Hello Human Being.
The words I am about to type have no relevance whatsoever to the plans I had for this entry a week ago.
Such is the case with so many of my personal experiences. You may recall an old saying, “life does not care about your plans”. This was once a hard truth for me to learn. It was the kind of lesson that I could only absorb after having the metaphorical book thrown at my head a few too many times.
I have always been tenacious in my quest to do exactly as I had planned for myself. I have bucked reason and logic and very sound advice for the sake of an idea that I’d attached to so steadfastly that I could not see the proverbial forest for the trees. I am a fucking romantic, not in the conventional sense necessarily (though sometimes that’s true too), but more in the sense of becoming enamored with an idea to the extent that I rarely see the faults; I simply see an idyllic picture in my mind of how something should be.
Things change, ya’ll. Rapidly. Often. At a moment’s notice. Too quickly for yours truly.
You see, it takes me awhile to accept changes as they come, and even longer to unravel the threads I’ve woven about my ideal. I seize my plans and stitch them into the fabric of my being. I become emotionally invested in ideas. This is great so long as my plans go smoothly, but what about when they don’t? What about when they change? They always change. Reality is never quite what is imagined and letting go of expectation is really frickin’ hard. If you knit or crochet, you know what a painstaking process it can be to go back and fix that missed stitch (or that misstep), undoing the work you’ve done, and recounting your steps as you curse softly about all the should have, would have, or could have been.
I’ve most certainly been one of those people, so indefatigably tied to my plans that I would do most anything to see it through, even if it meant a sort of sacrifice on my part. It took awhile to understand how and why I do this to myself. Turns out change often makes me anxious, both the concept and the action of it. I didn’t see this pattern for quite some time, and only in the very recent future have I seen that my resistance to change has manifest itself in many of my experiences throughout life. As a child I didn’t want to begin school. The idea that I wouldn’t spend my days with my Nana, that I had to go to this unfamiliar place and meet all these unfamiliar faces literally made me sick. Fast-forward twelve years or so and I found myself a high school senior and didn’t want to leave. Once again I was physically sick at the thought of moving on, of embarking on new territories. I’d become accustomed to my environment and I knew what to expect for the most part. My world was more or less in my control. I was comfortable.
But what of comfort when it literally causes anxiety? This is a question I began to ask myself as I entered college, and also as I realized that anxiety itself was a very real part of my day to day experience. As I began to evaluate the source of my feelings, I came to realize that anxiety had literally become comfortable. I had become so accustomed to the feeling of being anxious that I did not recognize it as an issue- it was just me. It was just my life. I came to realize that a lot of the people around me didn’t have the same worries as I, or at the very least they were able to manage their feelings more successfully. College began as I started to delve into the root cause of my feelings. It took some time. Truth be told I didn’t necessarily think about it in the right way. My reasons were always external to myself. I was unaware of and maybe a little unwilling to see the role I was playing in maintaining my own unrest.
Luckily, I had a lot of help making the final connection to enact a significant change in my life. As a college senior I took a course titled “Theories of Personality,” which was instructed by one of the greatest men I’ve ever met in my entire life- Dr. Roger Ware.
Roger left this Earthly plane on April 26, 2012, after a hard-fought battle with cancer. But prior to his illness and even during, Roger touched so many lives with his unique spirit, his zest for life, his kind and spontaneous nature, and his jovial sense of being. He taught me many lessons, which I will carry throughout my life. It is really hard to describe the impact this truly extraordinary person can had on me; it’s left me nearly speechless. Such is the case with Roger. If Roger were here he would argue that the change came from me- that I did the work. I guess that’s more or less true, but he was a catalyst.
That cataclysmic moment came in the form of a rather short statement. I don’t quite know if Roger ever knew just how profound it was for me. It was mid-semester. I was battling with competing deadlines and obligations. I was exhausted. I was a ball of stress and worry and tic marks on a to-do list. In a fit of anxiety and self-doubt I went to him, imploring him for advice on the direction my life was taking. While I’d finally landed on a field of study (Psychology) I was suddenly feeling adrift in other aspects of my life. When he asked me to tell him more I inundated him with all my plans, my idyllic picture of the future. I explained that I felt disconnected, that I’d taken on too much, and suddenly found myself overwhelmed and uncertain as I went through the motions.
