Dream Big — If You Can’t Dream It, You Can’t Do It

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I bought a journal and new pens. I bought one for my youngest sister too. Then I told her we would use our journals to get our poop in a group. Because she and I are on similar journeys of self-discovery, I told her we would come up with writing assignments for our journals and share what we were writing so we could lift each other up and support each other to reach our goals. To that end, a week ago I created our first assignment. I called it our Dream Big Assessment. We were to come up with a list of things we would like to see, experience, do, or have in our lives in the next twenty years. The caveat is that we have to dream big. No worrying about money or practicality or health or reality. It didn’t matter if what we listed was pie-in-the-sky. It was meant to be. You can’t manifest something if you can’t first envision it. And if you’re going to envision a future you would love to live, why would you let reality tether you? I started my list with this statement to make sure I kept my intentions clear.

“If I could dream anything for the next twenty years of my life, these things would happen. I would…”

It was a good idea to start with active statements, but my statements started out rather prosaic. I suppose this is because I am a practical person, but I suspect it is also because I’m accustomed to living smaller than I am. When you have spent your life in a box someone else designed for you, it’s a challenge to stretch and imagine yourself or your life as something so much bigger than you ever dared to dream before. So my list began mostly realistic and, therefore, understated. I would….

  • Publish something I have written
  • Speak about said published work to interested readers in a public forum, like a book club
  • See my sons in happy, healthy relationships where they feel loved and supported
  • Hold and love on a grandchild or two or three
  • Own more dogs

Most of these items are intentionally vague. I mean, “publish something” could mean an article in an online newsletter with a readership of 25 people. By not elucidating an action more clearly, I am giving myself a safe space to continue being small. After realizing I was being too calculated and cautious with my dreams, choosing things that had a decent probability of happening, I started to get a bit more specific with my choices:

  • Cycle through Provence when the lavender is in bloom
  • Spend a year traveling the US and living in an Airstream trailer
  • Learn how to scuba dive, knit, and tap dance

Again, all these items are fairly attainable and not huge stretches of the imagination, but at least they were more specific. I was making some progress with my wording and specificity, but I felt the list was sounding rather shallow. All the endeavors I listed were about doing, not about being. So I commenced traipsing down more of a life-philosophy path:

  • Feel more comfortable being myself regardless of the situation
  • Be less defensive and more contemplative, curious, and forgiving
  • Be mindful and grateful as often as possible
  • Lead with compassion and empathy

While all these items are good goals and, when compared to my normal modus operandi, are definitely dream big enterprises in terms of personal growth, they don’t really fit the assignment either. Try again, sister. So I let my mind get a little crazier and stretch a bit farther and dig into dreams I had when I was much younger and had more life ahead of me than in the rearview:

  • Own a Jaguar E-Type convertible in British racing green with camel interior
  • Travel the Greek islands in a private, chartered yacht
  • See the Northern Lights in Lapland
  • Visit the Maldives or the Seychelles or both
  • Live in either Italy or France as an expat
  • Try a psychedelic drug*
  • Swim with the jellyfish in Palau

I feel I am beginning to get to what I originally intended with the creation of this list. I plan to keep working on it. Items that resonate with me more than others will be added to the vision board I started creating a few weekends ago. If I can dream it, I need to see it to manifest it in my brain as part of a future to strive for.

What would make it onto your Dream Big list? Maybe something I wrote here will inspire you? Maybe something on your list would spark an idea for me?

*This idea came from a book I read by Michael Pollan called How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

The Happy Homemaker Hallucination

Mad skillz

In preparation for dinner tonight, I was peeling some Gala apples for homemade applesauce. As I was peeling, I remembered something my mom told me when I was growing up. She said I couldn’t get married until I could peel an apple in one, long, continuous, curly strip. Now, at the time, I saw this comment as more of a challenge than anything else. I like challenges. So, every time thereafter when I had the occasion to peel an apple, I practiced the skill of being able to peel it in one piece. And I learned to do it because, well, it’s not exactly rocket science.

Today, though, as I was peeling the apples and my mom’s comment popped into my head as it does every time I peel apples, I recognized it immediately for the load of patriarchal bullshit it is. I imagined a home economics class in the 1950s where some matronly teacher in a prim and demure dress and a pressed and starched apron shared that little nugget with her all-female class. I imagined most of the women in the class, who were raised to believe that being a housewife and mother was the greatest calling a woman could ever aspire to, adopted that mindset and got busy peeling apples on their way to wedded, domestic bliss. I also imagined, though, a couple young women who, while not daring to speak their truth out loud, also decided this was a load of patriarchal bullshit and internally rolled their eyes.

