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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Castles in the Sky

In 2000, when I could be found dancing throughout the night in the clubs of South America, electronic dance music project Ian Van Dahl released “Castles in the Sky.” The song could be heard at many of the venues I frequented.

Though controversy surrounding the track led to production of a version of the song without lyrics, I prefer Martine Theeuwen’s (“Marsha”) vocals, because that’s what I recall dancing to during the time. The lyrics include:

Do you ever question your life?

Do you ever wonder why?

Do you ever see in your dreams...

All the castles in the sky?

Oh tell me why...

Do we build castles in the sky?

Oh tell me why...

Are the castles way up high?

According to one source, “castles in the sky” is an idiomatic phrase that relates to “[d]reams, hopes, or plans that are impossible, unrealistic, or have very little chance of succeeding.” One may describe this as wishful thinking.

A separate source highlights essayist Henry David Thoreau’s rendition of the phrase, from Walden, in which he stated, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Over two decades after I first heard Ian Van Dahl’s popular track, I now contemplate the meaning of its lyrics. Those familiar with me from my personal and professional life know I don’t hesitate to address principles of existentialism from time to time, as the song addresses contemplation of one’s life.

In all honesty, most people are likely so used to hearing me discuss existentialist ideas and content related to Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) that they become disinterested by their self-disturbing beliefs regarding my advocacy for these methods of living life. C’est la vie.

I appreciate how instead of self-assured hubris exercised by making declarative statements about existence, Marsha asks, “Do you ever question your life? Do you ever wonder why?”

Think about it, dear reader, do you pause from distracting yourself long enough to think seriously about your life? Do you ever wonder why you are here?

If you think I’m going to reveal some deeper meaning of life herein, think again. Like Marsha, I don’t pretend to have answers to such questions.

Nonetheless, I find it useful to contemplate such matters. How about you?

The vocalist continues by asking, “Do you ever see in your dreams all the castles in the sky?” Fanciful ideas that likely will never be realized can occur in a sleeping or waking state.

As a child, on many occasions, I was sent to the principal’s office for swats, because I daydreamed in class. At nighttime, I would experience vivid dreams with such intensity that I’d awake confused, thinking that the castles in the sky were real.

It would be dishonest to assert that much has changed as an adult. I still daydream and have lifelike dreams. There’s no shame in that.

What I wonder about, at least as it pertains to this blogpost, relates to my personal and professional practice of REBT—through an existentialist lens—about how helpful, unhelpful, productive, or unproductive it is to devote finite resources to incomprehensible dreams or unrealistic plans.

Occasionally, prospective clients will reach out to me in reference to dream interpretation. How on earth could I possibly know what goes on in the unconscious mind of another person when I can’t even access my own unconscious processes?

Similarly, as a psychotherapist and life coach, I make use of client-centered goals to address mental health, illness, and wellness issues. Therefore, what utility is there in focusing on irrational (unrealistic) flights of imagination?

I don’t have answers related to the content of dreams and I don’t peddle in delusional aspiration. Though I don’t pretend to have more answers than questions about most matters pertaining to existence, my approach to existentialism and REBT is by way of pragmatism.

While I enjoy visiting castles in the sky, I simply cannot live in such dwellings. Chances are, neither can you, dear reader.

I welcome how Marsha further asks, “Oh tell me why do we build castles in the sky? Oh tell me why are the castles way up high?”

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with hopes which have very little chance of succeeding. In fact, I’m quite appreciative of hopefulness and I’ve devoted an entire blog category to it.

Where I think some people tend to transition from a helpful or productive perspective to that of an unhelpful or unproductive nature is when creating and reinforcing rigid demands related to their desires.

For instance, person X may build a castle in the sky (desire) by saying, “I hope today will be a good day.” I see nothing wrong or self-disturbing about this wish. If the day turns out to be one of the most challenging times for person X, the hope simply doesn’t materialize and life goes on.

However, if person Y demands, “Today must be a good day,” an inflexible expectation has been established. What happens when the requirement goes unmet? Person Y will self-disturb, because the irrationally perceived entitlement wasn’t granted.

In person X’s case, a hope is left to chance. In person Y’s example, a demand simply cannot be violated. This sort of demandingness often is accompanied by should, must, or ought statements.

While I couldn’t adequately explain to Marsha why we build castles in the sky, I’ve briefly discussed what the difference between desires and demands is, as well as how use of these differing perspectives can impact us.

Far from existential answers pertaining to the meaning of life about which Marsha inquires, I find it helpful to understand how castles in the sky simply aren’t going to manifest into reality. After all, this idiomatic expression relates to unrealistic dreams, hopes, and plans.

That stated—and without needlessly disturbing oneself with rigid conditions towards ourselves, others, and life as a whole—I concur with Thoreau’s encouragement, “Now put the foundations under” those castles that are pragmatically achievable.

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As the world’s original EDM-influenced REBT psychotherapist—promoting content related to EDM, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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