And then another day, it appears as a smattering of color unlike any we’ve seen before.

This new dream, in its assortment of shapes and sizes so different from that which we previously imagined, may even frighten us, a bit.

That is also, as it should be.

So for all you other dream-chasers who feel discouraged and worn down on the path, know that you are not alone. And when it gets exhausting, or even terrifying: good. Let’s together commit to continue moving forward.

I find, the closer I get, to any particular dream, the more urgently I want to run, or even to fly, away.

Fight or flight is real and it does not dissipate with time. The phantom appears, stronger, than before.

But, so am I.

And, I am ready. For my ever shapeshifting dream and its infinity of outpours.

big lessons from little humans

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I didn’t learn the most about teaching from school, nor from any teacher-training course, internship, mentorship, or apprenticeship program. Rather, I learned how to teach from a three- and a four-year-old.

I was not originally meant to be their teacher, although I’m sure I did teach them a thing or two over the time I served as their nanny. However, the small skills I shared with them, such as how to use their “yoga breathing” when they were feeling scared, or that peppermint oil can salve tummy aches, or even how to make a healthier version of the age-old favorite dessert of dirt, worms and mud, dim in comparison to what they taught me.

Mae and Ryan taught me how to change my approach to reach different students. Consequently, I learned to distinguish what sets apart a good teacher from a great one.

A good teacher recites all the right lines—and does it on cue. A good teacher facilitates growth by inspiring his or her students to move further and go deeper.

A great teacher does something else. A great teacher listens, and then helps the student to realize the growth that he or she actually needs, in the moment he or she needs it. And a great teacher does this, not by imparting every bit of sage wisdom he or she has to give, but by meeting the student on his or her terms.

Ryan and Mae had stark personality differences. Ryan, age four, was a sensitive, artistic type. When Ryan was stressed, he needed a gentle, loving approach. As he told me one evening, “I need space.” So space is what I gave him, until he worked through his feelings.

Mae, on the other hand, was outgoing and confident, effortlessly taking command of the playground. What Mae needed most was strict boundaries underlined with firmness. It took me weeks to figure this out. Finally, one day, I’d had enough of her daily, end-of-school-day tantrums. She would throw her backpack, lunch box and various other belongings on the hallway floor, cry and refuse to pick them up as I juggled car keys, sticky hands, art projects and snacks.

This day, I felt an outside force come over me I told her, in a stern voice, to put her lunchbox in her backpack because I would not do it for her. Mae’s preschool teacher, whom I greatly admired, walked by as this was happening, looked me in the eye, and said, “Good.” In her gaze, I saw a newfound level of respect.

I felt the same sentiment emanating from Mae, later that day, when she sat on my lap and gave me a hug. We had crossed a threshold together; Mae now respected me, and from this place she was able to love me on a deeper level.

When I once took a stricter approach, with Ryan, the opposite happened. I could feel him pull away. Tough love created an invisible boundary between us. No longer sharing his bright ideas and creative thoughts with me, he grew quiet in the car ride home. Later, when he spoke to me, he said my name differently than before, with increased emphasis on the “t’s,” a four-year-old version of the subtlest form of mockery.

As teachers, our responsibility is to not only know the differences between the Mae’s and Ryan of the world, but to also honor this understanding by teaching each individual based on where he or she is. This means understanding when tough love will lift someone up—or when it will cause him or her to shut down.

The key to achieving this lies in sensitivity. I have been told countless times that sensitivity is both a burden I must work with and one of my greatest strengths. I never saw this quite so clearly until my experience with Ryan and Mae.

Nevertheless, having sensitivity as a natural tendency does not make using it any easier.

Setting firm boundaries with Mae was incredibly difficult, particularly because I, personally, would not have responded to such an approach. Staying soft with Ryan was equally difficult in the moments in which he frustrated me.

The most important aspect of teaching is that it can never be about the teacher.
Any kind of egocentric tendency to derive self worth from helping someone else (or imparting greater “wisdom”) results in a downward spiral of tunneled vision through which it is impossible to truly see the student.

In order to truly teach, teaching must always be about the student. This means taking a chameleon approach based on what works for each individual, even when that entails stepping outside of what feels comfortable. It also means investigating methods outside of how we were taught.

I am fortunate to have found a teacher who is attuned to the level of sensitivity needed to teach me. As she says, when considering whether to learn from a teacher, we should ask ourselves, “Who told the teacher to teach?”

For me, the answer lies less in whether that person’s teacher(s), told him or her to teach, although that is certainly important. I look more for the ability to listen on a deep enough level, to teach me in both my Ryan moments and my Mae ones.

This post was published on elephant journal.