Based on the demographics of my friends, and therefore who reads this blog, I have a feeling that many of you are somewhere in the middle of that awkward transition between childhood and being an adult. You’re twenty-odd, and you still get a weird thrill when people your parents’ age treat you like a human being, but at the same you loathe the occasional person who treats you as though you know nothing. You live in constant wonder of people who have “real” jobs, even though you’ve heard them talk about feeling unsatisfied or unhappy. And you’re probably still noticing aspects of yourself that you feel are not adult-like, and which (you feel) will prevent people from taking you seriously, even though some of those aspects are really fun, and you probably rebel against your self-self-improvement on the weekends.
Growing up is about changing; I will freely admit that this is true. But it is very important to change in ways that are healthy and productive – ways that may not seem obvious until you can step back and look at the whole picture.
As you may know, this is exactly what I set out to do all those months ago. I knew that I was changing, and I knew that I would change, but I chose to take a backseat to the process somewhat, and rather than reveling in each new change and giving it supreme validity, I noted any differences I encountered, and any discoveries I made, and then carefully squirreled them away for further investigation.
When I was in Orsennes, I figured out the answer to many of my problems, hidden in amongst thickets of new ideas about who I was and what it was that I wanted in life. I was one of about fifteen volunteers staying at a yoga and meditation retreat center that was under construction (hence my presence, and my subsequent proficiency with a nail gun – I am a dangerous lady), and three times a week, Wim, the man of many mysteries, gave yoga and meditation classes for any of the volunteers that wanted to, usually ten or so of us. One evening, we skipped the yoga and went straight to the meditation, for the meditation of the evening was to be a Kundalini awakening. I know this sounds like so much fluff and bull to many people, but just stay with me. Kundalini meditations are about an hour long, and divided into four fifteen-minute chunks, and is done with musical accompaniment. The first is the “shaking” chunk, where you essentially use your lower half to thoroughly jiggle your upper half, however is most comfortable. This is followed by fifteen minutes of dancing (note that all of these things happen alone and with your eyes shut – dancing is a loose term for “moving in a way that connects you to the music, or whatever”). You’d think that after half an hour of moving around, non stop, you’d be exhausted, but you’re not. You’re meditating, and so you’ve been focused on moving and on feeling your body and on breathing, and in the end, you’ve gotten so used to moving that it has become second-nature, and stopping is the hard part. But you stop, and you stand or sit for fifteen minutes, and then you sit or lie down for fifteen minutes. And it’s in that last half an hour that the meditation begins its discovery-laden pay off. Ideas of personal growth blossom behind your eyes, and you can feel the heat of your body cooling and calming, and you are so very aware of the will and the maddening desire to do something. It’s as though you moved so loudly that you woke up your potential. The good news is that potential is a morning person, and really enjoys getting out and up to things. Moment after moment, a new point of self is introduced, and as I sat listening to my whirring brain, I smiled wider and wider, and I understood more and more about myself.
But it isn’t that moment that I want to talk about. The moment I want to explain to you happened three hours after the meditation, as I sat in my ice-cold room and wrote about my discoveries. In revisiting them, they seemed so strange – and it seemed sacreligious to write them down, but I did it anyway, and I don’t regret that at all. The potency of those illuminations has faded somewhat, and had faded even then as I wrote them down. It was the knowledge that hit be a page later that has stuck with me: that I was completely mistaken about the nature of growing up.
You see, for years, perhaps ever since I was a child, I thought of growing up as a process of emboringification – turning a fascinating and strange child into a plain, square-in-a-square-hole adult. This perception had served me very ill ever since I was seventeen and began making a concerted effort to grow up. I never would have made the effort were it not for my first relationship; before I went into it, I was an imaginative young woman with dreams of a PhD someday, and a tiny house in the middle of a gigantic patch of wilderness somewhere in Ireland, but as the relationship progressed, bits of that dream rotted off. They were eventually replaced (at the age of seventeen, mind) by the desire to work from home and raise children and tomatoes. I imagined a husband (my then-boyfriend, of course) with a nine-to-five job, vanilla sex, and a house in the same neighborhood as his parents. Naturally, he dumped me. Thank goodness. It took me years to restore the richness of my sense of self, and at the time, I resolved that I would never again give up my dreams for a boy.
But it took me until that cold midnight in central France to realize that that wasn’t the full story: that it wasn’t just that I’d given up my dreams, it was that I had actively cut away bits and pieces of my soul, until the person that he’d fallen in love with wasn’t there anymore, and that in spite of my resolution not to give up my dreams, I persisted in this sort of self-mutilation in my current relationship. For years, I’d been blaming that self-shrinkage on the boyfriends, by feeling that they were trapping me, that they were limiting me, that they were the ones imposing those restrictions. But of course this was never the case. I was the one paving and uprooting large sections of my soul’s inherent wilderness, and for no other reason than that I felt more responsible in a relationship, and with that sense of responsibility, I believed that I should grow up. And when one’s idea of adulthood is of stunted, boring baby-makers and nine-to-fivers, of course that becomes one’s personal trajectory.
In this awkward state of being a twenty-something, it’s important to realize that you are still the same soul that played make-believe and wanted to be a spelunker. It’s important to notice that your imagination hasn’t actually gone away. It has, perhaps, fallen into comparative disuse, but it’s still there, waiting for you. The thing about the imagination, about those dreams, about your sense of self, is that they are the essential elements in the ecosystem of your soul’s wilderness. And that growing up is not finding ways to flatten your soul-forest and make it a soul-burbia; the trick is to identify the invasive ideas, the noxious notions, and the pernicious prejudices, and weed those out, while allowing the species you love to flourish. Think of your wilderness as a garden. It is already a garden – you have been actively cultivating it ever since you decided to grow up. In some places, it is damaged, it others it is running rampant, and I am sure that there are some absolutely beautiful parts that are lush with things you love. While you restore your garden, keep in mind a few things: first, that creativity and imagination are not unique to artists. They are essential components of research and innovation. So if you are in the sciences and you self-identify as being uncreative, you are actually a delightfully imaginative human being. Remember that imagining isn’t just about being a flying dog anymore. Second, to continue the analogy, the plants that already exist in your wilderness will take root the easiest, wherever you replant them, and that the lay of the land is going to be very difficult to change. If you want to add something to your soul that is not native, it will die if you do not tend it. And in many ways, changing the lay of the land, or changing who you fundamentally are, is probably not necessary. Who you are is beautiful and unique. It’s you, and if you can’t respect that, gardening will be so much more trying. And third, remember that your grown-up garden should be no less beautiful and surprising than your wilderness was. You should never feel that in becoming an adult, you have limited who you are. In adulthood, your self should expand and deepen, and your garden should always be abundant and beloved to you. After all, how can you ever expect to grow if you’re constantly cutting yourself back?