There was once a poor peddler who was getting on in years. He lived in an old broken-down house with a rickety door in the city of Prague. One night, out of pure yearning, he prayed with deep sincerity for a stable life right before he went to sleep. That night he had an unbelievably vivid dream. He saw a palace in Vienna and next to it was a bridge. Underneath the bridge was a glowing pot of gold.
He woke up.
Not being the kind of person to chase his dreams, he continued selling his wares the following day. But that night he had the exact same dream. And, what’s more, on the next night, for a third time in a row, it happened again: the palace in Vienna, the bridge, and the pot of gold just beneath it.
When he awoke the next morning, he packed his bags.
The old peddler walked out of his disheveled home and travelled on foot to Vienna. On the third day he reached the city and, to his amazement, he found himself before the very palace of his dreams. He saw the bridge but, as he went to look closer, a guard approached.
“What do you think you’re doing?” barked the guard. Being an honest man, the peddler told him everything about the dream and the journey.
The guard burst into raucous laughter. “Oh, you’re such a fool! Who follows their dreams!? If I followed my dreams,” he bellowed, “I’d be walking too! Just last night I dreamt there was a pot of gold buried beneath the kitchen in an old broken-down house with a rickety door in Prague.”
At that moment, the peddler recognized the description of his own home in the guard’s mocking words. He turned right around and raced back home, returning in a little over two days. He went inside his house, took out a shovel and began to dig right into the floor of his own kitchen.
There, to his delight and amazement, lay buried a pot overflowing with gold. It had been there the whole time, right beneath his feet.
Finding What We Truly Want
Sometimes we have to leave home in order to find ourselves back where we started. Sometimes we have to follow our passions, if only so that they lead us in unexpected and wonderful directions. This beloved story from Jewish mysticism, attributed to Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav (1772-1810), reminds us of the value of pursuing what we truly yearn for, even if we cannot possibly know where that journey will lead.
Using Heart and Head
There is another essential element in this wisdom tale that could be easily overlooked: following our heart ought to be combined with using our head. This poor peddler did not take his brave journey after only one dream; he waited for three to be sure that he wasn’t deluding himself. He also packed his bags for the journey and did not trust that fate or chance would provide all he needed. Indeed, his caution and planning are the very things that allowed his quest to be successful. If he had sprung to his feet after the first night and gone without supplies, he may never have reached Vienna at all, nor would he have met that guard who told him his dream.
It is true that our dreams can lead us to amazing places, including the treasures that we’ve had at home inside of us all along. But, without the forethought and conscientiousness that our rational minds provide, our hearts can lead us astray.
Living the Dream
Whether you’re considering a career change, a spiritual quest to a far-off land, or any other kind of major life shift, it’s important to ask a few key questions to help you discern the wisest path: Is this the right time? Can you afford it? If you get what you are seeking, will it fit into your life? If you are going to do it, what preparations are needed before you act?
Despite what’s sometimes said in the spiritual-seeking world, our thoughts are tremendous allies when grasped in the right context. Deliberate thinking is a balance to the stirrings of the heart. Tuning into what you’re truly wanting is an essential first step. The next action is asking authentically, “Does this make sense?” If the answer is, “no,” then it’s time to reconsider. But, if the answer is “yes,” then make a plan, pack your supplies (literally or metaphorically), and enjoy the journey towards the hidden reward that is waiting on the other side. That pot of gold may look different than what you’re expecting, but a calling from the heart sought with diligent care is a beautiful way to find your life’s treasures.
Rabbi Matthew Ponak is a teacher of Jewish mysticism, a spiritual counselor, and the cofounder of the Mekorah Institute—an online spiritual center for embodied practice. Ordained with honors as a rabbi at the neo-Hasidic Rabbinical School of Hebrew College, he also holds a Master’s degree in Contemplative Religions from Naropa University. Matthew lives in Victoria, British Columbia, and is certified as a Focusing Professional to guide others to deeper self-knowledge and healing. He is the author of Embodied Kabbalah. Learn more at matthewponak.com