“We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.”
I’m a huge advocate for living a life beyond your wildest dreams, but I also know there are some potential pitfalls on the journey.
Having a vision is a powerful tool. It means that you are honoring your goals, aspiring toward them, and taking risks to expand your horizons. Sometimes our visions for ourselves subtly turn into tunnel vision. We can’t see anything that contradicts our intentions and desires. We get selective perception, which limits our ability to remain open and to see things clearly. Instead of being present to our reality while we pursue our heart’s desire, we put the blinders on and barrel ahead toward our hopes and dreams.
There is a shadow side to almost every positive thing we can do for ourselves, including having a vision. It’s important to be aware of this distinction. All spiritual and psychological tools can be used in a “willful” way. For example, sometimes self-care is actually about taking care of ourselves: unplugging from too much work and plugging into more balance and harmony. But sometimes, under the guise of self-care, we are really just checking out: denying what’s happening and how scary it feels to show up for it. So, how do we know the difference? How do we know when we are pursuing our vision in a manner that is actually in alignment with our intentions?
Tension in the Tunnel
Tension usually crops up when we are stuck in the tunnel—it takes a lot of effort to keep the blinders on. For me, the tension often shows up in the form of a headache. For others, there might be similar physical cues, such as stomach- or back-aches, getting sick, or feeling lethargic. Some people find themselves to be more irritable or short-tempered. When we aren’t looking at the big picture of our reality, our emotional bandwidth tends to shrink. This happens because everything becomes limited in the tunnel—not just our vision. I don’t know about you, but when I’m stuck in a tunnel, I can get a little cranky. What are your personal cues that suggest you might be denying aspects of your own reality?
Fear in the Tunnel
There are reasons that we aren’t looking at the big picture, many of which boil down to fear. “What if I leave this relationship and I’m alone forever?” “What if I open this piece of mail and find out that I owe more money than I have in the bank?” “What if I take this day-job and I never get the job of my dreams?” Our response to these fears can be “No thanks, I’ll stay here in the tunnel, where it feels safe.” The blinders go up and we clamp down, even harder.
Denial is not a Tunnel in Egypt
The problem is that denial may feel safe, but it’s an illusion. Whether or not you open that mail or take that job, you still have bills to pay—and we have to take responsibility for ourselves in the present, even as we are building the life we ultimately envision.
The Light at the End of Tunnel
If you are still with me on this tunnel metaphor, here is where it gets good. I grew up in Colorado where there are some amazing tunnels going straight through the mountains. Perhaps you have driven through one yourself, or you can imagine it right now. As you are driving, you move into a cold and dark, fear-filled tin can. The echo is staggering and yet everything seems so quiet. You can’t see two feet in front of yourself without your headlights. Then, suddenly, you find yourself entering into a picture postcard. The sunlight pierces through the windshield and warms your heart as you are greeted with breathtaking, majestic vistas. Let that experience be your teacher and your inspiration. When we move through small, contained ideas of what we think we want—what we think will make us happy and safe—we are brought to extraordinary and expansive beauty. Removing the blinders is like seeing in color for the first time. Tunnel vision is rigid and constraining, while remaining open is fluid and liberating.
Ultimately, moving out of the tunnel is about finding clarity, even if it feels terrifying—at least it is true. And reality begets more reality, and the opportunity to make it the best reality you can. I’ll never tell you to give up on the dream. I believe there is a reason that you have the dream to begin with. I will tell you that the best way to get there is to start from where you are, from the fullness of your situation. To look around and truly see, feel, and experience what is happening in your life. Accept your current circumstances and then take mindful action. If we are in the middle of the tunnel, we don’t get to the beauty on the other side by wishful thinking or burying our head in the sand—we get there by taking one deliberate step at a time.
I’d love to hear how have you have moved through your own tunnels. How did you get stuck, and what enabled you to move through? What did you discover when you surrendered your limited vision? I know that oftentimes people find a “picture postcard” that they never would have if they had held on to that tin can they used to believe was the shiniest and most precious thing they ever could have wished for.
Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D.
Ingrid Mathieu, PhD is a psychotherapist and author of Recovering Spirituality. You can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.