August 15, 2016

How to make Criticism work in our Favor.

Dyaa Eldin/Unsplash
I am pulled from sleep, this morning, against my will.

I feel myself rushing upward through layers of consciousness, as though plucked by a giant, and tossed into a parallel reality. I am shocked, stunned, and taken off guard by a dream that has touched me with great force.

Before I’m entirely aware of what’s going on, I find myself gasping for air between lakes of hot, uncontrollable tears.

My head spins. I’ve not been able to dream in such a long time. Now, I have collided with a nightmare so loaded and vivid, that it tugs hard on my heart strings. I sense an ultimatum: become uprooted by the opinions and advice of others, or send my roots deeper, readying myself for something monumental.

It wasn’t a scary dream, by any stretch. There was no darkness, death or destruction. It was more insipid than that. It toyed, like a cat with a mouse, at something I thought myself to be above.

Being rejected by others.

In my dream, I was “half way” on a trip with the leaders and apprentices of my elephant journal academy. We’d all been deeply engaged, and were now headed on a field trip. In real life, I live on the opposite side of the world. But, in the dream, I was thrilled to arrive in person.

But, I was barred by something. Disallowed from taking part. Everyone was getting involved in team activities. I looked on as they played with huge, billowing white kites that hover, like hot air balloons; lifting people high off the ground. The team worked together to lift each other into the air.

I watched as they prepared for the epitome of a good time. Purposeful, fun, team oriented, impacting the rest of our lives, and inspiring others to do the same.

I can’t join in. The reasons feel purely practical and viscerally unfair. I begin to feel like a voyeur, hanging on the outskirts. Unable to leave, unable to join in. I try to be positive, looking for ways I can help or be involved in some way. But the inability to take part begins to weigh heavily on me. Home isn’t home any more. I am in no man’s land. I become quiet, and isolated. I walk around with a huge, well-worn packed backpack, day and night. But have nowhere to go. I don’t tell anyone how I feel. But I struggle daily, as I watch my clan leave home without me. Out into the wilderness where I belong.

One day, I am left alone with the leaders. One, who is incredibly helpful, kind and resourceful in real life, has taken a sullen tone toward me in my dream. It has become so strong, her demeanor drips with it. Her energy towards me is dismissive and angry. Resentful of my being there with only half a heart. I am trying my best to keep on. But today, she approaches me and lets rip with an angry tirade that guts my sense of hope and belonging.

“What are you doing here?! You are always complaining! I don’t see the point. You’re no good to anyone. I don’t know why you’re even here! You don’t belong here.” Her rage is palpable. Venomous even.

I stammer a weak response. “I-ah, I um…I am here because I want to-er, be involved. I ah, have been trying really hard to think of ways to help…I just, er…feel so…it’s just that I can’t afford to…maybe I should just go home…“

She cuts me short. Though she hardly raises her voice, it comes out with a shrill and decisive tone, like a punch to the gut. “Yes. I think you should just go home.” She turns on her heels and storms out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

I am left, on my own, for only a moment. Staring at the dark purple wall. The door through which she just departed, is painted a thick, bright white, the colour of light. Something else stands out against the wall. I can’t quite see it. It’s right on the cusp where the dream world turns into nothingness. It’s also white. It reminds me of those kites. It looks a little like a large piece of paper which has been origami’d…only slightly more substantial. I can’t tell if it’s a star, a clock or a mask that resembles the face in the queen’s mirror from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Then, I am wrenched into wakefulness and catapulted into tears.

Bursting into tears, in response to a dream, is not a common occurrence for me.

My mind races, trying to make sense of these powerful emotions which seem to have come out of the blue.

I’ve always been an ace at deciphering dreams. Symbols seem to come to me with great clarity. I can draw links between them, life and the inner landscapes of emotion, with relative ease.

I remember a conversation I’d had the night before.

