Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"Achieving" Dreams

Last week someone sent me an interview question that left me staring blankly at the computer screen. They asked: "What's the biggest, most personally fulfilling dream you've achieved to date?"

It's not that I've never wanted to achieve things- I have and I do. I want to finish writing a book in the next ten months, spend some time in the wilderness this fall, get to bed by nine tonight.

Do I dream of bigger things? Well, I hope my writing contributes to the world- but I am aware that that dream can be fulfilled by touching one person or offering something that thousands feel is useful. I can't make either happen and I'm not at all sure that one is "better" than the other except perhaps in its capacity to pay my rent. Not that rent paying is unimportant, just that I'm not sure it is an "achievement." Furthermore, I can't really know where or with whom my writing may be helpful. I write mostly for myself and for the love of writing.

The "achievement" is in getting words onto the page, enough to fill a book that hangs together in a kind of wholeness and points to something that is true. This was and continues to be my dream, and I want to do it again and again- deepening, opening, allowing more and more to come onto the page. I did not dream of having a best selling book, and although I am deeply grateful for the opportunities this has brought, I don't think of it as an achievement as much as a blessing, a gift. Let's face it- there are many truly good books that do not sell (and a few stinkers that do.)

Perhaps my problem with the question is that my "dreams" are more about process than product, and I associate achievement with the latter. To-do list in hand, I can be as goal-oriented as the next person, but mostly I am focused on learning. Wanting to learn, I taught- creative writing, shamanic ceremonies, meditation- so I would have company on the road of exploration. I'm a good teacher mostly because I am excited to be learning in the process.

I could not have dreamt of the two wonderful men who are my sons and all that they have taught me about life and love and healing. They are gifts of grace in my life. My parenting was less an achievement than a close call with my own unhealed, unconscious self. That they turned out to be magnificent human beings is more testament to their spirits than my parenting.

None of this is false modesty. Truly. It's just that my use of the word achievement would be applied to things I doubt the interviewer would consider dream-worthy. Like, this week I did my practise of prayer and mediation each day before I did anything else. This is an achievement, something that deepens my awareness and lets me take care of my own life and the world to the best of my ability. It's the piece I can do something about. It's a one-day-at-a-time kind of achievement, difficult to see from the outside and unlikely to garner standing ovations.

I do have bigger dreams. I dream of continuing to find and practice what heals us and helps us heal the world together. These dreams aren't achieved as much as they are stirred by flashes of insight, awakened by moments of compassion, supported by a mysterious and sacred Presence within and around us. It's not that work is not involved, but mostly it's about getting out of the way so grace has a chance to touch and work through me.

And maybe that is the core of my dreams for my life: to be able to step out of the way and allow the words to flow onto the page, to let the practice bring me to stillness, to willingly follow the guiding hand of grace. But truly, these aren't dreams that are achieved as much as they are welcomed when they visit and leave me filled with awe and gratitude.

Oriah (c) 2013


  1. Thank you for offering such a well written and subtle perspective on achievements. This will be an example for me in the upcoming months, trying to find a new way to relate to work and my soul's service in the world. Thank you.

  2. oriah, you've managed to put into words my own feelings on the subject of achievement. sadly, i felt for a long time that something must be wrong with me because i didn't have this huge dream i wished to achieve. my sense of achievement was and still is wrapped up in the small daily goals of my life and gaining more self knowledge and awareness. i think that is enough. thank you for this post. <3

  3. I like to think of "realizing" my dreams as a practice. First I dream, allowing what I want to rise from within to full consciousness to be examined and considered, played with it my heart and mind. Then, if that dream remains within, slowly (sometimes rapidly) my actions begin to align with that vision and if that dream is held long enough and strongly enough, I realize that vision Meaning I am now living it in this conscious reality of form. I believe you have achieved being a part of the awakening of the human race to the power of their consciousness through your gifts as a writer and a teacher. That is my perception :) Much love to Oriah, Laurel

  4. Someone on Facebook make a helpful distinction: we achieve goals but we fulfil dreams. :-)

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  6. For me, accepting life as it is and sharing love is a big achievement. That's challenging enough...

  7. Yes.. When we allow grace to work we may just find it's more fulfilling than any dream we might come up with. The word achievement seems to reflect something about our driven culture, but often it is a matter of taking a backward step, back to our essence so that we can bring out the truth and beauty that touches us so deeply.

    A while back I happened upon this phrase online: A true love story never ends. I guess that's why I have a hard time identifying with the idea of achievement or of having arrived somewhere, because no matter what happens that thread will continue...

    1. Mark, you express yourself so well. I really enjoy and find inspiration in your words. Your comment resonated and touched me. Thankyou.
      Mari :-)