Just out of view
Reflections from a mid-life revelation.
What is it with all our striving? There is something rich and strangely addictive about ‘Project Me!’ - the endless process of self-improvement.
The idea of endlessly re-imagining the version of ourselves that we could be, maybe, if we were just bigger/slimmer/brighter versions of ourselves.
We are always rushing, buying stuff, consuming endless products. Another self-help book, face cream, hair dye, shoe, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, car, believing that thing will some how fix us. The belief that we can always undo the wrongs, right the situation.
There is something deeply charming, powerfully provocative about the human spirit that drives us on, out of the old dark cave of our ancestors towards quite literally the moon, flight the internet.
The sense that deep in our genes, there is that pushing, endless pushing. A pull toward dis-satisfaction with what is, and a deep desire to imagine the possible. To change and alter our world to greater comfort, that’s a starting point.
Warmth when you are cold, cool when you are hot. Connection when you are lonely. Speedy travel, quicker communication.
This striving is often at a cost. From our current vantage point we can say that what occurs on a national or global level across history is deeply transformative and, ultimately at this stage in the 21st century, good. However, there are a fair few clarifications on that ‘good’, quite a few areas where the re-imagining of the possible has had terrible, even barbarous consequences for many species (our own included), but let’s not go there now. Let’s just assume that on balance all the pushing has been for the greater Good.
I want to take a moment to look at the smaller life, the individual life: me and you, and that push to ‘better’, to be better, to do better; to strive. I think there is something visceral about wanting your child’s life to be better than your own, that any right-thinking parent will identify with.
But what about our own lives? Is that what a certain brand of Capitalism is banking on; our feeling somehow ‘wrong’, ‘not quite right’, ‘imperfect’? Isn’t that what the whole force of consumer culture needs to sell the ‘stuff’ that we consume? Isn’t there, in that process, a sense of having to shore up a version of ourselves for the increasing public scrutiny that goes with being alive in the early part of the 21st century?
We photograph everything. I grew up before the selfie, when the very mobile phone the selfie is predicated on hadn’t even been invented, but I don’t know now if I can think of a life without a mobile computer in my pocket. Remember asking someone to take a photo!? Yeah haven’t done that in a long, long time.
That selfie, if it’s not quite got the status of a daily part of my life, it’s certainly got a hold in my ‘every week’.
And then the inevitable process of immediate self-criticism. Wow, I never noticed that wrinkle appearing, does my hair really look that way?
We keep taking the shot, to capture the very best version of ourselves, and then like C list celebrities we filter the edited version of ourselves, select and present our social media updates like mini-magazine articles.
What if we could just accept that me, as I am, imperfect, right now, were truly enough?
That there is nothing special to do, or change. Cool the fanned flames of dis-satisfaction and simply be present to ourselves, to our loved ones. In a deepest sense: simply be.
It’s a question I’ve been asking myself recently, at point of appreciation and maybe a little wisdom in my own life where I look at my own striving, pushing. Because maybe I’ve arrived at certain space in my life, where I want to ask that very question with quiet clarity and no little persistence.
What is the real point of it all?
It’s all a fluid dance, of inevitable change and shifts, and there will be plenty of times when I won’t feel enough, when the circumstances are difficult, tough for a whole host of reasons; and I will want to plough through those moments of my life, and dig deep to find the strength to move on, to go upwards from a dark place of pain, loss, grief or bereavement.
But that being said, right now, here I am, and it is enough.
I am at peace, fully, completely and I just want to say it, to say this is sufficient. I don’t need anything. I can simply be, appreciating all of this.
So just to be clear. Appreciation of a full stomach, of shelter, of family and friends who I love; and you know something, the appreciation of loss – it sounds strange but it’s got to be there. Yes, I’ve had my fair share, but I have reached a point in my life where I can articulate in the fullest sense the love that underlies loss. The fragility and beauty of a life which is impermanent by its very nature. The precious beauty and brilliance of that knowledge when held lightly, because that’s all you can really do, hold onto it all lightly. In the understanding that at some angle, some perspective, this is all going to change anyway.
And that is the root of wisdom for me. I look back at some situations, relationships at work and in life that felt so fixed, so impossible to unravel; and the irony, or the sad and liberating truth, is that it all changes, that nothing is ever fully that way forever.
That difficult boss will retire, you will move on to another place, that heartache will fade, that loss will be held at a tender place in your heart, will lose its rawness and its intensity.
And yes, in the simplest way, that this all too, will pass.
I look back at my twenties and I see that I saw myself as a project, and there is something fun about that, a certain kind of energy and hope and belief. I heard recently about an old friend’s suicide. A wonderfully warm brilliant man, an artist who lost a life-long battle with depression.
I found myself thinking of one evening, a meal in our mid-twenties with him and a group of friends, not the specific conversation, but the type of conversation that we picked up, over and over again about our lives. What we wanted to do, what we hoped to achieve, I guess in a strange way, ‘when we grew up’. I was a student at the time, studying to be a teacher, not quite sure how it would all play out. We chatted and discussed our lives and quite literally that evening looked up at the sky. I can even recall staring at the evening traffic a little tipsy and appreciating its beauty. Yes, its beauty - the blur of lights and movement. It was late winter time and we went for a walk after dinner, somehow ending up at a children’s playground near my friend’s house, sitting on the swings, our feet trailing the ground, as we looked up at the trees, and just talked, really talked in a way that now would seem a genuine luxury.
20 years later, in my 40’s, deep in the thick of middle age, I can see the way that the path of life doesn’t just shift out toward an endless horizon that we imagine in our childhoods, and even, let’s be honest well into our 20’s. But from this vantage point life kinda seems now to turn a corner, just out of view. It’s not that far away and that’s where life will take me, each one of us.
Just out of view.