There is a place inside me I can find only after I fall asleep. A tropical island, the shores of which I wash up on when I am carried on Caribbean waves of sleep, face down, breathing deep. This place is one of my own creation, I know this intellectually. But, in the most incredible way, on it I am the writer, the director, the audience, of fantastic productions. The tight hold I have on my sense of “self” during the day loosens in its warm mystery, and I tumble into a thousand pieces and scatter, and those shards form into things I could never hope to imagine in my waking life.

 It’s impossible to think that I take dreams for granted, but I do. I wake up, after a night of flying, or doing the waltz at an elegant ball with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and there I am. My same green walls, my same bookshelf. My same body. But I’ve spent the whole night defying the story I tell myself to define who I am, deliberately rewriting my own narrative to accommodate parts of who I can become that I have never acknowledged.

This morning it occurred to me to be more open to the things that happen when the constant waking mirror of self awareness shatters into a mirage of glitter as my mind slips away from the watchful eyes of my consciousness. Maybe my dreams are more real, more my true story, than the bits and pieces I’ve stitched together as a safety blanket of an identity.

Now this isn’t to say I’m going to launch off a building like a golden eagle and hope those taffeta wings I dreamed of last night will suddenly appear. I’m talking about challenging myself, not the laws of physics.

But we are extraordinary creatures, we humans. The “self” we’ve glued together with experiential memory grows shakier and yet more stubborn as we get older. We create patterns of behavior, habits, to find consistency in our personalities. Someone may describe themselves as “shy,” because of a pattern they began and perpetuated from the beginning of their memory. But how permanent, how true, is that?

A neurologist named Paul Broks surmises that we are only one slip, one car accident, a mere flash of time, away from being someone entirely different. Our patterns of behavior are learned. Our laurels, our morals, our biggest aspirations, are all built on our ability to remember what has happened to us, and to create a story from it. But a bonk on the head can change that story.

And if we pay attention, that story is always changing, shifting, moving, taking uncomfortable breaths in and holding them before exhaling and blowing away the bits that no longer fit the arching plot line of our drama, our comedy, our tragedy. So how much should we cling to? If when I dream, I exit my constructed reality into a free form dance with the many facets of my mind and its inscrutable desires and imaginations, should I take that as a valid form of self identity?

I don’t think I can totally let go of the story I’ve been so clumsily building for a couple decades and change, but I can certainly open it a bit. I also somehow believe in an intangible core, the immaterial soul stuff that makes up an essence of myself that is beyond my fears and hopes. But while that is there, holding me fast, though I can’t explain it, there must be more room for life. Because if I create my own story, and it can be erased so suddenly…maybe I can use that to my advantage. For instance, maybe I’m not as bad as I think I am at paying bills. Maybe that’s a plot point I’ve created into a plot line. Perhaps I can exit that and change the dialogue.

Maybe I could learn to dance, because my two left feet were really only an actuality in seventh grade when I was growing too fast for my pants to stay at a non- Steve Urkel level. Maybe, just like in my dreams, I am a creature of unimaginable grace.

At least maybe I don’t trip as easily as I’ve been telling myself. Maybe I can get over stage fright, too.

Once I realize I am a keeper of my own reality, there is a freedom. I don’t want to change who I am, that indescribable core. But I can stop defining myself by the things I’ve taken as absolute, and pay attention to what is so easily achieved in my confident dreaming theatre.

I believe there is courage in truly seeing, truly feeling, what and who we are, and taking it out of our heads and into our story.

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