Sunday, February 12, 2012

Possibility and Outcome

I read somewhere recently, probably in a tweet, that "those people who think anything is possible are delusional." I found the remark to be quite offensive, but after giving it some thought, decided that it once again is a matter of balancing extreme views. (That also tends to be the remark of someone whose dreams have ended up in failure, and therefore turn a cynical eye towards anyone who wants to pursue their own. A normal reaction perhaps, but overblown.)

As children, if we haven't been beaten down by the extremes of modern psychology and education, we have vivid imaginations. Imagination is one of those things that is marginally acceptable as a child, but not acceptable as an adult. We equate imagination with irrationality, and when we grow up we are expected to have full functioning frontal lobes and be practical, reasonable, and logical. Yet, without imagination, we don't make progress as a society, technologically or scientifically. Great discoveries can be made through dreams, or just metaphorical associations. As I've said before--rationality is terribly important in making good decisions. However, we tend to give it so much importance that we don't trust ourselves and our own instincts.

When it comes to possibilities, we limit ourselves to what we can do based on current information, and current practical factors. It is true that not all possibilities are open to us, but if we aren't open-minded, we may miss opportunities to get the very thing that we want. You may be "safe" by not taking those chances, but you'll never live your own life. It will undoubtedly be the life someone else decides you should have.

There is always a balance factor. As we grow up, the importance of things like college is stressed, so that you can get a good job. When I was young, my mother wanted me to go to secretarial school, and of course the assumption was that I'd get married and have children. Yes, my mother grew up in the 1940s and had that kind of mentality, but not entirely--she also stressed that one should have their own education and not be reliant on a spouse for their material needs. She had seen too much of that go wrong in her own family. Today, you hear a lot about "getting your money's worth", or ROI, for your college education. Given the kinds of jobs that are out there today--I have to wonder, how many people go to college and are happy sitting in a cubicle working 9 to 5 every day? Even if you make a lot of money (and most don't), I find it hard to believe that this is what people dream about, or aspire to be.

This is not to say that these jobs can't provide a measure of satisfaction, but often, one's satisfaction comes outside of work. You hear a lot about people waiting for the day when they can be "free of their job" and do what they want. But I find that most people really don't know what they want. Material wants only go so far, and other types of satisfaction on a deeper level may not even be a thought. I was talking with a co-worker the other day, who said she didn't care about any meaning in anything, she just wanted to be sure she was providing the best for her children. "Yes," I said, "but don't you also want a career that makes you feel fulfilled, and not just a job? Isn't that why you're getting an education?" She agreed that this was true. "So," I said to her, "your aspirations may not be what you consider 'deep', but they are about feeling fulfilled on more than just a superficial level. They don't have to be grandiose." Often, I find those bigger "dreams" involve making a difference in someone else's life.

Everyone has different needs and wants, and not everyone needs the same thing to reach their dreams. But recently, I have discovered something that I've read about and probably talked about many times, but never really understood until recently. Like the numinous experience of "everything is", it can't be understood at all until it's experienced. And that experience is the one of not caring about outcomes.

Since I've made some of the decisions mentioned in earlier blog posts this year, I've found that I am free of the desire to know how things are going to turn out. That was always a factor in decisions--I'd use both logic and intuition to try to figure out where I was going to end up. Now I no longer care where I end up. There is nothing depressing or despairing about this--it's just going from day to day, seeing what opportunities present themselves, and listening to my intuition to decide what to act on and what to avoid. It is remarkably liberating, and I've found a number of unexpected opportunities that have sprung from not being over-planned, or worried so much about the "why", or how this will help me "down the road." Some things work out, and some don't. There's no reason, and there doesn't have to be one.

A friend of mine recalled to me the Joseph Campbell "Power of Myth" series with Bill Moyers, and I decided to re-watch a couple of episodes. In one of them, Bill Moyers talks about the purpose of life. Campbell says there is no purpose--what we are looking for is an experience of being "alive". I would fully agree with that, and I would suggest that one gets there not by planning and trying, but by letting it happen, trusting that you will do the right thing, even if it seems "impractical".

Jung talks about the perfection of the psyche, and one of its attributes is that everything has an opposite. Heaven is within you, and so is Hell. Perfection requires both sides. Letting go and not striving so much for one or the other can actually lead you to a balance without even trying. A negative experience or sorrow does not have to mean I have to strive harder to be "good", or that I'm being "punished" (as we often unconsciously think in the West). It's just an experience like any other.

Back to my original thought--it is not "delusion" to believe that anything is possible, even knowing that not all opportunities are available. But the likelihood that you will end up in the best possible place for you is enhanced if you are open to all possibilities, and not attached to the outcome of any of them.

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