Dream team

Football likes to talk about dreams, from West Ham’s “I’m forever blowing bubbles… then like my dreams they fade and die” to Manchester United’s “Theatre of Dreams” at Old Trafford, dreams remarkably on a par this season.

It often seems that the dreams of the players are of the vast pay packets, fan’s adulation, and the lifestyle. The corruption and exploitation in the global game are more the stuff of nightmares, while the fans dream mainly of victory and beating that lot down the road. I’ve been to matches at the Grecians and the Chiefs, and oh how much friendlier was the atmosphere at the rugby, even when it was the Plymouth derby.

Yet even in football, it is possible to have dreams of community, to play as a team instead of individual starlets, and in that choreography to create something beautiful.

It is good to work together, to feel that you’re making a contribution to something that becomes more than the sum of its parts, to gel as a team, to see that whole coming to fruition.

And that’s why I want to celebrate all the people and organisations that have made TEDxExeter what it has been over the last five years: our curators Jeanie and Claire who first had the dream and nurtured it into reality; our organising team and volunteers (below); our speakers and performers; our sponsors and friends; our audiences in Exeter and across the world; and our suppliers and event managers.

So here’s to all of us, to the dream team! And here’s to TEDxExeter 2016!


Dream location

Exeter’s a pretty good place to live. There’s plenty of green space, views of rolling Devon hills from most parts of the city, easy access to the coast and Dartmoor, vibrant grass roots movements, happening arts & ents, and reasonable public transport. But then there’s the traffic (symptomatic of an over-heating economy), pressure on housing and land, unaffordability (as the ratio of housing costs to salary is among the highest in the country), homelessness, poverty, and across-the-board unsustainability.

“Somewhere between the rainbow and the Internet a place that is important to you is struggling to maintain its integrity”, writes Sue Clifford in an essay about “Places, People and Parish Maps” for Common Ground.

Places are of our manufacture. We and nature conspire, actively or unconsciously, to shift and balance, to accelerate or slow down, to experiment or reiterate… But how responsible do we feel for the place and for the changes?

We don’t have to accept that the downsides of a place are the way things need to be, or that the upsides don’t need nourishing and protecting. We don’t have to accept that we will always be ‘done to’, especially by local government. They are after all our elected representatives. Sue Clifford describes a “moment of moving from passive acceptance (‘it’s such a shame, but what can you do….?’) to active engagement (‘it could be so much better, what can we do?’)”. It is possible to help shape the place we live.

We have our votes – all 39 seats on the City Council are up for grabs in the local elections on 5 May, and you have until 18 April to register – and we have our voices.

For example, you can actually talk to your local councillors and council officers (and your MP and MEPs for that matter). They are not omniscient dark lords, who know everything about everything and have chosen to reject what is right (ie your idea). They are human beings, who may not have heard yet of the latest idea regarding traffic or local food, however common sense it might seem. It’s up to you to tell them, and they may well be quite enthusiastic. I’ve had one of these conversations face-to-face, and a few on Twitter.

There is also Exeter City Futures, a company set up by a consortium of public and private partners to tackle the big issues facing Exeter. They’ll have a stand in the break-out areas at TEDxExeter. They’re thinking and possibly even dreaming: “What is the future of Exeter? What are the challenges that we face? What do we want our city to be like in ten years’ time?” And they want to hear from as many people in Exeter as possible. You can have your say by completing a survey on the website, and join in the conversation by attending the public debates.

I’ve had a go at this in the past. Back in 2013, I wrote down my dream for the redevelopment of Exeter’s Bus Station. It included “a mix of local retail, local business, charities and social entrepreneurs, artists’ studios and housing” and “deliberately quirky architecture and winding streets that lead onward in a voyage of discovery; [o]pening out into truly public space”. Many others have added their voices to the mix. It wasn’t wasted effort, even though the latest plans are for a white elephant (in my view, for a number of reasons) swimming pool. Things are dragging on, and all is not yet lost.

But we can accomplish much more by just getting on with it ourselves, at the (sometimes literal) grass roots, shaping our own place.