It’s more than a little depressing to realize these little tidbits were doled out throughout history to keep women in line, barefoot and pregnant on the mommy track, and out of the working world. Well, maybe not barefoot in the 50s because women had to be made up and man-ready to meet their husband at the front door with his pipe and slippers in the 50s. I remember being incensed when I read works by Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, stories where proper, young women “improved” themselves by reading poetry and playing the pianoforte and practicing etiquette and perfecting needlework so they could make themselves the most attractive potential bride in the village so they could land a duke or something to elevate their status. In college, that really riled me up. And, I know what you’re thinking. But, but you quit working to raise children and make a home. Yes. Yes I did. Perhaps I sold my career potential a little short with that decision, but at least I had a choice about it, more of a choice than the women in Victorian England or 1950s America had anyway. I mean, I chose not to improve myself by taking home economics in high school because I felt it was demeaning and I didn’t care for the box that class would put me in. It was later on when I was on my own and learned that sewing might have been a useful skill and that weekly meal planning required more work than I had hoped.

So, I guess my point here (and I do have one) is that women have come a long way but not as far as we could have if we’d been given more choices and opportunities. But we still live in a patriarchal world. I mean, here I am on a Wednesday making homemade applesauce and trying to make sure I peel the apples all in one careful motion. We should do something about that. And about the patriarchy too.

The Paralysis Inherent In Potential

Flashback to the day my son considered the possibility he could beat some other competitors

I have been ruminating quite a bit lately about what I want for myself and my life going forward. Our youngest will launch this fall, which means my day job as stay-at-home parent will be coming to an end. I have no plans to take on a full-time job, so the stay-at-home part will remain. I will, however, be doing a lot less parenting: less driving, fewer appointments, fewer obligations. All of this is good news. We’re so excited for Luke and his journey, and I am excited to have a little space in my life, time to focus on my own journey.

Figuring out what direction I want that journey to head has been a bit daunting. I’m in an enviable position. I am (or will be this fall) in the possession of both time and means to make choices and changes in my life. This is within reason, of course. I still have a husband and a home and life obligations. My sons will still want input and help from time to time. We have means, but we are not millionaires. While there are some funds for some small, down-to-earth projects (like self-publishing a memoir or book, for example), I will not be able to charter a yacht and sail the globe. Still, even with the modest detractors, there is a fair amount of freedom here for me to tap into potential growth enterprises.

During therapy today, though, I hit upon something I think has been holding me back, and that is the word “potential.” When I think about potential, I think of phrases like “reaching your full potential” or “limiting your potential.” So potential is something that can be squandered, lost, abandoned. It is something you can strive for and miss. As a parent, when I consider my sons’ gifts, I am lulled into wanting them to use them to their greatest potential. But what kind of stress does that put on them? When people say to me, “You should use your writing skills to write a book,” I experience potential paralysis. Because the potential is there for me to do it, I worry that I might fail at it or, worse, I might be so fearful of the potential for failure that I decide not to attempt it at all. Potential, without the self-esteem or confidence in one’s own abilities or the sheer bravado to rise above any obstacle, can freeze you in your tracks.

So, I decided today to eliminate the term “potential” from my vocabulary because it is too much for me at this point. I have decided to replace the notion of potential with the notion of possibility. Possibility is positive. If you are planning a day at the beach on Friday and the meteorologist says there is a potential for rain that day, you might reschedule your plans based on a desire to avoid a ruined day. But if that meteorologist says there is a possibility of rain that day, it sounds like it could go either way, like you might catch a break and the day will be mostly sunny or have only a slight chance for rain. Possibility contains hope. Potential contains burden or weight. Or at least that is how it feels in my mind.

Let’s take my focus on creating a writing career for myself as an example. If I look at this goal as something I have to do so I don’t squander my potential or all the hard work I’ve done working on my writing skills, including earning a master’s degree in writing, the burden to turn out something impressive to others is set in motion. But what if I focus instead on the possibilities available to me if I pursue my writing with a more focused agenda? If I acknowledge there is a possibility I could, with greater dedication to my craft, create a highly trafficked blog site or pen an enjoyable memoir, I am free from the burden of obligation. I am simply moving confidently in the direction of my dreams, unencumbered by expectation. Possibility (I could) takes the place of potential (I should).

I suppose it all depends where you are coming from. If you were fortunate enough to be raised by loving, supportive parents who cherished you unconditionally, then potential might not feel like a scary term to you. Perhaps your parents raised you to believe in the power of your potential and that is a guiding force leading you towards success. If you were, however, raised as I was without acknowledgment or attention paid to your skills and abilities, you might not have enough belief in yourself yet to champion your potential. You might only be able to muster the courage to believe you could possibly achieve your dreams. Deciding you have many possible paths might feel as empowering to you as believing you have high potential to be successful because of your skills.

