Self-help is such a huge industry that it’s become the M.O. for many of us who want to be the best selves we can be. But in some ways I think it’s become insidious in its negation of who we are.
For instance, perhaps I could watch less TV. Then again, I enjoy stories. The shows provide an escape, and I also learn and am inspired by what others see as mindless drivel.
Take The Almighty Johnsons, a kiwi show about four brothers who are Norse gods. The gods’ attributes contribute both power and weakness to their characters. For instance Ull, the god of hunting, while good at games and finding things, can easily cross the line into stalker territory. Bragi, the god of poetry is a natural at PR, but he is also a bit of douche, using his powers to get women in bed. These gods can’t deny their powers, nor the fact that there is a dark side to them.
If I were among the pantheon, I would be the goddess of the escape. When I was young, I had a knack for breaking in (and out) of places, though seldom causing any real mischief. I wanted to move between spaces, explore different worlds, and I couldn’t see any reason why I should be locked out or in. I slid out of my bedroom window at night, and I wandered into people’s homes, into schools, into hotels after hours. This may have developed because, unless I was in trouble, I was virtually invisible in my family. I could leave for long, unaccounted for hours and return without having to explain myself.
To checkout of the void of a lonely childhood, I read books that transported me to other worlds. I remember fondly Désirée, a very long historical romance novel about Napolean and his lover, where an entire week went by and I existed in a different place in time even when my face wasn’t in its pages.
When I was locked up – first briefly in juvenile detention and then for about a year in a behavior modification program – for running away from home as an adolescent, I escaped by constructing elaborate fantasies and daydreaming my way into other realms that were more appealing than the church pews I was forced to sit in the entire day to be reprogrammed. I never made an actual break for it because though I’m dreamy, I’m also practical, and I knew I’d be better off in the long run there than on the streets.
After being locked up, I learned to immerse myself in academics, using scholarship and achievement as a socially acceptable form of checking out of the real world. In my early adulthood my problems, like my abusive marriage to an older man, went away as I immersed myself in literature and philosophy. When I abandoned my marriage, I escaped my troubles with drugs and alcohol and men, none of whom I kept around for long. As I got older, I gave up the escapes that were the most destructive. I made a commitment to better self-care. I also committed to a few other things: To my daughter (which kept me in the same geographic place for 18 years), to my writing, to my cats, and to Truth. Not necessarily in that order.
The expression of escape changed. Fundamentally, however, I am still a free spirit. Especially when it comes to ideas.
I have a friend Paul, who regularly calls me because he has “figured something out.” I’ll answer the phone and he’ll deliver some truth he has arrived at such as “It’s all love…love is not the exception” or “If we’re suffering, we’re in ego.” Generally there’s a long story that accompanies the realization. I made the mistake once of saying, after he delivered his punchline (the realization), “Well, Paul, that’s an absolute, and absolutes usually aren’t true.” There was a long moment of silence for the dead idea.
In the interest of our friendship, I have had to learn listen to Paul’s stories and not to respond with the exceptions that do, in fact, unravel his theories. Some people like the solidity of absolutes; it makes them feel safe. As the goddess of escapism, I’m also the queen of exceptions because exceptions allow the mind to wriggle free of the confines of a governing concept.
“I can see how you would be difficult for people,” our mutual friend John said (I tend to collect friends named after the apostles, evidently). “You’re hard to pin down.”
In fact, one of my favorite things about teaching English was that I teach thinking – that is how to think, and what people have thought, rather than a specific point-of-view. For me, my superpower is that I think fluidly, I am often unattached to ideas, and I can see things from multiple perspectives.
Sure this comes with its challenges, for instance, I can be indecisive. But when it comes to my relationship with Truth, it actually is helpful. I’m not talking about truth with a lowercase “t” as in “Did you take the garbage out? Tell the truth.” I mean the Truth about the nature of being, about why we are here, where we go when we die, and what it all means (if anything).
I’m very comfortable with a multiplicity of views. And I’m very comfortable knowing that these are questions that point at the infinite (God-type stuff) and that my intellect and language is finite and so my thoughts and words can only generally point in the direction of what I am discussing. And when this infinite shifts and takes on new form, I’m comfortable going “and there it is again over there contradicting what I just said.” It’s part of the mystery of life. And I can know it and revere it without being able to explain it.
Of course, part of the nature of being in flow like this is that I tend to not attach myself to things like money or people for very long. It has its challenges, for sure. And when I get on a self-improvement jag, I can sometimes start yanking at the roots of this thing, forgetting that in doing so, I’m going to eradicate what makes me me. I named after the wind, after all, and destined to slide between cracks into spaces that want to be explored. And like wind, I may settle down, but never for long.
It seems to me that my job is to know my power, to explore new opportunities to use it, and to do my best to use it responsibly – with the understanding that sometimes my power is more powerful than my will to control it.
The dark side of awesome is still awesome. What’s your superpower? What’s its dark side? How can you help save the world?
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