In late fall 2021, I realized my dreams had started to feel like email.
I have a subconscious that is pretty direct with me. I’ll wake up and recount my dreams and know exactly what I am trying to say to me, because my sleeping self just said it. For someone who might be considered a “creative” (ew, never call me that), my dreams are disappointingly plain. They often almost exactly mirror my daily life.
When I was a barista, I dreamed in coffee orders. When I went on a ski vacation, I careened down snowy slopes. After packrafting all day, my inflatable pad at night became a boat and I was paddling. Etc.
So, when my dreams took on the look and feel of gazing into a laptop and responding to a never-ending inbox, I thought I might have a problem with my waking life.
I decided to try shifting my focus. I downloaded a meditation app and dutifully meditated for about 20 days straight. This was my attempt to have more choice in my life about where I focus my attention. Email? No thank you. All the beauty that I am so lucky to be surrounded with everyday, including the amazing people in my life and Alaska? Yes, more of that, please.
Like anything working with what’s knocking around upstairs in my brain, there’s not a switch I can trip to reset myself. There’s only trial and error, process, and slow change over time that can be difficult to perceive since I have to pick up on it using the same exact noggin that I’m working on shifting. As my perspective changes, so does my perspective on my perspective.
That said, I think, over time, meditation has helped me. I know how to focus on elemental aspects of my human experience in order to re-ground myself and my senses, like feeling the heat in my hands or my breath.
And it’s good – I suppose – for this increasing ability to be challenged. Which, in our modern society, is frequent.
I know what I want to feel more of, which is awe, connection, love, gratitude, and joy. And I know what I often feel, which is confined. Confined by what, exactly? Well, by Alaska, especially after two years of Covid. Bills and the need to pay them. The need to crack open a laptop and hook myself in for days on end to solve problems that can feel arbitrary and fake, but simultaneously important. Confined by the need to move myself to care enough to rise to the steady flow of these sorts of challenges.
The confinement feeling leads to offshoot feelings, like sadness or even, in the darkest parts of winter, despair and a kind of frozen, paralyzing feeling. More mildly, I feel irritation – kind of like the laptop in front of me is a constant itch that I’m already contending with, so anything on top of that scratches just that much deeper. Anger comes up when I feel powerless in the face of corporate interests, like dealing with the United States’ “healthcare” system and my place in it.
As always in my life, it ends up boiling down to a series of decision points. (That’s at best, when I recognize what I’m feeling and that I have the ability to make a choice.)
Where is it worth it to invest in the discomfort of navigating things I simply do not want to do? When is it worth it to shift my perspective away?
Big picture, I’m working on designing life circumstances that require less materially of me. Read: fewer bills, more economic and ultimately time freedom. The real limited commodity is not money, but the number of breaths I get to take here on this earth. (Yes, money absolutely helps make the most of those breaths – not discounting that. I’d just like to require less of it, because I don’t particularly enjoy navigating the systems of earning and then maintaining all that more money affords).
But to get to this big picture, I have to play the game. So, I am. That means this is an instance where it is worth investing my focus in necessary “evils” (mini-evils?) like email in order to get to where I’d like to go.
It’s the other stuff I wrestle with more – the phone calls to navigate unfair bills, the maddening labyrinthe of doctors’ offices and health insurance, the neighbors’ dogs constantly barking, the email or offhand comment that landed poorly.
What I’m trying to do more of is sift out how much of my focus these mundane, but attention-sucking details of modern life get from me. I’m trying to see them and then zoom out so I can rationally decide. Do I want to spend the time haggling on the phone with the health insurance claim that probably won’t get resolved, feeling myself getting more and more angry? Or do I just want to pay the damn bill and be done with it, moving my perspective (and again, finite breaths) on to take the run and see the mountains and call my stepdaughter up to see how she is?
It’s really hard, because there is truly a system out there that is so much bigger than me and requires so much change to actually enable fair circumstances for all of us humans to have a shot at inhabiting this same joy I crave creating. Isn’t that all anyone wants from life, in whatever way each of us accesses that? I see it, I see the unfairness. And I weigh it, with my life and those daily experiences I wish to have.
What I end up back to is twofold: 1) I am so very fortunate to be able to – hopefully, ultimately – create circumstances that better position me to access joy and awe, more. I need to continue working not just on my external circumstances, but on my inherent ability to choose where I put my focus. I absolutely deserve it, just by virtue of being a person here on earth, so I will continue to work on and hopefully enjoy it. 2) This is a basic human right for everyone, and it is my innate responsibility as a member of the human race on the face of earth to do what I can – and to be consistent in my effort – to break down and contribute to better systems that support myself and others in having this same access to whatever gives our lives meaning, purpose, and love.
I started writing this from my personal perspective, about learning how to choose my focus and, hopefully, make my dreams brighter and less e-mail-esq. But I’m ending with tying together how this, for me, is intrinsically tied to my greater sense of connection and, more importantly, responsibility. If I have this access and perspective, if I access joy and awe, others should too. This is part of why I write. It’s part of why I paint. And it’s part of why I am weaving a business model that I want to give back and lift up causes, people, and places I care about.
Beginning of the Alli Harvey Art manifesto, over and out!