HOW TO DREAM
A Guide to an Extraordinary Life
The Dreamer’s Dilemma / The Dreamer and the Sea / The Dreamer’s Shadow /
The Dreamer’s Stratagem / The Dreamer’s Truth /
The Dreamer’s Destiny
The Dreamer’s Dilemma
A dream is a cause that sets your heart on fire. So bright that it becomes a lighthouse. Which leads all who follow it to the effect of fulfillment — including, but not just, you.
That is the first — and last — principle of dreaming well.
This book is my attempt to explain why. To make my case, I will tell you a little parable, illuminating it with case studies and embroidering it with lessons from history’s great dreamers.
But first perhas you would like to know why I chose to write a book undertaking the unusual, possibly foolhardy, and impertinent task of teaching dreams.
I believe that the world has rarely needed more dreamers, or dreamers more. For here is what I have quietly observed.
From the very day we are born, the task of punishing, wheedling, and coaxing our dangerous, useless, fantastical dreams out of us begins — first at school, then at work, and then at play. We are carefully trained and encouraged, painstakingly schooled and sorted, systematically punished and rewarded to be obedient rationalists, empiricists, materialists: something like optimizers of pleasure, clever lever-pressers of conditioned egoistic reward.
Rational empiricist materialism is the great philosophy ascendant in the high summer of meta-modernity — and both its greatest project and program. Let me summarize the commandments of its program thus: we are to believe only in what we can see, place our faith in what is sensible, desire what pleases us, and cautiously reason our way to our objectives, whether they are “life goals”, “five year plans”, “performance reviews” or “mission statements” — which consist, in the first place, largely of accumulating more of the objects that please us, whether they are cars or homes or money or people. That, after all, is what is rational, sensible, useful, logical.
Thus, diligent workers in the great program, we learn, lesson by lesson, crack of the whip by crack of the whip, to strip the emotion from our calculations and stratagems, carefully excise the insensible from our thoughts and endeavors, and incinerate the waste of our higher aches and longings. Such elements are sedition, dangerous to the goals of rational empiricist materialism: they threaten productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness with, meaning, purpose, suffering, love, grace, a point. But the fact is: living our lives as perfect optimizers, we are not dreamers anymore — we are cautious, timid janitors of desire, diligently scrubbing away the dangerous stains of our dreams — not defiant captains of the human spirit.
Until, at last, having settled comfortably into the ample delights of rational empiricist materialism, we ourselves come to regard our dreams as dangerous fantasies to our own happiness. We are sensible now, civilized, socialized, our sharp edges dulled — and also, perhaps, anesthetized.
Here is my tiny theory. We have been vaccinated against dreaming. That is why we dream poorly, and how we came to forget the lost art of dreaming well.
Aha!! Harrumph! Fie!! You object. Why, where is the evidence, my good man — the metrics, the numbers, the data? After all, a phenomenon surely cannot be real if there is no data…no data…no data…cannot compute. I applaud your tenacity. Though you sound like a broken android who has ruled out the existence of love, meaning, and possibly your own happiness, you are a good rationalist to the last. Very well. Let us then, attempt to utilize rational empiricist materialism to demonstrate the insufficiency of rational empiricist materialism as a philosophy by which to live our one and only lives.
Here is a collection of seemingly unrelated curious facts.
Humankind’s first and only journey to the stars — Voyager I — lifted off in 1977. Antibiotics were discovered in 1928, and chemotherapy developed in the 1950s. Average income in the world’s richest nation rose until 1970…and then stopped. Climate change was discovered in the mid 1960s. The word “robot” was coined in 1920 — and popularized in the 1950s. The US Interstate Highway System was begun in 1956. The fastest commercial jet in the world went into service in 1976…and out of service in 2003. The largest political union in history, the European Union, was formed in 1951. Income inequality in the US today is higher than in ancient Rome. The notion of universal human rights was formalized in 1948. The last widely noted artistic movement, abstract expressionism, ignited in the 1940s.
I could go on. But there is no need. Let us, instead attempt the difficult job of interpreting these facts. Quibble if you must, nitpick at the details, niggle over the precise when and where and who, but here is the conclusion they point me at, no matter how I clap my hands over my ears, blast Yeezy’s greatest hits, and try to ignore it.
Dreaming is in danger of becoming a lost art. We have come down with an illness of the human spirit that I will somewhat rudely call Dream Deficit Disorder. Let me put that still-contentious proposition to you, though it is now grounded in facts, data, and reason, thus.
Once we dreamed of voyaging to the far-flung stars. Now we settle for sending billionaires into low earth orbit. We once nobly dreamed of curing mankind’s ills — and did. Now, we spend more on nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, and plastic surgery than we do on new antibiotics, vaccines, or chemotherapies…while we decry taking vaccines. Yesterday we dreamed of great parks and preserves, to give every generation nature’s gift. Yet now, when the planet itself is in peril, we are busy quibbling over whether it is. We dreamed yesteryear of education for every mind. Now young people’s backs break before they’ve even learned to stand up, with debt. We imagined thoroughfares that spanned continents — and built them. Now our imagination seems limited to…cars that drive themselves…along those crammed, cracked highways. We once came together to form great nations and unions. Now, we can barely get a bill through the clogged arteries of sclerotic democracy. Great artistic movements — impressionism, modernism, expressionism — once electrified the world. Now we await Transformers XXXL Part 72,184 (and I say that as an Optimus Prime fan). We dreamed yesterday of ideas so great they shook the very heavens until the gods themselves laid down their arms — ideas like freedom, rights, wisdom, and truth. Now, we work hard at dunce-grin caricatures of these very same historic ideas — profit, privilege, strategy, truthiness. Once, we dreamed of revolution, rebellion, transformation, grace. Now, it seems, we dream of resignation, acquiescence, self-preservation, and a golden parachute.
How, then, did what we might call this gruesome process of undreamification happen? What invisible hand squeezed the life out of our dreams — and the dreams out of our lives? Maybe the lizard beings are spiking the world’s water with zombie juice. Maybe it’s the Damned Kids and Their Video Games!! Maybe the immigrants did it. Maybe we’re devolving as a species into the lizard beings….or the kids…or (shudder) the immigrants. Or maybe, Einstein, the most concise, most reasonable explanation is the toughest to swallow…for it places the responsibility not on them, but on us.
That explanation is this. Rational empiricist materialism may be a very good philosophy by which to run labs, invest in stocks, and manage corporations (though I do not think it is even that). But it is a poor lens through which to see our potential, for it leaves our vision shortsighted, narrow, cataracted, cross-eyed — not farsighted, broad, vivid, starry-eyed. And so, too often, as rational empiricist materialists, we do not see far or deep or true enough to look into the secret hearts of our dreams at all. It is not a philosophy bright or bold enough to be the guiding north star of human endeavor, imagination, and aspiration.
For if we take a moment to be unflinchingly, uncomfortably, awkwardly honest, instead of flinchingly, agreeably, politely insincere, the truth is that this is an Age of Broken Dreams. To and for too many of us who deserve better. And so perhaps the spiritual ailment of Dream Deficit Disorder is how this Age of Broken Dreams came to pass. Perhaps it is what is squarely behind seemingly endless economic stagnation. Perhaps it is reflected in our own lowered expectations, in which we numbly shrug at lives worse for those to come. Perhaps it is reflected in our own stubborn inability to live up to our most pressing shared challenges, whether climate change, inequality, or social fracture. Perhaps it is reflected in an age of irony, in which every vulnerability must be masked with a LOL and a shrug to demonstrate one’s cynical veneer of invulnerability. Perhaps it has permeated like a carcinogen of the human spirit right through us to soak into the water table of culture, and gulping it right back in ten thousand times a day, we have come to regard the disorder as good health — and dreams themselves as things to be sneered at, jeered at, taken aim at, and exterminated. Perhaps we’re becoming something like the petty, preening big game hunters of one another’s dreams. Or perhaps the deficiency is the effect, not the cause — or maybe it’s an endless loop, a downward spiral of shrinking dreams ever-shrinking dreams.
No matter the direction of the downward spiral of dreaming, its pattern is visible everywhere, should you choose to take off your eyes off the prize for a moment and look at the point. Whether it is in the arts or sciences, in commerce or ideas, in the market or in the academy, perhaps you will see, as I do, a world not aglimmer with great, beautiful, noble dreams — but a world asleep to the potential in and the possibility of such dreams. For it is not just our dreams that seem to have withered, shrunk, diminished — but our capacity for dreaming. Not merely from what it used to be. But from what it could — and should — be.
Nonsense! Hogwash!! Bu — bunkum!! You cry, pounding your fist on the internet, spilling designer coffee all over your artfully shredded jeans. You are right. The above is, of course, a Highly Problematic Set of Ludicrous Statements, which any reasonable person will object vehemently to. “We” is surely not you, for you dream great dreams.
Or — forgive me for asking — do you?
So: what do you dream of? Jackpots of money, heaps of power, adoring throngs of fans kissing your feet — or at least like-heart-follow-favoriting your every moment?
I wouldn’t blame you if you did.
After all, the paradox of this Age of Broken Dreams is this. We’re encouraged and exhorted at every turn, ten thousand times a day, to dream. And so we work at dreams as diligently as if they were jobs. Follow your Dreams! Dream Big! Dream, goddamit, dream! Big Passion Is Watching You — Better Not Slack off and Stop Dreaming! And yet. Though dreams have never been more ubiquitous, are we really dreaming? Consider. It is easy to idly say, in a job interview, or during a presentation, something like: “I dream of world peace!” But that is not a dream. It is merely something we utter, to win our desires. The prize, the trophy, the job, the bonus. When we idly claim to want world peace, we are something like beauty pageant contestants, playing out performances with our lives. Our true dream isn’t world peace; it’s winning the pageant. We may be sure that the dreamer in us still slumbers when we childishly believe that our dreams are what we tell the world — not what is revealed by our lives.
I think that the fact is this. We are admonished and encouraged to dream — so long as our dreams are not really dreams at all. We are told to dream — as long as our dreams are to be middle managers, administrators, bureaucrats, tycoons, impresarios, celebrities. To be rich, famous, and fabulous. As long as we dream of super cars, bonuses, designer TVs, gadgetopias, luxury yachts, VIP rooms, platinum cards. In other words — as long as our so-called dreams are merely advertisements, receipts, walk-in wardrobes of the human spirit, mental commercials of infinite consumption.
Hence, most of us have dreams that are barely worthy of the word. What are they — if we are to drop our pretenses and admit the truth? They are merely programmed fantasies of gratification. Advertisements for the lives we have been told to want. Billboards in our minds, that we have been conditioned to see, over and over again. Not so much tempting us as they are taunting us, not so much singing to us as they are provoking us, not so much elevating us as they are belittling us.
Though they may glitter and sparkle, beckon and sway, such dreams are to the real thing what instant noodle microwavable pizza burgers are to great cuisine. And just like instant noodle pizza burgers, the truth is that they malnourish our minds, hearts, and spirits — they fill us up to bloated, only to leave us a little emptier and sicker than before. For the inescapable truth is that even if we realize such so-called not-quite insta-meal pseudo-dreams — have you seen a happy celebrity, a billionaire with a functioning soul, a smiling family dynasty, lately, no wait, ever? — we only redouble our desperate search for fulfillment. But no matter where or how we search, we do not seem to find it.
Where did it vanish?
Fulfillment lies hidden where it has always been — not in the world, but in our selves as they may fully be. Those are our truest selves. It is not in rationally optimizing material payoffs, but in awakening those selves. And it is only dreams that can awaken them.
Therefore, to regain the possibility of fulfillment, we must learn to how dream, just as we are taught and conditioned not to. For dreams worth dreaming have never been rational, empirical, nor material. They are precisely the opposite: beyond reason, rooted in experience, devoted to a higher meaning, kindled by a greater purpose. That is precisely why they lead us to fulfillment — and why, without well-dreamt dreams, our lives, no matter how many the fortunes, lovers, or toys we have won, conquered, accumulated, hoarded, come merely to seem empty, senseless, half-lived.
Thus: our dreams are lighthouses calling us, and all who follow us, to fulfillment. We must be their causes. Should we not risk our effort, imagination, and time for them, we will have abandoned the greatest task we have: creating the truest selves we may potentially become — our human potential itself, before it has even begun to unfurl. And so fulfillment will ever elude us.
And that we do not learn the art of dreaming well is perhaps why we so often living lives that do not feel like our own. Because they are founded upon dreams which are not our own. Having become the oppressors and subjugators of our own dreams, we have already given up our greatest obligation. To explain that obligation more finely, let us come to a truer understanding of what dreams are.
