I want to read and learn all I can, write thoughtfully and truthfully, live according to reason and ever more mature wisdom, and savor every wonderful little gift of life.
After writing so much this week about hope, dreams, and inspiration, I feel I can’t just leave things there; I must add a qualifier: yes, it is good to have hopes and dreams and to work towards them with persistence and determination, but there’s also value to the pain that accompanies longing for as-yet-unfulfilled dreams and desires. It’s not comfortable, but it’s useful—it keeps us striving, and it teaches us to wait and, meanwhile, absorb all that we can from the experience as it shapes our lives.
At least, this is true for me, and I hear that it’s true for some other people, too:
In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, to his young friend whom he knew to be struggling with loneliness,
“[I] wish for you that you may confidently and patiently let that sublime solitude work upon you…which will work continuously and with gentle decision as an anonymous influence in everything that lies before you…to form that unique and unrepeatable compound that [you] are.”
There is something to be said for keeping our hearts patiently open to our painful experiences, if we have the strength not to run from them instead, and letting them mold and grow us into more enlightened versions of our own, unique selves. (I feel like there are probably a thousand other sources out there that one could quote in reference to this point, but Rilke is the one on my mind. Can you think of others?)
Also, yesterday I quoted the opening lines from the song “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus (written by Jessi Alexander and Jon Mabe): “I can almost see it, that dream I’m dreaming…”—but I didn’t quote the most important part, the end of the chorus:
“Ain’t about how fast I get there,
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side—
It’s the climb.”
My dad has always been big on this concept that life is not about working to reach some destination; it’s about being on the journey. My own formulation goes like this (I’ve posted this before):
This is my life, right now, right here—
not some far-off, shining sphere—
but this imperfect moment. So
I’ll let it be and hold it dear.
Our dreams and desires do matter, but the here-and-now matters too. As Annie Dillard said,
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
And to bring that same Longfellow poem that I quoted the other day (“learn to labor and to wait,” from “A Psalm of Life”) back into this, here’s an earlier stanza:
“Not enjoyment, and not sorrow
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.”
In other words, if there’s a “goal” of life, it’s neither happiness nor pain, but simply the process of living and striving to reach our own goals. This makes sense scientifically, of course—survival is the one actual, proveable goal of life, and survival is about working to get what we need and want.
(I’m not really talking about basic-level needs here, of course; “staying open to the experience” of hunger, thirst, and so on wouldn’t do a person much good!)
The point is, as much as I want to fulfill my dreams, this part now—the part when I’m striving, working, longing, reaching, and learning—is the essence of life itself. And so I pause to embrace it and be grateful for it, even as I keep my feet moving forward.