Stupid Dreams

Many years ago in high school, there was one album I listened to more than any other: Stupid Dream, by the legendary prog group Porcupine Tree. It sounded like an intimate, delicate, melancholy Pink Floyd. The album title itself fascinated me: what was a "stupid dream?" I had always assumed - with the grain of the culture I grew up in, I believe - that dreams were sacrosanct. Following your dreams felt like a commandment. So how could one question the dream itself?

A few years after I first discovered that album, I had the opportunity to find out. I was dreaming of becoming a musician myself, a guitarist. There was just one problem: I wasn't very good. Trying to excel musically without much natural talent was exhausting, and it sucked the joy out of playing. So after awhile I just quit.

Most of the time when I tell people this story, they protest. "This was your dream! You have to start playing again!" For awhile I thought they might be right. But from where I stand now, I see things a bit differently. My life is happy and full. I don't miss playing. Music has given way to other passions that I both love and naturally excel at in some way, including my work as a yoga teacher. I will always cherish the knowledge and appreciation of music that I gained from that time in my life. I will always sing along with great guitar solos in the car, and compulsively air drum to odd meter. But I feel no desire to generate music at this point.

When I reflect on this, I arrive at the belief that there are different sorts of dreams. There are some dreams that are truly compelling and must be pursued at all costs. Dreams that make you sweat and shake, or that follow you for your whole life if you don't take up the challenge of actualizing them. But there are also legitimate "stupid dreams" that are simply roads not taken, or avenues pursued for awhile and then released when the time is right. The culmination of a passion is not always a career, or a lifelong endeavor. Some dreams may end up being the main course of your life, but others may be appetizers. No shame. Appetizers are a beautiful thing.

In my experience, some dreams may not be a product of some static true nature so much as they are part of an ongoing process of trial and discovery. I feel a little triumph and a spark of bravery in recognizing that I do not need to know in advance what path my life ought to take; that I do not need to wrestle the world into compliance; and that a rich and fulfilling experience can be brought to fruition by staying open to new experiences and trusting myself.

Nowadays many people tell me that teaching yoga is their dream. And for me, it is an absolutely incredible gift to wake up to this life and this job. But it's worth noting that I am not actually a full-time yoga teacher, nor do I aspire to be, really. I have an awesome day job. I have worked hard to arrange my life around my yoga practice and teaching, but I do not try to pay my bills with it. I remember my time as a musician, and I viscerally recall how confusing and frustrating it was to be attached to a dream that wasn't serving me the way I had once hoped it would. I feel no compulsion to put too much economic pressure on something that I love socially and spiritually. Maybe one day things will feel different, and if that occurs, we'll see what happens.

Let me be clear: I don't want to discourage anyone from whatever journey they are on. I do want to advocate for the idea that we can be bigger than our dreams, our plans, our thoughts and ideas about who and what we are, or ought to be. I want to encourage the possibility that we are many things, not just one thing. And that choice, nuance, and distinction are all around us.

Are we willing to entertain the notion that we might have some stupid dreams that aren't worth the toll they are exacting on us? Are there battles better left unfought? Is it possible that we hang onto some things not because we know in our bones that they are right for us, but rather because we don't know who we are without those things? Are we afraid of regret? Just stubborn? Or that we've gone too far to turn back?

In my experience, quotes like "if you're going through hell, keep going" are incredibly meaningful and positive except when they are not. I believe there are just as many circumstances in which "if you're going through hell, turn around, you don't need to be here" is also perfectly legitimate advice.

Anyway, I'm hoping this resonates for some as more true or thought-provoking than preachy or grating. At the end of the day I suppose I just want to share the good news: I once had a dream, but I decided that it was fulfilled and I released it into the wild. I let it go. And years down the road, I can say with certainty that I feel no regret. So the possibility is there for that experience. Even though if you had told me in high school to list a thousand possibilities for what I would become, I would have never thought of a yoga teacher. I didn't even know what yoga was at that time.