When we say that we “dream”, what do we mean? What, precisely, is a dream? To try and capture the essence of a dream is like standing on the shore, and trying to bottle the ocean. And yet. We do not merely mean, when we say that we dream, that we see barely-sensible things in our sleep. Our dreams are not merely the sensations we feel when our minds slumber. To think so is to mistake what a dream is entirely. Here is a truer truth.
Our dreams preoccupy us. They haunt us. They sear us. They consume us. They flood us. We do not merely dream when we are asleep. We do not awaken unless we dream.
This, then, is my imprecise definition of what a dream is.
Dreams are something greater, truer, and deeper than mere fantasies, wishes, or reveries.
They are our answers to life’s Greatest Question.
“Why am I here?”
And like every answer, there are good and bad ones.
The dreamers’ dilemma is this. Every person must ask themselves the Greatest Question. But to truly answer it, each must suffer. It is a great dilemma. Composed of two undesirable options. If a person asks the question, they must face the pain of renouncing who they believe themselves to be. And yet, if they do not ask it, they will suffer. The pain of never having become who they truly are.
The dilemma has only one resolution: not merely dreaming — but dreaming well. For the question is not whether we will dream. But whether we will dream well. Because the truth is that not all dreams are created equal. There are good dreams, and bad dreams. There are dreams which awaken us to our full possibility — and dreams that put our truest selves to sleep. And the purpose of this book is to explain the difference between them.
The art of dreaming well consists of four elements: learning how to have dreams that are great, noble, beautiful, and true. You will find these four characteristics universal to all history’s most memorable dreams. They are what truly distinguishes remarkable dreams from mediocre ones. Such dreams fulfill their dreamers — and should that sound daunting, here is the good news: the truth is that dreams do not have to be something like huge glittering vicious endless music videos of twerking supermodels in gleaming mansions full of designer lifestyles to fulfill us.
Indeed, that is what badly dreamt dreams often are. They are small, selfish, ugly, and false. These four characteristics are what distinguish dreams as impoverished, insufficient, broken before they are even realized: dreams which fail at fulfilling us even when they succeed. We are encouraged, whether cynically or optimistically, for the sake of expedience or success, to dream “big”, to “follow” our dreams, to “work” at our dreams, and to dream of what we “want” — but because this is a egoistic, calculated, and possessive approach to human potential, none of these lead to the glimmering waters of fulfillment. Hence, Dream Deficit Disorder…the Age of Broken Dreams…and this very book.
I will discuss many dreams with you — through a parable, and then its explanation, in five smaller principles. I will illustrate dreams that are great, noble, beautiful, and true; well dreamt in every aspect — and compare them to dreams that have been badly dreamt. From dreamers as historic as the Buddha and Martin Luther King, to those as cutting-edge as Malala and you. I will help you, I hope, learn from history’s masters of the art of dreaming. People who have genuinely mastered the lost art of dreaming well. The might of their dreams echoes through history like a great earthquake.
Dreaming well is in danger of becoming a lost art. And for that very reason I would like us to recognize it as one of the great arts of living. Not merely an exercise in formula, routine, or execution. But an act of boundless creativity which must be mastered, through long experience, and with careful attention. If one cannot dream well, one will not live well. And so dreaming well is an art that each of must if not master, then at least become reasonably proficient in. We may not be Michelangelos of dreams — but each and every one of us must learn to hold the brush, and paint the picture, if we are to live extraordinary lives.
Each and every one of us must learn how to answer the Greatest Question in a way that is uniquely great, noble, beautiful, and true. That is all it really means to dream well. For the truth is that few of us will ever find fulfillment by living someone else’s dreams. And none of us may ever find fulfillment by rejecting our dreams. As hopeless, impractical, scandalous, or naive. For that is what all dreams are — and must be. They lead us to fulfillment precisely by being so — for that is what living fully often is.
And we must answer the Greatest Question with our dreams despite the sure cost. The inconvenient truth is that the moment we begin to think: “there must be more to life than this!!” — we are shunned, laughed at, fired, ignored, rejected, scorned, mocked. By friends, lovers, colleagues, bosses, acquaintances, careers. Suddenly instead of predictable, sensible, respectable people, we are idealists, renegades, outlaws, rebels, fools, radicals, stargazers.
But that is the moment at which we begin to truly dream. We must remember this much. Every dream has its cost, but the true cost of every worthy dream is also its great reward. It awakens the dreamer. And challenges him to leave his old self behind.
When we accept the cost as the reward, we are heretics against the perfectly sensible senselessness of rational empiricist materialism. We are becoming dreamers. And there is nothing more dangerous than a dreamer awakening. For in every dream worth dreaming there is the seed of rebellion. There is the spark of defiance. There is the flame of truth. And all those consume whole the mediocre, tedious, predictable lives we are told we should live — and replace them, instead, with those we must.
Therefore. To dream well is not just difficult. Make no mistake. It is a perilous heresy against the common sense of the ascendancy of common sense. One must damn one’s self to dream — one does not dream one’s self to the heavens. It is not just pleasantly wishing, comfortably fantasizing, or even aching with longing. It is more demanding still. It is surrendering all that one believes one is, in the improbable hope of discovering who one was truly meant to be. That is why well-dreamt dreams, and they alone, hold such power over us: they alone give us the power to create lives rich in meaning, purpose, and happiness. That is why they exhilarate us so — for they exalt who we truly are.
That is why we dream. And that is why a dream is not merely a picture we paint, with the brushes of the imagination, on the canvas of the mind; nor merely a map we draw of our route to success; not merely a mirror we polish, a mask we wear, or a portrait on our wall. It more than all those.
A dream is human possibility that we wish to realize. To make real; to bring forth; to forge from the very fabric of life. And will defy the gods, tempt the fates, and scorn destiny to realize. For if we cannot do so, we will never feel truly alive. That is the truest damnation there is. For it imprisons us in futility, despair, and regret.
Dreaming well is the art of becoming the person that you were meant to be. If you are to gain the greatest reward of all. Fulfillment. The experience that you have been truly alive. Good dreams awaken us. To our true selves. And to have that awakening, to become our truest selves, we must be willing to relinquish who we are.
And so. A dream is love. A dream is hurt. A dream is truth. A dream is impossibility.
A well dreamt dream is a lighthouse. Guiding us, and all who follow us, through the stormy seas of life, across the rocks of suffering, where the tiny vessels we call our selves will surely crash — to the safe, still harbors of fulfillment. And that is why each and every one of us must learn to dream well. For if we cannot build our lighthouses, we are likely to remain lost at sea, tossed like straw by the storm, and then founder upon the rocks. The vessels we call ourselves will never find their way home.
We are born at sea. And we must find the shore. It is the dreamer in us who may cross the waters, and reach the shore of fulfillment.
Let us, then, together, begin the journey towards that unsure, dangerous, necessary destination.
The Dreamer and the Sea
A castaway sat, hunched and afraid. In a tiny vessel, tossed like straw upon a raging sea. He was small, and the waters were great. He was weak, and the storm was strong.
The gales blew him, this way and that.
He fought, with every sinew, to row his oars. Even against the might of the crashing waves. Which broke against his little boat like earthquakes.
For days; for nights; for what seemed a lifetime; he rowed and he rowed. Until his arms were lead heavy; until his muscles ached with exhaustion.
He grew weary. All his strength was gone. His rebellious eyes closed, no matter how he cursed them. His arms would not row, no matter how we commanded them to lift. He blinked, shook his head, and damned himself to awaken.
And yet, against his will, he fell deep, deep asleep. It was the last thing he would ever know. He was sure of that.
When he awoke, he found himself on the shore. The shore!
He kissed the land, and rejoiced. It was a miracle!
He rested there, for a time. Then he strode onto the small island he had arrived at, and surveyed it.
What will I do here? He asked himself, suddenly afraid.
A part of him replied, gleefully; and he could not say which part it was. Do what you have always desired! Build a great palace, and call it your own! This island is yours — just as it should be! For you are all that matters. Are you not?
Craving surged through him like a flood.
He set to work.
Long days, innumerably many, passed. But all he had was time, and the island.
And one day, at last, he looked up, and his palace was complete.
He celebrated. All he had craved was his!
He walked to the top of the tallest tower in his palace.
And there he saw the sea. Still, it raged. Countless vessels tossed upon its waves, like froth.
He laughed. How foolish they were! How weak! They had not made their way to the shore. And here he was, comfortable, satisfied, in his palace.
And then he spied, from the corner of his eye. Far away, just there. It was another island. With a greater palace upon it than his!
Suddenly, craving kindled in him, like a bitter fire. A palace greater than his? Impossible! No man deserved more than he; and if any man had more than he; then he was surely lessened. Envy raged in him; anger billowed through him.
He set to work again, building a bigger palace.
And as the days passed, he did not think to himself. He had all he craved. And still, it had not been enough.
His island was empty. Desolate. Barren. On it, he alone stirred. And all he felt, his long days, was bitterness, anger, fear, desperation.
He had arrived at the shore. But his life had not been fulfilled.
What did the castaway do wrong? Why did he not find fulfillment?
Many things, you might reply.
And yet, we are more like him, or perhaps he is more like us, than we would care to admit.
We find ourselves alone, upon a great and stormy sea. And we must find our way to fulfillment somehow. But we do not know how. For it is an improbable miracle that we made it to the shore at all. And all we have, alone, wondering, afraid, is our dreams.
“We”. But who is the dreamer in us? Why do his dreams so often seem to lead us to lives of needless suffering? Perhaps it is because what we think of as dreams are barely dreams at all. And who is dreaming them is not our true self at all.
We are told we should dream, like the castaway, in my parable, “big”. Of the biggest house, the biggest wardrobe, the biggest bank account. And so on. The largest life. And though we may realize such a dream, it is but a guarantee that we will not have found fulfillment.
Here, then, is the principle I wish you to remember:
Don’t just dream big dreams. Dream great dreams.
Let me explain it thus.
My friend Tom is a successful banker. He “works” eighteen hours a day, seven days a week; but he cannot say at precisely what. His greatest concern in life is that his bonus is the largest; that his home is the finest; that his car is the most expensive; that his suit is the most ostentatious.
Tom found himself alone, on an island. Lost, afraid, unsure. And he dreamt of building palaces.
Tom will never find fulfillment in his dream. Because he is like the man in my parable. There will always be an island across the sea with a more magnificent palace. And even if that island belongs to Tom, he will still always be…alone, afraid, anxious on it. And so he will have spent his life bitter, angry, envious, disappointed.
His life will be one characterized by needless suffering. Not fulfillment.
Tom never learned the art of dreaming well. And it is not his fault. The simple truth is that there was no one to teach him, instruct him, guide him. The art of dreaming is a high art. And we do not teach it in schools; nor practice it in our daily rituals of “work”.
His dream, to him, seems grand, mighty, big. But the truth is that it is small, diminished, shrunken. It is not a great dream. And that is precisely what the man on the island lacks.
Like most, you probably think that the subject of a dream is you. And the object of a dream is your cravings.
You are wrong.
The subject of a dream is the world. And the object of a dream is its fulfillment.
A dream is not a fantasy. Of the stimuli that you have been conditioned to crave. Objects, things, artifacts. Pleasures, idylls, trinkets.
A well dreamt dream is precisely the opposite. An intention. Of the cause you will be. Which effects you will spark, ignite, incite, precipitate, originate, pioneer. How great will they be?
For greatness is the first element of a well dreamt dream.
The idea of “greatness” does not merely mean what is fine, luxurious, magnificent, huge, sprawling. In it’s truest sense, it does not refer to any of those. Instead, it means what is bigger, more enduring, and more significant than one’s self.
Let me illustrate, with one of history’s most famed dreams. Martin Luther King’s. “I have a dream”, he cried.
What was his dream about? What made it a dream…that we all remember? Are still seared by? That still speaks to us, fiercely, urgently, inescapably? That inspires and enlightens us?
It was not about him at all. It was about everyone else. Everyone. Black, white, young, old, straight, gay, man, woman. His dream was about all of them. That minorities would have equal rights; because all people would respect one another as equals.
That is a great dream. It is not about the self. It is about the world beyond the self. And how much of that world will come to fruition. How all life in the world beyond the self will attain fulfillment, wholeness, completion.
If you must conceptualize it analytically, you may think of it thus. A great dream is great in three respects. Scale, duration, and impact. It is larger than the dreamer. It will outlive the dreamer. And it’s effects change people’s lives forever. Not merely for a moment or two.
MLK’s dream was one of the greatest of all. Because it satisfied all the criteria of greatness. It concerned how all humanity would come to greater fruition. How it would do so forever hereafter. And how each person’s life would be forever changed by it.
