one family's yearlong dare to live their dreams
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Wrapping up a Year of Living for Our Dreams

Amelie on the Beach in Virgin Gorda, BVI

It’s been a year since we set out to live for our dreams. Our project has been to dare each other to do all those things we’ve always wanted to do but somehow couldn’t find the courage, the money, the time for. We gave each other and ourselves a year with the idea that we could probably do just about anything we set our minds to for a limited duration.

We started by plotting out a series of adventures, and pushed each other out the door to experience them. Wendy went to India. I started flying lessons. We made friends and made music. We clutterbusted, loved, meditated, traveled, played, and then the most amazing thing of all began to happen. We opened ourselves to new possibilities.

We found that by giving each other license to live more fully, starting in specific, well-defined ways, we set ourselves free in spirit as well as in body, opening ourselves to opportunities that we couldn’t have imagined in advance. No longer confined by our perceived limitations, we we began to feel a strong sense of abundance in our lives that wasn’t related to the size of our bank account. We began to live each day with a renewed sense of adventure, and increasingly to let go of plans to allow the unexpected to happen.

Our last great adventure of the year was to travel to the Caribbean as a family. We enjoyed bright sunshine and warm water for a December week completely disconnected from the Internet, with our computers left at home and our iPhones locked away. Without the distractions of work, school, household chores, and electronic media, we had the time and the space to reconnect with each other in beautiful surroundings, with lasting results. We’ll be back next year.

We’ll return to other adventures we began in 2011 as well. I’ll take another retreat, though likely not to meditate this time; next time I put my life on pause I want to finish a novel. Wendy will return to Asia, but this time I’ll come along. We’ll hit Singapore first, and then probably Bali. We’ll keep paring down the clutter in our lives, leaving only what’s important, which continues to be each other, our dreams, and the things that bring us and those around us joy. The space in our lives is there, and the opportunity, to live adventurously for the rest of our lives, thanks to our year of living for our dreams.

What will you do in 2012? Where will you go?

Revisiting Our Dreams

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” – Goethe

Many years ago I put these words on my college application, alongside a pencil drawing of an open hand that was not half bad. I chose my school, Vassar College, in no small part because I fell in love with an amazing tree that defied gravity to stretch a single solid limb across the lawn in front of the amazing, cathedral-like library. I spent a lot of time in that library.

Now the quote comes back to me with all the force of its exhortation. All year long, this Party of 4 project has incited my family to live with Goethe’s brand of boldness. It’s not easy to maintain that, but we’ve accomplished a lot. A trip to India. Flying lessons. Ten days of life-changing meditation. But round about midsummer we lost a bit of momentum, or at least, I did. My guitar teacher moved to Colorado. A nationwide franchise took over Michael’s flight school. Our finances were feeling the pinch of my India trip.

To get back the spark, I feel it’s time to revisit our original plan and make a few changes. The blogging diva Gwen Bell creates a “life list” of sorts every year, and then around midyear she revisits and revises it. I think this is wise, because we are not the same people we were in January, or even last week. We’re always changing, and this is a good thing. It’s a sign that life, energy, and the creative spirit are flourishing within us.

So I’m reevaluating. I’m letting go of a couple of the dreams that feel too much like type-A deadlines to me. Learning French, for one. This just might not be the year for that one, and I can let that balloon go. Instead of pressured goals, I’m opting for experiential dreams. I have discovered that I simply do not need one more item on my to-do list.

So my family has replaced French lessons for now with a plan to unplug together in a beautiful and inspiring place (I’m rooting for an obscure Caribbean island, or off-the-path Mexico). And above all these past couple of months, we’ve realized that feeding our creative spirits is as essential to us as food and sleep. Michael and I have both rededicated ourselves to creative writing–yet without those type-A demands and pressurized goals. It’s about creative play, and we’re taking cues from our 6-year-old, who is amazingly adept at this art. Now I’m writing poems again, Michael is back to penning his children’s book, and we’re both loving the process, the experience of creating itself, for its own sake.

Letting a dream go can feel just as bold and exciting as setting one into motion. Try it: Take a look at your life list. What can you edit out? What can you put in its place that really captures who you are right now, fully engaged in the intoxicating flux and flow that is life on Earth?

In Defense of Passion

In January my family set out to live more passionately. We decided to challenge each other to try new things in 2011 and then chronicle them in this cute little blog you’re holding in your hands. Michael called it the Living for Our Dreams project. But something about that label made me resist: Living for our dreams sounded too selfish and too navel-gaze-y. I was all for the project, but wary of the narcissism it might announce to the world.

Despite my concerns, I climbed on board. The project has given us a jolt of positive energy and has upped the happiness quotient in our little house exponentially. I even think it’s making Michael and me better parents. We have more to give.

