“Adult”

I’m 25 years old but I’m not an adult.  I don’t pay for my own health insurance or cell phone bill (when I have a phone). I work but I’m horrific at saving what I earn.  I’m an idealist; substituting reality for dreams at the first unconscious opportunity.  My beard is patchy, and I only shave it every two weeks.  I still hold onto a belief in a benevolent world because I was born into a benevolent family, ignoring the light chuckle of the Indonesian convenience store worker as he explains his six day work week and his complete lack of money for buying even a single beer when he gets off.  I carry expectations that would have made kings blush.  The disparity between words and actions remains significant. I still pick my nose.

There’s plenty more, but I made my point.  If there is any agreed upon notion of what it means to be an adult (aside from age) I’m pretty sure I don’t pass the test.  And I think I’m finally starting to understand why.

I struggle and squirm toward the uninitiated approval, the stoic head nod that says “yep. Welcome to the club.”  I focus externally, aiming for bench marks–and when I miss them all, comparisons with my peers cripple any sense of forward movement.  I expand and collapse, the old one forward, two back.  It’s a trudge.  And it’s all because of one horrific, obvious misunderstanding:  I equate Adulthood with adulthood; I believe on some level that responsibility–but one barometer for “adultness”–is synonymous with the rigid and morbidly serious world of stagnated thinking.

I’ve carried a belief, possibly a justification, that being an adult means knowing answers, acting with 100 percent certainty, always being right, never changing your mind.  Because that’s how most adults act.  It’s in the mythology of enculturation–children must believe that the adults know what’s going on, otherwise no obedience is possible.  So when those children themselves become adults, they have to adopt the “look.”  Apparently what’s in this season is a complete denunciation of life’s mystery.

I’ve been broken enough to know, at the very least, that I will never have any fucking idea what’s going on.  So I remain paralyzed, certain only in my everlasting uncertainty; loathe to put on the face of the common adult while simultaneously being desperate to do exactly that.  I’m torn between honesty and conformity.  I’ve equated the false claim to impossible knowledge with the importance of self-reliance.  I’ve been lazy.

When does a reason become an excuse?  Fuck it.  I shun the best parts of adulthood, the mandatory parts, because I’m terrified of the optional baggage.  I can watch my money and brush my teeth and honor my commitments while simultaneously expanding my mind and playing capture the flag and even having a teddy bear.  I can sleep in on Saturday, but only if I got my work done on Friday.  And you know what, I can always pick my nose.  I’ve got ID for that.

I think what I’m trying to say is that adulthood and Adulthood are two completely different things.  The former is an adopted attitude, practiced disinterest, performed long enough to be believed.  The latter is a series of rational behaviors–overt action in the physical universe–that belie an internal coherence and self-sufficiency.  One is tinsel, the other is the tree trunk.

What is the solution to the snowballing inertia of childhood in a world devoid of true initiation?  What are we supposed to do when our storyteller, our bardic guidance counselor, is a flat screen run by megalomaniac billionaires?  Who gets to draw the line and set the values to which our growing generations will aspire?  When is this magical transition supposed to take place?  Surely not at the laughable high school commencements that involve wizard garments and hat throwing.

My expectations are breaking down; my visions of what the world is are being replaced with what I hope is a more accurate picture.  Noticing the squeeze of a single day–the knowledge that it’s never coming back, that THIS moment is gone forever and I’m not even paying attention–is Adulthood.  It’s awareness of the baseline, the business-as-usual of humanity.  Modern existence doesn’t ask for Adults, it begs for and produces perpetual children, entitled consumers devoid of opinion and the possibility that there might be more to the picture.  To get to the big A, these days, is quite a feat.  We don’t prepare children for the Hero’s Journey–shedding societies expectations and finding authority within–because a population of even 10% Adults would tear the whole thing to pieces in a month.

Blogging can go both ways.  Complaining is stuck with a.  Honest expression rises like a hot air balloon to hang out with A.  Verbosity…well I guess that depends on who you ask.  All this for me to tell myself a classic cliche in the hopes of altering my self-destructive behavior:  Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Being an Adult doesn’t mean rejecting novelty out of fear.  It means stepping up to the plate life has served.  Nom nom nom, smells like rAmen noodles.