That is why we remember it today. That is why it still resonates across the globe. That is why it will still resound just as mightily a millennium from now.
That is a truly great dream.
Now let us contrast it with a different dream. A dream of the moment, famed, exciting, lauded, celebrated.
The dream of commercial space flight, championed largely by (and for) billionaires. Like many, you probably think this is a great dream. What could be a greater dream than that? It’s visionary. It’s daring. It’s bold. It’s audacious. It’s the defining example of a great dream!
Or is it? Let us examine it more closely.
There are seventeen hundred billionaires in the world. Perhaps another ten thousand hundred-millionaires. There are seven billion people in the world. The dream of commercial space flight, then, encompasses a mere twelve thousand people or so. Or 0.000002 percent of the world’s population. So it is not great in the sense that it barely counts to the world. It is petty.
Man has already gone to space. There is nothing particularly daring about sending the very rich there. It is not an original dream; it is merely a replica of a dream that man has already dreamed. It will not make history if Branson sends Gates or Ambani to space. For Armstrong, Aldrin, and Gagarin were the true pioneers. So it is not great in the sense that it barely counts to history. It is trivial.
Devoting countless hours of human talent, ingenuity, and effort to send billionaires into space is something that might leave them awestruck. But they are not short of things to marvel at. It does not endow anyone else with something permanent, lasting, enduring--for example, education. So it is not great in the sense that it is evanescent. It is fleeting.
Ah! You say. But the hope is that space travel will trickle down to the masses — and then extend beyond near orbit. Perhaps it will — and perhaps it won’t. But that is not the dream. The dream is not to build space liners for the average man. It is not to give every man a shot at the furthest flung stars. And advance the frontiers of science, knowledge, and…greatness. It is merely to send billionaires into orbit on…space vacations. That will delight and please them. That is the dream. And that dream is a petty, trivial, fleeting dream. It fails on all three of the criteria of duration, scale, and impact.
My friend Tom’s dream is a badly dreamt one. And the dream of commercial space flight is a small step up — but just that. It is a mediocre one. It is unremarkable and forgettable. For still, it seems as if it is more about directing human effort, ingenuity, and talent to building palaces than doing something greater with them. Neither are truly well dreamt dreams. And both instruct us how not to dream.
Just as living a trophy life or sending billionaires into space is not a truly great dream, neither is making a thinner phone, a more expensive pair of jeans, or winning a million internet fans. None are well dreamt dreams. They are simply the palaces in my parable. Dreams that will inevitably lead the self to needless suffering — not to fulfillment.
And yet, all those are precisely the kind of dreams we are told to celebrate, admire, and consider as great, astonishing, remarkable. Even if it is celebrated, admired, adored, envied — all that is no signal that it is truly worth dreaming in the first place. It may yet be small, diminished, inconsiderable. A great dream is not just one that is admired. It is one that is not about building a finer palace of one’s own. But something greater — larger, more lasting, and more luminous than one’s self — entirely. Lives worth living.
To drive the point home, let us consider a greater dream still than even MLK’s.
Once, there was a rich man, who turned his back on all the comforts and luxuries he might have had. He sat under a tree, and dreamed. His dream was this: that every human being had the chance to escape the cycle of suffering that he called life. By living according to a great law, behaving justly, every man might find his way to enlightenment.
The law he called Karma. The state of enlightenment, he called Nirvana. The man, of course, was Gautam Buddha. I do not wish you to judge the truth of Buddha’s dream. Whether or not men are reborn, whether or not Karma and Nirvana are real, and the like. But merely to understand what made his dream so remarkable, memorable, and historic.
His dream was greater still than MLK’s. It did not concern him. It concerned all humanity. And not just in the present moment. But for all time. Not just every person that lived — but every person that would live, and the people they could become.
Contrast Buddha’s dream with the dream of commercial space flight. Where the latter is petty, trivial, and narrow as a little stream — concerning just a tiny sliver of humanity, here in the present moment, for just a tiny, evanescent moment of their lives; vacations, after all, are merely momentary diversions — Buddha’s dream is as vast an ocean.
How unfair! You cry. To contrast a great prophet with mere tycoons! Why, that is like comparing apples to…little grapes!
But that is precisely my point. If we wish to truly learn how to dream, we must choose the right lives as models to follow. Today, we often lionize impresarios and tycoons — but they are precisely to whom we should not look to if we wish to learn how to dream well. The dreams of rich men are not often dreams at all; they are merely advertisements for the things they wish to hawk and peddle. A great dream is not merely a large fortune, a grand home, or a bulging bank account. All of those things might please you, but none of them will fulfill you. Nor will they make you in any way remarkable; for history has always had rich men. And forgotten them the moment they are dust. So if you are to dream well, you must look beyond who is merely notable, to the true masters of the art.
A great dream might sound to you as if it is easy to imagine, envision, and see. Is it? Why, then, are examples of great masters of dreaming, like Buddha and MLK, so few and far apart in history? Why, then, do we celebrate small dreams as great dreams?
Why is it so difficult to dream truly great dreams? Let me return to my parable. Who was dreaming of palaces? Was it the man’s true self? Or just a small, single part of him?
When we dream of palaces, it is our egos that are dreaming. Of their cravings. Not our true selves. Of their fulfillment.
Ego dreams will never lead us to fulfillment. They will rarely even lead to the satisfaction of the ego’s cravings, for those cravings are insatiable, limitless — and as empty as a desert. The moment they are satisfied, the ego simply cries out for more. And the moment we do not satisfy them, the ego condemns us as inadequate. It is a dilemma which no man can master.
And so we suffer, needlessly and often terribly. When we dream small, diminished ego dreams.
The dreamer in us has not awoken.
The difficulty in dreaming a great dream is this. It demands that we relinquish ourselves. The selves that we were must die. For newer, truer selves to be reborn.
To dream a great dream, we must no longer be the center of our own worlds. The order of our universes must be undone and remade completely. Great dreams are not about what we may have in the world, but what the world may become. The world must be at our center.
We must, in other words, learn to surrender that which we hold most dear. Our grasping, cunning, scheming selves. The diminution, in other words, of the ego. The small, shouting part of us, that tells us we are merely the sum of our desires; and that is all there is to us.
The ego is the enemy of great dreams — as it is the enemy of all true greatness. Like a child, it demands that we put the pursuit of pleasure first. But to be great is precisely to be greater than the egoistic demands of the self. And so to truly dream a great dream, we must outgrow our egos.
It is much discussed. How should one step past one’s ego? What is it that cages it, limits it, stays it from devouring one’s entire self? Must one meditate for years? Chant and sing? Perhaps. But I think there is a simpler and more direct answer. Dream a truly great dream. One that is not egoistic; in which all that is encompassed is the ego. If one wishes to restrain the ego, then one can begin by dreaming. Not dreaming it away — but dreaming it into it’s rightful place. Until it is no longer an arbiter, nor a master — but merely a supplicant.
Gautam Buddha did not merely spend his life idly surrounded by courtesans, fine silks, and footmen. He was too busy dreaming. About what life might be. MLK did not spend his life amassing a fortune, collecting art, and dating supermodels. He was too busy dreaming. About what every person deserved. They were great dreamers precisely because they had learned that the ego would have limited them to mediocre, meaningless lives. And prevented them from living remarkable, extraordinary ones.
That is the price every great dream demands. And that is what great dreams do for dreamers. They awaken them. To their truer selves.
A badly dreamt dream is about the stimuli you crave. What you want for…yourself. That is barely a dream at all, and certainly not one that can lead you to fulfillment: it is merely an egoistic expression of how you prioritize your desires. The theory of dreams as vehicles of desires goes something like this. Imagine what you wish for most. Now expand it. Enlarge it. Multiply by a thousand. A super car? Not good enough. Envision a fleet! A suburban mansion? How pedestrian. Think: a luxury triplex overlooking the park!
When you subscribe to this tiny model of human motivation, you are treating yourself like a lab rat. You are believing, without even thinking about it, that you are merely a response, which needs a stimulus, to condition it, to evoke it, to trigger it. And so you must make that stimulus bigger than anyone — everyone — else’s. How else will you defeat them, and win what you prize?
There’s just one tiny problem with the theory of dreams of vessels for desire. You might get all the things you want. But not a single one will bring you any closer to a life lived fully. You will suffer mightily to win all these things. Houses, clothes, cars, people. But once you have them…you will suffer more mightily still. For you will ask yourself: wait…what the hell went wrong? Why didn’t I live an extraordinary life? You will not have suffered for a reason. You will only have suffered…to suffer more. Here is the lesson. A dream that is concerned with you, your cravings, your conditioning…is merely a tiny dream. A small dream, which will limit you to being a small amounts of fulfillment.
We must never mistake our cravings for our dreams. Our cravings are largely delusions. They are not always wholly bad for us — but neither can do for us what we think they will: lead us to fulfillment. They are conditioned in us. They are composed of what we are taught we should desire. By society, culture, by the spirit of the age. Why did the man in my parable build palaces? Why did he think it would lead him to fulfillment? It was what he had been conditioned to want. He mistook his cravings for his dreams — and that was his mistake.
I do not mean that you should be a pauper, living in a cardboard box, rejecting all worldly goods. You should have a comfortable life, and indulge your ego every so often — but that is not all you should have or do. What I mean that you must never let the satisfaction of your Cravings define your aspirations. You will never be led to fulfillment that way. Like the man in my parable, you will merely be building greater palaces. But you will still be alone, afraid, anxious, on your island. Suffering needlessly. You must dream a greater dream.
I don’t care what you have a burning desire to give to the world. Better sanitation, food, water…education, healthcare, transport…fashion, like Coco Chanel; haircuts, like Vidal Sassoon; shoes, like Adi Dassler, the founder of Adidas and Puma; hotels, like Conrad Hilton; art, like Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso. It matters, to be sure. MLK’s dream is greater than Conrad Hilton’s dream. Yet, not all of us will be MLKs; and not all of us should try. The rule we must always remember is this: It is better for to fail at greatness than it is to succeed at mediocrity.
For both will lead to suffering. But only failing at greatness will lead to suffering with a point. So what matters is that you learn how to dream before you worry about what to dream. What does matter is that the dreamer in you is not merely your ego. That you are not merely building palaces on your island. That your dream is greater than your cravings — that it is concerned, instead, with how you will bring the world closer to fulfillment. The greatness of a dream is in what you cause — not what you crave.
Let us judge your dream. How great is it?
How great is it in scope? Does it concern you…your friends…your city…your country…your continent…or, like MLK’s, all humanity?
How great is it in duration? Will it affect people for an instant…an hour…a day…a month…or, like MLK’s dream, forever?
How great is in time? If it is realized, will it last a moment…a day…a week…a month…a year…or, like MLK’s, for all time?
Your dream does not have to be as great as MLK’s. And it certainly does not have to be as great as the Buddha’s. But it does have to be greater than what your ego cries out for…to begin to count as a dream.
Complete this sentence. “I have a dream. That one day, every man, woman, and child will ________.”
What do you fill in the blank? MLK’s answer was “basic human rights”. Buddha’s answer was a “path to enlightenment”. And those phrases were their answers to the question: “why am I here?”
Tom has no answer to this question. There is no reason he is here. Like the man in parable, he simply building palaces. Needless suffering. Not fulfillment.
Perhaps it is not you alone who will cause whatever it is you write in the blank space. The question is at least what role you will play. If the blank is healthcare; perhaps your role is being a doctor, a nurse, a scientist; if the blank is fashion, perhaps you will be a designer, a stylist, a tailor. But always put first why you dream — not just what you dream. You have begun to dream a great dream.
You are not merely your ego. You are not merely a set of wants, a consumer trapped inside a human spirit, a warehouse of desire, a receptacle. You are something greater.
You are a being with the possibility to live an extraordinary life. But to do so you must dream a truly great dream. A dream so vast, enduring, and impossible, that it is concerned with the fulfillment of all life.
Why am I here? “To win what I have been conditioned to crave!”, the ego cries. And so the self never reaches fulfillment.
Why am I here? “To cause fulfillment in every life”, the dreamer whispers. A new self opens its eyes. The ego has been surrendered.
The dreamer is awakening.
The Dreamer’s Shadow
The castaway was no longer a young man. He had spent many long days on his island. Building the most magnificent palaces he could dream of.
Triumphantly, he had looked across the waters, from their towering spires. And still, every time he built one, the man on the island across the sea had built one still greater, taller, grander.
How could it be! You are all that matters — and yet, the man across the sea has more than you! Why, you are not a man at all. A part of him jeered.