The Transition Movement has been dreaming and visioning low carbon resilient futures for a number of years now, and in Exeter has spun off quite a few realities such as Real Food and Exeter Community Energy. Local currency Exeter Pound launched in September last year. It will also have a stand at TEDxExeter.

Then there are the initiatives down the road from me.

A friend of mine started Ludwell Life, caring for the wonderful green space that is Ludwell Valley Park. As well as getting stuck in to the Council’s Masterplan process, she’s got involved in strengthening links between community groups and organisations such as Devon Wildlife Trust, to do simple things like litter picking and clearing up the stream, or walk and observe nature and learn about the place.

Some of those community-minded people in Wonford are also looking at how best to use the buildings at Wonford Playing Fields. They’re thinking about a community café that could be a meeting place; host diet, nutrition and cookery courses; provide training and employment for young people.

In the next ward over, there’s Park Life Heavitree and Heavitree Squilometre. The Park Life people aim to be community glue, running events in Heavitree Pleasure Ground, helping people out with meals and mobility, and working on improving local facilities. JoJo of the Squilometre believes that given any one square kilometre of landscape, we can grow stories from the very ground beneath our feet​.

I’m barely scratching the surface. There are many many more groups of people making all sorts of differences that add up to significant realities. So I’ll just note that JoJo has a dream too, in her case for Heavitree Fore Street, in which traffic fumes are replaced by the scent of freshly-baked bread, and community connections and creativity are prioritised over the need to always be somewhere else. She is more hopeful than I tend to be. In her words, which echo Sue Clifford’s about a place that is struggling to maintain its integrity:

“We all feel it don’t we? That something is missing from the heart of our place? Maybe there is something that we could do about it.”

Indeed. Let’s dream local and make local realities.

I have a dream

4 April is the anniversary of Martin Luther King‘s assassination in 1968, which is why I have waited until now to write about possibly the most well-known world-changing dream.

TED speakers like to reference Dr King.

For example, Simon Sinek, in his talk “How great leaders inspire action”, spoke of how he went around telling people what he believed, and how people who believed what he believed took his cause and made it their own… and “By the way, he gave the ‘I have a dream’ speech, not the ‘I have a plan’ speech.”

And Benjamin Zander, on “The transformative power of classical music”, said: “It’s one of the characteristics of a leader that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming. Imagine if Martin Luther King had said, ‘I have a dream. Of course, I’m not sure they’ll be up to it’.”

That day in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, Dr King said: “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair… I have a dream today! … From every mountainside, let freedom ring.” Five years later, on the day before he died, Luther King delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

Returning once more to Bel Pesce’s talk on “5 ways to kill your dreams”, the last way is to believe that the only things that matter are the dreams themselves:

Once I saw an ad, and it was a lot of friends, they were going up a mountain, it was a very high mountain, and it was a lot of work. You could see that they were sweating and this was tough. And they were going up, and they finally made it to the peak. Of course, they decided to celebrate, right? I’m going to celebrate, so, “Yes! We made it, we’re at the top!” Two seconds later, one looks at the other and says, “Okay, let’s go down.”

Life is never about the goals themselves. Life is about the journey. Yes, you should enjoy the goals themselves, but people think that you have dreams, and whenever you get to reaching one of those dreams, it’s a magical place where happiness will be all around. But achieving a dream is a momentary sensation, and your life is not. The only way to really achieve all of your dreams is to fully enjoy every step of your journey. That’s the best way.

Dr King had dreamed of a better world, a new reality, and he had climbed the mountain. And yet it wasn’t about the mountain, but about the view over the mountain to what lies ahead. King was killed for his dream – dreams can exact a great price – but King’s dream has not been killed, and King’s cause is still being taken up by people the world over. Some of us have scaled the peaks and glimpsed the Promised Land, some are still toiling in the foothills, and we are all still on the journey. From every mountainside, let freedom ring!


