Keep on dreaming, even if it breaks your heart

In the early 1980s, I wrote a poem about driving around the deserted city streets of my home town at 3:00 a.m. on the 4th of July. No one but me ever really liked that poem. It was a snapshot of a moment in which I was consciously aware of my own being. I was fully in the moment, though it was a truly unremarkable one: two people, a pack of cigarettes, a Chevy van, a dying blue collar town.

I remember thinking, self-consciously, that it was like we were living in a Springsteen song. But I also remember thinking that, someday in the distant future, I would look back at that particular moment and be really glad for it. Glad for the friendship, and the cool night breeze off the river, and for the opportunity to really know where I came from. Now, decades later, I do remember, and I am glad for all those things.

Tonight, 4th of July 2012, I was driving home in the evening light, too hot in this heat wave to have the windows down. I haven’t smoked in decades, nor have I lived on the mighty Mississippi since the last millenium (and my hometown refused to die; in fact, is currently experiencing a renaissance). I was thinking about past Independence Days, when I heard a song on the radio that imposed itself on my conscious mind and drew me out of my reverie. It’s a song about a kid falling in love with music, and dreaming of creating a life playing and singing. The repetitive lyric is, “Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.”

Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.

I’ve written before about the distinction Parker Palmer makes between a heart breaking into pieces, and one which breaks open. Beauty and memory can both be occasions of breaking the heart open. As I listened to this song on the radio, I realized that dreams can, as well.

When I was a kid, I had a recurring nightmare in which nothing happened other than the tragedy that my siblings and I all grew up and stopped living together. I would wake drenched in tears. Ever since, I have had a dream of home which includes roots deep in a community, friends and family surrounding me, a house filled with love and laughter. I have realized all the pieces of this dream in my life, though never the whole. In lonely moments, this breaks my heart in pieces. Almost always, though, those moments are short-lived. They give way to the “broken open” heart. The heart that welcomes people into my life joyfully, the heart that fills with gratitude when I am welcomed.

We all dream of loving and being loved. Again, this dream causes many moments in life in which we feel broken apart. And then there are those moments when we become present to the ways our hearts can be broken open – open to capacity, open to realignment, open to acceptance. I had one such moment a couple of weeks ago while visiting the Santuario de Chimayo in New Mexico. I found myself taking a pinch of the “holy mud”, famed for it’s miraculous healing powers, and smearing it over my heart with a prayer for my willingness to remain open to this dream. And a second prayer, to remain open, in gratitude, to the ways the dream is already fulfilled in my life.

This morning, I stood in line for a pancake breakfast, an annual fundraiser for the Ely, Iowa fire department. Behind me stood a group of older people, most in their 70s and 80s. They were talking about all of the fun they were having these days: volunteering, getting together with friends, keeping busy. One woman said, “I could stay home feeling sorry for myself. But I’m not going to!” It was a slow moving line, and the group kept all who stood around them entertained. When they discussed whether anyone was attending the evening fireworks, one gentleman (who had proudly proclaimed his age as 92) said, “Nope. After this, we’re going home and making our own fireworks.” Everyone, including the eavesdropping bystanders, laughed aloud. I found a new dream taking shape in my heart – the dream of a life well and truly lived to its very edges. This is a dream that requires effort and choice, no matter what happens in life to break your heart.

Some dreams stay with you forever
Drag you around and bring you back to where you were
Some dreams keep on getting better
Gotta keep believing if you wanna know for sure…
…Keep on dreaming, even if it breaks your heart.
(You can check out the music video of the Eli Young Band performing “Keep On Dreaming Even If It Breaks Your Heart” here)

Awakening The Dreamer…(part 1 of 2)

“I don’t think an authentic stand comes from your head. I think an authentic stand comes from your heart.” Van Jones

A couple of weeks ago, I flew with friends to Vegas for a long weekend. It was fun, but while we were there, our conversation returned several times to the artificiality of the environment. Vegas is about the least authentic place on earth. I remember one comment about the waste of both water and electricity in that city in the desert. But, like the hundreds of thousands of others there for St. Patrick’s Day (or March Madness or Spring Break), we were there to have fun. We didn’t dwell on anything as deep as what it meant to participate in the inauthenticity and waste that are the hallmarks of the Las Vegas experience. We were there to conspicuously consume, gamble, eat and gawk – not to think too much.

And so our three days in Vegas passed in an almost trance-like state. We ate when we felt like it, we drank when we felt like it, we slept as little as possible no matter what we felt like. Most of the time, I had no idea what time of day it was, nor did I track what I was spending. I was awake and moving, but a large part of me was asleep.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, to Saturday, April 2. 9:00 a.m. found me seated in a conference room, holding my Starbuck’s venti Americano in the iconic paper cup, ready for a symposium I was attending for work. The truth is, I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I hadn’t really paid attention to what the symposium was about other than a vague idea that is was related to sustainability. I also was not thrilled to be spending another Saturday at a work-related event.

Five minutes into the symposium, I was crying. It would be difficult for me to tease apart the complex threads of emotion the symposium evoked, but it was comprised of shame, grief, fear, pain. In one of the symposium’s video modules, Joanna Macy says not to be afraid to feel the pain associated with what we are learning. She says we need to feel the pain, and follow it to what it springs from – which is love. Love of this earth, love of our fellow humans, love of our fellow inhabitants of the planet.

The name of the powerful symposium, “Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream”, is now etched on my memory. As is the goal of the alliance who created it: “Bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just human presence on this planet.” What resonates with me about this particular take on our environmental future is, first, the direct line of connection drawn between the environment, spirit and social justice. Second, the hopeful stance taken that we can, indeed, change the trajectory we are currently moving along.

“Awakening the dreamer” speaks to the idea that most of us in wealthy, privileged societies, are living in a kind of trance or dream which allows us to “not know” that our choices, our consumption, our distraction have real and damaging consequences in the world. The video modules tell a powerful story of this dream world we’re living in, and it rings true. My friends and I experienced it in a palpable way in Vegas, where it was so exaggerated that it actually impinged on our consciousness (most days in our normal routines, we never even notice we are living in a dream).

And here’s the thing: I think many of us have, for a while, been on the verge of waking up. You know, like those times when you are lying in bed and start to wake up, maybe you even crack your eyes open — only to quickly tell yourself to just close them again and you’ll get back to sleep. I’ve peeked at this world and quickly closed my eyes again because it is so much easier to stay asleep. I don’t have to recycle. I don’t have to make my own coffee or argue with the barrista to put it in my reusable mug. As long as I can continue to “not know”, I can enjoy the lights on the Vegas strip without thinking about the Navajo people living at Black Mesa.

But how authentic or just or spiritually fulfilling is that? Maybe we should just take a deep breath and open our eyes.

The most remarkable feature of this historical moment on Earth is not that we are on the way to destroying the world — we’ve actually been on the way for quite a while. It is that we are beginning to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.

— Joanna Macy