He seethed in anger. He curdled with bitterness. He kindled in envy.
And then another part of him, that seemed until then hidden, spoke. Why, it said, kindly, calmly, seductively, do you not merely take what is yours?
Imagine all the vessels upon the sea. All the riches aboard them. Why do you not make your own? Then you will certainly be mightier than the man across the sea.
But how? The man asked this shadow who had seemed to be hidden before.
Why, lure them to the island…Crash the vessels upon the rocks. And wade out to sea, retrieving their wares. The shadow replied, smiling.
And then you will surely have more than the man on the island across the sea. Your palace will be full of things he will never have. Things that you rightly deserve. For you are all that matters, and all that is in the world rightly belongs to you.
The man laughed. How simple it was! Why had he not seen it before! What a cunning and clever thing this shadow was!
He climbed the rocks the edge of his island. Atop the rain-lashed rocks, he built a great fire. And there he waited.
Vessel after vessel saw the light, and made for the shore. And each crashed and split upon the rocks.
Finery upon finery washed up on his beach. Silks and jewels, silver and gold. A telescope, to examine all the sea with.
The man laughed. He made of them a glittering crown and a great robe. And wearing both, he walked to the highest tower in his palace, to display them to the man across the sea, triumphantly.
He smiled, and looked across the waters through his telescope. And there, he saw his rival’s palace, brick by brick. He examined it closely, until, at last he came to its tower. There, the man across the sea was laughing at…him.
For atop his head was a greater crown. With finer jewels. And adorning him was a more magnificent robe. Not merely embroidered with gold and silver — but which seemed to be made of it. Just as the man across the sea’s great palace was; while his own tower was merely made of stone and mud.
How could it be!
Fury surged through him like a mighty flood. Envy kindled in him like a terrible fire.
Perhaps, said his shadow, with the cruelty of kindness, I have misjudged you. You are weak. Perhaps you do not have the strength to be the mightiest among men. Perhaps you are small, insignificant, undeserving. Because you are not cruel, savage, and ruthless enough. Some men are just that. Barely men at all.
I am not! Cried the man. I am all that matters. All that is rightfully belongs to me! And so I am surely mightier than the man across the sea.
I will prove it to you, he shouted to his shadow.
Furiously, he set to work. Luring vessel after vessel to crash upon the rocks. Whose pilfered wares might let him best the man across the sea.
And as the days passed, he did not think to himself. He had all he craved. And yet, somehow, his cravings only grew, and grew. Until, perhaps, they were all he had become.
Still, his island was empty. Desolate. Barren. On it, he alone stirred.
And all he felt, his long days, was bitterness, anger, fear, desperation. His life was needless suffering within needless suffering.
He had arrived at the shore. He had built his palace.
But his life had not been fulfilled.
What did the castaway do wrong?
Many things, you might say. But he is more like us — or perhaps we are more like him — than many of us would care to admit.
We dream of glittering crowns and fine jewels. In our mundane lives, they may be accolades and trophies; prizes and titles; fine clothes and great homes. And often, we will do anything to win them. We obey the dark impulses that some hidden part of us reveals. We may crash every other vessel upon the shore, and sift through its wreckage. Dreaming that, at last, they may provide us the fulfillment we so desperately seek.
But just as for the castaway in my parable, wreckage and ruin, even if it ends in crowns and jewels, cannot lead us to fulfillment. We dream of besting the man on the island across the sea. But there will always be a man on an island across the sea. And though we may outdo him, for a time, that is the surest guarantee that our lives will be spent in bitterness, anger, and fear. And will ultimately end in regret. That we have not, somehow, lived.
We are told, much like the man in my parable, that our dreams should be visions of opulence. About the beautiful and fine things — whether they are cars, homes, people, or clothes — that we should desire. Therefore, we devote our lives to winning them — and especially more of them than the next person — perhaps in destructive, cruel ways. Those are our wildest dreams: our fantasies of what we could win, should we uncage our animal selves. And so, pursuing them, we suffer mightily. Needlessly. Endlessly. When what we dream are dark, desperate dreams, about possession, domination, and control. Which, grotesque, may oft better be called nightmares.
Here, then, is the principle I wish you to remember:
Dreaming well is not about your wildest dreams. It is about your noblest dreams.
Who is that will suffer regret? For the part of us that regrets is not the part of us that has dreamt of crown and jewels.
The dreamer that wrecks the vessels upon the rocks is the shadow. There is a shadow in each of us. It is the small, stunted part of us which contains our dark impulses. It finds gratification in vengeance, vendetta, retaliation. And after a time, should we indulge it, we may come to think that a pleasure in harm is all there is — for the shadow has tricked us into thinking that it is all we are. We will live ruled by our shadow; whose fury and vengeance will turn, at last, on us.
History is littered with shadow dreams. Great ones. Like any number of tyrants, Hitler’s dream was great. So was Mao’s. Stalin’s. It concerned everyone. And it concerned everyone forever. And still, it was not a well dreamt dream. It was worse than a badly dreamt dream. So greatness alone is not enough to dream well. History’s great monsters have been ruled by their shadows. When we combine the quest for greatness with the darkness of our shadows, we do not forge dreams: we conjure nightmares.
We do not need to be great monsters to dream shadow dreams. We merely need be diminished people — people who have been reduced to our shadows, by our egos.
The second element of a well dreamt dream is nobility. And it is precisely the opposite of the cruelty in every shadow dream. Greatness is how far beyond ourselves our dreams extend. And nobility is how deep they reach into each life: whether or not they bring those lives to fruition.
To illustrate nobility, let us begin with its opposite. A life that, by diminishing the sum total of human fulfillment, would have ended in regret. Not a life that, by expanding the sum total of fulfillment, itself found fulfillment. That is my crude definition of nobility.
Consider Herbert Spencer’s dream. The originator of the idea of Social Darwinism, Spencer argued that the “weak” should be culled from society. And to him, the weak were the disabled, the infirm, the deformed, the mentally ill — anyone that differed, significantly, from the norm. Why did Spencer espouse eugenics? He believed that it would rid the gene pool of impurity, contamination, infirmity. And so make all in the future genetically fitter.
Spencer’s dream was greater still than that of most garden-variety tyrants. He did not merely want a new political order. But a more absolute, ruthless, profound kind of totalitarianism still. He wanted to change life itself. All human life. Forever. Not just on its surface, but in its essence; deep in its DNA; in its most fundamental biological components. Finally, absolutely, irreversibly, irrevocably…insensibly.
Today we are naturally repelled by Spencer’s dream. There is something in it that we instinctively respond to, with disgust — not admiration. But what is it?
Spencer himself did not think through the implications of his dream. If we had succumbed to Herbert’s dream, we would not have had Van Goghs, Einsteins, Picassos, Stephen Hawkings. For all those would have been mercilessly erased. A society purified of deviance would have been a society bereft of genius. And that points the way to our deeper moral indignation at Spencer’s dream. The seeds of genius may lie in each and every one of us. And none of us will truly know. Genetic tests might have told us that Stephen Hawking would one day be a cripple in a wheelchair — but they would not have told us that he would be a great genius of physics. And so mankind itself would have been impoverished.
But not merely because it was cheated of genius. But because it would also have been robbed of creativity, wonder, compassion, empathy, rebellion. Man would have merely been a cog in Spencer’s great machine, going through the motions, playing out a role upon a stage. He might have grown taller, stronger, and hardier. But, in losing all that made him truly alive, he would not have grown any more fulfilled.
Spencer’s dream was not a dream at all. It was a nightmare. And that is what shadow dreams often are.
Spencer was something like the man on the island in my parable. His dream was to wreck humanity’s vessels, and sift through the wreckage, for jewels and crowns. And what makes his dream so grotesque is that the jewels and crowns he was seeking, discarding the rest as wreckage, were people.
We are not just lucky Spencer’s nightmare didn’t come true — Spencer is lucky that he did not see it come true. Just like the man in the palace in my parable, Spencer would have sought finer crowns, and more magnificent jewels; and wrecked greater and greater vessels to win them. But there would always have been a man on an island across the sea, with a more magnificent crown, and a finer robe. And so even if Spencer had bested him for a moment now and then, it would merely have guaranteed: his life would have spent trying to please his shadow’s insatiable anger, bitterness, and cruelty; it’s drive to diminish and wreck, not to enlarge and elevate. Turned, inevitably, on himself. Imagine, one day, the perfect race of super people arriving at Spencer’s door. Only to tell him he was a weak old man, who was a liability to the human race. How might Spencer have felt then? Even had he accomplished his dream, his would have been a life of needless suffering. That is a badly dreamt dream.
Spencer’s dream, like the dream of most tyrants, fails the test of nobility. A great dream concerns all life. But it is not necessarily one that fulfills life. Spencer’s dream it is a more incisive counter-example of nobility than that of Hitler’s, Mao’s, or Stalin’s. For it raises the subtle and difficult calculus we must learn to develop when we ask what it is to improve life. It is easy to say that killing, torturing, and terrorizing are undesirable. But to do so brings us little closer to an understanding of what nobility is.
A noble dream enlarges the sum total of human fulfillment that is possible in the world. Nobility is the extent to which we bring them people closer to fulfillment. Not merely to the superficial characteristics that Spencer desired — and which his modern day descendants still do: strength, allure, cruelty, power. But the human stuff of which true fulfillment is forged: happiness, purpose, meaning. Spencer’s dream fails because, in the final analysis, it fails to do precisely that. It robs mankind of all that makes him truly alive. It may have toughened man physically — but it surely would have deadened him emotionally, socially, and spiritually. It would have, especially if successful, diminished the sum total of human fulfillment possible in the world. By reducing men to their shadows.
For a dream to be noble, it must be concerned with people as ends. Their ends. Not merely as means to our own ends. And it must bring forth in them the right ends. Which are those? The end to which every man reasonably aspires. To be fully alive. You may say, simply enough, without overpolishing the stone, that end is in turn composed of smaller ends, such as health, wealth, relationships, security, wisdom, passion — to name but a few. All that which Spencer’s dream might ultimately have cheated humanity of.
Malala Yusufzai was a schoolgirl who wanted an education. The Taliban did not wish her to have one. She defied them. They shot her in the head. Still, she defied them. And dared them to do their worst. Instead of backing down, she doubled down — and called for every girl to have the right to be educated.
Malala’s dream went on to win her a Nobel Peace Prize. Think about it for a moment. To give every girl on planet earth an education. It is a great dream. It is not about Malala; but about the world. But what makes it a masterfully well dreamt dream is that it is more than that.
It is a noble dream. It promises to enlarge the sum total of human fulfillment, by allowing every girl to develop into her better self. One that may wonder, imagine, defy, rebel, challenge, question, provoke, learn, teach. It is concerned with ends; not Malala’s ends, but the ends of every girl in the world; and what they may rightly aspire to be. Fulfilled beings whose lives resound with happiness, meaning, purpose.
Malala’s shadow might have begun to dream. She might have dreamt of giving girls guns — not educations. Or any number of other such things — early marriages, missiles, religious conversions, and the like. And it is unlikely that any of that would have added to the sum total of human fulfillment possible in the world. What makes Malala’s dream resound in us is its soaring nobility.
That is why Malala’s dream inspires us so. That is why it won her a Nobel Peace Prize; why it has touched millions; and animated nations. Not just because it is great, but also because it is noble. Unlike Spencer’s dream, it promises to make each of us — especially the most lost and afraid — more truly alive.
A noble dream makes of all life a greater end. Not just for the strong, mighty, powerful, and privileged. But especially for those who are the most hurt, afraid, damaged, alone, for the longest — for it is when the lost are found that we have created the most fulfillment.
A great dream extends beyond the self. A noble dream elevates humankind beyond itself. It does not merely make men animals, hunting one another in the darkness, like Spencer’s dream might have done. It brings people closer to fulfillment, like Malala’s dream.
To bring out the idea, consider the dream of commercial space flight again. It is not a nightmare, like Spencer’s dream. Yet nor is it noble, like Malala’s dream. It is merely mediocre. And so a fine example of how not to dream.
Why? Because the end has been accomplished — and it is not an especially fulfilling one. Rich men already take vacations. Billionaires own private island utopias. Sending rich men into space on vacations is not merely unoriginal — it is meaningless. It advances no great human cause. It does not push forward the boundaries of science, art, knowledge, thought, or accomplishment. It merely offers…more exciting vacations. But tycoons are not great scientists, artists, thinkers. What they will do in space is simply…what they do on their private islands. Frolic, carouse, and consume. Not wonder, imagine, create, defy, think, rebel, know, question, serve. They are merely tourists, on yet another vacation. And so Musk’s dream adds little, if anything, to the sum total of human fulfillment. It is not a well-dreamt dream. Not just because it is not great. But also because it is not noble.
