by Alberto Villoldo Ph.D: In my book, The Heart of the Shaman, there are three kinds of waking dreams: the nightmare, the daydream, and the sacred dream…
Of these, only the sacred dream can help you fulfill your mission here on Earth. To live within a sacred dream requires that you understand that daydreams can feel pleasant but will turn into nightmares as the circumstances of your life change. As for the nightmares we all wish to avoid, they always begin as daydreams, but have since reached their expiration date and gone bad.
How do you recognize when you are living under the spell of a daydream?
Daydreams keep you looking for something outside of yourself to make you feel complete. It can masquerade as your hopes and aspirations, as your goals for getting your life in order. Things like writing down your success list, planning to improve your relationship, or strategizing about creating circumstances you tell yourself will be good for you and make your life better all hide as daydreams.
They keep you searching out of the corner of your eye for your true soul mate even after you are in a relationship. They have you continually looking for a new guru, a new diet, a new health regime—and wondering if there may be something out there in the world you are missing out on.
Daydreams also always contain a contract or agreement you make with life that goes like this: “When . . . then.” “When I have more money . . . then I won’t be anxious.” “When I am happy . . . then I will be grateful.” “When we have new leadership . . . then we will be able to have a truthful conversation.” Or perhaps, “When I find my true love, or my true calling in life, or the perfect house, or job . . . then I will.”
For example, a few years ago, I received a challenging medical diagnosis. In my travels through the Amazon, I had picked up a dozen varieties of parasites. Until then, I was convinced that other people got old or sick but that surely would never happen to me. Now I was sick and in danger of dying and feeling like an old man. In my prayers, I said to God, “When I get well, then I will dedicate my life to being in service and helping others.”
But God does not like these bargains. I began to wake up from the daydream when I turned the “When . . . then” agreement around. I discovered that: When I am grateful, then I am happy. When I dedicate my life to service, then I become well. When I speak truthfully, then I become a true leader. I had to re-dedicate my life to a mission greater than myself before I could recover my health. I had to transform the nightmare of ill health to discover my sacred dream (which I will discuss more about in a moment) that would allow me to experience a new sense of purpose and meaning; even though I had no guarantee I would survive my illness or how long I would live.
What agreements with life are keeping you in a daydream?
The agreements you have been making with life have been slowly turning your daydreams into nightmares. In order to flip the contract, stipulating when you will be happy or healthy or at peace, you must locate these agreements and examine where your wishes contain conditions.
The following “When…then” exercise will help you discover three core agreements you have made with yourself and which need to be broken today. Take out a sheet of paper and a pen and fill in the blanks for yourself for the following statements:
When I _____, then I will_____.
When I _____, then I will_____.
When I _____, then I will_____.
Now, cross off the beginning of each sentence so that it starts with “I will”:
How do I know if a daydream has become a nightmare?
The daydream that turns into a nightmare can be the relationship or job that was so seductive but that now has become a dark hole you cannot get out of or change. The nightmare does not offer you much hope for things to be different. When you are trapped in it, you come to believe that the poor health you are experiencing is just part of getting old and you may as well get used to it, or that the boredom and frustration of your job or marriage is the price you pay for security. Or you might believe there is nothing you can do to change the divisive political climate or the violence happening in the world.
The nightmare keeps you paralyzed.
A daydream may seem benign or even quite pleasant but is almost always a formula for disaster. And while daydreams sometimes do not turn into nightmares, they can keep us comfortable but not growing—and soon our lives feel stale and purposeless. Sometimes daydreams fool us, mimicking yet forestalling the courageous dreams that are most rewarding. We think we are leading a life of meaning, and then one day we realize it doesn’t seem that way at all. However, if we are courageous enough not to settle, transform our dreams from nightmares and answer the call of the sacred dream – our true quest begins.
What is a sacred dream?
The shamans of the Andes know and serve the sacred dream, one that guides planets across the heavens and our human destiny here on Earth. They understand it is a map to the future but has no paths you can follow and no trails other than the ones you blaze yourself. It is ephemeral, changing every instant and surprising at every turn.
A sacred dream launches you to a destiny beyond simply not dying, or of being reasonably happy as you strive to avoid discomfort. It encourages you to explore the mysteries of life and of love, to glimpse a reality beyond death and discover a timeless truth for yourself. It demands that you act boldly and courageously, and not collude with that which everyone agrees on and no one questions.
These popular stories are what trap us in daydreams that become nightmares.
How do I know when I have found my sacred dream?
Because it is much larger than you, and it feels impossible to accomplish all that you hope to achieve. A sacred dream launches you on a mission, as it did with Martin Luther King Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi. “But I am not Gandhi,” you might say. True, you do not have to set a goal to lead a billion people to freedom, but what if your destiny is to do something far greater than you have imagined until this moment?
Discovering the sacred dream requires courage. You can no longer be a passive (and anxious) bystander watching others have a meaningful life.
The sacred dream will not come knocking at your door: It requires that you leave the familiar and embark on a quest.
It requires that you not compromise your integrity. It demands that you not allow yourself to be seduced by the “easy path.” It calls you to fight the lie that your daydream is adequate and will continue to keep you comfortable.
When you are ill, or sad, or depressed, it is hard to think of finding a sacred dream. Your dreams are smaller then. Getting back to where you once were seems “good enough.” I remember when I was in my healing crisis and could not take more than 50 steps before becoming exhausted. My dream then was to be able to walk around the block without feeling spent.
Yet I was called to the greater dream, to be of service to others in whatever small way I could. I discovered that when you hold a sacred dream, the universe begins to actively conspire on your behalf to make the impossible doable. It offers you energy and skills that you never had available before. Soon I was able to walk around the block, and today I travel around the world bringing a little more beauty to everyone I meet.
Finding your sacred dream occurs as you transform your daydreams that have become nightmares. The creative power of the universe, known by the shamans as the Primordial Light, becomes available to you to create beauty in the world, and to heal yourself and others. It is on that path, supported by all of life, that you recognize your destiny and live your purpose as your sacred dream.