It left me feeling like a rug had been pulled from under me, leaving a hole in my belly that crumbled away at the sense of adventure and possibility I felt about relocating to the U.S. I rushed around, inwardly trying to regain my energy, enthusiasm and certainty. Trying to shake off the energy that the advice had left me with.

Intellectually, I knew these questions were good in a way that was greater than a sum of their answers. They were to propagate a powerful process in me. But I felt violated. Misunderstood. Stupid. I felt my hopes and dreams for the future were perhaps a wild and unachievable fantasy.

I had recently told someone that I’d decided not to share my newly forming plans and dreams with those who would tear them down before they were concrete. But this person caught me by surprise.

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“They say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.” ~ John Lennon

When talking to those we love and care for, it’s often difficult to remember that we all tend to give advice spun from the threads that we ourselves made. The fabric which knits me together may be entirely different from yours…we may be driven by entirely different things. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

You may want safety, while I want adventure. You want me to think about my health, my wallet, my qualifications, while I am sick to death of thinking about those things. I want to enrich myself with new experiences, personal growth, love and camaraderie.

But let’s not dismiss all concerns off hand. Many are valid. And, sure, these points make us question ourselves. Are we being stupid? Is this dream going to come crashing around our feet…leaving us to work in a shopping mall for the rest of our lives to put food on the table? Is the road of adventure and spontaneity going to leave us stranded in disheartened spiritual obsolescence? I laugh just thinking about it. No, of course not!

Real fears are raised by those who say: “Remember you aren’t well.” “What if…” “That’s impractical…” And my personal favourite: “You need to be reasonable.”

It can make us feel like our plans are silly and ungrounded and would never work in the “real world.” Every now and then, I feel like the world I live in is more real than this letterbox concept, where money is king.


And yet, here’s the thing. We need to build our houses from the bricks that people throw at us.

We can be conscious that most people don’t throw these bricks with intent to harm. For the most part, they’re only trying to help because they care. But once we have found the beat of our own drum, it is hard to be happy marching to someone else’s tune. I know my story. I know how well it has worked for me, in the past. I know what I’m made of, and what douses my flames.

The thing is…even though it sometimes feels awful to be challenged in these ways, this is an important part of making a life that is truly our own. Of mitigating the difference between internal and external space. It’s a process of developing inner muscle.

Being asked, “Why would you want to do that? How is it going to work? You can’t do it that way”…is a very powerful thing. Especially if it comes from someone who seems to disapprove and think we’ve got our head in the clouds. They force us to ask ourselves these questions, and decide whether or not we believe we can (and want) to rise to the challenge. They force us to scrutinize our reasons and intentions, giving us an opportunity for greater self-knowledge, awareness and mastery.

They force us to ask ourselves: Why am I doing this? Why do I want this? What are my intentions? Where am I going with this? Is it in line with what I’m all about, or am I running away from something? What is truly important to me?

And most importantly:

If this is a really big move, will my reasons stand up to scrutiny, or will they dissolve when my feelings change? I’m sure you can relate when I say life rarely pans out as we envision it. However, half the things we worry about, never occur, and other things we never imagined, jump out of the dark to bite us.

So, receiving advice that guts us, rather than feeds us, doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

We do need to be challenged so that we can really grapple with our truth, rather than waltz around in a false sense of security or self-imposed imprisonment. But that doesn’t mean we should crumple under the opinions and beliefs of others. It doesn’t mean we shut down our dreams and way of life because someone else is convinced they won’t work. It doesn’t mean we settle for a half lived life. Quite the contrary. It challenges us to lay sturdy foundations that will allow for both roots and wings.

We can take the challenges and skepticism of others, and use them to build our houses on sturdy ground. Their queries are useful to us, for the processes they ignite in our own being, and not because they are to be taken to heart.

I will ask myself these questions to strengthen my vision, understand my intentions, and develop avenues of innovation and resolve which don’t lose sight of my vision.

It can help us to really mean it when we say:

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Author: Cat Simmons

Image: Dyaa Eldin/Unsplash

Editor: Travis May

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