Saturday, October 21, 2006

is it enough?

A couple of years ago, my friend JJ and her husband tired of city life and moved to a beautiful river-community 200 miles south. Before they moved, JJ and I had met every three or four weeks (in a coffee shop, of course!) where we’d share our goals for the month ahead, and hold each other accountable for our achievements from the previous month.

We’d leave our sessions feeling invigorated, ready to take on the world!

We’d explore the creative process. We’d share breakthroughs. And—since we are both somewhat type-A personalities—we’d remind each other to take good care of ourselves and those we love along the way.


JJ would grill me: What have you done for yourself this month? Have you been working out? Have you been eating healthfully? Have you been having fun?

Well sure, JJ, I've been having fun; probably more than most. I have hours of sheer glee. And some ridiculously goofy days and weekends, filled with endless laughter and wonderful people. But as we zoom toward the close of another year—and another birthday—I’m doing my “annual thing” and questioning if that’s enough.

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I was raised by war-babies. Wonderful, well-grounded people who, at three- and six-years old, were regularly woken from scattered dreams by the rude screech of air-raid alarms announcing approaching enemy bombers. In the dead of night, my grandparents bundled their frightened babies into coarse, dry blankets, scooped them in strong arms, and rushed them to the bottom of the garden. There, they huddled underground in the cold corrugated-iron of their Anderson bomb shelter. With teeth chattering, from fear as much as cold, they told stories and tried to snatch moments of sleep, all the while listening for the eerie silence that preceded a falling bomb.

These people were pragmatists. They had no side to them. No superficial gloss. No hidden agendas or devious manipulative meanderings. You knew exactly where you stood with them at any given moment of any given day.  They were resilient and no matter what came their way, they knew they'd get through it.

I grew up with that British Stiff-Upper-Lip doctrine; hold your head high, suck it up, get over yourself. Do the right thing. Don’t be self-centered; don’t show-off; don't be rude; don’t use other people. Work hard. Do things to the best of your ability, or don't do them at all. Think of those less fortunate than yourself. Be grateful for what you have. Do what you have to do; don’t whine about it. And by God, girl, if you’re going to do it … do it with passion!  

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For the most part, I don't whine about things, but as I review the past year—at that birthday time of year—and what I think, might-or-should-or-could-or-would-be, it feels somewhat self-indulgent, maybe be even narcissistic.  This 'self-thinking' is incongruent to the way I was raised ... my parents and certainly my grandparents, would call it self-absorption ... then add, "This is what's wrong with the world today". Maybe they reflected on these things too, but didn't say them out loud. Given their generations, I think that's most likely.

In today’s society when so much emphasis is placed on self-fulfillment, self-growth, self-improvement, self-actualization, self-self-self ... have we become a selfish society?  Is it selfish to expect to live, to learn, to laugh—and most importantly—to love out loud?

Is it self-indulgent to want to rise above historical references, constraining beliefs, self-imposed limitations? Is it enough to be content with what-is? To concede to the perfunctory veneer of what is easy or expected or known? Is it enough to yield to what is gratuitously given? Or what simply comes our way?

Or should we strive for what, or whom, we ache for? For that which makes us burn? For what we perceive life might-or-should-or-could-or-would-be if we took a risk; if we laid ourselves bare, opened ourselves up, and stretched beyond the comfort of our current being?

I know what I think. What do you think?

16 comments:

Ant said...

I think moderation and the middle-line. Think of yourself (it's our only ultimate frame of reference after all) but avoid the extreme ends of the spectrum of complete selfishness, or insufferable selflessness.

And be confident that what you're doing is the correct way to go. If it ain't, try to fix it so that it is.

What's a "type A personality"?

Within Without said...

Hi Bibi...

Wow, that's a lot of stuff.

If someone feels narcissistic and self-absorbed, there's a reason for it and they need to look deeper.

Too many people stay on the surface and ignore those calls to look inside, they keep tamping everything down and leaving it there...the unhappiness in their marriages, with their careers, all kinds of things.

That won't allow them to "strive for what—or whom—we ache for."

If you're content, you won't feel those aches. If something aches, you have to soothe it or satisfy it or investigate it.

I'm just sayin...

Mike M. said...

