Saturday, March 31, 2012

Beyond Every Horizon Lies Another

     I woke up this morning from a permutation of a dream I've had many times before. It's the dream where I realize that I haven't finished part of my education, either some required class from high school or college, and I am back in the classroom, completely confused about how I got myself into this mess. In this particular dream, although I was already an M.D., it was discovered that I had missed some physics course credits, and I had to go back to school. I was re-enrolled in what seemed to be a community college. I'd stopped attending this class weeks before, and had never even opened the textbook. There were all sorts of quizzes that I'd already missed, and now, there were only two weeks left before the final exam. Oddly enough, I was taking several concurrent classes, all of which I was doing well in. For some reason, I just couldn't get through physics. The physics instructor was the woman I do my banking with at Suntrust. Elizabeth is an attractive, intelligent, soft spoken woman who's entertained me during our phone conversations over the years with amusing stories about how, back in the '60s, she left her home in Fair Hope, Alabama to pursue her dream of becoming a ballerina in New York. She was willing to overlook the fact that I had missed most of her classes, and was urging me to use the next two weeks to study. I was aware that most of the students in the class were people I knew from anesthesia residency, but I only recognized one person. It was Annette, a brilliant young woman with an undergraduate degree from Georgia Tech, who completed her residency a couple of years after me. She's now an anesthesiologist in Colorado, and is expecting her first child. In the dream classroom, Annette sat one seat over and behind from me. I kept looking back at her as she busily scribbled down equations, thinking to myself, "How does she understand all these formulas?" I couldn't make any sense out of the word problems, much the same as it had been for me when I took my year of physics 16 years ago. The mood of the dream was sort of neurotic, with a pervasive feeling of being a phoney, and of being pressed for time. I don't know how the dream itself ends. It's one of the realest-feeling recurring dreams that I have, and I am always incredibly relieved when I wake up.
     I'm not sure what to make of dreams like this. Maybe it's not all that important to try and understand them, but I do find dreams intriguing. They are our subconscious minds, uncensored. In analyzing my dreams, I don't necessarily come to any earth-shattering conclusions, but I do gain awareness of certain feelings that seem to escape my consciousness. Right now, I'm deeply involved in some sort of spiritual journey. I don't know what to call it or how to classify it. I don't even know why it's happening. All I really know is that I feel a happiness and inner peace I've never experienced before. The further I travel outside the boundaries of my own mind, the calmer and more receptive I'm becoming. I feel differently, but I can't explain it. The things I once thought I needed seem unnecessary, unimportant, peripheral. It's as if I am shedding my old skin.
     On a superficial level, I can explain this dream. I chose medicine as a second career, and was a working mom when I went back to school to complete the pre-med requisite coursework. I've always struggled with physical science and mathematics. In high school, I took algebra and geometry, after which I opted out of any further math courses, joining the newspaper staff instead. My SAT scores were dismal. When I first took college algebra in 1980, I was completely lost. I quit going to class, and ended up making a "D." The biggest obstacle I had in going back to college years later as an older adult was my fear of math, chemistry, and physics. I really didn't think I was capable of understanding any of that stuff. In most of my classes, I was the oldest student, and I felt like such a dummy, sitting next to a bunch of 20 year olds for whom this coursework seemed effortless. I poured myself into these classes this time around. What I discovered was that, in the past, I'd made these subjects needlessly difficult. In over-thinking and second-guessing word problems, I couldn't arrive at the relatively straightforward answers that were contained within each problem. I made simple problems complicated. My new approach was pretty simplistic: I went to class, did the assigned reading, worked through each chapter's questions, and if there was something I didn't understand, I sought help. Instead of feeling intimated and inadequate, I now felt challenged. I decided to have fun with it. In no time, I discovered I could "do" math and physical science, just like everyone else, and amazingly, I was getting through it. I surprised myself; was this really me? Or was I just some sort of poser?
     I've spent a good deal of my life, trying to get anywhere but where I am, reaching for something just beyond the horizon, never feeling at home within my own skin. What is it I've been reaching for, and where exactly is this horizon anyway? Given that what we refer to as the horizon is only an apparent line, dividing ocean or earth from the sky, Earth's curvature seems to preclude its existence: beyond every horizon lies another. It's really nothing more than an imaginary boundary, an optical illusion. The presence of trees or buildings obscure the definition of the horizon's line, making it seem closer and more attainable, but this, too, is an illusion. It's something that isn't really there to begin with. In reaching for what's beyond the horizon, maybe I've been fooling myself. If I turn my head a few degrees to one side or another, the horizon changes without my feet moving an inch. To other observers, the point at which I'm standing right now might be the horizon they are desperately trying to reach, yet there is nothing terribly exciting going on here. It's a place just like any other. I'm starting to think my concept of self is my biggest obstacle, that what I've strived so hard to understand may not be as important as what I already know. Maybe it's this consciousness of mine which perpetuates the illusion of boundaries defined by a horizon, this gnawing feeling of insignificance. Maybe "me" is the illusion. Maybe I've been home all along.


  1. I think you have been home all along, but it takes all these things we experience in life to realize it! You're in your Chiron Return, so this is a big new phase. I enjoyed reading this bec I too avoided math, but learned when I taught young children, how to re-embrace it. I have two thoughts. One is that with maturity we open up more to certain things (so why do we act like kids have to grasp it all in 12 years? For some subjects, some of us get more into it later in life). And the other thought is that I am thrilled knowing it's never too late to go back to things and relearn or readjust my view, anew. The horizon line keeps moving as we move toward it, and so being here now feels good. There is also this thing called the "Imposter Phenomenon" and it is not unusual for people to feel they're "not the real thing" or "faking it" or posing, etc. A lot of people experience this I have learned. We're just who we are and we get to explore all we like in life. You've earned your degrees, and you are who you are, and you will always be a force of energy and life in motion, moving along with the Universe! And, just so you know, I also now and then have one of those dreams--so unpleasant! Last time I had a similar one, I was supposed to give a talk in front of all these people I look up to and I didn't remember the topic they told me I was supposed to cover in my talk! Horrible dream! Thank God they don't happen often. :)

    1. A friend of mine, who goes by the name "nothingprofound" writes the most beautiful is his observation on maturity: "Maturity is the moment one regains one's innocence." I think it fits in well here!I am glad to know I'm not the only one with those crazy dreams!