This series, curated by Brian Johnson, founder of PhilosophersNotes, features big ideas from leading thinkers on a wide range of personal-development topics. Find his summary video of Courageous Dreaming (free!) below.
Medical anthropologist and shaman Alberto Villoldo, PhD, has devoted more than two decades of his life to studying the spiritual practices of the Earthkeepers, shamans in the Amazon and the Andes.
His research has identified the role our minds play in creating aging and disease, causing emotional suffering, and preventing us from reaching our dreams. He believes we can reverse these processes by embracing the practices of modern-day shamans.
Let’s explore Villoldo’s book Courageous Dreaming and highlight a few ideas that will encourage our minds to begin dreaming big so we can create the lives we want.
Rewrite Your Story
One key step toward achieving the life of your dreams is abandoning victim thinking.
“Although the mind resists it, the fact is that, like me, you have a choice between having the life you want or the reasons why you can’t,” Villoldo writes. “You can luxuriate in joy and peace, or you can continually be burdened by that big black bag full of all the sorrowful incidents and accidents that happened to you in your childhood or last relationship. You can endure your wounds or you can enjoy your glory. You can live the life of a victim, burdened by the traumas of your past, or you can live the life of a hero, but you can’t do both.
“If you want to feel empowered, you need to make a conscious decision to create a sacred dream and practice courage.”
Which do you prefer: Having the life you want or dwelling on the reasons why you can’t have it?
We have characters in our minds that play out our “I can’t have what I dream of” story: the victim, the bully, and the rescuer. Villoldo argues that we can continue to let these characters write our narrative, or we can craft a new story that casts us into the role of hero.
Our hero story frees us from the “bullies” in our lives and keeps us from seeking a “rescuer” to save us from our challenges. In this story, we save ourselves by stepping up and overcoming those obstacles.
Shifting the focus from what’s wrong with our lives to what we want is a great way to write a hero narrative.
Let Go of Perfection
There are no perfect heroes and no perfect hero narratives, Villoldo notes. “We don’t need any more mythological heroes,” he writes. “There’s nothing more paralyzing than the notion of perfection — we feel that we can never attain it, so why bother to even try? No, what we need is to be honest about what it means to be human: that we are fated to miss the mark of perfection but achieve small and impressive acts of courage and greatness.”
Aiming for perfection leaves us disheartened, leading us to slip back into our victim story. No one is perfect, not even our greatest heroes. Often what draws us to them is their courage and authenticity. So, rather than striving to be perfect, aim to be real.
Venturing to be real and flawed, Villoldo argues, puts you in good company. “In comic books, superheroes usually start off as ordinary people who acquire amazing powers after something terrible happens to them,” he notes. “As you write your tale, in your head or on paper, imagine what you might do today with your powers to manifest truth, justice, and freedom in your life. Don’t imagine yourself to be a noble rescuer of the people of Gotham City, but rather a humble hero who accepts her destiny and fends off toxic beings by using her amazing gifts. Then leave your own Batcave or Fortress of Solitude and let your courage express itself in your world today.”
Remember that superheroes typically acquire their great powers only after something tragic happens to them. Rather than dwelling on that tragedy, they embrace their adversity and answer the call to meet their destiny.
For each of us to meet our destiny and fulfill our greatest desire, Villoldo argues, we must stop fearing death. “The Earthkeepers believe that to live fully and dream courageously, we must wake up each morning and live this day as if it were our last,” he explains. “Only when we face the reality that we are mortal, and that we have no control over when we depart from this physical existence, do we find the courage to stop frantically running away from the death we fear and put our energy into living lives of originality and purpose.”
Villoldo suggests these thoughts can help us embrace our mortality:
- When you wake up, spend a little time imagining your perfect day. What do you do? How do you show up? How do you treat people? See that. Create that perfect day today, because it might be your last chance.
- Imagine you’ve died. What eulogy would you write for yourself? What memories would you want people to retain? How did you touch others? How did you respond to challenges and what did you achieve?
Don’t wait to write your heroic tale. Use this wisdom to make the parts of your story that haven’t yet happened come true.
About the Author: Alberto Villoldo, PhD, is a psychologist and medical anthropologist. He’s studied the healing practices of Amazon and Andean shamans for more than 25 years. Learn more at www.thefourwinds.com.