Where are you on your journey through the wilderness?

“We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one else can spare us.”                                                                                                                     – Marcel Proust

We all have a sense of ourselves. We are comfortable in ourselves. Our way seems ‘normal’ to us. But we know there really isn’t a normal, is there? And if we spent most of our time alone, we would never know anything else other than our way. And that would be fine. But we aren’t alone. There are plenty of other ways out there to consider.

Now we can have our little quirks. This is what it’s called when the way we are different isn’t really a big deal, and people tend to look at it as an amusing thing, this little difference. We don’t pay a lot of attention to this, because it really doesn’t affect anything important to us. But what happens as the quirks become bigger?

Well, that kind of depends on who you are. We are all taught certain ways of being from the start. And some of us subscribe heartily to these ways. They make sense to us, and these ways eventually can become the definition of who we are. That’s so important – to know who we are. These people find comfort in being alike, in being part of a group of like-minded others. It’s safe and reassuring.

Then there are others, who learn this same way of being, only to question it from the very start. They go along for awhile – even though it feels a little odd, questioning, listening to the answers and wondering why things are the way they are. Some of them think they might have a better idea, and some decide to try it out and see what happens. Of course, this is the smaller group – there are less of these types, and so opposition is common. Going against the grain, you have to be determined, because there is always someone out there who is going to tell you that you are wrong, or that your idea is never going to work. Some of us stubbornly go ahead with our ideas anyway.

And there is nothing wrong with this, and yet sometimes the people from the first group get a bit annoyed and upset with the people in the second group. Somehow their ideas and individuality are seen as some sort of threat, and must be stifled. Exactly why, I am not sure. I have always found that being the devil’s advocate in any conversation makes people really think about where they stand on an issue. It’s a good thing, a healthy way of testing to see if what you believe in has real teeth and not just a regurgitation of someone else’s ideals. I have learned a lot about people during these conversations. I have learned a lot about myself as well.

I have never been satisfied with doing things the way they have always been done. I’ve driven a lot of people nuts by questioning and grinding away at their belief systems. It helps me understand why people do what they do, and helps me know why I firmly believe in the things I do. I like to think hard about why things are the way they are, but I find that a lot of people would rather not. People seem to like to do what they are told. People seem to like to do what large numbers of other people are doing. It’s that comfort thing.

So when someone like me decides to head off in an unconventional direction, you can be sure that there is someone out there at the ready to give me some flack about it. But I really don’t mind. I have been going off in strange directions since the third grade, and have gotten pretty used to the odd reactions it gets from all sorts of people. It’s actually a good thing, because when I get a reaction from someone, that means I’ve made them think about something they might not have considered before. I’ve affected them. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say they’ve allowed me to affect them.

When I have strong reactions to something that’s been said or done, I take a hard look at why I am reacting that way. What am I afraid of? What is really happening here? Something about how I define myself is being challenged, and I am fighting against it. What if I am not who I think I am? Who am I? Does it matter? Can I be okay with that? These are scary questions, and answering them can lead to dark places we’d rather not explore. Not all of us are willing to go there. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to just sit with the questions and let the answers bubble up with time.

We’ve all had difference life experiences that have shaped our values throughout our lives. This is what drives our reactions. They aren’t good or bad, right or wrong… they just are. And they are all just as valid, even if we can’t find a way to relate to some of them. We are all on the same path, just in different places, travelling at difference paces. We’ll all get there, but we have to find the way on our own, in our own time.

Originally published April 20, 2012

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