In my view, our dreams for the future are products of our imaginations, and our imaginations are limited by what we already know and understand. And I usually find that I don't know and understand very much. So when I use the term "stupid dream" I don't intend to sound demeaning. For me, it has become a reminder that not every dream occupies the breathless, reverential space to which we often elevate passions and desires. The idea of stupid dreams is faith that the actual possibilities in our futures will always be much richer and more diverse than anything we could possibly come up with ourselves in advance.

We Will Have To Manage Ourselves

In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long-term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time - literally - substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.

This Peter Drucker quote has inspired a great deal of my yoga and meditation practice over the years. When I pay attention, it's clear that my choosing skills are not where I want them to be. I have spent way too much time over the last few weeks scrolling endlessly through social media feeds, clicking instinctively from news article to op-ed to meme to photo gallery to live stream... just caught in a cycle of cheap information binging. When the going gets tough, I get on Facebook.

I choose to do all of that. But it doesn't feel like a choice. That's because, like so many of us, I'm used to choosing by default rather than design. The drivers of my decisions tend to be instinct, habit or burst of emotion. The part of me with goals, dreams, and a desire for fulfillment and purpose has abdicated its leadership role and outsourced choosing to simple, immediate mental flashes and fluctuations.

This is why I practice yoga and meditation. Because I need them! And I know I'm not alone.

In my experience, one key for us to "manage ourselves," as Peter Drucker put it, lies in developing habits and mental patterns that point towards awareness and gentle, graceful restraint.

There's a metaphor many of my meditation teachers use; they talk about the various seeds we have within us, and ask us to notice which seeds we are watering because those are the seeds that are likely to grow. I clearly recognize within myself the seeds of addiction and passivity. Yet I also recognize the seeds of focus, dedication, and thoughtful purpose. So these days, I practice cultivating and curating my environment to water the seeds I would like to see sprout. There are so many ways to work on this. But today, I feel particularly inspired to share some of the wonderful pieces of technology that have helped me focus, manage myself, and choose to live more by design.

Headspace

Headspace is the best meditation iPhone app I have yet discovered. It's simple, well-designed, and weaves accessible (and visual!) teachings about the practice into its recorded meditation library. I sit with Headspace every single day. For those of you who have tried to meditate daily and failed, this may be the tool that helps you create and keep the habit. Andy - the creator and voice of Headspace - now feels like an old friend. He makes mediation relatively easy to commit to and remarkably rewarding.

Audible

Audible is Amazon's audiobook subscription service. I pay a monthly fee and receive a credit to purchase an audiobook. By its very design, Audible helps me turn listening into a habit. It also helps me cultivate patience and conscious decision-making. And for me, audiobooks are incredibly conducive to focus and dedication. They present complex ideas in the span of hours, days, weeks and months - unlike the bite-sized attention-deficit-inducing packets of information we consume on social media and via advertising.

Trello

Trello is a "kanban" task management application for my laptop and phone. It's a visual way of organizing tasks and ideas not unlike moving sticky notes around on a wall. In general, I think creating long to-do lists can be unrewarding and unproductive. But Trello makes the process of deciding what to do - and how to do it - a creative and conscious endeavor. it helps me clarify what is important and how my goals and tasks are related to one another. Although many tasks may be visible at once, Trello helps me avoid the tendency to multi-task and get overwhelmed, and instead helps me complete things in an efficient, one-at-a-time, flow-state way.

Podcasts

Conventional wisdom states that because of technology, we are able to share information with greater speed and ease than ever before. But in my experience, certain kinds of information are getting easier to share, while other kinds are getting harder. The information contained in relationships and conversations, for example, can be tough for some of us to access via the dominant technologies of the day. Podcasts - especially those that utilize the interview format - are an innovation that creates and conveys the information of relationship and conversation better than most. One of my favorite podcast series is Yoga Revealed with Alec Vishal Rouben. His interviews are insightful and his subjects are excellent and intriguing - if you're curious, start by listening to his discussions with Matt Kapinus, Rob Loud, and David Magone.