When Dreams Are Shattered




In my last blog post, I explored the positive power of the dream – the ways in which a dream can inspire and motivate people to achieve far more than they ever imagined. But what happens when the dream is shattered? What happens when you can't let go of the dream even when you know that you must?


My husband Pradeep and I lived in the Himalayan foothills of India for nearly 11 years doing medical work. In those days I was an idealistic young woman, just brimming with the energy of Innocent and of Seeker. I began to create a dream for myself - a dream of living and working in this remote place, of trying to make a difference to the lives of women.


That part of the world is simply the perfect place for dreams. We lived in a small town in the Himalayan foothills, where range after range of snow-capped Himalayan peaks stride away into the distance, towering over misty valleys far below. The four sources of the Ganges River arise high in these mountains, and come tumbling down in turquoise streams to form the mighty river which nourishes all of northern India. For millions of Hindus worldwide this part of India is sacred ground, a mythic landscape where every hill and valley has a legend associated with it. And in that world, I began to create an elaborate dream about my future. Over the next few years, I learned the language, I learned how to treat tropical diseases and all this time that dream about what I would do in India grew. Pradeep and I moved to a remote part of the Himalayan foothills and started work with an Indian nongovernmental organization. We were given the challenge of developing a primary health program.


As time went on, many other people became part of the dream. I forged strong bonds with young woman who worked as nurses in our organization, with village people, and with like-minded friends working in other NGOs. We had some successes - establishing clinics in dozens of far-flung villages, creating training programs for midwives and village health workers, and launching a medical response to a major earthquake in the area.


One day I realized with painful clarity that I had been deceiving myself for months, refusing to acknowledge the conflict and darkness that was overtaking our lives.

But serious trouble was brewing within the organization we worked for. The charismatic founder of the organization was a powerful individual who had made many enemies. We began to sense danger and unease wherever we went. One day, the leader of the organization was murdered, a brutal event that caused the organization to spiral into ever-increasing chaos. One day I realized with painful clarity that I had been deceiving myself for months, refusing to acknowledge the conflict and darkness that was overtaking our lives. I’d created a delicate glass castle of illusion about our life in the Himalayas. Inside the castle were all the things I held most dear- the rural clinics we'd established, the relationships we’d built with our health workers, the changes we'd seen in the villages. But the events of the past weeks had assaulted that delicate illusory castle, and it now lay in shattered shards around me.


The shattering of a dream can have a devastating effect. Because dreams are so inherently powerful, they are very difficult to abandon…sometimes we cling to broken dreams long after we should let them go. The shattering of that dream of mine took a terrible toll, plunging me into a serious depression. We eventually had to leave India and yet I was still bound to that dream. It took years for me to break through away from the tyranny of that dream.


The shattering of that dream of mine took a terrible toll, plunging me into a serious depression. We eventually had to leave India and yet I was still bound to that dream. It took years for me to break through away from the tyranny of that dream.

A shattered dream can be devastating. But sometimes out of that devastation, something new and beautiful can emerge. I'll share a story about a remarkable family in Burlington whose dreams for their daughter were shattered in the most painful way imaginable. Danielle was a young woman who began to suffer from a severe eating disorder. Her parents struggled desperately to get her the help she needed, and as a family they all battled this condition for years. Danielle improved for some time, but eventually relapsed and died of her disorder. I can only imagine what dreams died with her – her own as well as those of her parents. Several years after her death, her parents founded Danielle’s Place, an organization that provides support to those whose lives have been affected by eating disorders. In this way, they created a new dream from the ashes of the old. It's an inspiring story.


So perhaps when dreams and hopes are dashed, we are being cleared out for new dreams. It may be hard to imagine this when we still hold the pain of the shattered dream within us. But in order to grow, we need to set an intention to find trust in dreams again. This is not a naïve and innocent trust, because now we have seen the darker side of reality. Instead, it is a high level trust in which the darkness is acknowledged and accepted.


When dreams have been shattered, it is not easy to begin again. Sometimes we need to search for hidden meanings in our lives, looking for that which resonates with the most profound parts of our being. From this process of introspection, a new dream may emerge – one which acknowledges the pain of the past, but also honours the lessons learned. Then we must find the courage and determination to begin to dream again, and to pursue that dream with all our heart.