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, dreams are not the 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, change course, 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 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.