 

 

 

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It doesn’t inte…

Quote

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithlessand therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it’s not pretty, every day,and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

–Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Embracing True Vulnerability

There is a place in yourself that exists only as yawning uncertainty.  You know where it is, even if you haven’t been there.  It’s guarded by fear, layer upon quivering layer of icy reluctance.  When benign, the fear manifests subtly–apathy, distraction, intoxication, anything delivering a dopamine dump.  Otherwise, the fear is malignant, a gnashing tumor, psychic gridlock–engine red-lined with the parking break on.  The body freezes, the mind slows–evolutionary chemicals surge and numb, tongue blunts; nearly useless.  Everything is narrow and scary and one sided because the projections of unheeded energy stole the show.   It’s the place you’ve been running from your whole life, perhaps especially if you’ve tasted of the sour fruit at some unfortunate moment in the past. 

The fear obscures vulnerability; as far as I can tell, a synonym for not-knowing.  To be vulnerable is to acknowledge ignorance, the inherent condition of true human nature.  To be vulnerable is to honestly inspect the meticulously crafted coherence of interlocking thoughts, allowing ideas of order, right and wrong, should and shouldn’t, to arise in the light of utter neutrality.  No feeding, no rationalizing, no explaining.  Only the absurdity of dogmatic investment in our own unquestioned assumptions.  To be vulnerable is to begin the process of disbelieving in yourself.  

Wandering into the land of my own unchallenged beliefs has been an exercise in humility.  I feel like I’m starting to understand all the warrior ethos books that implore the importance of strength, courage, tenacity, and honesty.  Becoming vulnerable, acknowledging the deep itch of that one simple question–what is true?–is not a quest to take lightly.  How does one respond to a head-on collision with the undeniable disparity between map and territory?  Probably in the same way one responds to a head-on car crash.

This all sounds like word soup again–the enemy of vulnerability.  Vulnerability is simple, because truth is simple.  It stands for itself, symbol-less and free. 

My concepts are collapsing.  It’s hard to tell if it’s a uniform event–a sneaky central column implosion like Tower 7–or if it’s fragmented, chunks of coagulated philosophical investment flaking off like an old scab.  Either way, I’m sliding into unanimous uncertainty, ground-turning-quicksand-turning-cloud.  I’ve been here before, near-breaks–despair and claustrophobia at once.  I know this place, the excruciatingly personal and unavoidable bitch slap flying in slow motion toward my turned cheek. 

And I climbed from this place once, ducking Truth’s onslaught at the last possible moment, turning away and starting back up the long, fossil-filled and carcass-ridden hill to normality.  Unfortunately, skeletons are no true guide.  Once the flesh has dissolved, there is never again life to be found in empty eye sockets and bridge-less nasal cavities.  These ghosts will only confuse, pointing left when the trail clearly forks right.

So what remains?  For all my efforts to know, to understand, I feel no closer to the nucleus.  For all my efforts to ignore, despite my best attempt at retrograde, I feel no closer to normal. 

The tight squeeze.  To know or not to know, while giving up the meaning of that word entirely.  To trust the untrustable.  I guess that’s faith.  I suppose vulnerability–with its heartbreaking gravity–whittles us down at its own pace.  From asking to urging to yanking to insisting. 

Maybe I can’t choose to not-know.  The shift seems to be in the quality with which I inspect the inner landscape.  An honest gaze seems to be the only requisite for the silliness of my mind to surface.  Simple and terrifying and painfully intriguing. 

All of this to say that our own progress hinges upon our ability to see our shortcomings as objectively as possible.  I have to be alright with being wrong, being blatantly, obviously wrong about everything.  I have to allow the amputation–no anesthesia, not even a morphine drip–of my most sacred places of psychic refuge.  I have to shed the anchor of pride and admit to my hubris and feel the bite of my own absurd proselytizing.  And to do it, I have to sit still and just fucking make it happen–mind open, willing, and brave. 

 

Meditations on the Tao: #57

#57

You govern a kingdom by normal rules; You fight a war by exceptional moves; But you win the world by letting alone.

