“The self is not one thing, be it evil, good, sinful, or joyful. The self has no inherent bottom. What we do becomes what we are.” (from Michael Stone’s Awake in the World, Teachings from Yoga and Buddhism for Living an Engaged life)
I haven’t been reading much lately. If what we do becomes what we are, does this make me a non-reader?
It’s a question I struggle with daily, this idea of being “stuck” in a certain way that I think of myself. I don’t like feeling like someone who doesn’t read regularly. Excuses, excuses. They’re always there.
It’s not like I haven’t been reading anything, though–I did read the Wanderer chapter in Bill Plotkin’s Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World. The book is divided into sections, with each one discussing a different phase in a person’s life. Some of the chapter names are admittedly a little twee: The Wanderer in the Cocoon, The Artisan in the Wild Orchard, the Master in the Grove of Elders. Still, I think I can deal. I don’t know yet if I’ll read the other chapters–I’ll probably read the early adolescence one (excuse me, I mean the Thespian at the Oasis).
The Wanderer chapter is Plotkin’s term for late adolescence. A lot of the topics that Plotkin touches upon in Nature sound very familiar to me from Soulcraft—I feel like Soulcraft is the book-length version of the Wanderer chapter and discusses a lot of the same ideas. Still, it was nice to absorb it all in a more condensed fashion, and I still feel like he brought up some new points of interest for me. Here are the biggest lessons or main points I took from it:
– The world is constantly shifting. We would like everything to be stable and definited all the time, but it’s not. It’s kind of like tectonic plates moving underneath our feet. Our world is constantly remaking itself; it’s a process that literally never ends.
– To grow up you need to vacate your psychological home, i.e. your adolescent, or first-adulthood identity (I definitely still feel like I live here at times).
– It will be a painful process. You will feel immense loneliness and hear a lot of scolding, inner voices.
– One of the most important things you can do during this difficult time is learn SURVIVAL SKILLS. Think of yourself like one of the participants in The Hunger Games, learning archery and camouflage skills to save your life. You need to become a hunter, trapper, scavenger. RESILIENT. You have to think of yourself like a warrior: Luke Skywaker with a lightsaber, Katniss from The Hunger Games with a bow and arrow, Buffy the mother****ing vampire slayer. Because nobody is going to save you but yourself. “You have to surrender the cherished belief that someone is going to protect you, save you, do the work of growing for you, or show you the way.” (236)
– Another thing you can do that will help: radically simplify your life.
– What is the ultimate goal? To LIVE, not just survive, and be in love with the world, your life and others, as opposed to just a “responsible” adult that pleases everyone.
– Plotkin also talks a lot about the importance of rituals. It makes me want to take a hike all by myself and, I don’t know, burn a bunch of shit and throw it off the side of the mountain into the gorge.
– He also talks a lot about this idea of a survival dance vs. a sacred dance. Getting a little twee there, I know, but bear with me a little. A survival dance is something you have to do to be self-reliant, to survive: support yourself physically and economically. For most of us, this equals a paid job. Once this has been established, you can spend time on your sacred dance, which he defines as “the work you were born to do. Your sacred dance sparks your greatest fufillment and extends your truest service to the world… You know you’ve found it when there’s little else you’d rather be doing. Getting paid for it is superflous. You would gladly pay others, if necesarry, for the opportunity.” (258) (Wow, has there ever been a better argument for taking out a ton of loans to go to grad school for creative writing? Goodbye potential guilt!!) Plotkin also encouragingly says that gradually your sacred and survival dance become one and the same (thus meaning that you survive by doing what you find most fufilling), but you have to work on creating a foundation of self-reliance first. How nice to imagine so.
– He also discusses how in adolescence, the main lesson you’re learning is how to be a part of society. That’s why your peers’ opinions are so important and will make or break you, why you so desperately want to be loved and to belong, etc. But then you reach the Wanderer stage, and it’s like you no longer really care that much about society. You’re kind of like, **** this, the things that society is telling me I should want–I don’t really want them. Well, what do I want then? Where do I fit in? It’s not that Plotkin is encouraging you to totally reject and shun your community: the best part is, if you really want to be a part of and contribute to a community, the best possible thing you can do for yourself is find out the gift you have and want to give to the world, and share it!
– But wait, so what does this mean, to have an authentic place or identity? Does it just mean something that someone will pay you to occupy, like a job? (NO.) Is it a task that you’re talented at performing? (NO AGAIN.) Is it a social role that people accept you in and approve of and praise you for fufilling? (GUESS WHAT STILL NO.) According to Plotkin, your authentic place is “one that is in keeping with [your] vital core. It’s a place defined not by the deeds you perform but by the qualities of soul you embody; not by your physical, social, or economic achievements but by the true characer you manifest.” (251-252)
– So what are the specific things you’re supposed to do as you try to figure out your authentic place? Guess What There’s Two: 1) Say Goodbye to the Old and 2) Make Yourself Ready for the New.
– The way you Say Goodbye to the Old is through honing your skills of self-reliance. The biggest thing that sucks about this is that you are gonna need to be patient, because the only way you can learn is through experience itself. IT IS GOING TO TAKE TIME.
– Perhaps the point I love most in this chapter is Plotkin’s emphasis about leaving your past story and wounds behind. “They are no longer the major identifiers of your life but are only some defining components of the smaller story that characterized your childhood and early adolescent existence.” I LOVE this idea that you don’t always need to be continuing the same-old, same-old story. I feel like we get stuck in these identities : I’m not a morning person. It’s hard for me to write on a regular basis. It’s hard for me to focus at work. It’s hard for me to exercise every day. Plotkin is like, NO. You can always surprise yourself, you can always begin again, you can always rewrite the story anew. You don’t have to be trapped in the old story that you’ve been telling yourself. You can begin writing a new one, now. In the end, you basically have to become a loving, nurturing parent or lover to yourself.
– There are lots of practical (if somewhat obvious) suggestions he gives for Making Yourself ready for the New: give up addictions, practice meditation, practice solitude, immerse yourself in nature, contemplate death, leave the familiar, walk into the fire and confront what you are most afraid of.
Oh, also: yesterday (after I’d already started this entry) I stopped at Powell’s and bought myself a new journal and the first book of The Hunger Games, which I stayed up late to finish reading in one sitting. So much for not reading.
Everything is going to be ok.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively, by / constantly greater beings. (Rilke)