The road to finding acceptance
Note: This is the fifth in a series on personal transformation
In last week’s piece, I explored the course of those who leave home due to a sense of discomfort with his/her familial or tribal circumstances and go, as Jack Kerouac calls it in his novel, on the road. Millions, of course, leave home for other reasons—immigrants, refugees, et al—as well. Still, if the sojourner, regardless of the cause for separation, is authentically interested in creating a new life, he/she faces enormous tasks in addition to day-to-day survival stuff: finding a new home, job, etc.
Upon arrival, there lies for him/her opportunity and responsibility, obligation.
Opportunity infers and even entails growth, which begets a change not only in how one pursues his/her new life but also in the retelling of his/her story, for up until then, the individual’s story has often been carefully scripted by the tribe, often the dutiful child playing out and fulfilling the wishes and desires of the patriarch, matriarch, community, church or other controller.
The obligation or responsibility aspect requires the individual to begin acting on his/her own behalf for just because opportunity knocks, there is no requirement for the individual to answer the door. The reason many choose not to answer that door is he/she unconsciously understands it would require him/her confronting stuff he/she would prefer forgetting, ignoring, or quickly moving past.
Should that happen, repression occurs with inevitable devastating, destructive results. Again, read Pat Conroy’s “Prince of Tides” for that description.
Going deep introspectively can be painful.
In “Seven Thousand Ways to Listen,” Mark Nepo suggests allowing that fear to control the individual causes him/her to suffer even more so.
“A good deal of our suffering comes from not going deep enough into the personal,” he writes, “to make it through (emphasis Nepo’s), and so we get stuck between the surface and the deep.
“Often, the pain of being stuck makes us afraid to go deeper, which is exactly what we need to do in order to restore our inner health.”
As a result we become stoic; Nepo calls it “ennobling our isolation.” In America we admiringly call it “rugged individualism.”
It is at that time Nepo says we fall into the trap of “reframing”—rationalizing—our plight and present what is actually debilitating as noble and strong.
“We can reframe mistrust as maturity in a harsh world; guilt as self-effacing sacrifice to others; insecurity as self-deferring humility; indecision as adaptability; stagnation as discipline; isolation as independence; and despair as stoic acceptance of reality.”
Critical to the individual being willing to go deeper and facing whatever might come up is his/her new tribe—community—saying to its new member, “We accept you without judgment.” That statement can be mind-blowing because in the individual’s experience hitherto, acceptance and even love was conditional.
“Really?” the individual might ask doubtfully, hoping something he/she hasn’t experienced much or at all is happening but fearful of a catch.
The individual’s new tribe, new community, if it is genuinely open and welcoming, assures him/her that is the case, but it takes a test, a crisis, ordeal to prove that. Inevitably one arises. Without fail the community supports him/her, and it is then the individual realizes not only acceptance does not need to be conditional but also all the reframing he/she has done to make life tolerable is no longer necessary.
The time is then ripe for the individual to get in touch with what is “true maturity, service, humility, adaptability, independence, and acceptance.”
When the individual arrives at that stage, he/she faces responsibility first to him/herself and then to the community.
“Eventually,” Nepo summarizes, “we are asked to undo the story we’ve been told of our life—or the story we have told ourselves—so we might drop freshly into life. For under all our attempts to script our lives, life itself cannot be scripted.”
He compares that scripting to netting the sea: “Life will only use our nets up, tangle them, sink them, unravel them, wear them down, embed them in its bottom.”
Unfortunately, those who try to net the sea find it leads only to continuing unhappiness and suffering. It need not be that way, however.
Next week – Sixth and final piece in the series