Wikipedia can be so dry sometimes, to whit:

Dreamtime (also dream time, dream-time) is a term for the animist framework and symbol system of Australian Aboriginal mythology, introduced by anthropologist A. P. Elkin in 1938 and popularised by anthropologist William Edward Hanley Stanner and others from the 1970s for a concept of “time out of time”, or “everywhen”, inhabited by ancestral figures, often of heroic proportions or with supernatural abilities, but not considered “gods” as they do not control the material world and are not worshipped.

The term is based on a rendition of the indigenous (Arandic) word alcheringa, used by the Aranda (Arunta, Arrernte) people of Central Australia, although it appears that it is based on a misunderstanding or mistranslation, and the word has a meaning closer to “eternal, uncreated”. However, “Dreamtime” and “the Dreaming” has acquired its own currency in 1980s popular culture based on idealised or fictionalised conceptions of Australian mythology. Since the 1970s, “Dreaming” and “Dream time” has also returned from academic usage via popular culture and tourism, and is now ubiquitous in the English vocabulary of indigenous Australians in a kind of “self-fulfilling academic prophecy”.

I like to think that story and myth enrich our lives and our understanding of the cosmos. So, with apologies to indigenous Australians, and in full recognition that spatial terminology like “across” has no meaning when applied to “formless void” (this is story and myth after all), let us suppose that…

Creation is the work of the eternal, uncreated Dreaming, who sent spirit beings across the formless void. As the spirit beings traversed the void, sacred sites and significant places of interest and all natural phenomena became reality. The Dreaming and travelling trails established songlines snaking across the land. They have not been forgotten by the people. The songlines exist in memory and oral tradition. They are recorded in songs, stories, dance, and painting. And by repeating the words of the song, which describe the location of landmarks, waterholes, and other natural phenomena, the people can navigate throughout the land. The people have a deep knowledge and understanding of the land. They know the land’s needs, and how the land cares for them. They are kin to the land, their kith.

Some individuals have forgotten the songlines. They have become alienated from the land and cannot bear too much reality. They travel too quickly and their attention is on other things. They have stopped noticing the sacred sites, and wondering at natural phenomena. They have stopped singing of the land, stopped caring for it, and stopped letting it care for them. But not all is lost. The Dreaming is still with them. They can re-learn the songlines from the stories, dance and painting. They can let the land teach them. They can still themselves, and wait and look and listen for the songs. They can move slowly, and as they listen re-make the songlines. They can share their songlines with others who have forgotten. They can sing once more.


Technicolor Dreamcoats

First to recap, in this short series of blogs on our TEDxExeter theme:

  • Dreams can… slip us into imaginary realities and illuminate our own
  • Dreams can… get tangled with wishful thinking
  • Dreams can… push us further than our fear
  • Dreams can… be our fragile futures
  • Dreams can… show us ourselves
  • Dreams can… create new and better realities

Dreams can also… completely upend our expectations, especially when they are God’s communications device. (God skyped all sorts in dreams: bit players like Abimelech the Philistine king and Pontius Pilate’s wife, as well as many major characters.)

So Jacob was on the run from his brother Esau when he dreamed of a ladder between earth and heaven, and God promised land and stability to his descendants. But for Joseph his penultimate son, dreams provoked his jealous brothers (because who wouldn’t want a coat of many colours?) to sell him into slavery; they became his Get Out of Jail Free card; and they set events in motion that brought Jacob and the rest of his family as climate refugees to Egypt. And then some time later, another Joseph was warned in a dream to escape to Egypt from the murderous rage of an insecure Roman puppet-king, and so the young Jesus became a political refugee. All unexpected, all upending.

A world full of dreams is not black and white and shades of grey. A world full of dreams is in glorious technicolor.

In one of my early posts, I asked: What is your dream? Are you willing to let it upend your reality?

“Einstein’s Dreams”

Happy 137th birthday to Albert Einstein!* Here’s the Google doodle from back in 2003 which celebrated his 124th.

