Do you have a dream? We usually quite admire the folks do. Some people seem to be able to articulate quite clearly their life goal, and move resolutely towards it.
I’ve never been one of those people.
I’ve always been a little frustrated with myself for seeing too many options, each with their pros and cons, and for having too many dreams, rather than a single one to cling to.
But I wonder whether we put too much stock in dreams and visions. Dreams certainly have a purpose. They get us moving in a particular direction, and give us the hope to move forward. But dreams, to be helpful, often need to be fluid, able to change as the conditions do.
I’ve been quite inspired of late by Wendell Berry’s perspective on visions and the long journey of revising and realizing them. I listened recently to a lecture of his, which was part of the E. F. Schumacher Lectures series (which I honestly had very little context about, except that I was looking for podcasts featuring Mr. Berry).
Speaking in the comforting, wise and earthy language of farming (and in the same breath, about marriage), he explains the ignorant love with which we begin a new relationship or project (or farm):
“One’s connection to a newly-bought farm will begin in love that is more or less ignorant. One loves the place because present appearances recommend it. And because they suggest possibilities irresistibly imaginable. One’s head grows full of visions. One walks over the premises saying, If this were mine, I’d put a permanent pasture here, here’s where I’d plant an orchard, here’s where I’d dig a pond. These visions are the usual stuff of unfulfilled live and induce wakefulness at night.”
The reality, of course, is always different than we imagined. Your spouse is actually their own person, complete with complexities and nuance. The work you began with such excitement is, in fact, back-breaking, something your visions never happened to mention. As Berry goes on to describe:
“When one buys the farm and moves to it to live, something different begins. Thoughts begin to be translated to acts. Truth begins to intrude with its matter of fact. One’s work may be defined in part by one’s visions, but it is defined in part too by problems, which the work leads to and reveals. That is, until you’ve got problems, you probably haven’t got any work. And daily life, work and problems gradually alter the visions.”
Berry then explains what happens as you begin to understand the realities of your chosen place. Dreams and visions adapt (some might call this compromise) to the context, and something new begins to take shape.
“It invariably turns out, I think, that one’s first vision of one’s place was to some extent an imposition on it. But if one’s sight is clear, and if one stays on and works well, one’s love gradually responds to the place as it really is and one’s visions gradually image possibilities that are really in it. Vision, possibilities, work and life all have changed by mutual correction. Correct discipline, given enough time, gradually removes oneself from one’s line of sight. One works to better purpose then, and makes fewer mistakes because at last one sees where one is.
“Two possibilities of the highest human order thus come into reach: what one wants can become the same as what one has, and one’s knowledge can cause respect for what one knows.”
Your dreams are important, but they will change as begin to be realized within a particular landscape. The place they lead you to will be different than you imagined, but at the same time the reality might be richer, even better, than you might have expected.
Berry speaks with a voice that only the perspective of years can give, which is partly why I find his words so encouraging. He describes a greater dream of contentment, as our desires start to align with what one already has.
Listen to Berry’s entire lecture. He brings so much patient wisdom about living a good life.