Becoming Your Own Model

“Society makes our existence wretchedly difficult at times, hence our impotence and the imperfection of our work…. I myself am suffering under an absolute lack of models.” –Vincent Van Gogh, 1889

“What I want to discuss here is the problem of ‘authority.’ Usually we’re either an authority to others (telling them what to do), or we’re seeking someone to be an authority for us (telling us what to do). And yet we would never be looking for an authority if we had any confidence in ourselves and our understanding…. There is no authority outside of my experience.” –Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen

It is hard to chart your own path when no one has lived your life before.

Especially when you haven’t lived it yourself.

People are full of opinions. Opinions saturate the world. Those of us who are very sensitive get a little infected. The opinions of other people about who we are, what we should want, what we should do, can make us go a little crazy. Because their opinions, in the end, can be of only little concern. We have to make our decisions ourselves.

Each day, we make decisions. We don’t always realize we’re doing it. We operate from a place of habit, and we often do what we’re expected to do. Often. For some of us, always. But there is choice there. Sure, if you don’t go to work, you may get docked pay, and then you’ll have trouble paying your rent. But you can make that choice. You do have that power.

Just like you have the power to stop doing something that’s making your life hell. Just like you have power to alter your life if it’s not working for you, or take a different path than the one set out for you. You might not want to, and the prospect may make you filled with fear. But you can do it. You always have a choice.

Something that weighs on my heart is watching people stay in bad situations because they feel powerless to change them, or they’re too scared to take an alternate route because they haven’t seen it done, or they don’t have faith in themselves. Many people live their lives stuck. And stuck is an awful place to be. I recognize that there are times you need to suck it up and stay put before you figure out your next step. But when you get stuck, and you live there indefinitely, you begin to feel like worms are eating your insides. You start to wonder if your existence matters at all, why you were even put on this earth if all you do is suffer and have no energy and can’t get out from the bottom of a well.

You don’t have to live that way. And if you’re there, and you want to get out but don’t know how, find someone who understands, someone who is willing to hold your hand a bit. Who it is may surprise you. (And if that doesn’t work, heck, call me. I’ll talk to you.)

Part of why we get stuck is that we don’t have models in our direct, waking life who can show us the way to go. Maybe we don’t have people we admire in that particular way, people who have done something we want to do. Maybe we don’t have people we can talk to about what it takes, and how to get to that other place, that place of the unknown. Usually, all we need is someone to give us a little boost when we’re feeling hopeless.

For years, I looked in book after book, trying to find an author whose trajectory was like mine. I was looking to find my story in someone else, so that I could see it and know what to do, how to proceed, if everything would turn out okay.

But my story has never been written before. Jana, in this incarnation, has never existed. And so my greatest commitment in this life has to be being my own. Honoring my course, not someone else’s. Discovering my path, my way.

That does not mean doing it without help, or love, or support.

Because no man or woman is an island. We are not meant to live that way. It’s not healthy to push everybody out, to always sit alone in the dark. We need people who can support us, who can love and accept us, without exerting a love akin to control, or, as Beck says above, authority. Those who think love is the same as authority have it backwards. Love is letting be. Sometimes that makes you engage more fully. Sometimes it means stepping back a bit, recognizing your own limitations. But love — the real thing — is accepting someone, warts and all, and saying, I am going to do my part to help you be the best you, and trust that you’ll help me be the best me, without trying to dominate or overpower you. I will do my best to discover you without judgment. And I will engage with you in that way.

We don’t have a lot of models like this of love, unfortunately. And so charting your own path, a path that may not have come before, involves more loneliness than it should.

I hate being fucking lonely. But I suppose it’s par for the course. Because I’m still figuring out how much you need to compromise of yourself to become your full potential in this life. I’m kind of thinking it’s nothing, but I don’t know. I do know I was not put here to merely live a half-life, a half-existence, where I spend every day feeling like my life got stolen from me, like someone else was living it and sucking up all the juice from its bones. I’d like to believe that the sacrifices of the women who brought me here should lead to me being the fullest of who I am, and achieving that (if such a thing can ever be achieved) is a way of honoring my lineage, honoring my course, honoring my God.

But I don’t know a lot of things. What I do know, is that, like Vincent Van Gogh, and like Alice Walker, who quotes him, and like many others who finally took steps to move deeper into who they are, I am operating without any intimate models showing me how to be. That’s scary. It’s like stepping on a rocky path in bare feet, hoping to one day reach smooth ground.

But damn, if it isn’t liberating.

If it isn’t fucking beautiful.

Image: “Wheatfield with Crows,” Vincent Van Gogh

This article was originally published on MotherJana.



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Blending the sacred and the sensual through art, yoga philosophy, commentary, and updated bible readings.