Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Importance of the Journey

I used to have an art poster in my office that depicted a path through some woods with an inscription below that said, “Success is a journey, not a destination.” There was something about that thought that appealed intuitively to me.  However, though I tried to live by the message of that saying, I’m afraid that, for most of my adult life, I failed to live up to the ideal represented by it.

At some point during my journey through adulthood, I came to realize that I had learned certain survival patterns during my childhood that were attributable to the abuse and dysfunction I experienced within my family. One of those behavior patterns was to “get through” whatever life was throwing at me. The object was not to enjoy the journey, but simply to bear down and force my way through the difficulties I was experiencing at the time.

This survival pattern worked the way it was supposed to when I was a child and adolescent, i.e., it helped me to survive. Of course, this pattern wasn’t something I ever consciously thought about. Thus, when I carried it, parasite-like, into my adulthood, I wasn’t aware its presence and didn’t really discern the pattern until I was well into my marriage. 

It was only when, in the process of dealing for the first time in any meaningful way with the legacy of my abusive childhood, that I came to recognize this survival pattern and to dimly begin to understand the effect that this pattern had had on my adult life. What had worked for me as a child had turned on me as an adult; what had once been useful had turned into a cancer that had eaten away at my Self and, in consequence, my marriage and my family.

This “survival technique” was especially damaging when paired with the perfectionistic goals and behavior patterns I adopted after I joined the LDS Church. One of the main reasons I decided to be baptized was that I saw the Church as being able to provide me with everything I had not had as a child and adolescent, i.e., a perfect, happy, idyllic family, a life filled with purpose, a knowledge of absolute truth paired with the comfort of knowing that one’s life is in harmony with God’s will.

Thus, after joining the church, after getting married, I pursued these goals (in addition to my goal of ruthlessly smothering my gay nature) with relentless determination. Applying the same techniques I had learned as a child, I single-mindedly and doggedly did everything I was “supposed” to do in order to achieve these goals that I had adopted. Naturally, the LDS mindset of tending to view this life as merely a step toward the afterlife served to constantly feed oxygen to the fire of my zeal.

In the terms I have previously described, I “bore down” to get through whatever situation presented itself to me:  getting married, going through graduate school, working in my profession, serving in the Church, having children and dealing with the endless financial pressures that presented themselves along the way. 

In so doing, I didn’t “stop to smell the roses”; in fact, I didn’t even notice the roses, let alone stop to smell them. I didn’t focus on enjoying life; I didn’t know how. I didn’t focus on relationships. I didn’t savor life. I didn’t enjoy the journey. I had been focused on the “destination”, rather than the journey; and because I expected success to be the destination, I failed. Unfortunately, tragically, it wasn’t until years later that I realized that I had failed, because of my own inadequacies, weaknesses, and learned behavior patterns, to find the true path to “success” – which led not to some distant destination, but to the heart of the NOW.

It has only since starting the process of coming out that I have truly come to recognize this pattern in my life which was initially a survival mechanism but then turned into a poison that was administered in small doses day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. I now see – although not in totality, I’m sure – the effects of this poison. And it has only been since coming out that I have begun a process of purification to rid myself of these poisons and a process of preventative care whereby I reject old behavior patterns and instead embrace newer, healthier ones.

I have begun this process in my relationships with my children, particularly my older ones – of treating the journey as important as the destination, if not more so. I have already written on this topic as pertaining to my older children and will yet write more, I’m sure. As to my younger children, I’m enjoying spending time with them (such as I did this past Saturday) on my terms (i.e., not my wife’s terms), and it is amazing to me how different I feel when I’m with them at my place or out in the community, as opposed to when I’m back at the family home with them. I can’t put new wine in those old skins, so to speak; for when I’m back at the house, I feel old expectations, old behavior patterns, old responses. Places I do not want to go.

I have also begun this process in embracing those things which give my life texture and meaning, that feed my sense of Self. Things such as attending cultural events, like the community theatre production I saw on Friday night with a group of friends; or the organ recital I attended on Sunday afternoon; or such as – at long last – a concert at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, which I attended on Sunday night, drinking in Mozart and Bach in the darkened splendor of that edifice. What an experience!

Life is indeed a journey, one which is intended to be lived, not endured.

“All journeys have secret destinations
of which the traveler is unaware.”

- Martin Buber

“A person cannot approach the divine
by reaching beyond the human.
To become human is what this individual person
has been created for.”

- Martin Buber

1 comment:

  1. Dear Invictus,

    How well I understand the feeling of survival: I have also spent a majority of my life trying to survive, yet with, luckily, my moments of oxygen when I allowed myself to live and not focus on the survival.

    Coming out, to your true self, is allowing you to taste, feel, see, hear life differently. I am so happy to see that you have realized this. Once we do this, I think the pressure is finally lifted.

    And what a wonderful opportunity that you are able to enjoy your children! Without the survival script and roles you had at your previous home, you are able to interact with them and others differently.

    I want to leave you with several quotes by one of my favorite writers. Sorry, it is in French, but I know that you can read it - I hope! For the others, it is from "Nuptials", one of Albert Camus' less-known writings: his lyrical essays where he describes his love of life (yes, the true man behind the author of The Stranger who appears so cold and calculated!) and is a read that I recommend to anyone who wants to enjoy the journey. It is translated into English.

    «Qu’est-ce que le bonheur sinon l’accord vrai entre un homme et l’existence qu’il mène ?»

    "C'est finalement au plus fort de l'hiver, que j'ai compris qu'il existait en moi un invincible printemps."

    “Je comprends ici ce qu'on appelle gloire: le droit d'aimer sans mesure. … il me suffit d'apprendre patiemment la difficile science de vivre qui vaut bien tout leur savoir vivre….
    J'avais au cœur une joie étrange, celle-là même qui naît d'une conscience tranquille.
    Il y a un sentiment que connaissent les acteurs lors­qu'ils ont conscience d'avoir bien rempli leur rôle, c'est-à-dire, au sens le plus précis, d'avoir fait coïncider leurs gestes et ceux du personnage idéal qu'ils incarnent, d'être entrés en quelque sorte dans un dessin fait à l'avance et qu'ils ont d'un coup fait vivre et battre avec leur propre cœur.

    C'était précisément cela que je ressentais : j'avais bien joué mon rôle. J'avais fait mon métier d'homme et d'avoir connu la joie tout un long jour ne me semblait pas une réussite exceptionnelle, mais l'accomplissement ému d'une condition qui, en certaines circonstances, nous fait un devoir d'être heureux.”