I write to you often about following the dreams and desires of your heart and soul.
I know that what I am asking of you is no small thing.
I know about failure and loss and shattered dreams. I know how devastating these experiences can be, the scars they leave.
After all, a big part of my work is helping (myself and) others heal from such experiences.
I am never going to pretend that it is easy or tell you that everything will fall magically into place when you listen to your heart. I am never going to tell you that there won’t be pain and loss, because pain and loss are a part of life.
I have a confession to make
The big dream of my life was to be a musician, and I am not living it.
But I am following my dreams and my heart path, as best I know how. And it’s a long and winding road full of mystery, sorrow, joy, wonder, hardship, fulfillment, growth and grace.
This is how I came to teach others about dreams, through my own overwhelming loss and recovery.
I have been a wildly creative person all my life. As I child I wrote, danced, played music, made up songs and performances, created things with my hands–and I still do all those things.
When I look back at my childhood, it is shocking to me that no one told me then that I am an artist. No one suggested I might have talent and a calling in the arts, so I didn’t see it for a long time. And not seeing it led to a great deal of confusion, pain and lost time for me.
My creative pursuits were treated as charming hobbies by my parents. And then as somewhat foolish or alarming hobbies, when I decided to major in music in college. The question posed to me, again and again, was “How are you going to make a living?”
The Starving Artist
In my family the word “artist” and the word “starving” went together. So, I kept wondering, “How am I going to make a living?” and I looked for possibility after possibility after college, going down dead ends, not finding any career that left me enough time for my art.
Meanwhile, I was nearly starving. I did not have enough money for food or adequate heat in my apartment in Vermont. I was wearing hats and scarves indoors and getting free day-old bread from a bakery. In other words, I was enacting the beliefs I had learned.
In music I had both extraordinary gifts and extraordinary challenges. I had an unusual talent for making striking, original works, yet learning the basic skills was abnormally slow and hard for me. I won awards in college for my compositions and earned my way into a prestigious graduate school, only to discover my lack of core technical abilities felt crippling and humiliating.
I spiraled into self-doubt and severe depression and dropped out after my first year. I decided I didn’t have what it takes to be a musician and that I had failed irreparably at the one thing I loved and wanted most.
Death and Rebirth
There are no words to describe how devastating this was for me. To this day, this is the most painful loss of my life.
I didn’t play or write music for nine years after that, yet I longed for it every single day.
What I did do automatically is bring my writing, which I had always loved and done since I was a child, to the fore. And I protected my writing from the mistakes I had made with my music. I learned how to foster and care for my creativity.
And so the writing grew slowly but surely. It blossomed under my gentle and persistent devotion.
Hard and Beautiful Truths
Now it is almost twenty-five years since I left graduate school. I play a little music, and I still miss it a great deal. Occasionally I write some simple tunes and structures for improvisation, nothing like the chamber music I once composed and for which I won awards and recognition.
And when I hear a piece of beautiful music, I feel there is nothing greater on Earth and nothing I would rather do. Yet I cannot find it in me to follow that path in the same way again, at least not so far. It is just too demanding, requiring immense skills I don’t have, and constant practice, and the world of contemporary chamber music feels too small and obscure. I want to reach more people.
So now I follow my love of writing and for creativity in general. I devote myself to this. Writing is hypnotic for me, endlessly engaging and deeply satisfying. I also have it in the blood, in my heritage. Most days I spend hours working on writing, and it is hard to get myself to stop to do other work, work that pays.
I have made a life for myself that is rich and beautiful and exceptional, a life centered around doing what I love. I spend many hours each week making art and teaching others how to unleash their own creativity and follow their hearts. This is amazing to me.
And I am also pained to find myself not farther along, with more outer recognition for my work and more writing of which I am truly proud. That too is part of the path. It has not been easy.
The Path of Growth and Healing
The loss of my music sent me on my true path of growth and healing, a path I would probably not have discovered otherwise.
Because of that path, I went through remarkable inner healings. That path led me to find my spiritual calling and brought me unimagined blessings. It unleashed a host of inner gifts and led me to discover work I love.
Most essentially, I found my true self and my place in the world. These gifts are priceless.
So, yes, I know how hard the path of dreams can try us. And I still say, follow your heart.
To your tender heart,