And the truth is that even fewer dreams are noble than they are great. Try, and you will surely fail, to think of even a handful of truly original, compelling, soaring noble dreams in the world today.
For a noble dream is even more difficult to dream than a great dream. Where a great dream demands that we surrender our egos, a noble dream challenges us to relinquish something still deeper, greater, more integral to our selves.
Our shadows. Jung suggested, after long years of practice, that there is a shadow self that resides in every human being. The shadow is that part of us in which our deepest impulses crouch and slither. And just as the ego seeks the satisfaction of its cravings, so the shadow seeks the gratification of its impulses. The pleasure of retribution; the delight of vengeance; the thrill of conquest. And should we unleash it, when its impulses are not gratified, the shadow will turn on us.
It hungers purely for its own ends — and, cunning, devious, ruthless, will use its fellow men and women as means to those ends. Deeper, darker, more numinous than the ego, the shadow self is the hidden ugliness in every human spirit; which awakens when we sleep; mocks us when we fall; and triumphs in our sorrow.
But that is precisely what we are told we should dream of. When we see people as “consumers”, as “targets”, as “workers”, as “rivals”, as “competitors” — or as “dates”, “tens”, “profiles”, or “followers” — here is what we do not see them as: ends in themselves. We see them not as selves, searching desperately for their own fulfillment, who deserve nothing less — but merely as tools to may provide ours. Which we should use, abuse, trash, and dispose of precisely so. And so we chase and we hunt. The high score, the market share, the payoff, the quotient, the jackpot. All that we have been conditioned to want.
The paradox is that we will never attain fulfillment merely as puppets of our shadow selves. We may win all the “consumers”, “followers”, or “dates” in the world, we may best all the “competitors” and “rivals” — but none of that will earn us a moment of respect, love, rebellion, grace, or truth. Meaning, happiness, and purpose cannot be found merely by treating people as means to the ends of winning the stimuli one so has been conditioned to desperately crave. All one will every truly win is desperation — for the stimulus we elicit is merely the temporary, fleeting relief of ever-deeper misery, meaningless, desolation; not the true attainment of fulfillment.
We must never mistake the impulses of our shadows for our dreams. For they are the smallest, darkest parts of us. And often, like our cravings, they have largely been conditioned. It is acceptable to step on a person this way, we are told; it is alright to abuse another class of people just so, we are reassured. After all, slavery and bondage were all once perfectly legal. How delightful! The shadow thinks. That way lies the gratification of my impulses.
And so we often think that the shadow is the dreamer in us. But wrecking the ships on the shore, to pilfer finer crowns and robes, will never yield us fulfillment. For though we may wear fine jewels, the truth is that we will have spent our lives alone, afraid, angry, bitter, vengeful, on our little islands. We will suffer mightily, needlessly, perpetually when we mistake our impulses for our dreams. And that is the mistake the man in my parable made. We must dream nobler dreams than the impulses of our shadows if our lives are to yield not just suffering — but a glimmering chance at fulfillment.
So we must damn ourselves to hope in the light, not merely to hunt in the shadows, if we are to live fully. Great dreams ask us to surrender our egos — and place all mankind at the center of our worlds. But noble dreams dare us to do something more difficult still. To shatter our shadow selves into a million pieces — and begin to see all mankind not as tools, instruments, machines, yoked beasts of burden, tilling the fields of our conditioned, counterfeit cravings — but just as we truly are: lives seeking fulfillment.
“Why am I here?”
To use people. As means. To gratify my impulses. Screams the shadow self. And so a life is diminished, reduced, wasted. The shadow lulls the dreamer back to sleep. He does not awaken.
“Why am I here?
To dream a great and noble dream. In which every life is an end. Deserving of fulfillment. Whose cause I am. Whispers the dreamer.
Life stirs. The heart beats.
The dreamer is awakening.
The Dreamer’s Stratagem
He was growing into middle age. And all his long days upon his island had been spent sweating, striving, suffering. To build a greater palace, to have a more magnificent crown and robe, than the man on the island across the sea.
Fearing, despairing, envying.
And yet, he had been defeated.
He sat alone, in his palace, his head between his hands. Even his mightiest dreams had not been enough to lead him to fulfillment!
And then, a part of him, which until then had been silent, spoke.
Why do you suffer so? It asked, smiling, gentle. You are all that truly matters. And so all that is rightly belongs to you. All. Do you not see the flaw in your dreams?
Tell me! The castaway cried to this new part of him that seemed to reason more deeply, and think more sharply, than even his shadow and his ego.
You have thought that possessing palaces and jewels is might. But there is something more useful still. Replied the mind.
What could it be? Asked the castaway, puzzled.
Men. The mind replied, dispassionately. For with an army of men, you may build an empire of palaces.
Men, the castaway said, marvelling.
But how will I possess men? he asked the mind.
All men want jewels and crowns, do they not? And you have many jewels and crowns, do you not? The mind asked, precisely.
The man sat awestruck. How wonderful the mind was! How much it knew, and how penetratingly it could reason. It was mightier still than his ego and his shadow.
For now he dreamt a truly mighty dream.
He walked to the rocks, where his fire still burned. And there, he judged the great vessels from the small. The small he let crash upon the stones.
And to the great, he shouted. Lo! I will give you safe harbor. But only upon one condition.
What is it? Came the desperate reply, from vessel after vessel.
You must pledge to me your allegiance, and your obedience. I will be your master. And in return, I will give you a palace of your own, and great crown.
They were dumbstruck. Who would refuse such an offer? The stormy, raging sea — or a crown? And all one had to do was pledge obedience to the man on the island? The very man who offered them safe harbor, dry land, rescue? What fool would refuse such a gift?
Great vessel after great vessel harbored in his beach. And man after man gratefully pledged fealty to him. He met them haughtily, and placed crowns on their bowed heads.
He assembled them one day in the highest tower of his greatest palace. And bade them look across the sea.
There, they saw the island that belonged to the man across the sea. It was studded with palaces greater than theirs.
You, the castaway said to them, are my barons and my earls. And here is my command. Let us build an empire greater than that of the man across the sea.
That is my dream!
But why? Asked one of his barons.
I am your king, am I not? The castaway asked.
You are, they assented.
I am all that matters. The castaway replied. And all that is belongs rightfully to me. And so the man on the island across the sea cannot have an empire greater than mine. Else what am I, but nothing?
If I am weak, you are weak. If am mighty, you are mighty.
They roared in agreement, and set to work.
Many long days passed. And at last, the empire was built. In place of the old palace, stretched a vast, grand, magnificent one. Which contained many small palaces within it.
The castaway walked, smiling confidently, to the tallest tower of the grand palace which was the prize of his new empire. His earls and barons followed him. There, he looked across the water, through his telescope.
There stood the man on the island across the sea. Laughing at him. In a palace so great that it staggered belief. And behind the man on the island across the sea, stood not merely a ragtag assembly of men that called themselves earls and barons. But an army. That stretched through the halls and corridors and turrets of his great empire.
The man on the island across the sea saluted, mockingly. And then turned his back, and walked away.
The earls and barons shook their heads. They muttered darkly. And then one by one, they walked away. Into their palaces. And shut the doors tight.
Fury surged through the man like a great tide. Envy kindled in him like a raging fire.
How could it be!
A voice spoke up from within him. Quiet, calm, rational.
It is just as I thought. You are not the mightiest. It has been proven. There is the evidence. For all to see. Said the mind, implacable in its reason.
But I — the castaway protested.
The mind cut him off. It is not a matter of dispute. It replied calmly. It is demonstrated, beyond doubt, by what the eye can see. It is a matter of logic.
Here is what you believed. You are all that matters. And all that is rightfully yours. Men, jewels, crowns, empires. But you are not strong enough to claim it. Even though I have told you how! What could be more pitiable than that?
There is only one conclusion one can reach.
It is not that you deserve the prize; but cannot claim it. It is that you do not deserve the prize at all.
Then what am I? Asked the castaway, afraid.
The mind thought for a moment. And then it replied, with the faintest trace of kindness in its voice.
Your earls and barons have left you. Here you stand, alone, in an empty, paltry empire. But what are you king of?
The man on the island across the sea is a greater king than you. His empire is greater. And his army stands by his side.
You are nothing. You are less than weak, small, inadequate.
You are not a man at all.
You are nothing. Worthless.
Do not argue. One cannot dispute the proof.
A great sorrow filled the man. All his long days he had labored and labored. To best the man on the island across the sea.
Only to find out that he was nothing.
And now here he was. Alone, afraid, bewildered — again.
And here is what he did not know. He had spend many years on his island. Each day afraid, envious, angry, bitter. Suffering.
He had arrived at the shore. He had built his empire. He had become a king.
And still. Somehow. His life had not been fulfilled.
Here is what he did not understand. All the dreams he had dreamed, of palaces and crowns, of gold and jewels, of conquest and empire — all these had in truth been the same dream. To best the man on the island across the sea.
That had been his only dream.
And it had not awoken anything in him but which seemed damned to suffer.
What did the castaway do wrong?
A great deal, you might say. But it is difficult to say precisely what. For he is more like us — or perhaps we are more like him — than many of us would care to admit.
We dream of empires. And then we plot and we strategize. To build the empires we have dreamt of.
We learn to use ploys and to make deals. We discover how to maneuver and influence. We dangle our carrots and raise our sticks. We bargain and we dicker. Like the man in my parable, we offer people crowns and jewels of their own — so they will serve us, and build our empires.
Such dreams cannot lead us to fulfillment. Even if we build our empires, there will surely be a greater one across the sea — now, or then. And all our servants will desert us at that very moment. For they are not truly our allies, our friends, our partners; they are merely people who we have transacted with. The moment that our side of the bargain breaks, so theirs will, too. But that is the very moment that we will need them most. And we will be left alone, again, on our island, amidst our crumbling empires. Wondering. Why doesn’t my life feel fulfilled? Why am I defeated, alone, hollow?
Here, then, is the principle I wish you to remember:
A well dreamt dream is not a calculation. It is a creation. Dream beautiful dreams.
Let me explain it thus.
Even should we perfectly realize our stratagems and calculations, our ploys and our plots, that is only a guarantee that, without a true dream, like the castaway in my parable, our days will be filled with recrimination, vengeance, anger, envy — and likely end with bitterness, betrayal, and despair. We will suffer. Mightily. Endlessly. Needlessly.
Who is the dreamer that has led us to such suffering? For that dreamer is not the same part of us that has dreamt of the palace. It is not the ego, nor is it the shadow. But something deeper, larger, and more powerful still.
That dreamer is the mind. Who has been awakened, at last, by the ego and the shadow. It is the mind that the ego and the shadow serve. Where the ego is hot, the mind is cold; where the shadow is hidden, the mind illuminates. The mind directs, organizes, conceptualizes. It allows us not merely to want, to hunger, to desire — but to analyze, to know, to think. It analyzes, by reducing; it knows, by memorizing; it thinks, by reasoning. Thus, it allows us to reach for a flawed kind of perfection. And so we often think of the mind as our greatest gift. But the mind can no more lead us to fulfillment than a computer can program us for greatness.
We believe that mind allows us to make sense of our lives. But the sense the mind makes is the most limited kind of sense — the sense of reason and of logic, not the sense of creativity and improbability. For what the mind thinks is true is often false; and what the mind knows is false is often true. And so the logic of the mind will surely imprison us in lives that are little more than algorithms of desire should we believe the mind is all there is to us. Like the man in my parable, we may build our empires. But only by diminishing our selves to our minds.
And when we make such a reduction, we committed made a fatal error. For the mind will calmly, coldly tell us that we are worth only as much our conquests, victories, empires. That is what is logical, after all; it is what we can “know”, conceptually conclude, and assign value to. But that is merely a life of needless, endless suffering; which will never reach fulfillment.
So every dreamer must learn that a dream is more than just a stratagem. A deal. A ploy. A bargain. An application of the mind. A dream is none of those. For it is not a mere calculation.
When a dream is reduced to a mere calculation, we will never feel as if we have truly caused it. We will merely feel as if we have computed it. And that in itself will confirm the very idea that we were never truly worthy of our dream in the first place.
A well dreamt dream must be beautiful. In ways that the heart and spirit are aroused by, even when the heartless and soulless calculations of the mind protests, objects, denies.
For the truest definition of beauty is that which lies beyond logic’s reason — and obeys, instead the higher reason of impossibility.
To make my case against pure rationality, consider Malala’s dream again.
