“I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of an SUV. It’s clearly the same SUV that my wife and I have driven for the last five years, but somehow it doesn’t feel exactly the same. I start to feel the car backing up slowly. I look over my right shoulder and out the rear window to see that I’m backing up on Merchant Street which is where we have our summer cottage in Michigan.
It’s about midday and the sun is directly overhead, but the light isn’t penetrating down to street level due to the heavy canopy of trees that tower up to the sky. Some if not many of these trees must be well over 100 years old.
I turn my gaze back to the front windshield and see the lake in the distance at the end of Merchant Street. It’s a lovely view except for two very important things. One, the lake if I could see it through the trees, should be over my left shoulder to the north instead of straight ahead to the west. Two, the car is starting to move faster and faster backwards down Merchant Street. My neighbor’s houses begin to fly by on both sides of the car in my peripheral field of vision.
I take my right foot and press firmly on the brakes to slow down the increasingly wild sensation I’m feeling throughout my entire body and to my unfortunate surprise – nothing happens. I just keep moving faster in reverse down a street lined with a canopy of trees that seemingly never ends…”
Has it happened to you? Have you ever been stuck in a recurring dream that you hadn’t realized was recurring until you had it one time and actually woke up soon enough to remember it?
If I had to guess, I’d say I’ve had that dream at least a half dozen times in the last month but I never realized it until this morning when it came crashing into my awareness as the answer to questions that I have been asking over and over and over again in my mind. What questions you ask?
How do I let go of the things that I haven’t yet or maybe never will accomplish that are shackling to me my past failures? How do I step into that place where I truly believe with all my heart that my current need for growth does not need to be a measure of any previous inadequacy? How to I continue to re-invent my life in order to maximize the chapters that have yet to be written?
Just for fun, let’s take a deeper look at some of the key elements of the dream.
#1 – I’m at our summer cottage in Michigan not our home in Chicago
New Buffalo, Michigan is like a sanctuary to me in many ways. I deeply consider Michigan to be my home state. Even though I was born in Chicago, I lived from age 3 to age 25 on Michigan soil. When my first wife and I bought the home in New Buffalo, it was the realization of a dream I never thought I’d see: Owning a home in a resort community near the lake on my “native” Michigan soil. This part of the dream speaks to the deep tribal need to feel a sense of belongingness that we as humans all feel.
#2 – 100 year old towering trees line the street
Aside from the fact that this part of the dream is an accurate representation of the real Merchant Street, the age and size of the trees are significant for a couple of reasons. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it would take to live a healthy active life until the age 100 or more. With a newborn daughter at age 53 it’s all too easy to feel like I may miss out on many of the important chapters in her life, but what if that fear based thinking is only one possible version of the story? In my dream I see primarily on the huge branches in the sky. Branches in dreams are often said to signify the many different paths and parts of your life; past, present and future. This part of the dream speaks to my longing to explore new paths while still staying appropriately connected to the important pieces of my history.
#3 – I’m moving backwards
Last week in our weekly email newsletter, I wrote about the concept of organic dormancy. Organic dormancy is the silence in between the breaths of life. Too often we beat ourselves up for not making the progress we feel like we should be making in life. I noted that the times we feel stagnant are designed to offer us perspective as we go through the transitions in life. The writing was well received and many people told me that they found it helpful in their own personal journeys. As it is often said, we choose to teach/speak about the things we most need to learn. Over the last couple of months I feel like I have been getting further and further away from the ultimate vision of the life I want to create for myself and our family. This part of the dream signifies that I need to accept that being stagnant and even “moving backwards” is part of the journey of life and that focusing on the present needs of our family is all that truly matters.
#4 – The brakes aren’t working
In my dream I let the car continue to move backwards until it reaches a speed where I feel unsafe or that I lack any control. The second part of that last sentence is the key – not being in control. How many of us live in the false reality that if we are “in control” that everything will be just fine? I certainly did think that way for many years and it turned me into a micro-managing control freak. In the months since our daughter Emma was born, never has it been more evident that it is not even remotely possible to be in control of every outcome. Our time lines operate differently than they used to as a family. My ability to freestyle through life being involved in anything and everything I wanted has totally ceased. This part of the dream signifies my need to continue to transition into a place of surrender where I trust that everything will turn out just as it is supposed to, even when I feel like I’m moving backwards and/or wildly out of control.
So how does the dream end?
“I’m lying in bed at about 7:30 in the morning. I’m in that half awake and half asleep state where are most lucid dreams always seem to occur. I realize in my dream that my SUV is literally speeding backwards down Merchant Street towards the main part of town, but the street seems to continue to get longer and longer in my rear view mirror even while the lake in front of me gets further and further away. Once again I look back over my shoulder to see what is behind me but instead of noticing the trees in the sky, this time I notice that my daughter Emma is in the back seat in her car seat. Now I realize that I have to stop. It’s one thing if I go crashing into town backwards willy nilly, but I can’t let that happen to little Emma. I start pressing down on the brakes with both feet as hard as I can, but still nothing will slow down the momentum of our SUV in reverse….
It’s like I expect Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock to appear at any momemt and shoot a trailer for Speed #7. I start saying loudly,
‘Emma we need to stop. Emma we need to stop. Emma please help us stop…”
And then suddenly I feel like I’m being sucked through a wormhole in space from my dreams back to my bed. I feel like like Captain Kirk being beamed up from a foreign planet back to the safety of the USS Enterprise.
As I begin to wake, I realize that my daughter Emma, who is lying next to me nuzzled up in her swaddle has gotten one her arms free and she has reached up and put her hand on my face. She’s gripping on my beard hairs as she herself is waking up from her little siesta after her morning feeding and the contact is just enough to pull me out of my dream and back into my body.
I realize that all is well. That we are both safe. That we were never really in any danger at all.
So what do I take away from all of it?
#1 – The search for belongingness usually ends where it started, right under your own nose
#2 – Old paths and new paths can easily intersect, if we let them
#3 – Sometimes stillness or even moving backwards is the necessary direction of travel
#4 – Surrendering from the need to control all outcomes is the greatest gift you can give yourself…and everyone else in your life, and
#5 – Emma is clearly in the driver’s seat for the foreseeable future….
Now about that living to 100 thing? Well you have to excuse me for a moment it’s time for me to go have a nice long chat with some tall trees and get some pointers. I’ll let you know what they have to say after my next recurring dream…