From around age 14, I’ve been no stranger to the stage. As a pianist, I performed solo concerts, as soloist with orchestra, and in partnership with other musicians. The high of coming out to a thousand-strong audience, dozens of pages of music committed to nothing but your mind, concentration clutched into a flaming fist as you get ready to throw a challenge to your best potential compares to few experiences in real life.
With that kind of history, it’s not a complete surprise that music may haunt my sleep as well as my waking hours. And yet, the only recurring nightmare I have touches way more points than my music career — to the point that it has made me seriously consider what it means to be, like Marcel Proust, in search of lost time.
“A symbol is the best possible formulation of a relatively unknown psychic content” — Carl Jung
The scenario of the nightmare is quite simple: I arrive at a concert hall in time for one final rehearsal before the performance. It is as I make my way to the conductor and orchestra that I suddenly realize — my mind is a blank page. I barely remember the first few seconds of the 50-plus page piano concerto I am supposed to perform from memory. And then, a huge wave washes over and crushes me. I realize what an immense amount of time I had to prepare for the concert — several months, for sure — and how it was possible to waste all this time just hoping things were good enough without my applied input. The kind of humiliation I feel at being responsible for this infinity of lost time is indescribable.
Interestingly enough, the nightmare never goes beyond that moment — the moment of intense remorse, the moment of sitting down to face my irrevocable doom (In real life, a situation like this would’ve been impossible — I had always been in great form during concerts with orchestra).
But then, dreams are not about recreating reality, they’re about pointing out lapses in that reality. And this one is about a fear way beyond the stage.
Celebrated psychoanalyst Carl Jung had it that dreams take on mythic narrative in order to join our conscious and unconscious lives into one integral whole. In dreams, our psyche uses the most memorable language — that of visual impulses, symbols, and metaphors — to convey important information.
As Jung said, “A symbol is the best possible formulation of a relatively unknown psychic content” — in other words, it’s the mind’s way of talking to us at the only time when we’ve got time to listen — when we’re unconscious.
Jungian or not, the way I interpret my dream, it’s sending a clear message:
The only fear you should have is the fear of losing time
As it stands, our life is full of fears — fears that we create for ourselves due to second-guessing, misunderstanding, distrust… Fears that others create for us due to betrayal, hate, pain.
In reality, only one fear is worth keeping — even keeping for a yardstick — and that’s the fear of losing time doing things we’ll never respect or even remember and being around people facilitating that loss of time.
The only fear worth having is the fear of jumping into a situation where everything is set for our goal/dream to take effect, but we suddenly realize that it’s we who aren’t prepared. It’s we who haven’t memorized our part.
Facing such a moment in real life — or specifically, at the end of life — is one of the most humiliating things a human being can go through. So much more humiliating than the prospect of hitting amnesia mid-concert.
Each day that we lose by putting off a visionary plan, idea, or budding talent “till tomorrow”, we lose a little bit of the dream that could’ve been chiseled, perfected, honed. Each moment we lose is a grain of sand that, slipping forever out of our hands, detracts from who we can become.
Today, while we’re still alive and part of this incredible world where there is no such thing as the impossible, each of us has the gift of time to birth a new life — for some of us metaphorically speaking, for others literally.
We do it each in our own way, but we accomplish change every time we risk surfing against the current of disbelief, procrastination, personal comfort zones, prior failure; when we believe in ourselves enough to ride the crest of all those fears put together.
Because the only fear we should have is the fear of the irreversible: lost time and our own potential to sculpt life within it.
That’s one fact I’ll always be grateful to my subconscious for reminding me of — and whether the warning qualifies as Jungian, symbolic, or plain common sense isn’t by far as important as the wisdom it serves to convey.
Angela Yurchenko is a business journalist and classical musician. In her personal writing, she shares stories of the human experience through the lens of emotional intelligence, philosophy, arts & culture. Find more of Angela’s writing on Medium and on her blog, Birdsong.
Image courtesy of Daiga Ellaby.