Knowing what we want used to be so primal. The baby wants to eat and she cries for her mother’s milk. The infant is cold and he wants warmth. The young child is afraid and so he cries to be comforted. Where does that simplicity end and why? At what age does the knowledge of what we want become so repressed?
Most of us live a life of relative abundance. We have access to life-changing resources and information that were unimaginable only a decade or two ago. But using that information to create change is difficult. I believe that the trouble stems from the very flurry of information being proffered. As a result, we’ve lost touch with what it is we truly want from our lives. I’m not talking about an inability to express our needs, that’s a secondary problem. The fundamental problem for many of us is that we aren’t even aware of what we want in the first place. We are tremendously unskilled at letting our dreams flow up from our subconscious minds. It’s sad because being in touch with our desires is such a basic building block of happiness.
I’d like you to consider a dream that’s far fetched. Consider describing a world of wonderful events and circumstances that could never be. A world where the impossible happens. Where things are almost too beautiful and too joyous to imagine. I call it the Unfettered Dream. Even as you remain aware from the outset not to take too much stock in it, creating and enunciating this vision, this image of how you’d like your life to be, is not some exercise in futility. Even when you don’t believe in its every detail, the formulation of the Unfettered Dream is significant. Gaining this clear sense of something wholly aspirational is a magnificent first step in understanding what we truly desire.
Step one (Unfettered Dreaming): Use the timer on your smart phone to take three minutes to write down your best dream. It doesn’t have to be one you actually had in your sleep either. You want to grow wings and fly? Now’s the time to write it down. You want to breathe under water while reciting Persian poetry? Write that. You want to climb Mount Everest — or you’re 65 and you want to write a bestseller? Everything goes here, everything is without limits. Dream beyond all reason, beyond all likelihood or probability.
Now, in the second stage of this process, after you’ve had a chance to look over your list, I want you to think about something that’s less broad, and a bit less improbable. Given what you know about your current circumstances, strengths and resources, how could you actually marshal them to create a significant change for the better based on the ideas you just culled from your subconscious mind?
The “dream” aspect in this second stage isn’t gone entirely, to the contrary, it’s the dreaming — fed and guided by the analytical, the practical, and the feasible — that makes you most aware of what you want and can help in manifesting your goal. In other words, knowing what you know from having just dreamed so boundlessly in step one, can you now continue to dream but do so in a way that takes into consideration where you stand at this very moment?
For example, if in your Unfettered Dream, you wrote that you wanted to become an Olympic swimmer but you happen to be 60 years old and you never learned to swim, can you in this next “Practical Dreaming” stage, go on your computer and look up swim instruction classes in your neighborhood? The thing is, that the minute you go on Google and look up swim lessons in say, the western suburban Omaha area, you’ll already be achieving a very real aspect of your Unfettered Dream. You’ll achieve it again when you climb into the pool at the YMCA for the first time and you’ll achieve it again when you do your first breaststroke across the width of the pool, (even if you’re still in the shallow end!)
The perceived joy of being an Olympic swimmer, the one that derived from your Unfettered Dream, will be no greater than the joy accrued from swimming that one width. That’s how it works. The big dream, the incredible dream about which you feel foolish for even suggesting to yourself, becomes “real” in this microcosmic way.
Here’s a question to ponder:
If your Unfettered Dream is the ocean, is one teaspoon of water from that same ocean any less real?
Step two (Practical dreaming): Now take three minutes to break your Unfettered Dream into the smallest pieces imaginable. Write down a first step you can take to bring that dream into the real world and then do that first step within the three-minute time limit.
Paradoxically, reflecting on the impossible provides concrete options for our lives. The Unfettered Dreams give us knowledge about what we desire. Breaking them down into small parts brings them into reality. This awareness probably escaped us around the same time we began to acquire language — and at about the same time we became cognizant of the pitfalls of our own failure.