What motivates you more? The power of your potential or the pull of your possibility?

The Life I Never Meant To Live

This is what it's all about.
This is what it’s all about.

At a loss as to what to write about this evening, I decided to let chance select my topic. I flipped to a random tab in my Bunny Buddhism book and selected the first quote I saw.

The wise bunny accepts life for what it is, not for what it is expected to be.

Man…I so could have used this quote about eight years ago when I was lost and questioning how I had gotten so far off track. Off track of what? Well, at that time in my life, I actually believed there was a track I was supposed to be on. That track had involved having a great career and earning enough money to have someone reliable and decent care for my children and clean my home. That was my plan to have it all. I smile at that thought now. It really didn’t seem like such an unrealistic expectation for myself. I’m smart, well-educated, and have been successful in every paying job I’ve ever had. No reason why that shouldn’t have panned out for me. No reason except that it wasn’t my path. My path involved two darling little boys who needed some extra help, help I felt only I could give them. So I quit my job to stay home with them and everything changed. I changed. Being a stay-at-home parent was far more difficult than I imagined it would be. For a few years, I felt trapped, disillusioned, and resentful. I was an unhappy bunny.

Slowly and with time I learned that my path has been uniquely mine and completely perfect, despite my original objections. I managed to release my earlier expectations for my life and to make peace with what is. Honestly I’ve more than made peace with my present. I’m grateful that things worked out the way they did. As difficult as it was at times to be with my boys day in and day out, to give up my financial independence and earning potential, it was absolutely, 100% the best thing for our family. Because of this revised path, I have learned so much about myself, my sons, and life. I’ve had time for self-expression and freedom to explore new things. I feel fortunate to have had this time to grow.

I’d like to say that I no longer have any expectations, but that is not entirely true. Old habits die hard. But I am a much wiser bunny now. I know that what I think is the best thing and what actually is the best thing may not be the same thing. I’m more flexible and open to letting things unfold without my having a stranglehold on the itinerary. In yoga class, the instructors often ask us to soften into a pose rather than force our way into it. I’ve found that analogy works in my life too. And life is much better as a soft, fluffy bunny.

Destination Unknown

My lunch today...tropical smoothie with kale.
My lunch today…tropical smoothie with kale.

Fitness is 20% exercise and 80% nutrition. You can’t outrun your fork.”                         ~Anonymous

A friend asked me the other day how my book writing is coming along. And I was forced to tell her the sad truth. It’s not. I really haven’t done anything substantive toward completing a book since I stopped the daily writing on my blog back in January. It was hard for me to admit that to my friend, but what’s harder still is resisting the urge to make elaborate excuses for my written inactivity. So rather than lying to you about some monumental personal obstacles I’ve encountered that have restricted me from writing, I am simply going to tell you the embarrassing truth. Like a dog that stops everything when it notices a squirrel running across the top of the fence, I got distracted by something. That something is food.

In January, after months of knowing it was the right thing to do and yet ignoring my better judgment, I finally decided it was time to jettison the artificial sweeteners in my diet. No more skinny lattes containing sugar-free syrups and no more diet sodas laden with aspartame. I switched to water. Round about that same time, curious about the Paleo diet some of my friends swear by, I decided to do some more research into what I should be eating. Over the years I would occasionally try a diet to lose a few pounds I had packed on. This time I was looking for a lifestyle change diet, something I could live with and maintain. My Type A personality went into high gear and I began reading, watching documentaries and Ted presentations, and doing my research. Then I officially went off the deep end head first. I tossed out everything in my house that was hiding MSG (and all of its pseudonyms). I cleared the refrigerator of food dyes. I decided against Frankenfood and set about a mass reduction in the amount of GM foods we eat. I tossed out packages of foods whose ingredients read like a foreign language. I bought a freaking juicer. And I decided to get downright personal with our food.

Along the way, we had many family discussions before mutually agreeing we would work toward a whole food, plant-based diet. We cut way back on meat. I reduced the portion of dairy in my diet from approximately 30% to 5%. We cancelled our milk delivery. We started buying more organic produce. We decided that it matters to us what the cows and chickens we include in our diet consume. We stopped eating out as often. We greatly reduced our consumption of sugar, caffeine, and processed foods. We started making fresh juices and vitamin-laden smoothies to get more fruits and vegetables in our diet. We decided to stick to heart-healthy oils and plant-based fats. I began work on my gluten-free baking. Our unbelievably picky eater, Luke, willingly began experimenting with new foods. Our dinners are now comprised of ingredients that we can pronounce. And we feel better. We sleep better. Our skin and nails are healthier. Our immunity seems to have improved. We don’t count calories. We just eat food that makes sense, food that we understand. And we eat as much of it as we want.

