Someone recently asked me: “Are you struggling with your individualism or something?” And I answered “no”, but the thought felt incomplete. Days later it came back to me, the question, and then the whole answer: “No, but I am struggling with the consequences of my individualism.”
If you know me at all, you know that death is something I think about on the regular, and you probably also know that I’m quite terrified of it. It is perhaps the endlessly unfolding and expanding path of learning that maintains my state of terror: I love so much living here on this planet, reflecting on life and its complexities, learning and growing, that I do not ever wish to leave. I especially do not wish to leave until I’ve figured it all out, but I suspect that there is no “all”, I suspect that the more we learn, the more there is to learn. It is perhaps, unlike life, endless.
The best I can do, then, while I am here, is to never stop learning. Never grow old or stale or stagnant, never stop questioning, never stop making mistakes, and to try to breathe and move and think in a way that allows me to continually expand.
Recently, I have felt very expansive. The whole summer has kind of been a blur—so many gears turning in different directions, doors and windows opening and closing, things around me and in me both darkening and lightening. There are some pieces of my old self on the line, and I watch myself watch them. I’m just allowing these pieces to sit there for a while, basking in the clear light of consciousness, while I figure out what to do with them. So much, sometimes, needs to be done away with, let go of. It’s both terrifying and exhilarating, this process of change, but I’ll take it, any day, over motionlessness; benign perhaps, but eventually stiffening, fracturing, afraid to move at all.
I do not care much for rules, nor for tenets, yet over the years I managed to create several for myself. It seemed more manageable if the rules I had to live by were imposed for me and by me, rather than by someone else. I’m in the process of doing away with that. Over the last year, I’ve come to realize that those rules were invented by older and older versions of myself in rather feeble attempts to have control over something in the world—in this world, where, at any time, the people we love the most can be taken from us, when our own lives can be taken from us. In a world where people can take advantage of us, hurt us, or try to ruin us in order to protect themselves. When I was younger and more naive, these rules appeared to work, but around the time I turned 30, they became a sort of prison. So, instead of rules, I’ll go by feeling, I’ll go with impressions and perceptions, with my heart and gut, with my will to do well and right. You might think that sounds crazy. You can think that.
It is perhaps not easy to be the truest version of yourself. When I was a teenager, I thought I had it all figured out. I was quite unapologetically myself, but, growing up complicates things. I had to run into a few walls, hit a few doors, and fall into a few black holes to learn and understand just how costly it is to be one’s self, but also, how utterly priceless. For a while, with the help of my rules, it seemed easier to hide bits and pieces, here and there, of who I really was or what I really thought, felt, or wanted. Eventually, though, such tactics became damning, exhaustive, and shrinking. Perhaps some people can keep that up, but I had to give it up.
The world we live in is one full of pretense. It is full of ego and game-playing and fear and appeasing. It is full of accusation and finger-pointing. To be anything that runs counter to the world we live in simply guarantees friction. To be plain and real and honest, to have the guts to look inward at all of your own darkness instead of always pointing toward someone else, to be humble, to be fully yourself—to be these things means there are consequences. And they aren’t always pretty, or easy, or neatly packaged or swiftly understood. I have, for years, been unable to reconcile the price with the pricelessness; I’ve been unwilling to face the consequences of what it means to be myself in the world we live in.
But the world before me glitters when I look at it squarely, from my truest and most unfiltered perspective. Sunlight fractures itself against the air, insects become immaculate symphonies, dusk makes my bones pool, and my heart—my heart becomes light, spacious, almost liquid, almost air.
To see and experience the world unfiltered, unfettered, as I was intended to—there is simply no price I’m not willing to pay, no consequence I’m not willing to face. I don’t care if it never gets easy, if there is never security or stability or predictability, or answers or explanations, or neatness and tidiness. I don’t care.
Tom Robbins says it well, too. Both the title of this post and the quotation below belong to him.
“Our individuality is all, all, that we have. There are those who barter it for security, those who repress it for what they believe is the betterment of the whole society, but blessed in the twinkle of the morning star is the one who nurtures it and rides it, in grace and love and wit, from peculiar station to peculiar station along life’s bittersweet route.”