Hey Vic, you're one of most grounded people I've ever met so I'm thinking you're throwing this question out there rather than seeking answers for yourself as you say you know what you think.

So my 10 cents is that we should question and always strive. Otherwise we stay stagnant and just go through the motions.

Thing is most people can't be bothered and would rather stay lukewarm than rock the boat so to speak. We've both known plenty of people who fall into that category. TTFN girlie.

Kiyotoe said...

I'm no buddhist but I have read plenty of Buddhist material as well as the whole "Zen" reference point, and I can honestly say that the concept of being true to one's self and only worrying about that which makes your "spirit" happy, does wonders for a person's stress level and anxiety.

In other words, it may be necessary to be somewhat selfish or self centered in order to maintain some level of sanity these days.

Bibi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bibi said...

Interesting comments from all!

Ant and Kiyotoe, I agree with your philosophies on balance and being true to yourself. The Buddhist philosophy says we create our own suffering via attachment; I think there’s truth in that. And in taking 100% responsibility, ie. as Ant says, if it’s not right, fix it.

Within Without, I didn’t explain very well and didn’t mean narcissistic in the clinical sense ... however, compared to my grandparents’ generation of 80+ years ago, our culture (maybe more so in the US)is self-absorbed, and that’s not something they’d understand.

I’m not saying it’s right or wrong—just that they wouldn’t understand.

Mikey!! Appreciate your 10 cents… Yes, know how you feel about the mass of walking dead as you call them. Vivre dans l’instant avec passion, mon ami!

Bottom line, how can we take ourselves too seriously? Life’s short and there’s a big wide world out there...

Ultimately we choose how we feel … I like to laugh. ;-)

Mrs. Mac said...

Some people in my circle of friends express that they are waiting for God to open doors, however, I think that God can stir our hearts and we need to get the wheels turning ... not just sit back and wait. He directs my path, but allows me to make choices along the way.

Thanks for your comment on my blog today.

John Ivey said...

No, it is not selfish to live and love out loud, nor is it self-indulgent to strive for more than the status quo. I think about death from time to time, and if I am lucid and awake when I pass away what might be my greatest regret? The answer is simple: I didn't do all with my life that I could have. Yet, I still find it too easy to put off for another day. So by all means parasail every chance you get and squeeze from life every drop of excitement and fulfillment it has to offer.

kj said...

bibi, i'm visiting you from within without's blog. this is a great post. my opinion once basic needs are taken care of, and before a few of us reach "self actualization" (not me!), we strive, we try, we sort, we hope, and we love at all costs. i'm actually glad of all that.

thanks for an important ponder.

:) kj

Bibi said...

Mrs. Mac, yes, once we start the wheels turning, things seem to open up.

John, my family has always echoed your sentiments...the only thing they regret as they get older are the things they didn't do out of fear (conformity, apprehension, comfort level etc.) Here’s to living out loud!!

KJ, you are so welcome and thanks for stopping by and giving your input.

John Ivey said...

Vicki, I wanted to thank you for your interest in my site. I hold you in high esteem as a writer, and I really like your philosophy on life. I check your site frequently and am always excited to see a new post. You never disappoint.

Bibi said...

John, thank you so much! That was much appreciated, especially after today's stressful load (I think I grew a few more grey hairs today!)

Anonymous said...

Great post, Bibi, and lots of food for thought. I work with teenagers in music and theater, and am constantly encouraging them to step out of the box and expand their horizons.

As our generation has evolved from our parents and grandparens, I think we've learned that expanding our lives and stretching our limits is a way of growing into a stronger, more itelligent, and efficient being. It's part of the process of improving upon our humanity, by becoming more fulfilled and satisfied people, with more to offer others in the world.

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

I think my upper lip needs a break. It's getting sore from all this stiffness.

Margie said...

I think that kids today need a little more of that doctrine you talked about. I think of that song by Casting Crowns "while we were sleeping" and it says "As we're sung to sleep by philosophies That save the trees and kill the children", I think people from the Gen X and millenial generations usually have an ulterior motive instead of doing what's right.

Thanks for a great blog.

Bibi said...

Becca...you sound like a great mentor to your students. And I think you're right on regarding generations building on each other.

Ultra Toast LOL, you always make me laugh ;-D

Margie, thank you, and thanks for sharing the song...I've not heard of it...interesting!