Waking Up from a Dream

Regular readers of these blogs (or anyone who’s watched my TEDx talk, Why Aren’t We Awesomer?), knows that I had a somewhat mentally unstable childhood. My parents managed to take it mostly in their stride despite it being completely out of character with the rest of our fairly low-key family.

After a two day crying jag at the age of twenty because someone had given me the wrong Mickey Mouse sweatshirt as a gift, my mother came down to my basement lair and attempted to cheer me up. She told me (with no apparent sense of musical irony) that when she felt sad, she would think of a few of her favorite things and it would lift her spirits. She also told me that she didn’t think I was really mentally unwell – I was just “highly strung”.

Despite the Julie Andrews/Pollyanna overtones, that night I thought about my cat Petey and Neil from The Young Ones and the crying stopped and I began to feel a bit more human. I felt comforted by my mom’s care and even a stirring of hope that maybe I wasn’t as nuts as I felt.

The next day I went to see my therapist and told him what my mom had said and how hopeful I’d been feeling since. His response was to say “Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple?” and shake his head in a “I can’t believe you and your mom could be so naïve” kind of a way.

Something in me knew I needed to get away from him and my basement and even my lovely family, so there and then I made the decision to ignore his advice to turn down my place at drama school until I was “better” and packed my bags for London.

Once there, I got on surprisingly well, always at a slight remove from reality lest someone get too close and I fell apart, but close enough to the surface that I was able to make a few friends and blend in amongst the “normal” humans. Until one day…

I was sitting near a bunch of guys from my class in the foyer of the school, waiting for rehearsal to roll around, when guys being guys, the conversation turned to testosterone as they compared their relative prowess at drinking and shagging and other manly pursuits. When they tried to bring me into the conversation, I distinctly remember thinking:

“Why are they treating me like I’m one of them? Don’t they know how fragile I am?”

Something inside me twigged in that moment. It was a sudden awakening from the hypnosis of my own thought stream, as though I’d been telling myself I was fragile for a couple of years but was only just hearing myself say it for the first time.

I felt a bit disoriented, like someone waking up from a long nap and not quite knowing where he is.

“Why do I think I’m fragile?”

While I don’t remember whether or not I wound up joining in the conversation, I know that things were different after that mini-awakening. I found a kind of natural confidence arising in me more and more of the time, and the care-full way I’d held myself around others began falling away. I even, at times, felt like a normal human being – no more or less fragile than anyone else in the world.

Now, when I started writing this I thought my message was going to be that we’re more resilient than we think and that our confidence and humanity is never more than one thought away. But true though that may be, as I’ve been thinking back on the story there are a couple of other points I suspect might be even more important…

1. The deeper mind has always got our back

In a moment of clarity, brought on by the hope I was feeling after my conversation with my mother, I knew to ignore my well-meaning therapist’s dire predictions for my future. On reflection, that inner wisdom has always been there for me, often coming through when I least expect it but always coming through when I most need it. I’ve taken to call that inner wisdom “my deeper mind”, but “inner knowing” and “the intelligence behind life” work just as well as descriptors.

While those moments of absolute knowing used to be few and far between, they were there for as far back as I can remember. And while I can’t always access that knowing on demand, I find that the more I trust the intelligence behind life to guide me in my life, the easier and more graceful my experience of life becomes.

2. Waking up from the dream of our thinking is natural and inevitable

In the midst of a bout of post-adolescent testosterone fueled tomfoolery, something inside me found its way up to the surface to steer me back towards my innate mental health and fundamental OKness. And once I woke up from my “daymare” of fragility, I never fell fully asleep to it again.

While meditation practice is meant to wake us up and mindfulness practice to stop us from falling back to sleep, for me, knowing that the capacity to wake up – what Syd Banks called “the principle of Consciousness” – is already alive and at work inside me means I needn’t work so hard at staying awake to enjoy a more awakened life.

In the same way as I don’t fear going to sleep at night because I know whatever dreams may come, I’ll wake up from them in the morning, I don’t have to worry about getting caught up in the sometimes dark fantasies of my thinking. At some point, reliably and inevitably, my consciousness will wake me up to the fact that I’m lost in my head and I’ll fall back into the moment. And all the power and clarity of the eternal Now will be waiting for me right where I left them, ready and willing to guide me forward.

What are you asleep to, even now, reading these words?

What will you see with a simple clarity when you wake up?

These questions are unanswerable from inside the dream, but they may just tickle your consciousness enough to wake you up to a new level of understanding and see what you can see. And however good or bad your dreams may be, I promise you this:

Everything in life tastes better the more awake to it we are.

With all my love,