I pay particular attention to the dreams I have when I am away from home. Particularly on overseas or extended journeys, it seems to me that our dreams take on a different character. As our lives are unmoored from habit and routine, our dreams are likewise free to roam, and often show us startling pictures of life back home. I call this the “View of the Earth from Space” phenomenon. Sometimes we can only identify patterns and see larger truths from a distance.
As it happens, last month I did a fair amount of traveling, leading dream workshops and selling copies of my new book. Maybe because of my busy schedule, or maybe due to jet lag, I tended to wake an hour or two earlier than I needed to in the morning. As I lay in bed hoping to get back to sleep, often I would drift into a dream and bring a little lucid awareness with me. The following dream was like that:
I’ve got a pole for pole vaulting, and can do all these tricks with it. It’s great, I can twirl and leap all across the landscape, and I’ve figured out how to make it almost a part of my body. The feeling is exhilarating. Then I notice that I assume the dream will end poorly, so I start imagining not quite reaching my goal, or reaching it but messing up toward the end. And it hits me: why do I need to assume that? Isn’t it just as likely that with my strength I will cross the finish line in great shape? So I decide to change the story in mid-flight, and it works. Crossing a huge expanse, I get from one side to the other without falling or getting weak.
This dream was a huge aha for me, first because I had been worried that I might get sick on my trip. But I felt good, was eating well, getting plenty of sleep, and the workshops were going great. Why would I keep worrying about getting sick?Â
More than anything, the dream made me aware of that voice in my head which does assume the worst, is always bracing for at least mild failure, and actually serves to weaken me when things are going just fine. By way of antidote, the dream seemed to suggest that simply focusing on what I knew how to do and keeping my mind on my task was enough to ensure that I could be successful.
The second aha for me was in the dream’s unequivocal opinion that I was strong and skilled enough to do this pole vaulting. There was never a moment when I felt physically in jeopardy or fatigued. It was simply a trick of my mind that created the opening for missteps and falls.
I woke up feeling great, and resolved to stop worrying about what might go wrong on my trip. I also began paying attention to see whether that sabotaging voice came up in other situations. No surprise, it was a near-constant chatter in the background no matter what I was doing.
It took flying far away from home to get enough distance to be able to distinguish that message and to see clearly that I could change it. When I got home I continued to think about the dream and how I could keep practicing this new awareness. I realized that another realm where I am constantly afraid of injury is in fact physical exercise.Â
I have been practicing aikido now for over 10 years, and view earning a black belt 5 years ago as a huge accomplishment, more important in a way than any degree or initiation I have received. But the art is very strenuous, and I kept re-injuring my knee and shoulder. Last summer I realized that I would not be able to continue training at the level I wanted Â unless I did more physical conditioning in addition to the aikido.
I started doing hot yoga one or two times a week, something I’d done infrequently in the past. This is another strenuous activity, but one that felt better for my knee than the physical therapy exercises I’d been doing. Intuitively, I felt that I could strengthen those weak points while actually healing the original injuries if I kept at this practice for long enough.
Fast-forward to a couple weeks ago, back from the last of two overseas trips. I had eaten too well, it turns out, and nothing fit quite right anymore. The obvious solution was to work out more and shed those Cadbury pounds. That’s when I realized that I also needed to completely shift my perspective on physical training.Â
Always in the back of my mind I had thought of yoga as something I did to get strong enough to go back to aikido. But there was nobody forcing me back to the dojo. I could in fact follow whatever path felt best for my bodyâ€”I could just pursue yoga and let the aikido go for now.
Finally, I realized that the dream was showing me my needless fear of getting into great shape. I was in good enough shape, but why not let my body get as strong and flexible as it wanted to be? The dream felt almost like a hunger for that kind of physical mastery. What is more, unlike in aikido, I was toned enough and familiar enough with this style of yoga so that I could embark on more intensive training without fear of injury. All I needed to do was pay attention and keep focused on ground, breath, extension.Â
So here I am, never having thought of myself as particularly athletic. And yet I go in there and sweat with the best of them, 4 or 5 times a week. All the Cadbury is staying put for now, but that is not really my goal. I want to feel more like that pole vaulter, energized and confident, crossing the landscape with grace and skill, and landing just so.