What’s your purpose?

One quick way to unlock the messages in a dream is to consider the objects or characters in a dream and ask each one: “What’s your purpose?”

This question can be asked of any object in a dream: a rhinosaurus, a bicycle, a loaf of bread, an elevator, or a cloud.

For example, I had a dream about a coffee pot sometime back. I don’t drink coffee, nor do I own a coffee pot. So what was such an object doing in my dream? Using “active imagination” I simply thought about the coffee pot in my dream, and asked, “What is you purpose?”

I don't have a coffee pot in my kitchen. But one turned up in my dreams.

I don’t have a coffee pot in my kitchen. But one turned up in my dreams.

A coffee pot is something I use (and borrow) only when company comes to visit. Brewing a pot of coffee makes people feel warm and welcomed. The one that showed up in my dream encouraged me to ask how I can bring more warmth and hospitality into my relationships.

Now, at the new year, I take this opportunity to reflect more deeply on this idea. I ask, “What is my purpose?” That is, what is my higher purpose; my true purpose? This question is trickier when applied to the complexities of a human life than it is for a utilitarian object like a coffee pot, but still, it is worth asking.

When I look at my life as if it were a dream it is difficult at first to find just one purpose. As the youngest child in my family, I often provided levity to balance out some of the ongoing tensions and anxieties around me. My parents liked to tell the story of how I once hopped onto the table and danced along to the songs on the jukebox at the Hot Dog House where we’d eat on Friday nights, or how I donned silly hats and plastic sunglasses with little swans or birds at the corners while on family vacations in Florida when I was 6 or 7. In my pre-teen and teen years, I was the family member to say what wasn’t being otherwise being said. I turned in my seat in a movie theater at 13 years old to tell a couple of boys about my age to “cut the crap” when they began loudly cracking homophobic remarks about one of the actors on screen. A few years later I’d insist on challenging my parents’ view that our family was perfect and everything was “fine,” upending the status quo of valuing facades over feelings.

So, growing up I was the one to make people smile—or to startle startle them.

Now, as a teacher of poetry for teen mothers in a crime- and poverty-ridden inner city, and as a dreamworker and a writer, as well as the mother of a grown daughter, and the daughter of an ailing mother, I sometimes feel at a loss to answer the question of my life’s purpose. I feel pulled in so many directions, it’s difficult to find the through line.

But when I look back at what I’ve written here, I see that my early job description: To make people smile—and perhaps to startle them, too, isn’t so far off. These are the elements of waking up, after all aren’t they? And waking people up is the job of a teacher, writer, and dreamworker (not to mention a mother!)

Whether we wake up to our dreams, wake up within our dreams, or wake up to the lives we’re living, these are the key elements: We startle out of our dreams or startle awake within them; then we smile to realize we are present and aware, awake and alive to the adventure. As a teacher, a writer, and a family member, these are the things I do. You might even say, that’s my purpose.

Come to think of it—that’s what a good cup of coffee does, too!

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Your Turn: Look at your life as if it is a dream. Can you name your overall purpose—within your relationships, your work, and your spiritual life? Try to narrow it down to a few words or a short phrase: In this dream of my life, my purpose is _____________.