Category Archives: On My Mind

On Dreams

I think I’m a lucid dreamer. Or maybe this is just how dreams go. The science behind lucid dreaming is sketchy at best, as is much of the science behind sleep, but I know where I am in many of my dreams and make decisions about what I want to happen next. Once I’ve woken up, sometimes I can fall back into the dream and redo what has already “happened.” My own laughter has woken me more than once in the middle of the night, but I don’t think I’ve ever woken up in tears. I think the last time I had a nightmare was in college. I woke up with my arm outstretched, grabbing at something that wasn’t there.

I dreamed about this blog post last night. Or, rather, I dreamed about what I was actually thinking but couldn’t articulate when I spent a couple hours writing yesterday afternoon. That’s why I’m rewriting it.

We sleep. Neurons fire. Things make more sense once our brains have had time to process.

Last night I dreamed about love. I dreamed about what we used to talk about, where we used to go, what we used to do. I woke up with a physical ache that I soothed by resetting my breathing; I turned off that dream before rolling over to fall back asleep. I liked the memories. I didn’t like the longing. Dreams can pull us back into the past and the past can be dangerous. Just look at Gatsby.

I’ve learned that it is one thing to dwell on the past, to romanticize it and see it through rose-colored glasses, but it is quite another, I think, to look upon the past as an old friend, with the knowing smile that comes from the expected. The school year is ending, which means that this, too, will join the past. This is the time of year when I begin to look back on what was, which always leads me to think about what could be or could have been.

“The past” enters, stage left.

Since my life follows a school calendar, “next year” begins with the start of the school year in August and “this year” ends in just a week. Soon, I’ll speak of “last year,” meaning right now and the ten months preceding it. Where we are now, the “end of the year,” is a lot of fun, busy, and always bittersweet. At international schools, we say goodbye a lot and at least for me, it never gets easier. We turn over a lot of new leaves.

Sometimes I indulge when I find myself feeling sentimental. Sometimes I go up to the roof and sit in the dark, eyes closed, Lana del Rey or Bon Iver filling my ears, a soundtrack for feelings too wrapped up in themselves to be put to words. Sometimes I run through a few old favorites – things that were, unspoken dreams of things that will never be, imagination for what is still within the realm of possible but only on a technicality. My mind is filled with people I’ve known and loved, maybe for a long time or maybe they’re brand new. People come and go in transient cities, in international schools, and we’re often just counting time.

Thinking about the end of the year got me thinking about the past and is likely why I dreamed about a love I once had. The past becomes the story we tell ourselves, true or not, and it’s what we do with the story that matters. We write those stories all the time.

This is the end of the school year, prompting me to write the story about wanting to be better next year. This is the part when I am reminded of why, how, and who I was. Who I am. Who I can be. This is the part that reminds me of the people who have been with me along the way and I miss them, even if we have yet to be apart.

But of course, sometimes, my imagination catches me off guard, an enemy rather than a friend. Those are the times when I find myself angry or hurt, which are really just emotions that mask feeling fear. Maybe I don’t have nightmares because I can admit when I’m afraid. It doesn’t come up in the dark the way it used to and I don’t push it away as insistently anymore. I’ve learned to make my peace with people and times and events, recall what I’ve learned from them, and wish them well.

When I let my mind wander, I find myself writing stories about what I want and what I hope for, both for myself and for others. I invent conversations that I wish had taken place, rewrite conversations that could have easily gone another way, and imagine conversations yet to happen. Sometimes my imagination is like a tape that won’t stop running, no matter how many times I press stop. Sometimes it fills me such delight that it’s almost disappointing to keep my dreams to myself. And sometimes I catch myself with a silly grin on my face and can’t help but laugh out loud. I think about my people, the broad category that they are, and hold them tightly.

The end of the year is a time of transition. Living on a school calendar provides a convenient opportunity to make changes, restart, and try again, but it also forces endings and beginnings, often sooner than I’m ready for them.

But here we are. Already. So soon. And yet, we thought it would never come. Or so we told ourselves months ago. There’s so much time and never enough. This is the time to remember or say goodbye to people who have built my dreams, occupied a space in my mind and made it their own. It’s the time to send love and good wishes half the world over, to those gone, those going, and all of those I have left behind.

Thank you for being part of my story, part of my dreams. Lucky are those who will come to know you; lucky are we who already do.

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On Happiness

I’m teaching the culture part of a unit on sociocultural psychology. We talk about values and norms and the ways that people in different cultures remember, learn, and express what they know. We talk about learning how to behave in our own cultures and becoming part of new cultures. We talk about expectations. We talk about what it means to be happy.