I didn’t truly intend to spend much time walking down this path. It began as a curiosity and morphed into something much larger. Each day I take another few steps away from what I thought was important toward what I now believe truly is. The more I’ve learned about the complexity of our food (gained through years of industrialization, scientific research and experimentation, and a lack of appropriate governmental oversight), the more I know that this is where I need to be focusing my energy right now. This is what I am being called to. Who knows? Maybe somewhere along this journey I will find my raison d’être? Maybe in the midst of all of this I will find my book? Maybe not.

I know there is the whole eat-right-and-exercise-and-die-anyway philosophy. I think about that sometimes and wonder if I’m diverting my energy into something that in the end won’t really matter. Then I read another article linking some health issue to our food supply and I remember that I’ve never been the type to sit back and wait to see what happens. My mother taught me that if you aren’t happy with something, you should fix it. So that’s where I’m headed…to improve my health and the health of the ones I love. Perhaps something will stop me in my tracks early and I won’t live to be the vibrant 90 year old I know I’m capable of becoming. I only know one thing. I want to live as many of my days here on this earth free of pain, feeling good in my skin, and knowing that I’m doing the best I can for my family, myself, and this blue planet. So, for now, I have to keep walking this road to see where it leads. I’m pretty sure that it leads somewhere good.

It’s Only Coincidence When You Aren’t Willing To Be Open To Fate

“Fate leads him who follows it, and drags him who resists.” ~Plutarch

You’ve got to do what you’re meant to do.

Have you ever had an experience that was so out-of-the-blue bizarre that you start questioning whether it was a striking coincidence or an act of fate? For example, there have been multiple instances in my life when I have picked up the phone to call someone only to discover they are already on the other end of the line; we were calling each other at the same time even though it was not planned. That type of event always makes me wonder what type of links exist between human minds. Is an incident like that purely coincidence or is there some type of tie between the two individuals that brings them together simultaneously?

I have been thinking over the past couple days about the notion of fate and how it is related to coincidence. So, today I asked some of my friends what their thoughts were on the subject. My husband doesn’t believe in fate. He thinks most things in life are coincidence. One friend told me that she believes there is no such thing as fate, but there is God’s will and that He determines, orchestrates, ordains, and predetermines how each individual life unfolds. My sister told me that she believes opportunities present themselves via fate and then we have free will to do with them what we want. Another friend told me that she’s had so many “random” occurrences that really couldn’t be random at all, so she subscribes to the notion that fate is chaos theory at work. The more I asked people their thoughts about fate versus coincidence, the more my head started to swim.

I’ve long held the belief that fate does exist. I think the trick lies in being open-minded when “random” things happen. It’s my assertion that fate throws things at you, and you have to be clever enough and receptive enough to know what you’re seeing. Have you ever known people who believe that fate has screwed them over? Their misery is a direct result of things that have happened “to” them. They have no recognition that their own actions (or lack thereof) might have something to do with their less-than-optimal state of being. A friend shared this quote by Richard Bach today: “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they are yours.” Sadly, I know quite a few people who live a life of limitations because they honestly believe that is all there is for them. They are unable to look outside their box. In their case, fate is a negative concept, one that rids them of any responsibility for their unhappiness.

I don’t see fate that way at all. I think that life presents you with the people, experiences, and circumstances that will best allow you to reach your true potential as a human being. You need simply to be open to them. To do that, though, you need to be at least somewhat in tune with your true self. Unfortunately, many people never reach that point. I’ve seen situations where a solution has presented itself to someone repeatedly. I see it, but they do not. They continue on an unfavorable path while the universe keeps trying to nudge them in an alternate direction. All the signs are there, but they are blind to them. You can almost hear fate telling them, “Dummy…it’s right here. Wake up.” There have been times in my life when I was certain I was supposed to do one thing and yet doors kept closing on the thing I was sure I was meant to do. At some point, it finally occurred to me that maybe this was not the path I was intended to take.

What I want to believe is that fate brings us only what we need to reach our highest possible expression of ourselves. Sometimes the thing we need is at cross-purpose to the thing we want, though, and we view fate as negative. But, it all comes down to perception, doesn’t it? Sometimes when the universe is telling us no, it’s doing so because there is something better, bigger, and more important for us to attend to. At least, that’s how I see it. Since there is no way of knowing for certain if fate plays a bigger role in our life than coincidence, I’m certainly open to other possibilities. What do you think?