So I listened to a video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7O937dHmNxE yesterday about how, in order to avoid unpleasant feelings, we often reach for objects- be they material ones like food or retail therapy, or sometimes using other people as a distraction, or false comfort of absolute certainties- just to avoid the irritaion, anxiety, confusion, sadness, discomfort. It can arise in moments of stillness where we feel bored especially, because, “”The only thing the ego cannot stand is the clear light of awareness.”
It seemed to fit my situation, where I’ve been falling for old traps I’d long since thought I’d mastered, or had under control. But what truth was I hiding from? What is my ego so bent out of shape over?
Besides the fact that we are so much more than our bodies, our individual thoughts- most importantly, we are NOT our thoughts at our deepest level, we are the awareness that notices them- I’ve been going through a bit of an identity crisis. The old question of who am I and where do I belong has come up, made bitter by the potency of always worrying, Who should I be? WHere should I belong? WHat is supposed to make me happy? Why am I so far from my ideal self?
ANd most of my efforts, which have mostly failed, have been in service to the idol of my idol self. The way I think I should be, rather than tring to be the best of the person I am. In all my gluttony, overspending, and other sins, I was trying to avoid unpleasant feelings with distraction, and then as I got farther from my ideal self, the guilt and shame only became exarcerbated, which led me to look in the same pits of destruction for distraction and comfort. And when I tried to change what became more and more ingrained habits of mind and habits of behavior, I eventually stumbled in some way or failed to really try, kicking off the cycle of guilt again, until I finally became afraid of making any real structured effort to change. And the anxiety, the panic, of dealing with who I am an dmy reality just got stronger, till it reached a fever pitch though was always abated with the cool touch of reality, with sheer love, the mother of GOd.
My ego has been fighting really hard against change, and against things not turning out as I expected. It has taken me to task for things getting out of my control. And more than anything else, it has demanded to know WHY to everything, to have a plan, a scheme, a raison d’etre. To feel in control, like I am the master of the universe and the mover of all things, especially myself. But I am not.
I’ve also felt exceptionally guilty about leaving my family, country, and former self and all the dreams I once had that now feel like old garments shrunk in the wash, faded of color. In moments of nostalgia and mourning for a future that wasn’t to be, I see so clearly Washington, or my life as a teacher. The moments are tantalizing, still carrying some juiciness, some spark of life like a faded favorite sweater. Perhaps carryig a clue into the future, but not quite right. Roads not taken that need to be left in the past. And it’s not so much those paths that I mourn, it is the seeming control I would have exerted over my life; becoming a person I could better understand and control; something that could have made sense, been rationalized. And always, its just easy to say it would be easier elsewhere, but the truth is it wouldn’t be worth it. I am where I am for a reason. Things didn’t go according to my five year plans, but they were never supposed to. A higher power than me has led me to where I am.
I watched the film La Famille Belier today. It’s about a girl who can hear who grows up in a close deaf family and helps her parents a lot. She finds that she has a gift for singing though, and is encouraged to audition for the national conservatory, which would mean she has to leave the family farm in the province and go to Paris. Her family initially is very upset, but eventually they come around and even take her to the audience. She sings a song about leaving one’s parents, not to flee them, but to start her own life. It says, “I am not fleeing I’m flying, I’m leavng and I love you.”
Taking some silent time in church, the Church of St Odile to be exact, some things came to light.
1) I want to stay in France. I really like it. I don’t have a reason why.
Yet, somehow I remember echoing from some moment in the past, you don’t always need a reason. And maybe if I don’t fully understand, well that’s part of the mysterious ways of God.
La vie n’a pas besoin d’un but, elle est un but elle-meme.
Life doesn’t need a purpose, it’s a purpose in itself.
2) I am more than the balance sheet of my mistakes and my accomplishments. I am neither of those things. I am a human being and I am allowed to make mistakes. I can only move forward if I forgive myself and leave the past behind me. I deserve forgiveness. And despite all my flaws and sins, despite my cares-
“If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. “But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith!…
3) THe more I live in the world, the more categories seem false to me. THe more difficult it is to come to an easy, pat answer or to identify with any sort of ideology or dogma. Yes, there are differences between French and AMericans, and in some ways I don’t identify fully with either. I lvoe AMerica and am very proud to be American, but I love France too even if I don’t always agree with it either. We are all human, and a certain amount of ambivalence and ambiguity is part of life.
And as far as France being some sort of escape from real life, it is anything but. And my typical method of evaluating and calculating choices according to an optimization equation is not only making me miserable and killing my happiness, it’s totally wrong. And as for the guilt I feel about “wasting” potential in whatever way, I am a human being and I don’t owe my life to anything, not even to making more money or travel or leisure or anything. “making the most” of what I have has been a mania, and I’ve been plagued by guilt over making the wrnog choices.