Yes, there is a connection with dreams, as I happen to have a book called “Einstein’s Dreams” by Alan Lightman on my bookshelves. It is billed as a novel, but its structure is a collage of short stories as dreamed by Einstein between 14 April and 28 June 1905. He is employed by the Swiss Patent Office, his office a “room full of practical ideas”, but he is also working on his theory of relativity and a new concept of time.

In his dreams, Einstein imagines many possible worlds, set in the towns of his homeland, in the valleys of the Alps, on the banks of the River Aare:

24 April 1905: “In this world, there are two times. There is mechanical time and there is body time… Many are convinced that mechanical time does not exist… They feel the rhythms of their moods and desires… Then there are those who think their bodies don’t exist. They live by mechanical time… Each time is true, but the truths are not the same.”

3 May 1905: “Consider a world in which cause and effect are erratic. Sometimes the first precedes the second, sometimes the second the first… In this world, scientists are helpless… In this world, artists are joyous… Most people have learned how to live in the moment.”

10 May 1905: “Hypothetically, time might be smooth or rough, prickly or silky, hard or soft. But in this world, the texture of time happens to be sticky. Portions of towns become stuck in some moment in history and do not get out. So, too, individual people become stuck in some point of their lives and do not get free.”

22 June 1905: “In a world of fixed future, there can be no right or wrong. Right and wrong demand freedom of choice, but if each action is already chosen, there can be no freedom of choice. In a world of fixed future, no person is responsible.”

It is a work of great beauty and poignancy, the dreams capturing the deep reality of the fragility of human existence and our capacity for creativity and joy.

* Also, Happy Pi Day!

Dream world

Imagine an old-style gramophone playing “When You Wish Upon A Star” from Disney’s Pinocchio…

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you
If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do
Fate is kind
She brings to those to love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing
Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true……….

…and now imagine the needle scratching across the record as it abruptly comes to a halt.

deadstarWhen you wish upon a star, you’re a few million lightyears late. That star is dead. Just like your dreams.

Because, laws of astrophysics aside, this sort of dreaming is unlikely to come true. It’s living in a dream world, not the real world.

Fate is not just going to step in and see you through to getting anything your heart desires. For example, my heart desires more compassion, empathy and integrity in government, business and the media, but I couldn’t be serious wishing upon the Dog Star for that.

As I wrote in my previous post, you can effectively kill your dreams by believing someone else has the answers, that the fault is someone else’s, and by believing in overnight success.

You can also kill your dreams by wishing upon a star, and sitting back and believing that fate will deliver, that the universe owes you. Turning your dreams into reality involves effort, doing stuff instead of just thinking about it. As as has been attributed to St Ignatius: “Pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you.” And as Thomas Edison put it: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

Killing dreams

In an earlier post on the subject of dreams, I quoted Yeats: 

“I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

I applied it to myself and to our TEDxExeter speakers as we offer our writings and ideas to the wider world, but it could apply to anyone with an idea or creativity or love to give.

In the spirit of the Golden Rule

“Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” — Confucius

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” — Matthew 7:12

…do our responses to others consider that they might be offering us their dreams? Tread softly because you might be treading on others’ dreams. If we don’t want them to trample on our dreams, we need to be attentive so we don’t trample on their dreams either. It is so easy to kill dreams.

We don’t even need others to kill our dreams. In a humourous take on the inspirational self-help talk, Bel Pesce describes five ways we can kill our own dream projects.

Two of the ways are about others: believe someone else has the answers for you; or believe the fault is someone else’s.

Believe someone else has the answers for you:

“Constantly, people want to help out, right? All sorts of people: your family, your friends, your business partners, they all have opinions on which path you should take… But… No one else has the perfect answers for your life. And you need to keep picking those decisions, right?”

Believe the fault is someone else’s:

“If you have dreams, it’s your responsibility to make them happen. Yes, it may be hard to find talent. Yes, the market may be bad. But if no one invested in your idea, if no one bought your product, for sure, there is something there that is your fault… no one achieved their goals alone. But if you didn’t make them happen, it’s your fault and no one else’s. Be responsible for your dreams.”

The other three ways Pesce suggests we trample and kill our own dreams are: believe in overnight success; believe that when growth is guaranteed, you should settle down; believe that only the goals themselves matter.