Most of us would agree that Malala’s dream is singularly beautiful. But what makes it so? Consider, for a moment, what I mean by her higher reason of impossibility. The Taliban shot a poor teenage schoolgirl in war-torn Northern Pakistan in the head. Impossibly, she lived. And then…she defied them again. She fought them publicly, denouncing them and challenging them. The world applauded. And she went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Who would have calculated, predicted, reasoned…any of this?
Let us imagine a counter-Malala. A perfect human calculator, precisely rational, pure mind. What would she have computed? That instead of going to school, she must stay home; for the odds were that the Taliban would punish her. That once she was shot in the head, she would certainly die. That after she was shot, she had better back down; and perhaps guarantee the Taliban that she would make no more trouble. For the Taliban was proven to be mightier than her.
But it was not.
There is a higher logic than what is rational, reasonable, predictable. And we must never only be so if we are to live extraordinary lives. What is probable, expected, assumed is not what is possible, certain, ordained. The mind can no more tell us what we are capable of than a crystal ball can tell us what our lucky numbers are. Thus: if it is great and noble things we wish to achieve, then we must not merely obey the odds — we must defy them.
Here is the lesson in Malala’s story. We must never be counter-Malalas if we are to dream well. Being human calculators, succumbing to the tyranny of the probable, is to suffocate one’s dreams with one’s own mind.
Malala’s dream is beautiful because it not a dream that makes sense. It is a dream that is insensible. Unreasonable. Illogical. Impossible. And that is precisely why it touches and inspires us so. Because it reminds us that our lives, at their highest, are not merely destiny — but impossibility; not merely machinery — but miracles. If not in a divine sense, then in a rational sense. Life itself, after all, is the most improbable happening of all.
A beautiful dream inspires people to be more than merely what they are told to settle for. It leads them beyond reason, logic, sensibility — and reminds them that an extraordinary life is not merely accepting one’s position a normal distribution. It is not a set of passive effects. But the growth into one’s self as an active cause.
There is a simpler way to see that. A beautiful dream teaches others to dream. It awakens people to the possibility of impossibility.
Dreams which do the opposite, which shrink human possibility are ugly dreams. Why? Because they make monsters, fools, and puppets of men. Monsters, too, can achieve great and noble things. But they remain monsters all the same.
A noble dream is one in which people are treated as right ends in themselves, not means to our own ends. But a beautiful dream is more profound still. It is one in which the means are just as desirable as the ends. In which the means do not countervail, negate, or subtract from the ends.
Think about any dream that is regarded as beautiful.
Consider Martin Luther King’s dream of equal rights. It is a profoundly beautiful dream. But what is beautiful about it? Not merely that all men must have equal rights. But that all men deserve rights. And so Martin Luther King was an advocate of nonviolence. He himself did not want to negate his very dream of peace…by calling for violent revolution. For such a dream would necessarily fall apart before it had even been realized. That is what is beautiful about it. The means were just as desirable as the ends.
Now consider Malala’s dream again. It is not just great and noble. Like MLK’s dream, it is also beautiful. What is beautiful about it? Malala calls for universal education for girls. That is the means, not the end. The end is freedom. Her dream is that every girl should be free to develop into their better self — no matter the thugs with guns.
She might have advocated any number of means to the end of freedom for girls: war on extremists, drone bombs, assassination campaigns. But the means she dreams of are more desirable than any of these, for their impact is more enduring, less harmful, and more transformative: education. The means are just desirable as the ends. That is what makes her dream beautiful.
In my neighborhood in New York, there were many people who wore the now infamous Google Glass. Most of them worked for Google. And most of the people who walked by them, laughed, shook their heads, and sneered. What was it about Google Glass that repelled people so? Isn’t Google’s dream of a pair of glasses that can allow you to alter your very reality both great and noble? After all, it is a dream that extends to the whole world. And then to allow every person to define their world in such a way that it makes them satisfied.
Imagine you had a pair of Google Glass(es). You downloaded a piece of code to replace ugly face with pretty faces. Fat bodies with thin bodies. Red bricks with brown ones. You could perform a kind of surgery upon reality, and make it appear just as you desired. You could excise the ugliness, plainness, and squalor of the world into gleaming, glittering allure.
What is wrong with that?
By being a Glasshole, you would have been merely something like a walking couch potato in a video game life in a counterfeit world. A purely self-centered being, not part of the world at all — but trapped in a simulation of your own design.
You would have satisfied your mind, by having optimized the world perfectly. But by doing so you would have cheated yourself. Tailoring the world to please you, you would have little incentive to wonder, learn, imagine, connect, respect, trust, suffer, hope, persevere. You yourself would be cheated of dreams.
Google Glass was a dream about ends. And the ends might barely qualify as noble. Empowerment, comfort, knowledge. But the means are ugly. The means do not free us to live more fully — they bind us to live ever more shrunken, stunted lives. A person trapped in a beautiful glass cage will never make his escape. And find his way, through suffering, to love, grace, and truth. And so they cannot yield fulfillment.
That is what repels us about Google Glass as a dream. It is great. And it is noble. But it is not beautiful. It is not enough for a dream to be merely great and noble. It must also be beautiful if it is truly well dreamt. And a beautiful dream must inspire, empower, enable, inspire the world to dream — not merely, like Google Glass, lull them to sleep.
Here is the lesson. Beautiful dreams do not merely prey on our fear. They earn our love. They do not beat us with sticks and stones. They do not cudgel us and leave us cowering. They resound in us. They sing to us. They breathe life into us; by taking our breath away.
And they are vanishingly rare. For they more difficult still to dream than great or noble dreams.
Why? Great dreams ask us to surrender our egos; and place the world at the center of us, not us at the center of the world. Noble dreams ask us to shatter our shadows, and treat people as ends seeking fulfillment, not merely as means to our conditioned ends.
And beautiful dreams challenge us more deeply still — to give up a still deeper part of our very selves. Not our egos; or our shadows; but our minds. The part of us that believes what is logical is what is livable, what is reasonable is what desirable, and what is knowable is what is realizable. The part of us which seeks to analyze, strategize, bargain, and optimize.
A dream is senseless, hopeless, irrational, unreasonable. A dream is love, defiance, sacrifice, faith. In, for, towards, through the improbable, the laughable, the impossible. A dream is all that the mind cannot do. And so a well dreamt dream cannot be dreamed with the mind alone.
We must never think of a dream as a stratagem. It is not a ploy, a bargain, a trick, a deal, a compromise. We must surrender our minds if we are to dream well. For even if a mind-dream comes true, it will only confirm the idea that our true selves were never worthy of it in the first place. And we will suffer needlessly and mightily.
To make the point, consider, for a moment, “pick up artists”. They have built a grand pseudoscience devoted to human manipulation. They “neg” and they “rate”; they practice and they perfect; they share tricks, and trade tips.
Now let us think for a moment. PUA techniques cannot work. Let us imagine a man who has been a total failure with women, who studies the scriptures, and finds his fortunes suddenly reversed. He is suddenly able to win dates, and perhaps even win a lover or two.
Will he be any closer to fulfillment? Of course not. For every instant he wastes on a date he has won by using techniques of psychological manipulation, he simply grows more distant from finding people who can love him as he truly is.
The more that women appreciate him thanks to the techniques he has learned, the worse he will feel about himself. For all those techniques will have proven to him, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that the true him is a being who is not worthy of love, respect, or adoration in the first place. He will grow further from fulfillment the “better” his techniques work.
It is a general rule. To coerce, seduce, and manipulate people is to remove their freedom. To love. To grow. To dream.
Your fulfillment depends critically on all those things. If they are not given freely — but taken by force — you will never feel fulfilled at all. You will feel, simply, that you were not worthy of them in the first place.
It is a crucial point, and I wish you to understand it fully. For I am not merely making an argument that freedom is an abstract good, which all should impersonally desire. I am suggesting that every man’s freedom is critical to each man’s fulfillment.
If you force someone to dream — then what you will truly feel when at last they do is not a searing sense of accomplishment, respect, or enjoyment. You will not rejoice in their fruition. You will not celebrate their blossoming. You will jeer at yourself for it. You will scorn yourself for having been unworthy of it as you truly are.
Why, it was not I that earned it! You will cry to yourself. It was merely the person I was pretending to be! If I had been worthy of love, respect, adoration, I would have been offered it freely. Therefore, I cannot be!
Do not try to take what must be earned. When you take what must be earned, you will not see your true self as the cause of the effect that you have sought at all. You will merely see your true self as an obstacle, an impediment, something standing in the way of your dream. And you will always hate your true self for it.
That is why ugly dreams do not lead us to fulfillment. We find fulfillment in the fulfillment of the world. But if the world is fulfilled by a trick, a con, a game — then we have disproven to ourselves that we are worthy causes of its fruition in the first place. And fulfillment will forever elude us.
Beautiful dreams inspire the world to dream. By using means that are just as the noble as the ends they espouse. Ugly dreams, by contrast, try to trick the world into believing in them. But the price is that even if they are successful, we will be further from fulfillment than ever.
We must never mistake the calculations of the mind for our dreams. Like the cravings of the ego, and the impulses of the shadow, they are largely delusions. They are conditioned in us. We are told what is “cheap” and what is “expensive”; and conflate it what is worthy; we are told our “scores” and our “performance”, and confuse it with our capability. But we cannot calculate our way to fulfillment; for fulfillment is composed of precisely those things we cannot calculate. Why did the man in my parable build an empire, and becoming its king? He mistook his calculations for his dreams. But, just as for us, his calculations extinguished his dreams.
We may strike perfect bargains, and seal triumphant deals. Like PUAs, we may calculate who we should pretend to be, so we win what we crave — only to confirm our very own unworthiness. We may employ the mind with ruthless logic and perfect reason. But just as the man in my parable, the truth is that we will still be alone, afraid, anxious on our islands. Furiously pursuing the safe, predictable, reasonable…mediocre. Our lives will have been spent suffering. Needlessly.
Like Malala and MLK, we must dream beautiful, improbable, hopeless dreams if we are to find fulfillment.
“Why am I here?”
To do what is logical, predictable, reasonable. For I may lose what I crave if I dare what is improbable! Cries the mind.
And so a dream shrivels, withers, cracks. It grows dull and plain, predictable and insipid. The dreamer is lulled back to sleep. He does not awaken.
“Why am I here?”
To dream a beautiful dream. One so impossible, hopeless, unpredictable that the world finds it irresistible, spellbinding, heartbreaking. My job is to find that singular destiny. So I know that I have truly been the cause. Of the fulfillment my dream creates.
The heart stirs. The mind surrenders. The spirit surges.
The dreamer is awakening.
The Dreamer’s Truth
The castaway was growing into an old man now. A man who was king. And all his long years, he had dreamed. First of palaces. Then of crowns. Then of an empire. All to best the man on the island across the sea.
And though he wore a fine crown, he had spent his days bitter, angry, envious, afraid. Somehow, fulfillment had eluded him. He had begun, finally, to perceive. Needless suffering had been his life.
But still he did not know why.
And now he grew weary of being weary. Resigned to resignation. Frustrated even by his frustration.
He instructed his barons and his earls to build taller towers, grander spires, more magnificent palaces.
But more and more, he spent his days alone, sitting upon the rocks, watching the great and stormy sea.
One day, as he awoke, he gave his barons instructions. But they did not stir.
One by one, they stood. And remained silent.
Well, he said, irritably. What are you waiting for?
Why, said the highest among his barons, should we build add to your empire? Why, you spend your days staring at the sea!
Yes, said the lowest among his earls. If all the palaces and spires and towers we build lead you only to bitterness, then why should we believe they will lead us to happiness?
If it is not true for you, why, then how can it be true for us?
The castaway who was now a king looked at them, speechless. He did not know what to say.
The highest among his barons broke the silence.
We must, he said, ask you to step down.
To what? Asked the king.
To surrender your crown. You can no longer be our king, replied the lowest among his earls. For you are not fit to lead us. Your dreams have led not merely led us nowhere — they have led even you.
You must leave us now, the barons and earls all said at once.
So, finished the highest among his barons, we may choose a new king. One whose dreams are mighty enough.
For what? Asked the castaway who was now a king. But already he knew the answer.
To best the man on the island across the sea, replied the lowest among his earls.
The castaway removed his crown, quietly. He set it down on the table before them.
And without a word, he walked away.
He did not want to show them. The pain that lanced him. The betrayal that he felt. All he had built, and made, was this very island. It was his! His dream!
And now even his dreams seemed to renounce him. Or was it he that renounced his dreams?
He could not say.
He walked to the shore. There, waiting, was a vessel they had built for him.
