Recently I was in my car, on the way to the airport to pick up a friend who was flying in from Key West. I had a lot on my mind, not the least of which was deciding on a topic for a talk I’d been invited to give in less than a week. The chattering commercials on the radio jangled my nerves, so I switched stations. A song by Tom Petty, “Running Down a Dream, “was playing. I smiled with relief at hearing one of my favorite songs.
And then I smiled more broadly as I recognized it was an answer to the question about what my topic should be for the upcoming talk. (I love when that happens.) Although I’m not sure this was in Tom’s mind when he wrote the lyrics, in that moment his song spoke to me of a particular aspect of bringing our dreams to life that we might call faith, or persistence, or a willingness to invest our love and commitment in those tiny sparks of vision, insight, inspiration and longing that arise from the depth of our souls – and to do it again and again and again.
I experienced one of those sparks years ago when I attended a conference for which Shakti Gawain was the keynote speaker. As I’ve shared with you in this blog before, the moment she walked out on stage was a pivotal one for me. Never before had I experienced in someone such a palpable, peaceful presence. She radiated calmness, kindness and wisdom. I wanted that. And in that moment I also understood, with absolute clarity, that I wanted to write and teach and uplift others through my work, as Shakti did.
That was a moment of awakening to my pure longing, and the memory of it resonates with me as strongly as ever and guides me to this day (even though I’ve gotten lost countless times). I understand now that it always points to my true north.
In choosing to honor that spark of personal truth, and other shining moments of clarity and inspiration, I’ve come to understand that following our longings is the path to our deepest fulfillment. And when we’re on that path we move into a realm of grace and spirit where we are in the flow of our own lives. We learn to surrender to that flow and to trust the innate power of our intentions rather than trying so hard to make things happen.
Yet the experience of following our longings isn’t always a sweet ride. While there is greater ease and joy as we let go and allow ourselves to be carried on the current of our longings , there are also bumps along the way that reflect back to us our still-lingering fears and limiting beliefs.
If we cave into those, we drop out of the flow.
There is a level of loving persistence that is needed to navigate through those challenging times, and that can feel like effort rather than like being in the flow – especially when the challenges appear to be insurmountable obstacles and it seems like the only rational thing to do is to give up.
During those frustrating or even terrifying times, we need to find ways to keep taking that next step, to keep running down our dreams – even though we may not know exactly where we’re going.
When we first meet Tom in Running Down a Dream, he’s on a glorious road trip. The sun is shining, he’s singing with the radio and flying down the road in high spirits. By the next verse all that has changed – it’s been raining nonstop for three days, his eyes are bleary and he’s tired of driving. Yet he continues on, “picking up whatever is mine” as he goes and following the mysterious road wherever it leads. He stays true to the calling even when outer circumstances seem to be pulling out all the stops…to stop him.
We can each make that same choice.
I have a client who recently brought to fruition a long-held dream of hers. It has been a complex and multi-layered undertaking, and the speed and grace with which she moved through the process of bringing it to life was stunning to behold. She was definitely flowing in the current of her very powerful longings.
There was one particular aspect of the project, though, where she kept hitting a wall. It was, to put it mildly, a very central aspect, and one that required a very particular kind of solution. Time and again a seemingly perfect option would surface, then suddenly the bottom would fall out of it and she’d be back at square one.
Each time it happened she was understandably disappointed and frustrated, and there were times when she wondered if she should just give up on it. I would nudge her to keep going back to the dream itself and to the power of her longing to see it come to fruition. Pure longing is the power that creates worlds.
And so coming back into alignment with that longing is where she needed to apply some effort. She had to learn to shift her focus from the disappointment of the current circumstances to the promise of her vision, again and again. She had to pull herself away from the story of what wasn’t working in the physical world at the moment and find a way to trust in the intangible world of her inner vision.
She had to actively remember how it felt to realize, in her heart of hearts, “This is mine to do” – and to check in and see if that was still true for her. (It was.) And each time she did, another option or opportunity showed up without her having to make it happen.
That’s the ease we experience when we come into alignment with our longings. She didn’t have to generate, track down and analyze countless leads for new options; they came to her as she came into alignment – again and again – with her longings. Her “work” – her practice – was to tend to her inner environment. She learned how to safeguard the dream and not get derailed by frustration.
It’s fundamentally a matter of focus – or, as I like to think of it, a matter of where we’re investing our attention. I like the metaphor of investing attention rather than just paying attention, because investing signifies a thoughtful, conscious choice, a commitment to that choice, and an expectation of receiving a return on the investment.
I can pay attention to the current circumstances and also pay attention to my longings…but where do I choose to invest my attention? Which will generate lasting returns?
I can’t tell you how many times I, like my client, have been tempted to give up on the longing that was awakened in me the day I saw Shakti on stage. There are times when it all feels too hard, too overwhelming and too far out of reach.
And sometimes I do give up, and in those moments it seems as if I am giving up on the dream. But what I am really giving up is the struggle, which I create by entangling my dream with all kinds of fears and limiting beliefs. Sometimes I can’t even contemplate the dream without the burden of believing it is impossible, so I just give the whole thing up.
Which is, paradoxically, the kindest thing I can do, because it provides space and perspective. From there I can begin to untangle the dream from all of my fears about it, and choose once again to invest my attention in the dream.
I have made that choice again and again and again – that’s the loving persistence I’ve been talking about, and that’s what it means to me to “run down a dream.”
I keep choosing to run – or walk, or hobble, or stumble – down the path my longings are creating for me, step by step. In her book, This Time I Dance! Creating the Work You Love (Tarcher Penguin), Tama Kieves says:
“Each step equals a commitment to believe in your soul’s holy quest for recognition and expression, more than to believe in failure of any kind. That is the choice. That is always the choice.”
One of the most important things I’ve learned is that there isn’t a single, “right” sequence of steps that we need to take to realize our dreams, even though a gazillion self-help books might tell us otherwise. There is just the step in front of us to take, and then the next, and the next.
The key is to feel our way to “a” next step, rather than trying to figure out “the” next step. We just need to be facing in the right direction – the direction of our longings.
And we do that by finding ways to stay in the juice of the dream itself, by investing our attention in those blessed moments of clarity and inspiration and choosing to expand them rather than shut them down with all of our fears and objections.
I’ve found that one of the most effective ways to expand those moments is to write about them. I write about why they light me up and what they reveal to me, and of course I write about the dream itself – how it calls to me and why I’m the perfect person to step into it.
And on an ongoing basis, I acknowledge in writing all of the insights I’ve gained, all of the successes large and small I’ve realized, all of the moments of feeling like I’m in my own skin, doing the work I’m meant to do.
I see it as creating a roadmap for myself as I go along, which helps me build momentum and focus. It also helps me recognize that while there isn’t a specific, linear plan I’m supposed to follow, there is what I think of now as the invisible hand of the Divine, orchestrating things on my behalf . My part is to keep finding ways to stay connected with my longings, to listen inward for guidance and to take the step in front of me to take – and being lovingly persistent in doing that, again and again and again.
Once again I offer the elegant words of Tama Kieves:
“It’s just one foot in front of the other on a road your intellect may never understand, and your heart will never doubt. The path of inspiration defies navigation. We arrive by way of revelation.”
Dare to acknowledge your true longings. Turn to face in their direction and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. As you pick up a little speed, you’ll be running down your dreams. And I’ll be here, cheering you on.