Most of the time, happiness for me actually means contentment. It means feeling okay with and good about what’s happening immediately around me. Less “Wow, how awesome!” and more “This is really nice.” In the book How Emotions Are Made Lisa Feldman Barrett explains that there’s a difference between North American “happy happy joy joy” and East Asian tranquility and equanimity. We don’t all conceive of happiness in the same way and those differences are very important for the way we view the world. I was in the musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown back in high school and the closing number, “Happiness,” got me every time.

Though we sometimes forget it in the age of Instagram, Buzzfeed Top Ten lists, and selfie sticks, happiness is in simplicity.


I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently. Several times over the last few weeks, a conversation from half a year ago has returned to mind. I was with a friend who I’ve only seen once or twice since, neither of us speaking much that day. We were both concerned with and unsettled by the future. We were uncertain. Jobs, choices, change, moving, moving on. After some moments of silence, my friend asked, “What makes you happy?”

I remember it took me several seconds to respond. I remember the knot in my stomach and how I had to acknowledge it, experience it, and admit to it before I could let it go. I was not feeling happy in that moment and answering the question took time.

“Lots of things,” I replied, intellectually knowing this was the right answer even if I couldn’t quite feel it.

“Like what?”

“Oh, you know, things.” It took a moment, but there’s a lot to be said for state-dependent memory (and learning). Once the ideas came, they came quickly. “The smell of coffee. Sunny mornings with a breeze. Being outside. Books. Writing. Taking pictures. Being with friends and family. Intimate moments. Traveling. Learning new things. Delicious vegetables. Making food for people.”


That conversation has come back to me strangely often in the last few weeks. I’ve been experiencing a sort of mental shift, I think, one that started when I was in Europe at the beginning of April. Over the last month, I’ve grown more accustomed to the calm and quiet that my mind has found. Sometimes I find myself feeling okay in a situation or with thoughts that would have bothered me just weeks ago. This is good.

Maybe this is what it means to grow up. Maybe there’s wisdom in letting go, in observing, and in accepting today without judgment. There certainly seems to be freedom there. The only thing I know for sure is that a better version of myself is one who sees happiness in all the small moments that occur every day, and I’m glad to be there right now.

 

Lessons from Parks and Pools

Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

-Lao Tzu

After my run today, I stripped off my t-shirt and socks and jumped in the pool. I floated lazily, watching the rainbows reflecting off the tile. The run left me calm and quiet, reluctant to go back inside where I knew I would start thinking about the day ahead. So to postpone that moment, I jumped in the pool.

I love running down the beach in East Coast Park early on a weekend morning. I’ve always loved morning runs. The sun looks fresh and new, sparkly, not yet limp and dull, hanging heavy with the humidity that will roll in as the day grows later. I love how the sun turns green leaves a bright yellow. The breeze that picks up on the water every morning and afternoon is a pleasure to run in; it brings the smell of salt that reminds me of childhood summers in South Carolina with sand castles, the stickiness of sunscreen, and eating my cheese and lettuce sandwich in the water.

Today I passed by a huge tree that had grown sideways, the trunk halfway between parallel and perpendicular to the ground. Some of the branches had rooted themselves to the earth, too, and the tree created a fort, an igloo-shaped dome of branches and leaves. I stopped my watch and stepped inside, wishing immediately for a blanket, book, and 20 years ago when my sister and I would have happily made ourselves a home in there and passed the day away. We loved secret spaces to curl up with a story. I still do.

Catching rainbows in the pool, I realized that I felt perfectly content. Running is the time of the day where I let my mind drift wherever it wants to go. Increasingly, my mind has found tranquility. I’ve been spending more time feeling calm, more time experiencing equanimity. I have noticed a change in my behavior and general outlook. Some of this might come from practicing meditation, but I think more of it comes from feeling comfortable with myself as a person. Comfortable being wherever I am, with whoever I’m with, and doing whatever I’m doing. This is a new feeling that I’m slowly uncovering; it’s fragile but full of possibility. It has been a long time (my best guess is fall of 2015) since I’ve felt that who I am and who I want to be might just match.

It’s a peculiar thing to realize.

Shortly after ringing in 2018, a friend and I were messaging about the holidays and providing general life updates. I mentioned that one of my hopes for this year was to fall in love again. He wished me luck with that pursuit and we moved on to discuss more normal things like education, Donald Trump, and how to take proper care of plants.

I haven’t fallen in love, but it’s been a while since I’ve believed that I can. Coming back to that state of being has been a journey, a journey that I didn’t really know I was on. And now that I can see it, I’m happy to be where I am. What has been has been, what will be will be. This is what I’m doing today. And that is enough.

In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go? -Buddha

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