I believe that our dreams can tell us who we are.
When I came home this summer, my expectations were fairly minimal: to rest at home, be with family, and recover from intense years of learning. However, this free time has presented me with a much more complicated issue of who I truly am. I know that cannot be answered in a blog post, or words, so this post is a personal dialogue and opening to that mystery.
The first thing that changed when I returned home was my dreams. Over the past few months, my dreams have been fraught with past, stressful memories of trying out on sports teams, and embarrassing childhood events. But every so often, a dream of my true heart’s longing surfaces; last night, I dreamt of swimming in my neighborhood creek, and sometimes I dream of poetry, or my life as a film.
I woke up from the dreams many times and realized that I have been living out of a single part of myself for far too long; the hard-working, morality-bound, driven achiever is taking a toll on my soul, and my body. While I analyzed my dreams of creative adventures, I found the stark realization that the child within me was hungry for something more. The external praise, scholarships, opportunities no longer felt fulfilling.
Without work this summer, I could no longer rely on “doing” as an identity-filler. So without this badge for the ego, who was left behind? I found a voice clamoring for acceptance, for rest, for spontaneous joy. It surfaced that the adventure and relaxation in my life has been sacrificed for impatient fear, stubborn work ethics, and unattainable ideals. The thoughts questioned, where did the ecstasy of swimming in streams and writing poetry lose its place in my life? When did I become a human doing?
With all this surfacing, I began writing on the topics of rejection, failure, self-image, to hear what the hungry child yearned for. Almost every time, it was just to be accepted as a human being.
I realize that “old habits die hard,” and a perfectionist-minded human being like myself can find it difficult to lovingly identify as human. Human used to mean not God, therefore not perfect, therefore not good. Essentially, I thought being human was bad and immoral and sinful – so where did this criticism come from, when I spent my whole life in a supportive community, a loving family, far from a war or tragedy-stricken lifestyle?
This is the flip side to being an achiever: there has to be something driving me to achieve, and for me, it was the delusional belief that I wouldn’t be good enough otherwise. That humanity is unacceptable, so I’d better work to do better than a normal human would. I learned this personality tendency from the Enneagram test, a gift of discovery from my host mom Jeanne. Theologian Richard Rohr describes this personality’s downfall as anger that the world is “so damned imperfect,” making my mind a steam-kettle of judgment and pressure. If this belief lies unseen by my mind’s eye, as it did for many years, it can be very harmful.
It was only a matter of time before breakdown became inevitable. Facing the “gremlins” as described by Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection, is a very challenging experience. I wept this summer more than I have in years. Sometimes I found no explanation within other than – for suffering. “If you haven’t wept deeply, you haven’t begun to meditate,” says Ajhan Chah. Each time, I felt farther from the small place where the perfectionist lives. I began seeking ways to release, let go, and see clearly.
The more I let go of this voice, the more I have seen humanity as wondrous and beautiful. I think the Pearson experience has much to do with this change in worldview; to see the diverse beauty, and strength, of all of my cherished friends made my heart grow more rapidly than the Grinch’s on Christmas. Thoughts began popping in to my head – what if being human, and occasionally failing, isn’t so immoral? What if we’re all just creatures trying to love and belong in a broken world? And most importantly – what if I can’t fix the world’s brokenness, or my own, and I just have to love it and, occasionally, laugh at it?
This is where faith comes in. Not completely religion, believe me – that has also been a challenge this summer. But in spirituality, I have found boundless hope for accepting life as it is, and in a God that loves us as forms of sacred life no matter our level of awareness. Being human means taking the suffering in life and transforming it to love, as Christ and the Buddha teach. Salvation, then, is discovering the Being in our humanness. As my dear friend Emmy says, “When I ask myself who I am, all I can say is a divine creature. That is all.” This profound statement makes me listen to the hungry child in me searching for a more wholehearted life. I am tired of being anything, judged more or less, than human.
This is what inspired me on Thursday morning to wake up and call the registrar’s office. “Can I change to my name to Elizabeth in college?” I asked in my early morning groggy voice. The more I thought about it, the more right it felt. It is the name of my childhood, translation of the Hebrew name Elisheva, meaning “God’s promise”, “oath of God”, or “I am God’s daughter.”
Becoming Elizabeth means becoming my whole self – less effective and driven, but more loving and whole.
So, while I usually don’t post my journal writings, I think this poem captures my thoughts:
to all that is life
is living in the midst of river flow
is embracing all that God knows
is sitting with all of the pain
is a loving kindness refrain
is loving imperfection
is believing in resurrection
is the peace that holds me
is the flight to be free
is sitting in God’s open hand
is living simply on this beautiful land.
As I look to my flight to Davidson in less than week, all I hope is that my journey is a genuine one. I hope that I can jump in rivers and fail a test and have my heart broken, and weep and laugh. I hope to set aside the drive to perform and listen to the dreamworld’s wishes. And, deep down, I hope for a journey to acceptance of what is – to love all the brokenness of real life, and all the beauty that shines through.