I just read Lama Surya Das’ book “Letting go of the Person You Used to Be”. Letting go is an important concept in meditation, acknowledging thoughts as they arise, and then… letting them go. But there is much more to that simple phrase than first comes up. It turns out to be very difficult to let go, to move on, to allow thoughts to slip away, knowing that they will return if you need them. It is even more difficult to let go of the dreams and aspirations that you had in your youth, or yesterday.
I’m going to admit something here that I don’t often say in public, because people look at me strangely for it: I got a 93% in nuclear physics.
In a past life (about 15 years ago) I knew how to run this machine:
I probably still could in a pinch, with a manual… although I wouldn’t know what to do with the results.
I also hand code my HTML, because in one of my other roles in this lifetime, I made it possible to become a member of the Stratford Festival and get the benefits right away. (It’s been revised over the years, but I can see the traces of my work in the bones of the site.)
I came across a mock job interview a couple of years ago that included the question,” Where do you see yourself in 10 years?” I looked at it, astonished.
“Well,” thought I, “given that, 10 years ago, I was an electron microscopist with aspirations of being a physics professor, but I wound up teaching faculty members how to use technology in their classrooms, and now I’m growing vegetables in Cape Breton and selling spice blends at the farmers market, I’m going to go with, ‘How the hell should *I* know?’ ”
A long time ago I realized that what I missed most having left the world of science was having a title. I liked being “a physicist”. People could make sense of it, even if the sense often involved opening their eyes really wide, saying, “Oh! I hated physics in high school!”, and looking furtively over my shoulder for somebody more interesting to talk to. At least there was some consistency.
“It’s nice to meet you. What do you do?”
A friend of mine in high school/university was fond of saying, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” I didn’t get it at the time, but since then I have gone through several abrupt changes of direction, and each time I find myself fighting with my inner critic because of my dread of this question. What do you do? Shorthand for: What do you get paid for, so that I can slot you into my worldview appropriately? How do we continue this conversation? Or maybe, are you worth talking to?
The inner critic, lacking a title, was inclined to reply, “Nothing.”
Oh. I have no label. I must be nobody… which is clearly absurd. I hold nobody in the world to this standard but me.
We were talking about cows again yesterday. My husband said to me,” Why do you even want a cow so badly?” And I said,” You know, there are billions of people in the world for whom a cow would be a godsend. It would be a huge blessing. But we were raised to think that we’re above all of that. We were raised to be members of the priest caste.” Most of us in North America were, and then we feel betrayed when things don’t work out as planned. But you know, we only need so many white collar workers. We can’t all be teachers,doctors, lawyers and writers. Not even all of as who got A’s in high-school, or even university. Some of us need to grow food, some of us need to clean things up, and some of us need to raise the next generation.
I am about to go back to having no title. At the moment, and until September 10, I am a library clerk. But people are already asking me,” Then what will you do?” Right now I’m able to see that what I do is just like what everybody else does. Chop wood, carry water. Feed myself, feed my family. Explore the world. Make friends. Make the world a little better however I can. Try to make some sense of it all.
And then write about it.