The last is especially important:

“Life is never about the goals themselves. Life is about the journey. Yes, you should enjoy the goals themselves… But achieving a dream is a momentary sensation, and your life is not. The only way to really achieve all of your dreams is to fully enjoy every step of your journey.”

Tread softly, and happy dreaming.

“Memories, Dreams, Reflections”

It’s not an autobiography, even though the first chapters are entitled “First Years”, “School Years”, and so on. It’s not really a description of his developing thought, either; “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” (1961) is more a glimpse of the inner working of Carl Jung’s mind. As he wrote in the Prologue:

“My life is a story of the self-realisation of the unconscious… In the end the only events in my life worth telling are those when the imperishable world irrupted into this transitory one. That is why I speak chiefly of inner experiences, amongst which I include my dreams and visions. These form the prima materia of my scientific work. They were the fiery magma out of which the stone that had to be worked was crystallized.”

Humans have interpreted their dreams since time immemorial. In the early twentieth century, Sigmund Freud and Jung were the pioneers in psychology theories about the meaning and purpose of dreams.

No more violinsFor Freud, dreams were motivated by wish-fulfillment. Even anxiety dreams and nightmares were triggered by the ego’s awareness of repressed wishes. Maybe the author of this homework was a repressed viola player who couldn’t help the spelling mistake! Dreams often arose out of the previous day’s events, and the dreamer had a natural tendency to make sense, or a story, out of the recollected content.

Jung didn’t entirely reject Freud’s theories, but thought them limited. He thought the scope of dream interpretation larger than the obvious associations with recent events or known people. For Jung, dreams were a window on the unconscious, enabling the dreamer to communicate with and come to know the unconscious, and tap into it as a source of creativity. Jung also postulated the ‘collective unconscious’, the structures of the unconscious mind which we share.

Interpretation of dreams could then guide the waking self to achieve wholeness, and perhaps offer a solution to a problem being faced by the dreamer in their waking life. Another sense of dreams into reality, enhancing reality.

So alongside the objective approach to interpretation, eg mother in dream represents mother in waking life, Jung proposed a subjective approach, ie the mother in the dream could symbolise an aspect of the dreamer, who (depending on the dream content) might need to care better for themselves. Other characters in the dream might be from the collective unconscious: fairy story style archetypes such as an old woman offering wisdom. Then there might be inanimate objects with symbolic meaning. Cars appear often in modern times. If the dreamer is at the wheel of the car driving safely, they might be in control of their life. If they are in the passenger seat, and someone else is at the wheel, then maybe some changes need to be made in waking life! But all interpretation varies according to the personal situation of the dreamer, who needs to learn the language of their dreams.

In 1912, Jung and Freud had a parting of the ways. Then during 1913-17, Jung spent several years confronting his unconscious. It makes for a fascinating chapter in “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”, freighted with symbol. At the end, he describes a final dream he had set in Liverpool, the ‘pool of life’, and how the whole period provided him with the material for a lifetime’s work:

The dream depicted the climax of the whole process of development of consciousness. It satisfied me completely, for it gave a total picture of my situation… Without such a vision I might perhaps have lost my orientation and been compelled to abandon my undertaking. But here the meaning had been made clear. When I parted from Freud, I knew that I was plunging into the unknown. Beyond Freud, after all, I knew nothing; but I had taken the step into darkness. When that happens, and then such a dream comes, one feels it as an act of grace. It has taken me virtually forty-five years to distill within the vessel of my scientific work the things I experienced and wrote down at that time… The years when I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life — in them everything essential was decided. It all began then; the later details are only supplements and clarifications of the material that burst forth from the unconscious, and at first swamped me.

I’m firmly in the Jung camp. There have been times when I have tried to remember and interpret my dreams. It really is true that writing them down makes remembering easier. I suppose there are times when it is immensely helpful to pay attention, and times when their wisdom is less immediately needed. But there are still occasions when a particularly memorable dream irrupts into my consciousness, and brings some enlightenment.