Discover more from The Creativity Gap
The Lost Art of Dreaming
Or how to make a pen disappear.
Do me a favor.
Grab a pen and a coffee mug.
Tap the mug with the pen. Try to keep your eyes on these words. Don’t look at the mug if you can help it. Just tap and picture the mug in your mind.
Now, move your attention to the pen itself. Keep tapping the mug.
Do that for a few seconds.
Now, move your attention up to your fingers and wrist. Notice how the muscles in your wrist and hand automatically orient themselves to “tap” without you having to think about it.
Finally, locate the source of the tapping. Beyond your muscles, up your arm, and into your…. mind? It’s like a sensation (a dream, as we will discover). A tingling motivation, maybe. This is as far as your conscious mind can go.
Just notice the boundary with a sense of curiosity.
Slowly move your attention to your fingers, the pen, and then back to the mug.
You can stop tapping.
Thank you for indulging me in that if you did.
Why you just did that will become clear in a minute
Thanks for reading so far. Type in your email before all hope is lost.
My friend’s dream is to become a film director.
He’s not entirely crazy. He’s friends with people making movies in the industry, and he’s worked on some big-name projects.
He called me the other day and said, "I don't know... sometimes I think it’s my destiny to make movies. Other times, it sounds exhausting. Leading all those people, dealing with the studios, the stupid social-climber parties… What do you think?"
I was walking around Silverlake with my AirPods in. Trying to make an analogy, I told him I wasn’t paying attention to my headphones as we had this nice conversation.
I tried to clarify: I don’t worry about how the air I'm soaked in carries ripples from my vocal cords to jiggle a little microphone in my ear. Nor how those jiggles are translated into 1s and 0s and then projected as 5G waves, and then various towers carry that information to space. Then, his phone reverses that process to ripple the air near his head to mimic my voice.
Point is, if my "attention" were set on any of those complicated points along the way, I wouldn't be able to orchestrate my thoughts.
I couldn’t “think” if I was trying to move my vocal cords manually.
You’ve felt this: when you focus on the wrong thing, like trying to impress someone, they often pull away. Happens all the time in LA,
Or, if, say, my headphones died, I would suddenly become aware of their presence. They would “object” to my desire to speak to my friend. That's where the word "object" comes from, by the way. Something that objects. That will be important in a moment.
When AirPods are fully charged, they aren’t objects. Funny statement, but true. My desire (the “dream,” if you don’t mind) flows freely through them. It’s like how my “dream” (using that lightly) to probe the mug flows freely through my fingers and the pen.
If you’re reading this on a phone, it’s not a phone. It’s a seamless portal into this essay. If it stopped working, you would have to figure out where you need to go to fix it. Then it would be a phone. And you would hate that. You don’t want a phone – you want the essay. More likely, you want the TikTok. But, whatever.
Now, you could think of this as taking iPhones for granted or being ungrateful, and sometimes that's the case.
But this “vanishing” is a necessary development of "fluency."
Fluency vanishes objects
Fluency happens when all "objects" are cleared for your dreams to flow freely.
We're both fluent in English, for example. We don't have to worry about what each of these letters means in the context of the words, nor most of the combination of these letters (words) in the context of the sentences. At some point when you were learning English, these sticking points "objected" to your ability to understand. But, slowly, you overcame each of them, made them invisible, and gained "fluency."
As I write this, I'm not thinking about letters or grammar. Instead, my "attention" flows right "through" English (like the pen) so that I can focus instead on the larger "pattern" (like the mug) of what I want to convey to you. The pattern, hopefully, is important and beautiful. I usually fall short – but it’s good to aim high.
If the goal of this essay, on the other hand, was to attract your attention at any cost, that's just clickbait. Or if it was to make me come across as smart, that’s pompous and annoying. Or if I only focused on proper grammar, that would make it dry, awkward, and stilted.
Most writers become overly obsessed with the objects in their way. They try everything: shorter sentences, longer sentences, good grammar, stylized grammar, better words, better flow, more audience engagement, and on and on.
They sacrifice the dream for the objects.
Without a “dream,” none of my writing would feel exciting to read. On the other hand, as long as I had a compelling vision, I could misspell every second word, and you wouldn’t care.
Everything worthwhile is born of a dream.
And that’s what I wanted to point out to my friend with my weird headphone analogy.
