As 2019 comes to a close I’ve been thinking, not about what has transpired without, but what has transpired within. I don’t have a very good memory, so unless it was an especially noteworthy event I couldn’t even really tell you too much about what happened in my life this year. But there are some things that I’ve learned, some things that I’ve gained.
I’ve had people ask me to put my belief system in a neat little box for them, and frustrated these people quite significantly because it’s simply not possible. My beliefs are as nuanced as I am, and they change. And the thing is, I feel no obligation to remain the same. For some reason, people expect some sort of constancy with regard to beliefs. There is the expectation that there will be some kind of dogma to cling to no matter what happens in life, a dogma to force explanations of experiences around. But the only things that remain truly constant in my life are my values.
There will never be a time when integrity, authenticity, creativity, sovereignty, love, compassion, kindness, reverence, meaning, connection, and truth are irrelevant. Never. But there will be times when something in my practice becomes outdated to who I am, or in my pursuit of knowledge I learn of a better way, or something I believe stops resonating with what I experience in my reality, and it would be absolutely foolish for me to continue to believe or practice as I always have out of some contrived obligation to remain constant for the comfort of others or commitment to some label-based identity. I don’t know why we fear having changed, but I do not have a commitment to white-knuckle any worldview and try to force what I experience or see around me to fit into it.
And out of this, I no longer feel any need to explain myself to others. If my intuition tells me something is off, I do my best to listen to it (and I still fail, in fact I failed at this quite recently) and not listen to other people trying to assure me that I’m wrong, or to give the benefit of the doubt. Screw the benefit of the doubt. I don’t owe anyone the benefit of the doubt. If a situation or a person rings the alarm of warning, I don’t have to rationalize this. Listening is all that matters. If I do or don’t like something, whether a food or a movie or a book or whatever, I don’t have to rationalize this either. I don’t have to justify it. It’s not about convincing anyone else of anything. Other people can draw their own conclusions based on their own experiences. There is truly no need for me to try to explain the why. Not everything needs an explanation, and not everything even has an explanation.
And in fact, I’m starting to really see the folly in expecting some easily explained or even logical answer. We cannot escape mystery, no matter how much we discover, no matter how much we learn. When we reduce our experiences to what can only be explained we cut ourselves off from deeper knowing and connection, we limit the depth of what we can experience. I don’t want to see the poetry of living drained away.
It’s been important for me to reclaim joy in a world built on manufactured outrage. There’s no shortage of things to be upset about, and there’s a sort of peer pressure about, an expectation that emotional energy will be given when presented with something abysmal, pushing us ever downward, a guilt trip if we don’t want to commit the emotional energy to it. The world doesn’t need our outrage or our pity. It needs compassionate action. I don’t have to give up my joy to give that. The cost of manufactured outrage is just too high. And in the end, I’m responsible for the quality of my life. I get to decide where my energy goes.
People will always be giving unsolicited opinions, but it’s important that my own inner guidance is louder. Any time I’ve felt inadequate, it was due to measuring myself against someone or something outside of myself, or focusing on a goal that wasn’t resonate with my true values. There has always been a tendency in people to gravitate toward the charismatic, to turn away from ourselves by trying to be like someone else. And I could look at the veneer of the lives of others or the ways that others respond to them and think that I don’t measure up. But in doing so, I’m discarding myself. And I just won’t do that anymore, regardless of how others see me.
Hand in hand with this is the obsession with growth. It’s all around, a constant push to grow coming from outside of us, and comparison is one way growth is propagated. I have to wonder at what cost, though. How many people are trying to grow in ways that don’t reflect who they are, based on a need that may or may not be contrived, or a desire born of the feeling of inadequacy, born from comparison? In many ways, we’ve been encouraged to compare and strive our entire lives, as if striving is some kind of virtue. But who does it really benefit? It’s possible I’m the only person in the world who thinks striving is exhausting and not worth the energy because it does not feed, it is not medicine, it is only a whip at the heels and a cruelty to the spirit, cutting us to pieces with labels of light and shadow, handicapping us at the altar of naval-gazing.
And I think what this all comes down to, all these reflections coming clear on the surface, is that I would rather root deeper into the lush mystery and be sustained, than grow ever upward and be easily plucked by the wind.
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