I have a recurring dream.
The hill is long and very, very steep. Almost a full 90 degree angle. I struggle (I always struggle) to drive a small and not very powerful car up this hill. The sky is dark, the summit barely within view. Most nights gravity takes over and my car somersaults backward in slow motion. Over and over I tumble in the air, then jerk awake just before I hit bottom.
Last night the dream came again, same form, different story. For the first time ever I carried a passenger in the little car.
My friend, Jack*, sat beside me. His nervous laughter provided two things: a familiar reminder of who he is in my daily life and a clue to what he might represent in my dream life. As we climbed the hill I began to understand that Jack had been assigned to my car, that my job was to deliver him, safe and unharmed, to a specific destination.
Other than Jack’s occasional laughter we sat in silence as the car sputtered up up up the steep hill. Then as predicted, the car began to falter and I doubted we would make it to the top. We teetered at that place where gravity wins, the engine stops and the free-fall begins. Jack’s face filled with terror.
I gritted my teeth and jammed my foot against the accelerator and it gave one last burst of energy. The car lurched forward, hesitated for a split-second, then carried us up and over the crest of the hill. The road opened up into daylight and we drove into a small foreign village. Our friends were dining al fresco under a grove of trees. Just as the party began, I awoke.
I call this dream series The Road Taken. Each time it reoccurs, the sensation is the same. The struggle, the climbing and climbing of the little car. The cool night air. My hopes of reaching the top. The fear I may not. The disappointment, the sense of failure when the car topples over and the free-fall begins. The final jolt awake.
On the rare occasion when I crest the hill, I always enter a remarkable scene. This time Jack and I traveled abroad and were greeted with a feast; the time before (according to my dream journal) I found myself standing across the road watching my younger self play in a cottage garden. The child recognized me and ran, laughing, and jumping into my arms. That night I awoke filled with a deep sense of joy.
I have friends who say they rarely dream, yet my dreams often feel as real as my waking life. I see and do amazing things, some of them scary, some pleasant, some troublesome. My dream journal is filled with those that possess a rich and meaningful texture, dreams that present moments of clarity about who I am, where I’m going, and what I’m supposed to do in my life.
Henry David Thoreau claims that “our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”
I ponder over what he means by this and realize he might have understood something many of us choose to ignore. It seems that as we lie asleep at night we are very, very busy — traveling the world, working out our daily problems, seeking answers, celebrating and even playing in a way we wouldn’t dare try in our waking life.
Who’s to know if Thoreau is right. Is it possible that as we close our eyes to sleep we are greeted by and awakened by the truest versions of ourselves? That lying in wait is the true Self, that part of us which is pure in essence and connected to everything?
The fact that Jack appeared in my recurring dream pleases me. It gives me hope. The dream now has a new chapter. I successfully delivered a passenger to his destination, unharmed and all in one piece.
As I process this achievement, I try not to question it too much, but to let the dream have a life of its own. To let The Road Taken unfold naturally because I have chosen this road — this pathway, this struggle.
*not his real name