Long Road to Velveteen Rabbithood
When I look at my life I see hobbies and interests that occupied my time during my childhood – working with my hands, model building, electric train layouts, carpentry, interest in science of all kinds, listening to Beethoven symphonies on 33LPs, theology as taught in the church, and the like. All quite rich and enlivening. I also see the many things imposed upon me, well-intended, but imposed, that I did not like: swimming, camping, playing the piano and tuba, taking Latin, gym and history in high school, socialization with peers, and the like. And then things that I did not get into at all: sports, dancing, popular music, and the like. Technically I was probably a nerd – but I was not comfortable with being a nerd in the family culture, and I would not socialize with fellow nerds because of my conservative church loyalty – cosmology, a more general spirituality, psychology and philosophy, etc. did not reconcile with more fundamentalist Christianity. So I was split between fitting in and being who I am.
I enjoyed being a student throughout college, but not at all comfortable being in the social fraternity that I joined. After college what I enjoyed was blended with distractions in my career, my family roles, and my church life. I got hooked on roles I should play or seemed I could play: family roles – being a good dad or husband, and many leadership roles at work, church, and elsewhere. These roles played on my identity in some cases. Not that I did not enjoy the content these roles involved in most cases (organizing, planning, presenting, strategizing, etc.), but eventually I found my identity wrapped up in them – especially after the fact – as in being the Ex-CEO, Ex-Chairman, Ex-teacher, etc. – these roles somehow became a significant part of who I thought I was, or rather, that part I would use to describe who I was to others. Had I hung onto to the content rather than the title I would have been OK, but somehow I allowed my ego to get hooked.
So I wonder…
What would have happened had I become a carpenter and not gone to college? Or if I went to college but chose a major of primary interest such as theology or philosophy or astronomy – majors that would have not played well in the business world perhaps but majors that would have more closely captivated my interests as a natural student and researcher? I cannot see myself teaching said subjects, only learning them. Certainly could not have been a pastor or spiritual teacher! Perhaps more of an avocation than a vocation.
Without distractions in roles, how would “longing to connect” have shown up in my primary relationships and in my family and with others in general or peers in particular – never having to be in a role in order to relate to others? Somehow I did not know more “normal” forms of connection. This was not black and white, however, as I so enjoyed and continue to enjoy deep conversations on spirituality that might not fit in with norms. But even in spirituality I did not seem to really fit in with others, like pastors, spiritual teachers, etc.,who were much more pragmatic or charismatic in their spirituality – and much more at home in their skins as spiritual individuals.
Would I have found the Pathwork Lectures that so captivate me today? Would I be more of a family man, one who fit in in a more conventional way at church or in family, yet doing what he loved the most? I’m really curious about my life’s possible “Plan B.” Who would I be if I were not somehow caught in a culture where having an identity, often role-based or performance-based, seems important, or so I came to think and behaved accordingly? Who would I be if I were not trying to be somehow special? Sounds like being “nothing special” could be rich with experience of being real and being connected from that realness. I am really curious about this “nothing special” approach to life. Maybe in this way I could be grounded in who I am and connect from there.
In a way I am taking this approach to life these past five years or so. Still I am not 100% comfortable being who I am, but I am seeming to grow in realness – like the Velveteen Rabbit. But it is a slow process of dismantlement and being left with what is: just simple ordinary Gary, or “Joe,” as Pat names me.