“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” - T.E. Lawrence
It’s quite likely that you find yourself daydreaming quite a bit. Daydreams are, after all, simply the greatest manifestation of our thoughts—purveyors of what our inner aches are searching for. They are like a beautiful film, whispering our longings, weaving them into countless narratives. They speak to us because they reveal a glimpse into a world not yet found, but which is often entirely within our grasp.
They are also quite insightful. They offer us clues into the workings of our innermost longings, joys and truths, while potentially revealing what we most need to do, albeit in an indirect, unfiltered way. They are often beautiful, majestic, and most of all, intensely enjoyable.
Parallel to that, our daydreams can also be used as an avoidance mechanism. And they are often triggered by grief, pain, suffering.
We visualize what we desire when it is not yet being actualized, because it’s easier. Why would I actually change my life when I can merely dream about it? It sounds ridiculous when it’s stated like that, but that’s exactly what’s happening inside millions of people’s minds at this very moment, including mine. As a result, our daydreams are often a blessing or a curse.
However, I believe that most of us fail to see our daydreams as anything of any significance, and that’s a shame. Daydreams are, after all, well, dreamy, and thus it’s easy to be swept away into them, not even acknowledging that they are happening—in your present—all the time.
By failing to acknowledge them, they often take us out of the moment—usually into an imagined future. We cannot turn our daydreams into reality when we are existing in the future, especially when we’re not even aware we’re doing it.
Daydreams can also serve as a sort of bridge from the past into the future, connecting the two in a sort of dance of aversion. It’s quite crafty, and it happens all the time. The problem with this is that it often takes us directly from the past straight into the future, without requiring anything from us in the present. This is particularly likely when we’re dealing with a great deal of pain from our past, whether it be as a result of a lost relationship, a regret, or a yearning for a sweeter time.
We all know that dwelling on pains from our past can be destructive and deeply inhibiting. We intuitively know that within ourselves—when we are caught aching over the past—it becomes incredibly enticing to mask the pain via all of the standard avenues, yes, but it’s also just as likely that we’ll seek refuge in our daydreams.
After all, a longing for a past love manifested can be beautifully imagined when projected onto an imagined future love.
It is one of the easiest and most vivid of escapes, because it requires nothing more than our minds, and our minds can take us places that no other vehicle can even begin to compete with. Thus it is becoming upon us to recognize that bridge—the bridge connecting our past and future—for what it is: a means of evasion. It is a bridge that diverts itself from what is most essential in unleashing our daydreams: conscious, intentional action—taken in the present.
This cannot happen anywhere else. It is the only way we can free ourselves of our self-actualized prisons. We must come into where we are, no matter how painful, and begin to do.
Daydreams can also be instructive or revealing. Quite often, they offer us a clue as to what is going on inside of us. Though they are rarely so direct.
They are whispers, nothing more.
Ghosts of vanquished memories, reverberating through our consciousness.
And they are nearly always terribly unproductive, for a terribly shameful reason: because we almost never do anything with them.
In contemplating our daydreams, we must remember that we are far too easily distracted and dismissive of what is going on inside of our hearts. In fact, we are trained to do this. Our society frowns upon any states of being that do not correlate directly with production or efficiency. This is one of the reasons why dreams are often viewed with skepticism, as if they were inherently unrealistic.
The tragedy in this is profound, but the presupposition is widely accepted as gospel. We fail ourselves when we do not challenge this assumption by actually doing what the inner voice beckons us to do. We may desperately want to, but we resign ourselves to merely fantasizing about it. If we stop here, we do not allow our dreams to serve their true purpose. Their purpose is to be unleashed, completely aware of how terrifying this is.
We know this always, which is why our dreams never go away, no matter how jaded we may become.
Why are we so inspired, so deeply moved, when we see a friend acting on her dreams? We are for many reasons, but perhaps most because in observing one’s dream pursued, we are given a glimpse into the beauty of her humanity, into who she really is. Acting on a daydream is a deliberate provocation, a declaration of our individuality and an offering of who we really are. It is also shamefully rare, which reveals its fragility.
We are made to assume that pursuing our dreams is fragile because the outcome is so uncertain, because we may so easily fail. This is backwards, and a lie. Whether one fails or not is besides the point. The real tragedy is in doing what we most often do: nothing.
By doing nothing, we are complicit in one of the great scandals of our age. This is the scandal of giving up, of releasing who we really are in order to conform to the expectations of a culture which prizes results above all else. The response to this is not to begrudgingly accept it and complain, but to challenge it and act anyway. We always have a choice. Always.
What does this doing entail? First, we must acknowledge that our dreams are indeed beautiful, mysterious gifts, and that these gifts can be, and often are, abused. Abused through inaction.
Second, we must listen to our daydreams, rather than passively enjoying and then forgetting them. This is perhaps the most important step, as we’ve adopted the very bad habit of ignoring them, fearing them, and consequently suppressing them. This is what the inner resistance wants us to do, but it is tantamount to handing your freedom away.
It is the pillaging of your individuality, the violation of your greatest gift.
Third, we must train ourselves to not get lost in our dreams, via commitments to tangible actions. This is not ever easy, but it can be done.
I challenge you to do the following:
When you find yourself dreaming about something repeatedly, ask yourself: What is this telling me? Is there a message here or am I simply delighting in the escape as a means of avoiding what I need to do?
If you’re in doubt, share it. We are far too reclusive when it comes to what’s going on in our minds, and that’s a shame. If something is speaking to you—calling out to be unveiled, and you don’t know what to make of it, talk to someone about it. These sorts of thoughts can be incredibly sensitive, so seek out someone you trust to discuss with. Your closest confidants not only know you well but likely understand you on an intimate level as well. This means that any insights they offer have the capacity to be more revealing and encouraging than you might assume. Even the act of letting it out—unleashing it—will bring forth a creation that did not exist before. This can only aid you in your search for clarity and action. At the end of the day, this must all lead to action.
Without contemplation leading to action, you’ll daydream yourself into oblivion. You will go nowhere. You will exist in your mind.
And most importantly, no one—including you—will bear the fruits of which you could be freeing from within you. Not only are you then failing to accomplish your dreams, all of the other people who might benefit from your extraordinary imaginings are being robbed of that experience.
This is the cost of inaction, and it is a terrible loss. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can act on the stories your inner life is telling you.
Don’t assume that letting your daydreams go isn’t a big deal. Or that they don’t matter. Or that if you forget about what your inner life is telling you next week will be better. Because if you don’t act on it today, the next major revelation will go on ignored as well. And the one after that. And so on. Please don’t do that to yourself, or to those around you. It’s not worth it. Ever.
I spent years mired in inner paralysis; yearning for the day that I would be free of my pain and thus ready to move forward. That day never came, and it never will. Instead, I entered into my pain, developed systems to work and learn from it, devoured psychological and philosophical research, and actively changed my life, one day at a time. It was, and is, incredibly hard work, more demanding than any other undertaking I've ever committed to. It is also the most rewarding commitment I've ever made to myself.
The vast majority of our deepest longings, our most exquisite imaginings, are hidden from the world. What would our lives be like if we opened the door to our inner worlds even the tiniest bit more? I think we’d all be not only surprised, but astounded.
Chances are, the results would be extraordinary. So channel them. Acknowledge the beauty of them, and release them.