I finally got around to reading a book Andrew lent me 3 summers ago, "Deliver Us From Evil" by Ravi Zacharias. (Andrew, I'll ship you a box of your books back at some point. They're excellent. Thank you.) There's a section in the book that goes like this:
An ancient Indian proverb says, "Whatever you are overflowing with will spill out when you are bumped." ...the point of this proverb is that one's reactions may be a truer test of character than one's actions. Actions, though sometimes impressive, can be premeditated and designed to deceive, but reactions come from the overflow of the heart and are impulsive.
This probably comes as a surprise to anyone except my closest friends, but... I'm a control freak. I've often said things like "I plan to improvise" - and what I mean by that is "I'm going to allow myself to be spontaneous, but within these boundaries" - it's like setting up a virtual machine and running rampant within that, buoyed by the knowledge that the VM can be nuked at any minute. The world looks and thinks "ah, that's bare metal," but it's not - it's KVM.
(Forgive the analogies. I am a geek.)
I'm scared of my bare metal. I'm not sure what it is, and for all my attempts at introspection and self-knowledge, I haven't really wanted to find out - and of course that means nobody else ever will. And when I peek, I'm curious about what I see, but I never actually touch it.
I re-read this post from March of this year now in a different light. For context, I was writing about how my mom had asked me one of those "psych test" questions, where the answers you give "mean something" - you have four animals, you have to give them all away but one, in what order do you do it? Supposedly, the monkey is your friends, the lamb is your kids, the horse is your significant other, and the tiger is your work. My responses:
1. Nix the monkey. What am I going to do with a monkey? I also have opposable thumbs. Just let the monkey go wander on its own.
2. Shear the lamb, have wool. Next, rather than maintain the lamb another year until its wool grows back, BBQ lamb. Yummy. Or, if not in survival context, just let the lamb out to wander around its own pasture.
3. Set the horse loose. It’s useful for traveling for when I want to see interesting places and/or get somewhere fast, but if it’s too much to maintain, let it go find its own grass.
4. Keep the tiger. I’m assuming it’s my tiger, trained well enough to do my will as necessary – in that case, it serves triple duty as companionship, protection, and hunter-of-food.
I don't actually believe this stuff is perfectly accurate! or gives blinding insights into the TRUTH!!! or anything like that, but it does make a fascinating data point, and... it's one that makes me somewhat uneasy. As I go along, I'm learning that I'm someone who...
- Systematically divests herself of all responsibilities and connections whenever possible - I'm trying to have a temporary life, I am running away from lots of stuff, I do stop myself from breathing and looking back and resting, possibly because I'm scared of what I'll see when I look. I don't want to own a car, own a house, part of me wants to live out of a backpack forever and be able to pick up and go in a moment for any reason without telling anyone.
- Compartmentalizes her life and fiercely protects her own control over it, and doesn't want to let anybody in to touch or affect it, because she feels like she's fought for her freedom way too long and doesn't want to give that up. Not that defending one's freedom is bad - just that... sometimes... you protect yourself against things you shouldn't.
- Doesn't outwardly display emotions other than "excited" - I sometimes allow myself to look a little sad or tired or confused, but I can also just choose to stop that and be functional. Sometimes this is a sign of strength - sometimes you really just do need to grit your teeth and get through stuff - but if done for extended periods of time, even when you could relax, it's also a sign that you're scared of what might happen if you do, and that's not strength, that's an attempt to maintain the illusion of it. Who among my friends has ever seen me cry?
Not really liking what I see, here. Basically, what I'm overflowing with seems to be a hair-trigger on "I WILL DEFEND MY FREEDOM BY RUNNING AWAY!!!" and when I'm bumped, it spills out and I... run away, emotionally. I'll tackle problems head-on, but not ones inside myself - I'll block those things out by doing work, by helping folks, by learning something, anything except allowing myself to breathe or rest or feel, because... when I'm really spontaneous, what comes out? If I screw up and can't kill the VM myself, who's going to pick up the pieces?
I grew up living my life under the assumption that people and friends and family and such were all well and good, but if I was going to have the freedom I so desperately wanted as a kid (and still treasure), then freedom also meant that I was on my own, and in the end, that was it. If I leaned on other people, they either (1) would try to help me in a way that didn't help, because they didn't really know me, or (2) wouldn't care and would just walk away.
I have problems with trust. And this is all a chicken-and-egg situation - if I don't trust anyone, then of course I'll have nobody to trust. If I don't pause and breathe and decide to look at things and if I don't like the reality of what I see, fix it - then I'll just keep running and nothing's ever going to change.
This doesn't mean I think I'm a terrible person, I've done a lot, I work hard, I help people, I believe that I have a good heart and that I'm smart and have been fortunate and blessed with opportunities and incredible friends and a wonderful family. I'm not saying I've never done anything worthwhile or that I've never been happy or that the future is hopeless or anything like that. Life is, honestly, quite good. Am I happy? Yes. Am I satisfied? In a way... but not really.
I don't let myself really trust, or feel, or be vulnerable. And I'm not happy with that. It's scary to change that, but I don't want to be a robot. You have to "give up" an awful lot to breathe, though - there's a voice that says "but if you breathe you won't be doing enough!" (enough what?) and I'm trying to figure out where it comes from. I'm used to listening to the fire and the hunger that says do more, do more, do what I love, do more, help more people, have a bigger impact... but I know that if I keep on going full-steam on that without a break, I'll burn out. (Again. Burnout isn't fun, and it gets worse each time.)
There was a time where I would accept burnout as a terrible but acceptable cost, because I could rationalize it with "the only thing I'm good for in this world is to Do Stuff, so I'm just going to optimize my usefulness to the world, and it costs what it costs." But that's not true. I'm not put on this world to be a unit of extreme functionality. I'm also here to live, and to find out what "live" means. I know all this intellectually, but I don't really know it beyond the logical components of my brain yet, and it's difficult to let it sink in.
I originally wrote this post weeks ago, at the very end of November when I got back from Thanksgiving. I showed Sebastian the draft when he visited at the start of December, before I flew out to the Philippines. And I'm sitting in my grandmother's living room (for internet connectivity) in the Philippines now, posting it, because I feel like it's something I want to say and share.
Ironically, nobody lives in this living room; it's full of nice furniture and pretty decorative objects, and formally-posed framed portraits of our extended family, including only-vaguely-recognizable shots of a teenage me managing to look less uncomfortable than I actually feel in makeup and a dress. However, on the shelf full of portraits of just grandchildren, there are professionally-taken photographs of all the others in my generation... but the shot of myself and my brother is the two of us in t-shirts, me with short hair at 15 or so (when I first cut it to be as short as it is today), grinning widely as a 12-year-old Jason pulls me in for the shot in front of a temple in China.
I do not know how to bring this post (or my thoughts) to a satisfying conclusion, but I would like to at least put them out there, as a waymarker, before I continue on. So here we go.