This is a long entry, but I hope you’ll read it. It may not be as eloquent as I’d hoped, but I feel like it has been two years in the making–it has taken me a really long time to figure out what I’ve written for you below, and while its gradual nature means it can’t quite be called an epiphany, it has the impact and direction of one.
It’s June. It has been more than a year since I graduated, and I’ve had a good few days’ utter rest and indolence to recover from the end of this school year. I think it’s time for a stock-taking.
In some ways I like to think of my self two years ago as the best self I’ve known yet. I was proud of myself then. I’d just written the longest and best piece of work and research I’d ever done, and I felt it heralded a good future for me. I was discovering the deep inner peace and exultation of a proper yoga practice, and it was making me into a much kinder and more tolerant person. I felt whole and well and at one with the universe, and I had faith in my current being as well as my capacity for growth.
Do I still feel that way now? I think, to be totally honest, I must say no. Do you think that is sad? I do.
I don’t think I can say anymore with total frankness that I am proud of who I am. Oh, I’m not hating myself by any means, and I don’t think I’ve done nothing to be proud of in the last couple of years. I’m proud of certain things I’ve done, and of the changes they reflect in me. I spent some time alone in a big city; I would have been scared to do that before. I’ve held two jobs, which, though temporary, gave me a greater appreciation of working life (such as it was). I’ve met many interesting people. I’ve gained a great deal more physical strength and flexibility, and learned a lot about my body. Most obviously, of course, are these: I’ve completed college and gotten through my first year of graduate school, and begun to learn how to manage time and work hard; and then there’s my continuing relationship with Erik, which only ever brings me joy. Of all these things I am extremely proud. I’m smarter, fitter, braver, and more experienced than I was a few years ago, and of that there is no doubt.
But then there’s my character, and my values, my desires, and my outlook, and this is where I am not so sure I am proud. These last two years have been very stressful for me; at least, if they’ve been easy by other people’s standards, they’ve been the hardest I’ve known. Many times I felt like I didn’t know what to do or what was happening to me. If this surprises you, that’s all right. I’m speaking of the down times, and there weren’t so many of those—just more than before. But this constant discontentment, the anxiety and sense of overwhelmedness, have eroded that powerful feeling of kindness and goodwill which were so wonderful to experience two summers ago. At that time I was trying to live by the saying of Seneca: “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.” I certainly haven’t been doing that anymore. I’ve become suspicious, wary; sometimes I’ve avoided human contact. In fact I’ve often sought not to deal with other people, because where there are people there are opportunities for bother, for taking up time, and for strong emotions that I haven’t wanted to deal with. Isn’t that a 180° change from Seneca’s axiom? It’s this change that has made me most sad. I’ve decreased contact considerably with friends and even family. I’ve known I was doing it, but, selfishly, could always find an excuse: I’ve been too busy, too stressed, too exhausted.
It may be true that my 2003 self, immersed as I was in yoga and suffused as I was with my own contentment, represents an ideal, a phase of my existence more than the whole of my nature. But I still like to think that in that sense of kindness and openness to all, I was truly at my best. It may have been naîve, but it’s a kind of naîveté that can only do good in this world, and I would welcome its return, gladly, quickly.
And yet in some way… if I’m to extend that generosity of forgiveness, that openness of expectation, to all other beings, then I must also give it to myself. And with that I can say that much as I despise the narrow self-centered turn my spirit has taken, I am not sure I could have avoided it. It is easy to be tolerant when we are happy; it is but a small thing to care for others when our own needs are met. In my own time of anguish (minor as it might seem to others who have experienced real suffering), it is only natural that I should seek to tend to myself first. That this has resulted in my distancing myself from my loved ones and lavishing what I really consider to be an excess of material goods and indulgence upon myself…
…well, I am just thankful that I begin to realize it.
In the interests of full disclosure—my honesty, at least, has never been in question—here is a brief summary of just this last quarter. That’s ten weeks.
I have spent $158.25 on bath and body products.
I have spent $178.41 on books and magazines (non-school).
I have spent $457.42 on clothes and accessories.
I have bought at least 20 CDs.
I have donated $190 to charitable organizations.
I have sent emails and letters on birthdays and when people were ill or unhappy.
I have baked cookies, tarts, brownies, or cakes for my classmates, once and sometimes twice a week, sometimes against the demands of my own fatigue.
It seems to me a sad reckoning, when I weigh my actions on behalf of others against those which have been solely for my own benefit. Now that I have written this all out, though, and looked up all the numbers, I think I see, as clearly as one can, my own behavior. As I always say, writing out my worries helps. I can see now the path I have been taking these past two years, and why that path has made me at times so confused and so unhappy. I see it’s time for a change, and I think I know where I need to make it.
Wish me luck and encouragement.
Next time, if I’m in the right mood for it: similarly introspective thoughts on engagement.
[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at satsumabug.livejournal.com.]