He stepped into it.
And damned the roaring wind and the raging sea to take him.
For that seemed to be only truth left.
So you have a great dream. A noble dream. A beautiful dream. How do you wake the world up? Do you scream it from the rooftops? Do you howl it at the moon?
Listen! You shout. Here is my dream! It is great, noble, and beautiful! See how mighty it is! Will you not let it awaken you?
And still, the world will slumber.
Wake up! You cry. Here, I have made this dream. Not for me — but for you! Take it! Use it! It will make your lives extraordinary!
And still, the world will sleep.
What must you do awaken the world to the greatness, nobility, and beauty of your dream?
You must do something greater than merely preach and minister, shout and cry. For words alone have never convinced anyone in the long history of language.
If you wish to awaken the world, your dream must begin with you. The truth of your life.
A dream must be great. It must be noble. It must be beautiful. And it must be true.
What do I mean by true? Nothing more than this. You must live your dream. And thus demonstrate just how great, noble, and beautiful it is. That is not merely an Ego-Craving. Not merely a Shadow-Impulse. Nor just a Mind-Calculation. But a dream that can lead all who follow it, just as it has led you, to fulfillment.
We are told, like the man in my parable, that our dreams should be visions of opulence. About the beautiful and fine things — whether they are cars, homes, people, or clothes — that we should wish to have. Therefore, we devote our lives to winning them — and especially more of them than the next person. And so we suffer mightily. Needlessly. Endlessly. When what we dream are dark, desperate dreams, about possession, domination, and control. Which, grotesque, may oft better be called nightmares.
Here is the principle I wish you to remember:
Dreaming well is not making one’s fantasies “come true”. It is living the truth of a great, noble, and beautiful dream.
That may seem a subtle point. Let me explain it thus.
A dream must do more than console us, caress us, or calm us. A dream is not merely a song we sing to ourselves, when we are sad. It is not just a book we read to ourselves, when we wish to fantasize. A dream must consume us. We must live our dreams. And not just in a trivial way. To the point that we are burnt right down to ashes by them. We must give all we have to our dreams; risk all we are for our dreams; defy all we are destined to be and reach for our dreams. If we wish our dreams to evoke in us all that we may become.
It is only when we are consumed by our dreams that the beings we mistakenly call our “selves” die. That we truly surrender our egos, our shadows, and our minds — who we identify as all we are. And instead become our true selves.
Who are those selves? What should we call them? Let us simply call them our beings, for now. For that is what we are. Human beings. Not merely walking egos, talking shadows, or computing minds.
Malala did not merely pen a pamphlet one day, and encourage girls to get an education. She risked all she was for her dream. To the point of being shot in the head. So she could get an education.
She lived her dream. And her dream consumed her. Right down to ashes. She surrendered her ego, her shadow, and her mind. She did not merely obey her cravings, her impulses, or her calculations.
The Malala that was — the little girl — was left behind. And the Malala that is — a brave young woman — blossomed. It is only by living her dream that she came face to face with her true self. Not merely a cowed little girl. But a budding leader, rousing the very world.
Like Malala, MLK lived his dream. He did not merely call for civil rights. He was jailed many times for disobeying the law. He did not merely give speeches about his dream. He was the great example of the very dream that he preached.
Their dreams were true. They were not merely belief, principle, intention. But action. Cause. Origin.
I do not mean that everyone, like Malala or MLK, can make their dreams come true. But I do mean that if you wish to have the merest glimmer at realizing your dream, then must do more than merely dream it. You must live it. To the very edges of your being. You must start with yourself. Because if you do not, all the world will conclude is that your dream will not lead anyone to fulfillment.
That is what I mean when I say that well-dreamt dreams are true, in addition to being great, noble, and beautiful.
To make the point, consider a counter-example.
You are a great reformer. You wish people to give up their jets, belongings, luxuries. But you will not do so yourself. Your dream is not true. Even if you realize it, it will offer you no fulfillment. Because you have already decided that it is not yours.
You are a great success. You encourage everyone to compete, strive, content, contest. For the prizes, trophies, luxuries. But you have done so yourself, and it has never made you happy, content, fulfilled. Not even for a moment. Your dream is not true. Even if you realize it, it will offer you no fulfillment. Because you already know that it is not yours.
A dream must be greater than you. It must be nobler than your desires. And it must be more beautiful than your wishes. But if it cannot truly begin with you, then it is not true.
A dream is not about what you gain in life. It is about what you give to life. But if you cannot give willingly, openly give everything you have, are, and desire to a dream, then it is not your dream. And you must find another one. For it is only when we hold back nothing that we may become everything we truly are.
If your dream is books for everyone — but you have never been moved or inspired by reading one, then your dream will never fulfill you. Everybody in the world may one day have great literature, but it will matter little to you. If your dream is healthy food for all — but you are secretly addicted to soda — then your dream will never fulfill you. Everyone in the world may one day eat healthily, but you will wonder why you cannot.
Your dream must be greater than you. Nobler than your desires. And more beautiful than your wishes. But it must begin with you. It must be true.
You must be devoured by your dream. It must burn you down to ashes. It must cause you to look beyond your desires, needs, wants; despite your wounds, your bruises, and scars. To devote yourself to what is greater, nobler, and more beautiful. For that is how you heal your wounds, soothe your bruises, and redeem your scars.
That is how a dream transforms us into our true selves. Those brimming over with fulfillment. By commanding us to forget our narrow, limiting, grasping selves — and reach for our fuller, wholer, larger selves. Until a dream can devour us so, we will forever remain small, diminished beings, seeking vengeance for our wounds, cursing our bruises, grieving at our scars. Wondering why our lives feel so empty, futile, meaningless…unfulfilled.
The whole world may realize your dream — but it will never give you a moment of fulfillment. And conversely, it is only when you can be that you have found your dream. The one in whose fruition you will live truly.
It is only when you are willing to forego all that you have been for your dream — your destiny, your things, your identity, your grievances, your childish wishes — that you can finally reveal yourself as you truly are. And it is only when you are willing to sacrifice everything you may gain — your prizes, trophies, accolades — for your dream, that you can finally become who you are truly meant to be. Not merely a set of objects, or titles, or experiences. But the consequences you have had in the world; and their causes; and their consequences again. For they are all you will truly be.
It is only when you cannot live truly without giving every last atom of yourself to a dream that you begin to live at all.
To live a remarkable life is to demonstrate the truth of a great, noble, and beautiful dream. With every fiber of your own being. With your every impulse and action; word and gesture; idea and interaction. If you do that, you will inspire, energize, animate, and arouse. And as the world awakens, so, too, will you finally know the fulfillment you have been seeking.
Consider an improbable example: one of my favorite bands, the Ramones. Their dream was greater than them: it was not about a band, but about rock and roll. Their dream was nobler than their desires: it was not about getting rich and famous, but breaking down the idea that only professionals could play music, and so freeing generations to rock.
But their dream was also true. The Ramones did not write essays and give speeches about distilling rock and roll into its truest essence. They did not pen volumes of criticism, and analyze chord structures. They did not shout at kids to play punk music. They took up arms, invaded the stage, declared war on the audience, and made history. They did not merely envision their dream. They lived it. They were consumed by it; dedicated to it; devoured by it. That is what made their lives — and their music — remarkable.
Great, noble, and beautiful dreams are rare. Because they are difficult to dream. But true dreams are rarer still. Because to live the truth of one’s dream is dreaming’s greatest challenge.
Anyone may idly dream of world peace. Fewer still can dream of constructing the institutions of a world where all can live in peace. Fewer still can dream how to lead people to choose such institutions in the first place. And fewer still than that, just a tiny handful, can devote their very lives to the endeavor — and begin their dream with themselves.
A dream is true when it begins with us, and ends with the world. When the world is the end, and we are the means. A dream is false when it ends with us, and begins with the world. When we are the ends — our own satisfaction, gain, conquest — and the world is merely the means. For the latter will never offer us a moment’s fulfillment. Like Midas, we may gain all the riches in the world — but the sense that our lives have mattered will forever elude us.
I do not merely mean that you will be a hypocrite if you cannot practice what you preach. The distinction I wish to cut is finer. If a dream does not consume you, it cannot reveal you. If you cannot be devoured by a dream, it cannot give birth to your true self. No one will believe in it; and nor should they; and so your dream will never live at all. For it has not even lived in you.
You must live a dream to the very edges of your being — so that it may go beyond the very edges of your being, and set fire to the world — if a dream is to fulfill you.
“Why am I here?”
To satisfy my cravings! The ego shouts. To gratify my impulses! The shadow whispers. To enact my calculations! The mind cries.
And so night falls over a dream. The dreamer is lulled back to sleep. He does not awaken.
“Why am I here?”
To dream a great, noble, and beautiful dream. And then to live it in my own life. So the world may see that it leads to fulfillment. That it is true.
The heart stirs. The spirit surges. The ego, the mind, and the shadow quiet. The true self is born.
The dreamer awakens.
The Dreamer’s Destiny
The sea tossed the castaway’s little vessel like a speck of foam.
For countless days, he voyaged. And each day and each night, he cursed the sea.
Take me! He cried. That is all I dream of!
But the sea would not grant his wish.
He did not know how long he had been afloat. His beard grew long. His face grew wrinkled. His hair ran past his shoulder.
One night, a mighty storm rocked him. One mightier than he could remember. He laughed fiercely, like a madman, into the howling wind. And dared it to do its worst.
A towering wave, as great as the spire on his greatest palace, crashed into him. And as it dragged him under, he thanked fate for sending it, finally, his way.
For he hoped, desperately, that it would be the last thing he knew.
He awoke on the beach of a small island. He did not know how long he had slept. The waters were calm and the sun warm.
He lived! And suddenly, he felt afraid.
What would he do here? Build another palace? An empire? Raise an army?
He had no dreams left to dream.
And so he sat on the shore, and watched the waves.
For many days, he watched the roaring sea. The countless vessels, tossed upon it.
And then, he heard a voice. From inside him. A voice which he did not recognize.
Do you know what they are seeking? It asked.
He ignored the voice.
They are seeking the same as you, it said.
And what is that, he asked the voice.
A destination. A voyage. A home. It said.
This voice, he noticed, sounded different than the others. It was not shrill, like the ego. It was not cunning, like the shadow. And it was not clever, like the mind. It was firm; yet gentle. Commanding; yet humble. Wise; yet simple.
I was a king once, said the castaway, wistfully.
Ah, replied the voice. What were you king of?
A great empire, replied the man, frowning.
Was it an empire? Asked the voice.
Of course it was! Shouted the castaway, cross.
If it was an empire, and you were its king, then why did it conquer you? Asked the voice.
The man was silent for a long moment.
You have suffered for a very long time, said the voice, gently.
I have, admitted the castaway. And still I grieve.
What do you grieve for? Asked the voice.
I do not know, replied the castaway. I do not know! I do not understand why I suffer so! And he began to weep.
What does each vessel seek? Asked the voice.
The castaway stopped weeping. A light seemed to dawn in him.
A destination. A voyage. A home. He said slowly, repeating the voice’s words.
And then the man understood. At once. Everything. The sea; the vessels; his crown; his suffering. And most of all, what he should have dreamed of. All along.
Everything but one last thing.
Who are you? The castaway asked.
Why, I am you, replied the voice. The you that you always truly been. Waiting to be awakened.
Thank you, whispered the castaway.
He was an old man now. But he still had strength in his sinews. And raising his arms to the heavens in gratitude, he set to work.
Day after day, he split the trees, and hewed the stones. He carved them into blocks, and lashed them with cords. He labored till his every muscle ached and his very breath burned.
Yet, every night, he went to sleep smiling. For the first time, in his long life, he did not feel angry, bitter, weary, envious. He felt, instead, a great peace, washing over him, like a calm sea.
At last, one dark night, what he had been building was complete. It stretched upwards, a great cylinder. With a cone atop it.
He climbed to its very top. There, he lit a great, great lamp.
The lamp’s beacon cut like a great knife of light across the raging sea. It sliced through the wind and the fog, the rain and the waves. And lit the waters glittering.
It could be seen for leagues. And in its light, he could see countless vessels, great and small, struggling to stay afloat, in the roaring waters.
There! A vessel had seen his beacon. And changed its direction.
He rejoiced, and laughed into the howling wind.
He had built a lighthouse. That defied the sea and the storm. A lighthouse great, noble, beautiful, and true.
One by one, over the days that followed, vessel after vessel saw its beacon. And guided themselves to safe harbor, on the shores of his island.
