Elan Vitae


  • Shena Driscoll Salvato


Just as roots entangled below the ground twist and turn on their unseen journey, dreams, ideas, and life experiences can intertwine, unnoticed, until one day they coalesce and suddenly offer us a new awareness. Such as it was when a recent dream merged with the memory of a life experience and gave birth to a new process.

The Dream

I was clearly having the experience, not witnessing it; it was a vivid example of a first-person dream. As dreams often occur for me, the place was clear and familiar and my place in it was obvious. The time, though, was amorphous. It was a merging of me, in the present, in a place from my youth: the way I imagine time travel to be.

I can still feel my hands on the handlebars. It was as if I had dropped into the dream at that very moment, gently rolling down the hill, the tires on the bike absorbing the shock of the slight bumps between the squares of sidewalk. I knew where I was in an instant: the forested park on my right, the street on my left down the grassy slope below. The street named for the species of tree that likely once thrived there, but has now since disappeared, forever alive only on the green and white street signs at each intersection. The heaved section of sidewalk immediately caught my attention. From years of walking over and riding on such surfaces in this part of the world, I knew that to meet that rise head-on would result in potentially damaging impact, and perhaps a loss of control on my part. In a flash of that moment, the source of that rise made itself known to me: the unseen roots running below, those which had grown and snaked through the ground, lifting that too-heavy-for-any-human-to-move chunk of concrete bit by bit, to reach its current, disjointed state, causing passers-over to notice. Its message to me: the source has no attachment to the result. The roots were just doing what they needed to do, were playing their role in the landscape from which they had sprouted, and were not trying to harm anyone. For the passers-over, though, the noticing might occur after one’s toes catch the edge, snapping the walker to attention. The noticing might come after impact has been made by the tire, jolting the rider to awareness. In my case in the dream, the noticing came on my approach. I noticed the roughly 3-inch rise and instinctively, gently, steered the bike to the right, up the little grassy knoll, circumnavigating the obstruction with ease. On the slight descent, the bike seemed to have effortlessly redirected itself back onto the sidewalk as I continued to roll down the hill. In the dream, I both heaved a sigh of relief for having avoided the heave in the sidewalk, but also instantly recognized the heave of the dream’s message as a source of inspiration. As suddenly as the dream began, it ended.

The Memory

After the dream, I was taken back to the vivid memory of the uprooted, sun-bleached tree my children spent days on, in, and around on the sand of the southern shores of Cat Island. Unlike the roots running unseen in my dream, at other times roots have made themselves known in a strikingly dramatic fashion. At these times, the roots rose above ground, fully exposed, inviting a new adventure. What might have appeared as an ending: a toppled tree, a gigantic heave exposing the roots, became a brand new opportunity for exploration. In the shade of the exposed roots, my children found shelter from the sun and wind and a secret nook to collect their treasures of jetsam, shells, and sea glass. The once horizontal root base turned vertical became an invitation for them to rise tall to a high, new vantage point, standing confidently and strong against the wind and gazing, dreamily mesmerized, at the striking aquamarine. It was as if the tree, now seemingly lifeless, was inviting more life to it: Here, give me your hand.

The Process

What invitation and opportunity did these vivid encounters offer not only me, but all of us? A new process was gifted to me through this convergence of experiences, inviting us all to reflect on our roots of space: where we spent our formative years, and influence: with whom we spent those formative years. To engage with this process, we can list or draw anything that comes to mind in terms of a current block or obstruction, such as the heave in the sidewalk, metaphorically, was for me in the dream, or the fallen tree was on the beach for my children. Then we can reflect on what the root of that block might be. What caused that upheaval in our life? We can allow the process to flow, then we can write or draw what comes to mind. How did we chose to react: did we meet the upheaval with great impact and unawareness? If so, how has that influenced our current state and situation? We can re-envision the scenario, knowing what is now recognized as the root cause, and envision choosing, instead, to rise above it, as I did with the bicycle or as my children did as they climbed the exposed roots of the tree. We can recognize that what was done or chosen in that moment was done given the circumstances of the time. Next we an ask ourselves: did we notice it on our approach and gracefully choose an alternate path? If so, where did that detour take us, how did it shift our experience in time and bring us to were we are now?

After exploring the sources of upheaval in our lives, how the unseen roots running below had grown and snaked, we can give thanks for how they caused us, the passer-by, to notice, and to be where we are now. Roots can anchor us, yes, but at the same time, they can free us. As we acknowledge and embrace our roots, whether metaphorical or literal, we can journey beyond, reach far above, and rise.