In his role as Sam Spade in the film noir classic The Maltese Falcon, Humphrey Bogart refers to “the stuff that dreams are made of” at the conclusion of the film. He actually borrowed the line from The Tempest, a play written by William Shakespeare. The original line spoken by the magician Prospero to his daughter and her fiancé is worded in this way: “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep.”
This phrase reminds us of the power and magic of dreaming. With dwindling daylight giving way to dormancy, winter beckons us to look within and reflect. This time of quiet contemplation brings with it the perfect opportunity to recapture our sense of wonder, ignite our imagination, and open ourselves up to dream.
As adults, we tend to spend less time dreaming and more time focused on the practical day to day realities that stand before us. Endless lists of chores, time sensitive projects, and deliverables consume our very existence. As we go about our daily business, we think with our brains and make decisions based upon statistical evidence, proven research, and common sense. But what of our hearts? As we organize and map out our well-planned routines we even take pride in our contingency plans…just in case. This predictable pattern serves us well and allows us to feel safe and productive. But what of our dreams? Where do they fit in among our best laid plans?
As parents and educators we don’t hesitate to encourage our children to dream. Have you ever watched a child turn an old refrigerator box into a spaceship that blasts off into another galaxy? These same little munchkins can host a royal tea party for all of the stuffed animals or lead a team of brave explorers on an African Safari right in their own backyard. When it comes to our kids, we make sure to provide lots of free time for self-discovery and play. We understand that play allows children to stimulate their creativity, strengthens dexterity, and builds physical, cognitive, and emotional capacity. If this is true for young minds, does it not stand to reason that the same may be true for us? Who among us would not benefit from some time devoted to play?
In school we provide students with time and opportunity to wonder and imagine. Many classrooms have adopted Google’s Genius Hour. This program can be observed throughout our district as teachers provide autonomy and time for students to pursue their passions around topics and interests above and beyond the written curriculum. To date, one student has composed an original song and one has advocated for wildlife preserves vs. zoos. And because one of our third graders wanted to learn more about the power of electricity, he set out to demonstrate that the human body can conduct electricity. Using a radio, he devised an experiment in which music would only play when a person holds two wires together. These examples reveal how wonder and imagination can open doors of possibility.
One of the amazing things about the human brain is that it does not actually know the difference between reality and our imagination. According to recent studies on mind-body research, our thoughts produce the same mental instructions as do our actions. When we imagine or visualize, the brain instructs our neurons to perform the action that we are visualizing. Our heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing are impacted by a thought in the same way as if it were an action. In fact, many athletes, chess players, and performers use visualization techniques to boost their cognitive processes and therefore enhance their performances.
Taking time to dream allows us to continually grow and learn. Dreaming can help us envision a better life, break bad habits, and become more mindful of the present moment. Dreaming can boost our confidence and motivate us to take new risks. It also helps us to generate new ideas and thereby provides us with new possibilities and opportunities. So as adults, while we may not frequently indulge in a royal tea party or join a backyard safari, we can certainly reserve time for imagining and dreaming. We, and those we love, will reap the benefits that this awakening brings. To quote another artist, Carly Simon sings “it’s the stuff that dreams are made of; it’s the heart and soul’s desire.”
As we celebrate the holiday season this year it is our deepest hope that you will use this time to play together, to celebrate your life, to imagine and to dream.
Kathie Foster is superintendent of Robbinsville Schools.