The Complicated Nature of Pursuing Our Dreams

Watercolor Image by  Jiao Tang

Watercolor Image by Jiao Tang

I’ve been struggling with reconciling two ideas in regards to pursuing our dreams and I recently had a breakthrough.

There’s two opposing schools of thought when it comes to this topic. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to them as the western spiritual school of thought and the eastern spiritual school of thought.

In the western spiritual school of thought, which is represented in a lot of new thought and law-of-attraction studies, our dreams can be achieved through visioning, inspired action and the universe working in our favor. What we are desiring is desiring us. It is not only possible to achieve our dreams, we are actually fulfilling our God-given abilities when we create lives aligned with our dreams. God is the ultimate creator and since we are made in God’s image, we also have this capacity to imagine and then, create out of those imaginings. 

This kind of thinking has been incredibly empowering for me and has dramatically altered the shape of my life. For most of my youth, I believed I was a powerless victim that had life happen to me. I later learned that life was pure gift for me to mold and form according to my delight. I was not a victim but the artist of my own life.

I put those ideas into practice and quickly began to see evidence in a way that was astonishing. I’m not talking about getting an A on a test I studied really hard for—that’s not astonishing, that’s foreseeable. I’m talking about wanting a specific job at a specific location with a specific salary that didn’t exist. And then, it emerged and I received the opportunity without any connections to the employer and very little effort on my part. 

This instance and instances like this pepper my life.

At the same time, the opposite kind of experiences pepper my life as well; experiences of wanting something so badly and working my butt off for it only to be rejected or taken from me.

This kind of reality is emphasized in the eastern spiritual school of thought, particularly in Buddhism. Many streams of Buddhism teach that the root of all suffering is our attachment to certain people and outcomes. The path of spiritual awakening lies in detaching ourselves from the lures of this world, knowing that those lures are themselves, always temporary.

I have experienced both schools of thought to be true in my life: We humans are meant to dream and create the life of our dreams and; The path of spiritual awakening lies in letting go of our most treasured longings, like fists releasing to open up our palms to allow whatever may come.

I struggled to reconcile the two realities for a long time because they seemed contradictory. How was I supposed to approach my dreams? Like something I should pursue or something I should let go of? 

The answer that came to me, not surprisingly, was that both are true. This is also an ancient truth, which Gretchen Rubin has popularized through one of her Secrets of Adulthood: The Opposite of a Profound Truth Is Also True.

We humans are imaginative and creative beings. We are meant to create lives that are reflections of our imaginations and it is deeply fulfilling for us to do so. In fact, many of history’s greatest art works and inventions came to be because of this human ability. Our favorite movies, books and songs went through this process. Somebody first had a kernel of an idea, eventually brought it into fruition, and gifted it to the rest of the world. 

But I don’t have to convince you that there are so many times when our dreams get crushed. All of us have experienced this for ourselves. A job we really wanted didn’t pan out. A marriage we dreamed of unraveled in the worst way possible. In those moments, we had to face the reality that sometimes, dreams don’t come true. We had to let go of our most treasured longings and release our fists. And if we remained trusting and hopeful, we slowly saw the light and received other opportunities we never considered.

It’s true. Sometimes, dreams don’t come true. But that doesn’t mean we should stop dreaming, give up hope or settle for less than what we want. There could be a myriad of reasons: 1) Our inner being has knowledge about the situation that our conscious minds do not yet know, 2) The timing is not right and we need to learn to be patient and surrender, 3) The loss of a dream will be woven into our life story that graces us with so much more wisdom and compassion for others or other possibilities. Your intuition knows which one of these apply for each of your disappointments. 

Don’t stop dreaming. Many of those dreams can come true if you remain committed and take intentional steps towards those dreams. 

At the same time. 

Some dreams won’t come true. Don’t give up hope. You are turning into a stronger, wiser and more compassionate person. Wait and see. Another way, a better way, will be shown for you. 

Relax those fingers, open your fists and see what lands in your palms. 

As one of my favorite spiritual teachers, Eckhart Tolle says, you are not your life situation. You are life itself.