How do I know that this is so?  By what is within me!

The more taboos and inhibitions there are in the world, the poorer the people become.

The sharper the weapons the people possess, the greater confusions reigns in the realm.

The more clever and crafty the men, the oftenter strange things happen.

The more articulate the laws and ordinances, the more robbers and thieves arise.

Therefore, the Sage says:

I do not make any fuss, and the people transform themselves. 

I love quietude, and the people settle down in their regular grooves.

I do not engage myself in anything, and the people grow rich.

I have no desires, and the people return to Simplicity.

I read this passage a few days ago and it hit me in a strange intuitive way.  I guess that’s the magic of the Tao te Ching; it speaks to something deep within, something untainted by cultural conditioning. 

It’s an ode to letting go, a theme that’s been popping up in my life lately.  It also seems to directly oppose the prevailing wisdom of the modern condition.  Shit. 

What is the root of the human tendency to meddle in the affairs of a miraculously balanced and impossibly intricate natural order?  What could we possibly hope to achieve with our superficial improvements of asphalt and trick birthday candles?  I really don’t mind shitting in the dirt.

No, that’s not quite it.  Obviously modernity has opened a great vista of possibility, allowing more people to experience life on this breathing space ship than ever before.  I think the idea is that for every Ted Bundy or George Bush born, at least a few Ghandi’s are pushed into the sterilized gloves of a family physician.  If it weren’t for the powdered latex, all those potential saints might end up with the black lung, or worse, as willful lobbyists.  

I don’t think that’s it either.  Maybe we’ll never know where the demiurge comes from.  Maybe trying to know is part of the demiurge itself.  Edward Abbey, in his masterful work Desert Solitaire, contemplates the question thus:

Away with the old, in with the new.  He is gone–we remain, others come.  The plow of mortality drives through the stubble, turns over rocks and sod and weeds to cover the old, the worn-out, the husks, shells, empty seedpods and sapless roots, clearing the field for the next crop.  A ruthless, brutal process–but clean and beautiful.

A part of our nature rebels against this truth and against that other part which would accept it.  A second truth of equal weight contradicts the first, proclaiming through art, religion, philosophy, science and even war that human life, in some way not easily definable, is significant and unique and supreme beyond all the limits of reason and nature.  And this second truth we can deny only at the cost of denying our humanity.

Ahem.  Back to the Tao.  We hate rules because we know that they are all arbitrary, conceived by a scheming mind with intentions of control.  We sense a greater order, a larger rule at the helm, subtly piloting the absurd turns of our lives.  That’s what #57 is about, recognizing the utter futility of trying to impose “logic” and “reason” on a process that is so much more.  

We resist because it’s unknown and unprovable.  We want assurances, to know that it will work for US when we WANT it to.  We cling to disempowering mythologies that situate magic in the past, ignoring its possibility in the present.  

While the Tao talks often of societal organization, it’s true power is exposed at the individual level.  Have you ever tried actually letting go for a day?  Have you ever acted in direct contradiction to the snarky little voice in your brain?  The results always amaze me.  When I commit, even if it’s just for a few moments, I’m always so shocked by the synchronicities and the impossible “chance” happenings that I end up delving back into UFO’s and reptillian research.  It’s too crazy.  Can it really be possible that life is capable of taking care of itself?

The answer seems to be a resounding yes.  Life did just fine before the monkeys learned to farm.  More personally, I have better conversations, find my missing debit card, run into old friends, stumble upon new and relevant resources, and generally move to the rhythm of the moment more effectively when I let go.  

It’s simple but difficult.  It means that we are both more free and less free than we know.  More free in the sense of being supported, nestled by an infinite and invisible feather bed that catches us if we only trust it.  Less free in the utter frivolity, the magnificent unimportance of our willful egos which think they can think themselves to the truth.  Letting go means just that.  Once it happens, well, I guess it happened.  We drift where the current wants us to be, regardless of what the mind thinks of that position.  Luckily, being in the current feels fucking good.

Someone recently put it to me this way:

You can choose to be free, but it’s the last choice you’ll ever make.