So why do words like “dreams” and “passion” have to come with an apology or a disclaimer? I just read a great piece all about this subject by Lane Wallace in The Atlantic“The Value of Following Passion in a Jobless World.” Wallace just spent the past year and a half researching a book about passion and people who lead passionate lives. She found that nothing backs up the stereotypical beliefs about passion-followers: That they are hopelessly idealistic, selfish, or irresponsible.

Instead, says Wallace, “I would argue that passion is one of the most important elements in any effort to improve a community, build something of value in the world, and even survive tough times or a daunting economy.” She defends passionate people as those who have the courage and perseverance to pursue an alternative potential future. They’re survivors.

I think I can hang my hat on that. Viva passion!

Fruits of the Journey

We’re halfway there. In January our family set out on a yearlong quest to live more adventurously, planting a few new seeds in the garden of our lives. Now here we are in June, already reaping so many exotic and unexpected fruits from our escapades.

Among the highlights were a long-awaited trip to India for this yoga-loving Mama and a 10-day silent meditation retreat for peace-seeking Daddy. In a way, the whole family was with us on each of these journeys. All four of us are now, by contact, a bit more worldly and much more Zen.

Michael has become an Olympic-level meditator (if there is such a thing, which unfortunately there isn’t) who sticks diligently to his 2-hour-a-day sitting practice. I have taken to calling Michael “Buddha Daddy” when he calmly shifts me out of an agitated state with a suggestion to “Let it go.” But really, the whole family has taken notice of his more positive outlook on life and his deeper enjoyment of, well, everything.

And my trip to India made quite an impression on Amelie, who turned 6 yesterday and is now a kindergarten graduate reading at Level G. The English major in me could not have been more thrilled to discover that my journey halfway around the world inspired a poem that she wrote at school:

Mama’s Home
by Amelie

Looking at the pretty, sparkly jewelry
Smooth and soft
Rough presents
Everything smelled like India
Everybody saying exciting yells
Everything was different!

What’s next for the Party of 4? Stay tuned (and say a little prayer) as Michael begins flying lessons next month. And we have a few more surprises to yank out of our magician’s hat during the rest of the year. So stay with us and see if we can pull it off. With two small kids, incessant deadlines, and hardly time enough to make dinner most nights, we’re never quite sure that we can manage much of anything. But by some happy accident, we do.

Party on, and peace out.

Creating a Spiritual Journey

In less than three weeks I will hit the pause button on my life as a mother in Woodstock, New York, and I will press “play” on the soundtrack of my spiritual journey to faraway India.

I like to think of this as a spiritual odyssey, filled with yoga and temples and meditation and the names of the sacred. But really, I have no idea what this journey will turn out to be. A fellow yogi told me, “Whatever you expect of India, it will be something else entirely.” So I will go with openness and no expectations. India has its own plans for me.

I have just a few hopes and prayers for how things will turn out. My initial fervent wish is that I will survive my first day of travel, which will be a doozy. Four flights (yes, four), starting with a red-eye from JFK to Cochin by way of Dubai. Then two one-hour plane hops to Mysore by way of Bangalore. I will arrive at my destination two days later in god knows what state (sleepless, no doubt, but mercifully pumped up on adrenaline and novelty).

In Mysore I plan to seek out an octogenarian Ashtanga yoga master named BNS Iyengar (not to be confused with BKS of the eponymous Iyengar school). Like his more widely known namesake, Mr. BNS was once a student of Krishnamacharya, who is considered the grandfather of modern yoga. Not a bad pedigree. I also like the idea of studying with someone in his 80s who has a lifetime of intensely dedicated yoga under his belt. But Mr. BNS, and India, might have other ideas for me. Another teacher might step forward. Anything can happen.

In the evenings I hope to study philosophy and chanting with a Sanskrit scholar of renown in Mysore and abroad. I have her name and address, and I’m told that this woman of vast knowledge holds classes in her home after dinnertime daily. I will show up and hope for the best.

On the weekend I plan to visit Sera Mey Monastery in Byllakupe, a Tibetan Buddhist outpost. A friend is lovingly arranging for a monk to meet me for a grand tour of the temples. I hear that the sound of monks chanting wakes you at dawn. Here’s hoping that I don’t sleep through it.

Really, it’s a Whitman’s sampler of a yoga holiday in Mysore. I will be there only a week – just enough time to peek behind the curtain of a world of mythic importance in yoga circles. The next week, it’s off to Kerala for a friend’s weeklong 40th birthday celebration. If you have to turn 40, this is definitely the way to do it. About a dozen of us will sleep in a 300-year-old heritage hotel in Fort Cochin, take a cruise of the languid Kerala backwaters, and explore tea and cardamom plantations at the Munnar hill station. I might just have to put a strike-through in “spiritual” for this part of the journey so I can work in a few really great shopping sprees and Ayurvedic massages.

But we’ll see what India has in store for me.

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