The truth is, that the underlying being, the firmament of all that is random or appears to, put me in certain places at certain times. I have not gone astray. I have made my journey with courage and always tried to discern what is best. If that’s good enough for God, it has to be good enough for me. WHo am I to hold myself to another standard of my “ideal self,” or beleive I am responsible for all events in my life and beholden to all results? I have certain responsibilities, yes, but forcing events in a certain direction isn’t one of them. ALl I can do is my best. And I am allowed to make mistakes- that doesn’t diminish my worth one bit.
I once heard of preachers telling peopl ewho had already had sex instead of remaining virgins until marriage that they were like a tarnished, dirty twenty dollar bill. THe value was the same. Now, I dn’t think that’s a Christian teaching at all. Personally I don’t think non-adulterous, consensual, respectful sex is bad at all, nor are our bodies evil, and also I don’t think that any mistake relegates you to being dirty or less than someone who hasn’t made a mistake. If anything God rejoices more over the lost sheep that is found- I don’t think that it is marked as inferior, either before or afterwards- just perpetually cherished. The example is also strange to use dollars as a sign of value- I thought life was the ultimate one.
ANd living gets messy andits not always easy. I’ve been looking for ease, for casual victory as a sign I’m going in the right direction, for a feling of returning to normalcy. But growth often necessitates a step back in order to leap forward. If I had found a job immediately after graduation, chances are likely I would not be as well-diplomed, world-traveled, or rich in experience as I am now.
When I first went to France as an English teacher, I had the feeling that life would soon return to normal and this was just a temporary interlude to get the traveling back out of my system and I would soon have my professional life on track. As it turns out, I got my acceptance letters from business school just before starting off on my first solo backpacking trip- my first backpacking trip ever, in fact- and I remember feeling a twinge of jealousy in the hostel lookng at the 18 year old voyagers and one guy from Canadia who was traveling around Europe until he found a place he wanted to settle down. I guess I didn’t want to go back ot a life plotted out in black and white, steady and seemingly certain after all. But I was comforted and elated at the prospect of trying something new, gong into a totally unexpected terrain- business.
Being in business school was a huge identity crisis. Not least after I left study abroad in Paris when I really, really wanted to stay. I know I did the right thing by leaving. But I remember that that time in Paris was when I started to be a little bit out of control. Wen I started gaining weight and without realizing put my new French debit card into the red. I was living my dream, talking to French business people at cocktail parties about cinema and felt like I fit in with my classmates. It was very hard to leave but it was thanks to my experiences after leaving that I ended up getting my current job. O ye of little faith. The stories of people who came to Paris and just fell in love and never left really got to me. My business school dean, one of those people- he came for school apparently with no money and student debt and a few suitcases, and stayed for a few years and a few years more until it ended up at 20 years and counting, told me: Stability is an illusion. He hadn’t intended to stay for so long.
I have imagined what my life would be like if I stayed. There would be plenty of petty annoyances partially linked to the French abd being foriegn but also just facts of life here for everybody. It wouldn’t necessarily be better, in some aspects it would be worse, but somehow the small thigs of daily life seem like precious details. There is no rational reason, not even the beauty of the boulevards Haussmanien or the elegance of the metro, to prefer life here. And yet I do, at least right now.
It’s a passion. And I love, love speaking French. I appreciate that, and would miss it, the most.
So all fo my brain and my logic have assembled in opposition. And the future remains to be seen. But right now, I want to stay. ANd that’s ok.
Reason is a tool, it shoudln’t be a tyranny. Maybe my heart is wiser than my mind- well, of course it is.
It seems to me that all those bad habits began or were exarcerbated in large part to try and drown out the silence, and the still small voice. That is largely what has been driving me insane, making me torture myself.
It’s not for ego that I am here.
IT seems like my real life began in the ashes of failure, when I crossed the ocean to take a job as an English teaching assistant. When things seemed in a way hopeless, but I really began living, writing my own story. It wasn’t just about the plan at that point, or the things I always thought I knew would happen. It was a difficult time, but an adventure.
And also a homecoming. Just like when I came back as a student, and when I came to work, and just recently when I came back after vacation, happy to be here.
This is my real life. Not all the illusions and plans I wedded myself to, not the five year plan, not the easy pat answer to who am I and what do I believe. My life is this real, living juicy stuff right here, not something I plotted out in black and white out of fear. Life is more than anything about love. Love makes us rich.
I have no idea hwat life holds in store for me and I”m not supposed to. I do believe that any wish in accordance with God’s will will will indeed be granted, that much I know from experience. Just as we are human beings, not human doings, life is not about doing, it’s about becoming.
And every day I am becoming more and more myself.
I let go of guilt, fear, shame, pain, sorrow. I forgive my past mistakes.
You will erase everything you had written in the book of your life up until now: restlessness, uncertainty, lies. And in the place of all this you will write the word courage. By beginning the journey with that word and continuing with faith in God, you will arrive wherever you need to arrive.
Breviary of Medieval Knights
And I pledge to listen to the still small voice. Not only in my actions, but in clearing my thoughts. IN letting go of the what-ifs, and just allowing what will be, to be.