How to Breathe Life into an Unlived Dream

How to Breathe Life into an Unlived Dream

Emily ColwellAnxiety, COVIDtime Leave a Comment

What if learning to be present with your anxiety, doubt, and insecurities for seconds at a time has the power to throw open the door that once slammed shut on your dreams? And suddenly possibilities are reborn.

Have you ever had a dream inside you that simply sat there, unlived?

Perhaps it’s an inner gift you sense, yet you’re afraid to explore. Maybe you feel pulled toward a completely different line of work, but your inner Judge Judy tells you all the reasons you should stick with what’s familiar. Perhaps you dream of being an artist, but you’re trained as a lawyer so how could that possibly make sense.

Maybe you’ve felt unhappy in your marriage for a long time, wondering if this is all that life has to offer. Yet bringing this doubt into the light of day so you can explore it feels utterly paralyzing. Or maybe you simply have a feeling about your life’s purpose, but can’t see how it would possibly work in your life.  

I’ll bet when this dream or wondering ripples to the surface of your awareness, it initially feels exciting. Your mind wanders through fantasies about what it will be like to do that thing and how your life will feel different.

And then the fear sets in, right? Your inner Judge Judy starts flapping at the mouth about all the reasons why this dream doesn’t make sense or why it’s downright wrong to even consider it. Before you know it, the doorway to this possibility slams shut…AGAIN.

Yup. I know this experience, too. REALLY WELL. And today I want to tell you about a particular unlived dream of mine that haunted me for 20+ years.

I dreamed of writing books since I was in my late 20’s. I spent endless hours talking with my family, my wife and friends about the books I wanted to write.

But every time I sat down to really dig into the actual process of writing a book, a paralyzing shutdown arrived. My mind would go blank. I would struggle to focus. My inner Judge Judy would charge in to tell me ALL the reasons I couldn’t do it. At first I’d fight against the shut down….until I’d finally give up in defeat, yet again.

There are endless ways in which we make ourselves wrong for the responses we have when we try to move toward a dream we hold dear.

And I made my shutdown wrong. For years. Just like I used to make my anxiety wrong. Whenever either one of them showed up, I went to war against them. I tried to force them to go away.

Did this EVER work well? Nah. Not once. Or not for long. But I didn’t know any other way!

Well, I DID learn a new way to navigate my anxiety years ago. And it didn’t require that I fight against it. Instead, it invited me to acknowledge its presence. To notice how it felt in my body. To become acquainted with this regular roommate of mine (anxiety) who I’d cohabitated with for years, yet with whom I’d been enemies. And anxiety and I formed a new understanding. We forged a new relationship of acceptance and respect.

This completely changed my experience with it. Has it rid me of anxiety? Nope. But that part doesn’t actually matter anymore. You know why? Because when anxiety shows up, more than one response to it is available to me now. I don’t always remember this in the first moment, but eventually I do. And when I choose to shift from being at war with it to being present with it, my very experience of it changes.

It occurred to me a few months ago that this response was available to me around my shutdown, too. So I got right to it! I tried to tackle more of my book and shutdown promptly reared its ugly head. So predictable! I paused the fight against it and simply noticed what it felt like in my body when I was in shutdown.

It was like meeting a member of my inner family that I’d always hated, yet discovering that, in fact, this member simply had a lot of big feelings and wasn’t feeling seen or heard so was yelling louder to get my attention.

As I gave this inner family member named Shutdown my attention, the yelling quieted. Did I stare intensely into the eyes of this shutdown within me? Nah. These moments of meeting the shutdown and being present with it were merely seconds and minutes at a time. That’s the beauty of this! And practicing this over time allowed my experience with it to change.

My relationship with my shutdown transformed. We became comrades instead of enemies. The war against it was no longer necessary. As I paused in presence with my shutdown, new understandings began to bubble up, helping make sense of how this shutdown response even started in the first place. It invited compassion instead of anger and hate.

Does this mean that I no longer experience shutdown. Again…nope! But it’s no longer paralyzing when it shows up. Instead, I have another response to shutdown available to me as I write my books. It’s one that beckons me to pause my fight and to become present with my shutdown for moments at a time.

This one small shift in the way I respond to my shutdown has quietly and steadily thrown open the door to my dream of writing books. And suddenly my dream has new life breathed into it as the words flow easily onto the pages of my book (It’s really happening!!). And I simply watch in wonder and delight.

So maybe it’s time to pull out one of your unlived dreams, dust it off, and notice the unwanted responses that rear up in you when you attempt to move toward the dream. What if those uncomfortable responses aren’t against you? What if it turns out they hold the key to moving forward? What if learning to be present with them for seconds at a time has the power to throw open the door that once slammed closed on your dream? And suddenly possibilities are reborn.

If this sounds intriguing, great! If it feels like it’s not something you could ever do yourself, I get it. It was once a foreign concept for me to even IMAGINE pausing the war against my anxiety, my shutdown, or any other uncomfortable feeling and instead be present with them. Yet it turns out to be THE most powerful, life-changing tool I’ve ever learned or taught. And it just might be so for you, too.

I’ll bet that some of you who read my blogs think, “Wow. That’s great that Emily can make these shifts happen. But she’s different from me.” Well, guess what, people? I’m a regular, imperfect human being. And I didn’t used to know how to do these things either! In fact, if someone had told me that I would one day be friends with my anxiety and shutdown, I would have assumed they didn’t actually know the experience of either.  I would have written them off as woo woo!

But it really IS possible to change our experience with many of THE most uncomfortable aspects of our lives. If you feel doubt, yet also feel pulled to explore this yourself, send me a message and we can connect and talk about working together. Sometimes it feels far less scary to try something new when you’ve got a mentor by your side.

So here’s to our unlived dreams and breathing new life into them! 

P.S. Here’s a brief video in which I describe a concrete, easy way of understanding and practicing the tool I discuss in this blog:

P.P.S. If you’ve been enjoying my weekly blogs and are itching for more daily inspiration, friend me on Facebook (Emily Colwell) or follow me on Instagram (dr.emily_colwell).  I post frequently and humor leaks into most of my posts!


Emily Colwell, MSSW, ND

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