At thirteen I dreamed of being a star. At twenty-one, I was teaching fourth grade in the South Bronx, shielding my head from the chair being thrown at me by one of my lesser fans. At that moment I knew for certain I had hit bottom without a glimmer of fame or stardom in sight.
Instead of becoming a glamorous actress I had become a terrified teacher. When this proved more dangerous and less rewarding than I had hoped, I decided to get married. So much for the gauzy Technicolor dreams I’d grown up on.
But there were plenty of less grandiose dreams to come, dreams that seemed to pan out, but often with a downside that left me wondering. Like the glass coffee table I had to have. The one that would make my life complete. It fulfilled its promise for a month or two, then became invisible. Another object to dust. A danger zone for my year old son who tumbled off the sofa one morning as I vacuumed, and despite the padded cover I had made to prevent infant injuries, hit his head on one of its perfectly beveled edges.
His bright red blood was everywhere. It sent me screaming through the hallway, banging at my neighbors’ doors until someone opened up and called the pediatrician while I stood with a towel wrapped around his head, praying that he would survive. He did. And I am grateful. But the fact that this object of my desire had so betrayed me (the table not the child) set the tone for other disappointments – dreams come true that often managed to show a less savory side once my guard was down or their time was up. Who knows which?
The glass table was emblematic. A pink cashmere sweater, an oversized house on a hill, a prized position at a famous medical center, a well published book, all hypnotized me into believing that the “Magical Thingdom,”* held the key to my happiness. It did me in again and again. But I was far too focused on “the way life should be” to notice.
At my lowest, while I was working a job, cold calling merchants in White Plains to get them to advertise in the weekly paper, I looked to another bit of magic called Est * ― a consciousness raising event (forerunner of The Landmark Forum and whatever it has currently morphed into) that blasted my reality to bits. I still recall the moment when after two weekends of mass hysteric group brain-washing, with people vomiting, crying and pulling their hair out over the pain of their past, the cute trainer guy in the blue crew-neck sweater who repeatedly promised us we’d “get it,” shared the secret to the mystery of life:
“This is it!” he said as I waited to hear the 11th commandment that would transform my world.
Impossible! How could “This” be “it” when I thought “That” was “it?” This so called “it” proposed that the way things are right here, right now is all there is and was the opposite of my own “IT,” which focused on dreams of the future (aka more, better and different).
I hated his “it” so I went home, crawled into bed, pulled the covers over my head, and stayed there for thirty-six hours. For the next several years I hid out inside my head. Then I moved to Vermont where I stacked wood, shoveled snow, and learned to love my new life but not the black flies. There was no aha moment. Just a slow infusion of the universal antidote to fantasy living: Truth and presence.
Okay, I “get it.” Living the life of my dreams begins with living the life that’s happening now. Happy or sad, difficult or easy, the way it “should” be, turns out to be the way it already is. Especially in times of painful circumstances, this stance is a challenge. But there’s gold in them there hills, and it’s worthwhile for us to mine it.
What a fine cause for celebration. What a a peculiar and remarkable relief.
Try this exercise to experiment with “This is it.”
With your eyes open, exhale through your mouth one time and look around you. See something you usually see (a photo, a lamp, your cat, your child), then zoom in on it and find something beautiful, new, or interesting about it that you haven’t noticed before. See what happens and notice how you feel.
*This exercise is adapted from the “What Is It,” technique created by Dr. Lydia Craigmyle whose work has inspired and centered me in my life.
*In Latin est. means “it is.”
* The Magical Thingdom is an expression coined by Dr. Gerald Epstein