A couple of questions this week:
Who is making your choices?
Who or what do you think is going to save you?
It’s pretty clear to me that conscious “I” didn’t start making my choices until about a year and a half ago. It’s hard to pin down who/what was making my choices before that, and it’s likely a combination of people/culture/institutions/my ego.
I believe it is our calling as human beings to consciously make choices about our lives. By taking responsibility for who we are and who we want to be, we become active agents in our stories. Furthermore, the more consonant our choices are with our true values–the needs of our souls–the more meaningful our choices, and consequently our lives, feel. We won’t have to strive to “find” meaning when we are creating it ourselves. We will feel supported from within when we consciously create a life that aligns with our unique, individuated desires. We will serve the world in a greater capacity as well because we will be showing up as our highest selves.
A lot of people, myself included, around the age of 30, suddenly realize we’ve been walking through life like zombies, living someone else’s path. It’s why we’ve felt so disconnected from ourselves–so fatigued and uninterested and unmotivated. There’s nothing wrong with this realization; in fact, it’s quite normal. We each have “maps” for our lives and our choices; these maps can come from parents, religious or educational institutions or experiences, popular culture, history, etc. and they’re usually fairly unconscious. It’s pretty rare that either anyone tells us or we actually believe at a young age that our journey is wholly personal, that we can and should trust our instincts or intuition.
But once the disparity between the life we are living and our deepest desires becomes too great to bear, we (hopefully) begin to wake up and recognize that the logic of our life is not our own. Only in the past year have I really begun to ask myself what Mallory wants, what Mallory likes. It’s been sort of horrifying to put myself out there, knowing the network of my old map might reject the more truthful me.
Many of us seek professional help at this junction, when we realize our old map or myth is exhausted but we don’t yet know how to move through the world with the tentative new map we’re creating from scratch. We know it’s time to transform–that we are in the process of transforming–but we need guidance. We’ve been serving institutions, roles, norms, and behavior joylessly, in a rote manner, without any sense of curiosity or awakeness. And waking up can be overwhelming.
…which leads me to the second question. Most of us only change when the pain of staying the same is clearly greater than the pain of changing. Change is always hard. Relinquishing old maps, ways we used to understand the world, goals we had, and networks of people we knew is sort of terrifying. It can feel like stepping off a cliff and crossing your fingers that it’s a soft landing.
So when we’re faced with suffering, either because we feel stuck in/hate our current life situation or because change hurts, we unconsciously seek numbing practices. We narcotize. In our modern time, it seems absurd that we should have to feel any modicum of suffering. We live in an age of easy comfort. And thus, our minds have adjusted to rapidly eliminate symptoms of suffering at the first sign.
But what if instead of running from discomfort, dis-ease, or discord, we surrendered to it? I don’t mean throw our hands up and say “oh well, I guess that’s the way it is.” I mean, don’t run from or numb the hurt. Sit with it, see it, be curious about it, and learn from it. Ask why you suffer. Let’s see our pain as an invitation to go deeper and reconsider our relationships with ourselves. Our egos will fight us to the death for comfort, stability, and predictability. We will revert to childlike behaviors to avoid taking responsibility for our own emotions and our own pain. We lash out and blame. But what if we didn’t?
What if we didn’t look to our significant others to save us from ourselves or fill our voids? What if we didn’t look to our work to return our investment in it a thousand times over and then feel disappointed when it doesn’t? What if we didn’t project our fears, hopes, and needs onto other people who, in fact, are just people like us and are likely projecting their own fears, hopes, and needs onto us? What if we didn’t numb and run from ourselves with drink or drugs or TV or buying more crap or mindless scrolling?
It was extremely painful for me to realize I was the one who got me where I was at my lowest point. But I also eventually felt deep, deep compassion for the scared girl I was when I first started numbing–when I lost my ability to choose for myself, and I looked to everyone and everything to save me and blamed them when they didn’t. To wake up and recognize that I am the one who will save me creates a heavy sense of responsibility, but with it comes joy and mystery and an abiding trust in myself.
When I finally viewed my symptoms of unease and sadness and boredom as invitations–when I surrendered and asked my psyche “what is it that you want from me?” my life finally began in earnest. At first, I was angry at myself for the lost years. But now I see that that younger version of me was hurting, and naturally, she wanted to hide. She didn’t want to hurt. It was only in my 30s that I woke up and decided I am the one who will save me, and I am the best person to choose for myself.
Transformation came for me because I surrendered to what is, I let go of what was not serving my highest good, and I listened to the quiet voice inside that had been tapping at the window of my consciousness with loving (and increasingly urgent) persistence.
I know these are pretty common themes on here, but I believe it’s always a good idea to remind ourselves that we are not powerless, helpless victims in our lives. We write our own stories, but we have to be willing to sacrifice the ignorant bliss of numbed-out comfort and predictability to live them. It is worth it.
(This post was inspired by my recent reading of James Hollis’s What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life, which you can find here.)