Objects are boring; dreams are exciting
People in LA constantly tell you who to schmooze, what camera to get, or whose party to attend. All this focus on the objections makes my friend feel "exhausted.”
No wonder… It’s boring!
Why do we get this so backward? Partly, I think, because of the school system. You can't formalize a dream for each child. So, instead, we dump all possible "objections" in front of every student: endless textbooks, quizzes, and lectures. We never tell them why the hell anyone would be motivated to solve this mountain of displeasure. Instead, we give them a negative vision (a nightmare) about what bad things will happen to them if they don't. Failure.
Because of that (and many other reasons), we all live in an “objective” world. We believe in objective science. You’re objectively wrong, you know that? That movie was objectively good. Objective reporting; no spin! You ever noticed just how many things “object” to us?
And so, out of the thousands of film school graduates in LA, 99% work at Starbucks.
If my friend doesn't know enough film history, doesn't have enough money, or doesn't know the right people, he’s overwhelmed and wants to quit. Or, worse, he waits around for permission.
Permission?! Speilberg didn't even have a real job at Universal Studios. After a free tour, he began dressing in a suit and making himself at home on the lot. He found an empty office, put his name on the door, and started using it to work on his own projects. Finally, he got noticed by studio executives.
Objections be damned. He trusted his future self to solve them as they arose.
Not every director needs to know how to work a camera. Some are great with actors; some are great with story. Hell, some are even great at nothing in particular. You never know what suite of skills (AKA the ability to overcome specific objects) you'll need until you get your hands in the dirt and start doing shit.
Most of us endlessly tend to objects that may get in our way and never really live our lives. Why?
Understanding where this thinking comes from is helpful to break that spell.
Science isn’t a religion of doubt
Science (and, therefore, “reasonableness” in general) is linked to doubt in our popular imagination because it tests hypotheses (dreams) by attempting to disprove them.
Somewhere along the way, “cool” and “scientific” people started doubting everything. They’re cynical. Objective. You can’t make a fool out of them. Nice try, hope.
But… while most dreams will crumble under scrutiny, those that endure are what life is for.
Science is about finding stronger dreams, not worshiping doubt.
Arguably the two most impactful men in the 20th century, Einstein and Oppenheimer, were famously not strong at mathematics. They were primarily dreamers. They had a vision for the future while having just enough ability to overcome objections on the way to materializing it.
Imagine if Einstein had not published the Special Theory of Relativity in 1905 because he “didn’t know enough math.”
"A lot of people think of Einstein as a mathematical genius — he wasn't."
— David McMullan, physicist
Imagine if my friend didn’t pursue directing because he doesn’t like Hollywood parties.
The goal is not a collection of perfectly solved objects.
The goal is for the dream to flow.
A big reason we rest (sleep, dream, nap, daydream, and meditate) is to get a more holistic perspective.
In other words, at night we (obviously) get more dream; less object.
That’s why dreams deliver important messages in the form of a weird movie. But we often ignore the messages since we live in such a left-brain, “objective” world.
That’s a big loss.
Leonardo Da Vinci, for example, would take a 20-minute nap every 4 hours. He called this the “Uberman” schedule. He would solve most of the “objections” in his work while in this dreamy state.
Einstein would nap with a ball bearing in his hand hovered over a pie tin. When he fell into a deep sleep, he would drop the ball bearing, waking him up. That instant of being half-awake and half-asleep is when he would come up with his most brilliant insights.
He once had a dream about cows being electrocuted, which sparked a realization about a person's relative position in space-time.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
Dreams are more important than objects.
Let the dreams flow
This doesn’t mean the dream, as originally conceived, is to be defended at all costs through vision boards, chanting, and meditation. Dreams come first, but objects must be dealt with, and sometimes, the dream must be revised.
This ain't a New Age seminar.
But, most people never allow themselves to state their dreams, even to themselves, because they’re afraid to fail. So, they go the safe route – they fit the mold, wait for permission, and attend to endless, pointless, boring objects.
What they’re really doing is following the dreams of men long dead. It’s exhausting — literally soul-sucking. If you want to make your dreams come true and have the adventure of your life along the way, you need a living dream. Your own dream.
Here’s my advice to my friend (and myself): Follow your vision, ignore people who anxiously tell you you can't do that or you need to do this. Only overcome the objects in your own path, one at a time.
What you’re aiming for is the feeling of fluency, not doubt.
When you’re doing things right, the objects in your path, like the tapping pen, vanish.
Thanks for reading,