more brushes with death

Yesterday morning as I was getting into the car, a harried looking nurse ran down our garden path, opened our door and called into the house. A few moments later I heard her apologising to Satya for getting the wrong address.

By the time I had started the engine she was back in her own car and driving down the road. I passed her a little later, pulled up in front of another house.

This afternoon as I was pulling up weeds in the front garden I noticed a hearse passing. It parked up further down the street. It had stopped in the same place the nurse had stopped yesterday. Two suited men got out, with serious expressions and black ties. I watched them getting an empty stretcher out of the hearse.

It’s possible, but unlikely, that these two events are unconnected. When the hearse passed I was already thinking about tidying up the gardening tools and getting a cup of tea. I didn’t wait around to see if the two smart men brought a body back out of the house with them.

This morning Satya gave a talk on A Buddhist Approach to Following Your Dreams. She talked about which dreams come from the Ego, and which are more selfless, how we can tune into our dreams and what the risks and rewards are of following them.

In the discussion afterwards we talked about broken dreams: what is it like when you have a vision in mind and suddenly it is taken away? Sometimes we let our dreams die and sometimes we try and keep them alive beyond their natural lifespan.

A few weeks ago I thought there was a reasonable chance that the building I had begun dreaming about would be taken away from me.

The Trust that supports our Buddhist group is in the process of buying a wonderful building for Satya and me to run as a temple here in Malvern, and for a little while I thought the whole thing was at risk of falling through.

Any house purchase has a whole host of things which are outside of the control of a single person. I remember the stress of buying our current home: there were phone calls every day to make sure other people were doing the jobs they were supposed to be doing. With this deal it’s not even me buying the building I have set my heart upon; I’m even less in control.

When it looked like the deal was at risk I must have been disappointed at some level, although I think I would have appeared pretty pragmatic if you’d spoken to me at the time. I suspect I pushed all those worried feelings deep down inside somewhere. Occasionally they would slip out in a few sharp words but mostly they kept themselves pretty hidden.

It was only the great sense of relief I felt when the deal was back on that clued me in to what level of feeling I’d been keeping at bay.  It was also at that point I accepted the project was really going ahead, and not just something that I would like to happen. I began to get excited about moving and then suddenly I was surprised by grief.

After our offer was accepted on the new place, dark dreams disturbed my sleep for a couple of nights. In the wee small hours of the morning I woke up in tears.

I traced back my thoughts into my dreams and I realised that I was grieving for futures that could no longer be, now that I was committing my life to running the temple.

Theatre director Anne Bogart has said that every creative act is a violent one. Even the simple act of placing a chair in place on a stage destroys all the other possibilities for where that chair might be.

I’m not even sure what those old dreams were: the last wisps of the teenage fantasy of being a rock star, perhaps, or my dreams of going back into the theatre myself. There is still time for those things of course, but not in the magical way of my most grandiose of dreams.

Every now and again I catch myself fantasising about life in the new place. My ego works hard to create visions of being there in a way in which I can be up on a pedestal and life is easy. I try to give those dreams up as soon as I spot them.

If I didn’t want to grieve for those unlived futures I could have tried to keep the dreams alive. I could have turned them over in my mind in the quiet spaces of the day and allowed them to infect my sleep too.

Down that path leads madness: resentment of the gap between my lived life and the dream world and a lack of gratitude for the amazing dream that is being realised.

Just like our physical being, every dream has a natural lifespan.

Recently I met the death of some of my dreams, and it was good.

I don’t know who lives at the house the hearse stopped in front of this morning, but I hope that whoever lived there  lived well, I hope that those that were close to them can grieve well, and that new good dreams will flourish.


  1. Thank you so much. Tears came as I read this and more as I write this. I am hit with a realization of how much I both try to grieve the closed doors and try to keep them open, and push against them, at the same time. It is definitely crazy making.

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