Friday, April 29, 2011

Going backwards, moving forward

"Now," he thought, "that all these transitory things have slipped away
from me again, I stand once more beneath the sun, as I once stood as a
small child. Nothing is mine, I know nothing, I possess nothing, I
have learned nothing." He had to smile again. Yes, his destiny was
strange! He was going backwards, and now he stood empty and naked and
ignorant in the world. But he did not grieve about it; no, he even
felt a great desire to laugh, to laugh at himself, to laugh at this
strange, foolish world. (Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha)

The message of "moving forward", of "success" or "progress" in our culture is very much a linear experience. This progression is supposed to launch us forward in a straight line, from one point to another, ever climbing higher. With it, we have our expectations of what's supposed to happen in life at certain points, benchmarks we're to meet. When they aren't met on time, or at all, it creates a dissonant tension or a crisis. We wonder if we're ok, or believe we're stunted or unsuccessful. We tried the formula, and it didn't work.

What if there was another way to look at progression in life, a non-linear understanding?

I've been thinking and writing lately about how it seems I've actually gone backwards in life, according to my expectations and definitions of personal progression. It has appeared that the ground I worked so hard to gain in my twenties left me not having attained any of the end I sought. Or maybe... maybe I am finally reaching the end of myself. Having thrown up layers upon layers of false selves, perhaps this feeling of going backwards is created as each layer of false self falls away, revealing more of who I really am. And I am not who I thought I was.

We start out life with numerous influences. Many people, whether directly or indirectly, consciously or subconsciously, shape who we become from childhood to adulthood. We cannot help but influence each other, and much of this can be positive, though just as many experience painful influences from childhood. But even among the greatest of intentions, we can find ourselves funneled along a path that we did not entirely choose. Perhaps it seems we did. And along the way, layers are laid upon us, telling us who we are, making us feel we are progressing. When those layers begin to be stripped away, we often feel our identities, our way of being in the world, our values, our very sense of worth or achievement, is threatened. This feels like moving backwards, but flip it around and it may be that this is when we actually begin to move forward.

The first part of our lives are spent growing up, away from childhood, and yet, this stripping away seems to draw me closer again to childhood. And I stand in life with the humbling revelation that, as Siddhartha described above, "Nothing is mine, I know nothing, I possess nothing, I have learned nothing." Or at least, my learning has brought me to the place of realizing that I know much less than I thought and have heaps more to learn. I am more like a child than I thought, and this is progress.

No comments:

Post a Comment