Wake up, go to class, go to work, go home, feed my dogs, feed myself, do my homework, study, spend time with my significant other. I was totally unfulfilled. I found little joy in my day-to-day comings and goings. There was no take home message, as far as I could see. I was functioning. I was completing my responsibilities. I was doing things.
And that’s when he looked at me squarely and said,
“You are a human being, not a human doing.”
This simple proclamation shook my world up. It needed no explanation (though I’ll provide one here). In fact this message was so clearly received that I felt rather silly. In the overshadowing forest of my existence I’d run directly into the trunk of an ancient tree. I realized that all this thinking, all this worry, all this comfort found in my discomfort, had led me so far from my nature, and from the nature of all sentient beings. I was so caught up in deadlines, plans, worries, anxieties, and expectations, that I was forgetting to just be. I was forgetting to live in the moment. I was not present. I was only doing.
How very American of me. We are a nation of do-ers, aren’t we? We want more, bigger, faster, better, NOW. I was programmed to think that if I just obtained that next thing, or if I just completed this next step, my ideal would be there to greet me and all my anxieties would fall away. I thought I would find that place of perceived comfort again and there I’d be able to rest. I was reveling in a destination that may never arrive, and forsaking the journey I was on. My mind and my body were moving much too quickly to enjoy what was happening around me.
It turns out, part of the fun of life really is about embracing chaos, moments, experiences, and changes. This is not to say that we give up on our plans and ideals, rather it means that we are meant to adapt and to grow and to be in the moment to the best of our ability. We are meant to make mistakes, no matter how hard we try to be perfect. Embracing the Now and the act of being means that our plans could change and our ideals aren’t so much a photograph, but more of a motion picture. Being is about experience. Not simply the experiences we wish to have in the future, or the experiences we try to create, but also about the experiences we are having right this second. No matter how dull, no matter how mundane, no matter how much our brains might try to convince us that we should be doing something more, better, faster; there is something to be learned from every experience and something to be gained. When we begin to embrace the moments that make up our collective existence, we free ourselves from anxiety, and allow new possibilities to come into our lives. We become more aware of life happening all around us. When we listen to our inner voices and allow ourselves to seek the meaning in little moments, we find ourselves better able to adapt and to grow and to welcome “what ifs” instead of dreading them. We allow ourselves to be present, to connect with other beings, to find points of mutual respect, affection, and likeness. When our focus turns from doing to being, all the cultural and social constructs move to the backseat (and in my case I slapped some duct tape over their ever-gaping maws, so as not to be distracted or misdirected once again).
Simply put when we aren’t so focused on getting things done, we find our being. Our being is organic and quirky and beautiful and always evolving. Our being is changing constantly. Our being is our life at present.
Or at least this has been my experience.
None of this implies that I don’t have anxieties now or that I don’t have fears. Life is so often murky and the path very frequently obscured, divergent, entangled with other options and distractions. It can be overwhelming. But, this is also not even to say that I don’t sometimes get caught up in “the doing of the things”.
What I can tell you is everyday I think of my dear friend Roger, and I repeat his words like a mantra. It keeps me grounded, it makes me aware, and it allows me to be. In this life I really could not ask for better than an experience that allows me to find significance, joy and a lesson in each moment. When I reach the end of my days I will know that anxiety and resistance did not fuel me down my path, but rather joy, experience, and change.
So in essence, this entry is all about being aware. It’s about heeding the cues that life throws at us in real time. It’s about accepting changes as they come and adapting to the ever-changing tide of our personal experience. For me this has led to more fulfilling interactions, greater appreciation of the little moments in my life, and a life path that is in greater congruence with where my heart is right now. My greatest hope in writing this entry is that it may reach someone who needs to read it. I hope that I can share this simple, yet important message with others, as a way to honor my darling Roger. If he were here now I would give him a massive hug, I would thank him profusely for the impact he’s made, and then I would link arms with him, so we could silly-walk our way into the sunset.
And with that a toast; here’s to the enlightened, self-actualized beings in your life. Here’s to those who drop ego in favor of fun. Here’s to those who unabashedly rock socks and sandals without a care in the world. Here’s to those who make us aware, those who remind us to embrace life with humor, and most of all to those who know that the greatest plan is often having no plans at all. Here’s to those who just know how to be.
If you’d like to know more about Roger Ware and the legacy that he created, please take a look at http://www.weareallaware.com.
(Photos of Roger sourced from his facebook account. Additional photos courtesy of the interwebz.)