The travellers rejoiced as they arrived. They kissed his hands; and some kissed his feet. He told them all to rise. They offered him tribute; and they offered him their fealty. He smiled, and told them all he did not want it.
One day, a young family, with two small children — a girl and a boy — arrived, in the littlest boat he had ever seen.
Who are you, old man? Asked the little boy.
Are you the king of this land? Asked the little girl.
No, little ones, he replied, laughing. I am no king. I am merely a humble lighthouse-keeper. Who guides all who brave the sea to safe harbor.
We thank you with all our hearts, replied their father.
The sea would surely have claimed us if it were not for your lighthouse, said the mother, gratefully.
If you are not the king of this land, asked the father, then what are we to do here?
I have guided you to safe harbors so that you might live, replied the old man. Just as each person deserves to.
Mother! Cried the little girl.
Father! Cried the little boy.
The parents looked at them, puzzled.
Let us build a lighthouse! Cried the little boy.
Yes! A lighthouse! Cried the little girl.
And so they did.
Slowly, over the days and months, the travellers who arrived built many lighthouses. To guide still more into safe harbors.
And soon the island teemed with life. With laughter and celebration, with marriage and birth, with orchard and vineyard.
Every night, the travellers would gather around the old man. Who had guided them, each and every one, to safe harbor.
And he would tell them stories. Of how he had known a castaway who was a king, once. But how he had never been, even for a moment, truly alive; truly himself; or truly fulfilled. How fine was his crown! How mighty his palaces! And how great and how needless his suffering.
And every night, as he went to sleep, surrounded by people who loved him, with all their hearts, the old man rejoiced. He felt, at last, different. No longer did he spend his days in anger, bitterness, fury, and envy. But with peace and thanks resounding in every beat of his heart. With happiness and tranquility coursing through every stream of his spirit.
One day, as usual, he walked to the top of his lighthouse.
And there stood the little boy who had asked him, all those many years ago, whether he was a king; with his own son. He had grown into a man, with a family of his own.
Grandfather, the little boy said.
I am not your grandfather, the old castaway said, gruffly affectionate.
Of course you are! Laughed the little boy.
What do you want? Asked the old man, pretending to be cross.
I have found a telescope! Cried the little boy. It washed up on the beach. And look what I see!
The boy aimed the telescope towards the side of the island the old man rarely looked at. The side facing away from the sea.
The old man took the telescope, and looked through it.
And there he saw, far across the sea, another island. With a great palace upon it. More magnificent than any he had ever seen.
But the palace lay in ruins. Ivy covered its walls. Its stones were cracked. And its turrets crumbling.
And there, in the palace’s highest tower, he saw a man he recognized. A man just as old as he. Wearing a great, rusting crown. Whose jewels were gone. Wearing a fine, silken robe. That was tattered and threadbare.
It was the man on the island across the sea. Who he had dreamt, for so long, of besting. The dream that he had suffered so mightily and so needlessly for.
There he stood, alone, atop his great, ruined palace. The man on the island across the sea looked back at the man in the lighthouse. And saluted, sadly.
Once, he had been a castaway dreaming of being a king. And he had learned that was not a dream at all. For all it had done was stop him from being a king dreaming of being himself.
Now he was a lighthouse keeper, who dreamed a greater, nobler, truer dream than any king. A destination. A voyage. A home. For each and every vessel that braved the roaring seas of life.
And as each vessel found its way home, his suffering was redeemed. His island blossomed in fruition. He rejoiced every day and every night. His life was fulfilled.
The old man handed the telescope back to the boy.
Is that the king you tell us stories about? Asked the boy, dumbstruck.
No, my son, replied the old man, it is not. Those are just stories; and that king is gone.
Then who is that? Asked the little boy.
He is just a man, replied the old man.
Why does he look so sad? Asked the little boy.
He is a man, repeated the old man. A man who never learned how to dream.
The little boy frowned. And then he laughed. He ran to the great lamp, at the lighthouse’s front.
One day, I will be a great lighthouse keeper. Shining a light great, beautiful, noble, and true.
The old man looked at the little boy. And said.
Come, little one. Light the lamp.
What is the story I have been trying to tell through the clumsy parable of the man and the sea?
Imagine a sea. A great and stormy sea. Tossed upon it, vessels of every kind. Ships great and small, sturdy and fragile. Countless numbers of them, upon the vast and roaring waters. Each as lost as the next.
And you are but one of the innumerable vessels.
At long last, rocked by the gales, somehow, miraculously, you arrive at the shore.
And there, after you rest, and thank providence, you build a lighthouse. A lighthouse great, noble, beautiful, and true. To guide as many of your fellow travelers to the shore as you may.
That is what it means to dream.
Here, then, is my final principle — which is my first and only one:
A dream is a cause that sets your heart on fire. So it burns so brightly that it becomes a lighthouse. Which leads all who follow it to the effect of fulfillment — including you.
All of us fantasize. But not all of us truly dream.
Many of us never arrive at the shore. We give up and we give in. We stop seeking land; we throw oars away in resignation and bitter frustration. We let the sea take us. It is easier that way.
Some of us reach the shore. But jealously, selfishly, we do not build lighthouses. We build great palaces. And turn our backs on our fellow travellers. We may salvage jewels and crowns. From whose towers we watch the vessels tumble and crash. We clap, and we laugh.
But here is the truth. We are simply alone, on a desolate island, amidst a great, roaring sea. And though the island may be ours, it belongs only the smallest part of us. The us that grasps and wants and craves. We are castaways. Who will never be fulfilled.
We will only be fulfilled when our islands teem with life. You will be fulfilled only in the world’s fulfillment.
A dream is a lighthouse. That guides all that follow it to fulfillment. And so leads us to fulfillment. For fulfillment is not merely the desperate satisfaction of our cravings. But our highest need. To see the world around us come to life; and to know that we have been its cause. That is what it means to life fully.
When your lighthouse guides the world to the shores of fulfillment, so, too, you will be fulfilled. As you watch each vessel arrive, so you will rejoice. As each vessel arrives, it will thank you. As each traveller builds his own lighthouse, so the island you have arrived upon will begin to teem with life, majesty, purpose, being.
You will not be its king. You will be something greater. Its prime mover. Its founder. Its pioneer. Its dreamer. What is your lighthouse? How will you lead the world to fulfillment?
Most of us cannot dream well because we do not know how to awaken the dreamer in us. Who is that dreamer? Is it the masks we wear? Is it the cravings we have? Is it the beliefs we hold? Is it our identity, our personality, our fantasy lives?
It is none of them. It is a deeper and more fundamental part of us still. Most of never awaken the dreamer in us because we do not even know who it is.
To dream well is not just difficult. It is perilous. Punishing. It is not just pleasantly wishing, comfortably hoping, or even aching with longing. It is more challenging still. It is surrendering all that one believes one is.
For in each self there is a false self. A self composed of one’s conditioning. That shouts: I am all you are! For I am all there is! The world is there to satisfy me!! I am the center, the whole, the alpha, the omega, of being.
The false self is the ego, the shadow, the mind. It is all the false desires, deceitful wants, and spurious hungers that have been carefully placed deep inside one. It sees only the stimuli that one has been carefully trained to desperately respond to; to desperately wish for, until, perhaps, all that is left is the wish. It is the stunted, shrunken, diminished part of you, which has been taught it is the only part of you; and that the only thing in all existence that truly matters is it itself; but it is only a caricature of the true self inside each and every one of us. The false self is what one has been conditioned to believe all one is — and all one can be — because it is all there is.
Why am I here?
The false self will always whisper, scream, shout an answer at one. An easy answer. A comforting answer. A pleasant answer. And a false answer.
The false self may reach the shore. But it will never build a lighthouse.
Why build a lighthouse? it will ask. What will it benefit you? Better to build a grand palace — to delight in. Or a great castle — to shelter in. Do you not crave pleasure, security, comfort? And are “you” not truly just me?
The false self may win friends, lovers, money, and even satisfaction, for moments at a time. But it will never win fulfillment. For it will cling to its cravings and conditionings, at the very moment the world around it promises to come to fruition. That very fruition is, to the false self, a threat, a danger, a menace — for every morsel of fruition any other gains, to the false self, is a diminution of the satisfaction it has struggled so desperately for. The false self believes it is all that exists; and so it must have all that is; or else suffer humiliation, anxiety, jealousy, despair. The fruition of the world is something be stopped and ruined; to be prevented and stifled; to be sabotaged and wrecked. Thus, craving-dependence will always limit the false self from knowing happiness, meaning, purpose. And so mistaking the false self for the true self will thus suffocate each being from living truly.
Having never built a lighthouse, the false self will have the shore all to itself. Just as it so desperately craves. And it may spend a whole lifetime laboriously erecting fine palaces and castles upon the shore. But what purpose will they serve? They will be empty, haunted buildings, on a desolate island, inhabited solely by a lonely, fearful, diminished being; who looks at the sea, and wonders. Is this all there is to life?
Why are you here? You are here to elicit the stimuli you have been conditioned to want. You are here to plunder. Conquer. Possess. Hoard. Treasure. That is why you are here! To have it all. Greed. Indulgence. Voracity. Gratification. Avarice. Vanity. To be envied, not loved; to be feared, not admired; to be popular, not respected. Damn the cost to anyone else. That is why you are here. What else is there? Are you a dummy? The false self says.
And here is what it does not say. You are here to rebel, defy, sacrifice, wonder, imagine, dare, tempt the fates, damn the gods, walk the line, dance on the cliff’s edge, take the leap…and live. To the very edges of your being.
Every person must ask themselves the Greatest Question. Why am I really here? And the false self will always answer it first, most commandingly, most seductively, most easily. It is, after all, that aspect of one’s conditioning that lives inside one. It is always easier to obey it than to question it; to acquiesce to it, appease it, adhere to it, and even to embrace it, as one’s only self. But the answers that the false self gives will never lead one to fulfillment. They will tranquilize, mesmerize, and paralyze one. They will not awaken one. To the life one can live.
And so the false self must be shattered if the dreamer is to awaken.
To dream well is to take one of life’s greatest journeys. A pilgrimage towards one’s true self. Dreaming well challenges us to discard our false, counterfeit selves. The artificial selves which have been built, layer by layer, upon one’s careful, cunning conditioning. That is composed of one’s deceitful and duplicitous wants.
As we strip away all these layers of our false selves, we begin to reveal our true selves. Our selves not merely as we pretend them to be; nor as they have been designed to be — lever-pressers, button-pushers, desperately desiring temporal rewards, to stave off, for another moment, the desert of meaninglessness, emptiness, and futility, that seems to roar hungrier inside us…the more fiercely we chase the very stimulus. But our selves they authentically are, when they stand, at last, stripped, unclothed, disrobed of all artifice. When they stand revealed. Naked.
Our true selves are not mere appetites hungering. They are beings seeking. What is greater, truer, nobler, and more beautiful than their own existence. What might that be? The fulfillment of all life. That is what the true self knows to be self-evident, eternal, timeless. And what it strives for, beyond reason, through faith, with love; no matter how we desperately and fiercely we attempt to silence it, imprison it, suffocate it, bury it in falser and falser selves. It is the denial of the true self that is the source of our greatest sufferings in life.
To dream well is to stand naked before being. It is only the true self, naked before the great obligations that bind all who dare to live, that can dream the mightiest, worthiest dreams. The false self can no more dream great, noble, and beautiful dreams than a computer can paint the Mona Lisa. For the false self cannot know, feel, wonder, imagine, rebel, defy, dare, suffer, create, sacrifice, bestow, rejoice — all that worthy dreams truly are. For that reason, only the true self may be said to be fully awake. To the truest reality of all. Man’s burning need for fulfillment.
To dream well is to journey towards the true self. For worthier and worthier dreams challenge us to discard every last bit of our false selves. And reveal ourselves, instead, as we truly are, when we are naked.
Each and every one of us must be awakened. By our dreams. To live the lives that we were meant to. Not merely mediocre lives. But extraordinary ones.
Well dreamt dreams awaken us. To our true selves. Badly dreamt dreams imprison us. In what we should and must never become. Our false selves, crying out to us that they are all we truly are.
“Why am I here?”
To satisfy my craving, and to gratify my impulses! Cries the false self, composed of ego, shadow, and mind. And so it never learns to dream. Great, beautiful, noble, and true. That leads it, and all who follow it, to fulfillment. The dreamer never awakens.
“Why am I here?”
To awaken my true self. The self that is capable of knowing, feeling, wondering, imagining, suffering, rebelling. Of dreaming. A great, noble, beautiful, and true dream. Which leads it, and all who follow it, to fulfillment.
The false self quiets. The sleeper stirs.
The dreamer has awakened.