Dreaming of your better self

Words by Liz Keen

On a silent plane at midnight, en route home after one year abroad, I couldn’t sleep. While it saved me hundreds of dollars, the low budget airfare didn’t cover blankets, let alone in-flight entertainment. Fellow passengers fell deeper into their airborne dreams while I fidgeted in my seat, wired and impatient.  

Some weeks earlier I’d begun to dream in other ways, inventing homecoming narratives spun around my more cultured, better-travelled self. 

Privy to how time can change us – open our minds, age our few wisdoms – I’d pictured myself, sharply dressed, gracing family gatherings and dinner parties with my salacious insight and travel tales. I daydreamed myself with a monocle, such was my anticipated enrichment of character. 

Liz Returned would negotiate future tests and concerns with the air of a woman who’s been away changing. I’d contribute to political discourse, laugh at my old insecurities, impress my parents with articulated speech and charm. Travel, I believed, had grown me up. 

Back on-flight, seeking stimulation or sedation, I flipped open my laptop and scrolled half-heartedly through my new music downloads – too upbeat, too fast, too flamenco-y – until the little arrow hovered over a track I’d called ‘Dreams – Alan Watts remix’. 

“You don’t know Alan Watts?” an acquaintance had recently baulked over a lengthy Turkish breakfast in Istanbul. “Man, his lectures changed my life. I listen to him more than to my father,” another shared with me in Tehran three weeks later. 

Consequently, I spent my final airport transit self-loathingly YouTubing the lectures of a philosophical genius my travelled self should’ve already known, managing to download fragments of his ‘The Dream of Life’ lecture put to house music. 

I popped in my headphones and pressed play. 

As the intro rolled into music the cabin fell dark in my reverie. Tiny stars slipped from the sky and under the windowpanes to orbit my head, earphones attached. Watts had bewitched me, gently pushed clarity into my world. 

The essence of the full lecture differs from my experience; I hadn’t so much waltzed into my ‘travel dreams’ as slog out three jobs to afford it, and god didn’t feature here. But my interpretation resonated: that despite our yearnings and wildest dreams, the Now is the truest, richest experience. 

Watts’ assertion that “You would dream the dream of living the life you are actually living today” reminded me that I was, in that very moment, already the best I could be. 

As such, travel had not enhanced me. There was no Liz 2.0 the way I’d imagined. Friends and family weren’t awaiting my arrival with notebooks, eager to jot down the advice and inspiration I’d impart while twisting my monocle.  

What had changed was my collection of experiences, which, over the expansion and retraction of time back at home – where I’d settle, reflect – would help me to grow up, out and in all directions, not into a ‘better’ version. 

So long as we spend the present dreaming up our improved future selves, we might miss Watts’ message: that “everybody is fundamentally the ultimate reality”.