I remember one of my early trips to the Amazon. I was a young anthropologist investigating the healing practices of the shamans of the rain forest, and I’d decided to use myself as a subject.

I explained to the jungle medicine man that as a child my family fled my country of birth because of a communist revolution. I had seen bloodshed in the streets and been terrified by gunfire in the night. Since then I’d suffered recurring nightmares in which armed men would force their way into my home and take away my loved ones.

At the time I was in my late 20s, yet I’d been unable to enter a lasting relationship for fear that I’d lose the person I loved, just like in my nightmare. During one healing ceremony, the shaman explained to me that like everyone, I can either have what I want or the reasons why I can’t.

“You are too enamored of your story,” the old man said. “Until you dare to dream a different dream, all you will have is the nightmare.” That evening I learned how I could craft a different story for myself, one in which I’d been tempered by adversity and my experiences had taught me to have compassion for others who were suffering. The first step to dream my new dream was to create a new story in which I wasn’t playing the part of the victim.

Although the mind resists it, the fact is that like me, you have a choice between having the life you want or the reasons why you can’t. You can luxuriate in joy and peace, or you can continually be burdened by that big black bag full of all the sorrowful incidents and accidents that happened to you in your childhood or last relationship.

You can endure your wounds, or you can enjoy your glory. You can live the life of a victim, burdened by the traumas of your past, or you can live the life of a hero, but you can’t do both. If you want to feel empowered, you need to make a conscious decision to create a sacred dream and practice courage.

Courageous dreaming happens at a state of perception that the Earthkeepers refer to as the level of hummingbird. The hummingbird is an archetype for the heroic voyager— just like it, you’ll inevitably take some wrong turns. However, each time you return to the recognition that you are dreaming your reality, you will deepen your understanding of the journey and feel more committed to it. You’ll be able to embrace the ever-shifting landscape around you with equanimity and a sense of humor, and you’ll even experience grace.

If you’re like most people, your original plan for the “dream life” went awry somewhere. You may be at a point where you’re beginning to lose faith that you can have a fulfilling and meaningful existence, or you might feel powerless to create the destiny you want. “Dreaming” may seem frustrating and futile.

When we become caught up in the activities of everyday survival, as well as trying to fashion a life that our mind tells us ought to make us happy, we can become confused. The relationship sours, the carefree lifestyle vanishes, and the bills pile up—or we look around at all the symbols of success that we’ve acquired and wonder why they don’t make us happy. Our formula for bliss turns out to be a recipe for banality at best and suffering at worst, and our dream becomes a nightmare.

Much as we like to think of ourselves as leading bold and original lives, we tend to lose our zest for adventure at an early age as we begin conforming to our culture’s expectations of how we ought to think, feel, and act. We’ve been educated into a cultural nightmare that promotes apathy instead of courage and conformity instead of originality. We don’t feel a sense of fulfillment or purpose, but we dare not admit that our lives aren’t working for us. It can be so scary to even think about paying the consequences for going up against the status quo that we just stay right where we are, afraid to rock the boat.

Lack of originality and courage are the hallmarks of our collective nightmare. Since all of us have a fundamental need for the sense of security that familiarity provides, we long to fit in and take comfort in believing that tomorrow will be just like today. Change causes us to face the unknown and reside in the realm of unfamiliarity, so we avoid it. Admitting that what we’re doing isn’t producing the results we’d like takes courage.

You can stop engaging in futile efforts and feeling stuck in a nightmare, but to do so, you must make a radical shift in how you perceive reality. No self-help course will help you with this and understanding what you ought to do isn’t enough. You must reclaim your power to dream boldly and courageously, conscious of your journey through infinity. Only then can you easily and naturally let go of the fear that keeps you bogged down in your personal nightmares.