When you decide to pursue your passions, you must also confront the paradoxes you have avoided in order to stay comfortable. You must remain skeptical of your own motives, without falling into the trap of relentless Doubt. You must use the truth as your guiding principal, yet allow yourself a fair amount of denial, knowing there is plenty about the world and your own behavior that you don’t know you don’t know. And then, there are friendships that will change. What does it mean to love someone who feels like they can’t love you back because they don’t support your new pursuits?
It’s a midweek post, and the following musing does not contain instructions or handy tools and tips. Stop here if that’s what you want today. The beginning of next week will be a good time to make clear decisions. Today, I’m taking a look at ambiguity and paradox.
My Mentor, Milton Woolley, gave me an image I pass on to others from time to time. When you meet Milton, you sense strength and childish playfulness simultaneously. His bright eyes, deep laugh lines, and quick wit betray the gravitas as his core. Endlessly curious about human interaction, he’s made a life’s work studying family systems, which contain the deepest, darkest stories we tell ourselves unconsciously. They guide us much of the time. The roles we played as children in our families are the shadow roles that make decisions in our adult lives without our permission. We learned how to please, how to get what we wanted, how to survive in these roles. We need them now, still, and we also need to let them go. Therein lies a paradox.
“I think of the family system like an old tree with deep roots. We are always tied to it no matter what we do, but it’s not completely inflexible. Imagine you have a big fat rubber band that goes around you and the tree. If you don’t move at all, you are always bound by your role as the child of that system. It’s impossible to escape, but you must, somehow, move beyond your childhood ways. So you pull, and the rubber band stretches, and you pull some more, and the the rubber band pulls back with more resistance, and you pull even more, until you think you can’t pull any more.
That’s when you notice— the tree is starting to move.”
I love my shadow roles. I hate my shadow roles.
I’ve been telling people who work with me, “You will never heal your wounds or erase your scars or escape the shittiness of the Shame laid on you. But you can change them into something you can live with.” I don’t know. Maybe it’s crap, but that’s what I’m going with, and it seems to be working for me, except when it doesn’t; and when I say that to someone who is bound by Shame, it seems to give them some relief, except when it doesn’t.
We must pursue our passions in the face of resistance. Resistance is how we know we are doing something difficult. Resistance is a sign of good art, good ideas, good work in the world.
It’s also true what the virtuosic singer Bobby McFerrin said to my cousin:
“When you are doing what you’re supposed to do, all the angels in heaven come down and help you out.”
He also said this:
“I came up with this crazy idea just to walk out on the stage with no band at all and just start singing whatever came to mind. I actually fought the idea for a while because it seemed almost too radical, but it became obvious what I was supposed to be doing.”
And my response that:
“You fight your best ideas, and you fight for you best ideas, but you only know they’re the best ideas when they work.”
Yet (barrowing the stucture of another famous quotation):
“That depends on what the meaning of the word ‘work’ is.”
Even if it doesn’t work, and usually something difficult won’t, at least at first; and if you have checked Doubt at the door, invited in a fair amount of Skepticism, asked for blessings from your brain and your heart and your family, taken an unpopular stance, made your best plan, or even tried something new without a plan, listened to Fear without fearing Fear, and then crashed and burned and rolled on the ground, riling in pain; if then, someone rings the bell of Shame in your face, feel free to use this one (from an former colleague named Lou):
“Let’s see you do any fucking better.”
Blessings. Have a paradoxical day.
(It’s a sign of intelligence or confusion or both.)