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Living Life Well: 06/01/2020

Realizing the Dream

There are two ways to awaken from a deep night’s sleep. We may waken quickly, our sleep abruptly interrupted as it were by the severe demands of the day waiting for us impatiently. On the other hand – if we are fortunate – we may awaken with more leisure, able to enjoy the unfolding sensations of morning while considering the dreams that had occupied our night. This more deliberate way of awakening would inform our day with what we had learned while sleeping.

The way to enter a swimming pool can be an immediate plunge into the deep part, or a gradual wading into the shallow end. And of course there are those who would rather stay out of the water altogether, preferring to remain asleep. We do not have that luxury.

I imagine reentering the world from the ordeal of these past few months, this quarantine, will be like this. We may plunge in too quickly, haphazardly resuming our business activities, and we may pursue our entertainments like children on Christmas morning, eager to resume where we had left off – which will not be possible. Or, we may take our time, and deliberate each step thoughtfully, remembering what we have learned.

Things have changed. Our skies are clearer now, birds and animals seem to be returning as nature begins to revive, and calendars and clocks no longer measure the meaning of our days.

A few nights ago I dreamed that I was following a graveled pathway, in a garden that had been ruined by a great war. Nothing that we had treasured remained. The music and the dance, the banquets and the libraries and museums – all were gone. This was probably due to my having begun reading Jack London’s dystopian novel The Scarlet Plague, about a lethal, world-wide epidemic in the 21st century that had reduced civilization to primitive tribes. I set the book aside as too dark a vision. Despair, I believe, is not an intelligent response to what lies ahead.

We can’t afford the luxury of despair, nor should we become hostages of our cynicism. To believe conspiracy theories wholesale and that all politicians are driven by selfishness – and for that reason to abandon the field of discourse – is to be intellectually lazy, and a coward. To be a healthy citizen of a healthy society is an ongoing condition and circumstance, to be lived every day, one day at a time, not in reactive campaign but with attentive, responsible discussion and discovery. Heather Cox Richardson, a professor of American History whose blog I follow rather closely, recently commented that two great political forces now vie for control of our government. Of course we cannot know what will happen, and for that reason she urges us not to feel defeated, but rather challenged to encounter and embrace our destiny.

All that seemed left for me in that dream of a ruined garden was a great loneliness. It was then that I heard footsteps behind me, and turned to see another survivor of the war approaching. He too seemed to understand that the war was finally over, and that it was time for recovery. We looked at one another with equal bewilderment, sadness, and kinship; and I realized it was not loneliness I had been left with, but the ardent desire to reconnect. I don’t feel especially bleak about our possibilities – I believe we can get through all this and become a better and healthier society by what we’ve learned, if we make things happen deliberately rather than plunge ahead pell-mell, allowing things to happen to us.

My sense of a good life lived well began in the groves and fields of Sonoma County, long before the sixties when my political and social teeth were cut in the aspirational streets of Berkeley. Living life well for me is a natural, deliberate and ongoing process, not something randomly taken up now and then, and then arbitrarily set aside – and conscious recovery is perhaps the most significant element of health.

Recovery has two faces – one facing outward in recovery from an ordeal such as disease, addiction or ignorance, and the other facing inward in the recovery of one’s true nature, one’s self.

Last month – was it really only last month? – I wrote about the transformative character of the chrysalis, and the recently discovered presence of certain cells within the caterpillar known as imaginal disks, which define its incipient nature as a butterfly, imagining the potential of antennae and wings. But transformation is a change in form only – in fact it is the recovery of who it is we have always been at depth, and its realization as we bring it forward. The butterfly, science has learned, remembers and realizes what it had known as a caterpillar – including its dream of flight.

This human condition will always bring upon us such crises as we have today, such crossroads as this one we have come to. Human nature, in its resilience, has the patience to pause at such times, to recognize what is possible – and it has the courage to choose what is best. As we remember this dream, as we gradually awaken from our sleep, may we realize that there will once again be festivals and celebrations, and music, and dance.

Jim Shere is a local writer with a private practice as a counselor in Glen Ellen. You are invited to explore his website at, or email him at

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