How Should a Person Be: a Quote

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This weekend I raced through Sheila Heti’s book How Should a Person Be? This passage really struck home for me, and will serve as a daily challenge to the ever-present thought that I have to find my “one thing”, my one passion, and I’ll “never have to work a day in my life.”

“You remember the puer aeternus–the eternal child–Peter Pan–the boy who never grows up, who never becomes a man? Or it’s like in The Little Prince–when the prince asks the narrator to draw him a sheep. The narrator tries and tries again, but each time he fails to do it as well as he wishes. He believes himself to be a great artist and cannot understand why it’s not working. In a fit of frustration, he instead draws a box–something he can do well. When the prince asks how it’s a picture of a sheep, the narrator replies that it’s a picture of a sheep in a box. He is arrogantly proud of his solution and satisfied with his efforts. This response is typical of all peurs. Such people will suddenly tell you they have another plan, and they always do it the moment things start getting difficult. But it’s their everlasting switching that’s the dangerous thing, not what they choose.

Why is their everlasting switching dangerous?

Because people who live their lives this way can look forward to a single destiny, shared with others of this type–though such people do not believe they represent a type, but feel themselves distinguished from the common run of man, who they see as held down by the banal anchors of the world. But while others actually build a life in which things gain in meaning and significance, this is not true of the puer. Such a person inevitability looks back on life as it nears its end with a feeling of emptiness and sadness, aware of what they have built: nothing. In their quest for a life without failure, suffering, or doubt, that is what they achieve: a life empty of all those things that make a human life meaningful. And yet they started off believing themselves too special for this world!

But–and here is the hope–there is a solution for people of this type, and it’s perhaps not the solution that could have been predicted. The answer for them is to build on what they have begun and not abandon their plans as soon as things start getting difficult. They must work–without escaping into fantasies about being the person who worked. And I don’t mean work for its own sake, but they must choose work that begins and ends in a passion, a question that is gnawing at their guts, which is not to be avoided but must be realized and lived through the hard work and suffering that inevitably comes with the process.

They must reinforce and build on what is in their life already rather than always starting anew, hoping to find a situation without danger. Puers don’t need to check themselves into analysis. If that just remember this–It is their everlasting switching that is the dangerous thing, not what they choose–they might discover themselves saved. The problem is the puer ever anticipates loss, disappointment, and suffering–which they foresee at the end of every experience, so they cut themselves off at the beginning, retreating almost at once in order to protect themselves. In this way, they never give themselves to life–living in constant dread of the end. Reason, in this case, has taken too much from life.

They must give themselves completely to the experience! One thinks sometimes how much more alive such people would be if they suffered! If they can’t be happy, let them at least be unhappy–really, really unhappy for once, and then they might become truly human.”

Moving forward

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I’ve recently decided to start pursuing something that I want desperately, but scares the hell out of me. (I’m not pregnant, just to be clear.) I’m only just scratching the surface of all I’ll have to do to prepare- making lists, reaching out to people who have gone before me, lots of reading- but I’m already hearing the loud voices of my insecurities, telling me that I’m not good enough for this, I’ll never make it, it’ll be too emotionally and mentally draining, etc. etc. Last night I had a dream where two people separately told me that they knew this was the right thing for me to do, and I felt really reassured when I woke up. But midway through the day, I’m back down on myself. So, I went searching for some inspirational words to help me through some of the darker thoughts. It’s way too easy for me to get down when I feel inadequate, but I also know that I have to do this thing, or I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. And it feels very right, despite how very scary it remains. Details aside for now, I’d appreciate any encouraging words. Here’s some that are helping me right now:

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What motivates and inspires you?

 

The Faces of Truth

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“Three things cannot be long hidden- the sun, the moon, and the truth.” -Buddha
“Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.” -Mahatma Ghandi
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” -Jesus (John 8:32)
My husband and I had a long, complicated, but ultimately enlightening conversation last week about truth and how it relates to faith and religion(s), and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. What is truth? Is truth the same for everyone? Are there universal truths? What about when the truth is coming from a sacred text- does one have to believe in the god of that text in order to accept the truths found within it? These were just some of the questions we were throwing around. This is the conclusion I’ve come to.

Raised in a conservative, evangelical home, I was taught that all truth came from one place- the Bible. Everything else should be understood in light of what the Bible has to say, taking great care and discernment about things that aren’t from the Bible. I think I still subscribe to this belief, but in a more open-handed way. Here’s what I mean: I was taught that Jesus was “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). I still believe this to be true. But there’s another way that I read this. Jesus isn’t just the truth, as in only things spoken by him are true, but rather Jesus is Truth. This necessitates that anything that is true is therefore of God, because God is Truth. Even if the words of truth being spoken are not coming from a Christian, or are from some other sacred text, or even from a person who usually shares negativity instead of truth.

I have to be able to see and accept truth, wherever it comes from. I’ve heard many times growing up to be careful about listening to people who are not Christian. But I have to say this- I think it’s wise to take the truths you know from the Bible and see if the statements you’re hearing reflect that, but I think it’s unwise to cast aside something that could bring life and meaning simply because it’s not from a Christian source. I sense this fear about what might happen if we get too far away from the words of the Bible- we tend to grasp on to the “wise as serpents part,” but kind of forget about the “gentle as doves” part.

I want to be the kind of person who is open-hearted enough to see truth for what it is, no matter where or who it comes from. Part of the balance of life I’m seeking is to be more open-hearted and open-minded to people and beliefs different from mine, and to be able to be guided by Truth in and of itself, wherever I may find that. (This reflects back to when I said I wanted to be confident, but open.)

Ultimately, I believe that seeking out truth is one of the surest ways to find God.
Thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? Do you have a measure you use to determine if something is true? I’d love to hear- from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds!

On Reading and Beauty

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I came across these words in Annie Dillard’s classic book The Writing Life the other night, and just had to share:

“Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?…Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power?”

 

Wow.

Beauty Itself

“What if the man could see Beauty Itself, pure, unalloyed, stripped of mortality and all its pollution, stains, and vanities, unchanging, divine,…the man becoming, in that communion, the friend of God, himself immortal;…would that be a life to disregard?”
—Plato

This Is All I’ve Been Trying to Say

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“Reading and eating are natural companions, and they’ve got a lot in common. Reading is consumption. Eating is consumption. Both are comforting, nourishing, restorative, relaxing, and mostly enjoyable. They can energize you or put you to sleep. Heavy books and heavy meals both require a period of intense digestion. Just as reading great novels can transport you to another time and place, meals — good and bad ones alike — can conjure scenes very far away from your kitchen table. Some of my favorite meals convey stories of origin and tradition; as a voracious reader, I devour my favorite books.”

–Dinah Fried

 

(photo from Fictitious Dishes, by Dinah Fried via Brain Pickings)

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

—Pema Chöndrön