Forward: Moving On with Who We Are
by Jennifer Paros
It’s a wonderful world. You can’t go backwards. You’re always moving forward.
~ Harvey Fierstein
When I was nineteen, I cried my way to one of the worst headaches of my life. It was the night before I was to start a full time art class – a program called Studio Project. I had been uncertain about signing up, having always doubted my ability to draw (though still enthusiastic to create). Beyond attending various types of classes and critiques, students were required to spend at least four hours a day working in the studio. The program also required an interview with the professor; I thought perhaps she might reject me and end my conflict – but she did not. As the time approached I broke down.
I was pursuing something I wanted, yet I was in so much pain, frightened to go forward. I’ve heard fear described as a “severe disagreement” in which our thoughts are in conflict with what we want and who we want to be. If I’d been thinking I was competent, good at learning, that everyone deserves a chance to pursue what they love regardless of their “talent” or “skill level”, if I’d been thinking in encouraging terms, I would not have been in hysterics. But my inner dialogue was not up to speed with the new steps I was taking. I wanted to go forward, but my perception of myself was backwards. And like an old, worn out car I’d bought years before, it was breaking down and so now was I.
I recently watched a fashion makeover show in which one of the participants was a woman who had spent most of her life being mistaken for a man. Seeing her with her oversized men’s clothing and hair pulled tightly under a backwards cap, I assumed her masculine presentation was desired and intended. But, in truth, she wanted her gender as a woman to read clearly. Though all her style choices were colluding against her authentic desire, her thinking did not permit her to see other possibilities. So the world of women’s clothing options, make up, and hairstyles all seemed impossibly separate from her. Though she appeared committed to the look she was projecting, she was actually just feeling painfully trapped by it.
When we see ourselves and our world, we’re looking through a lens of what we think is possible and real in the moment. If we’re fixated on a seeming limitation, that limitation sets the scope of what we can experience; it then can feel impossible to try to move beyond it. In the world of writing, this scenario is termed “writer’s block”.
A blocked path also offers guidance.
~ Mason Cooley
We can feel blocked because we are at cross-purposes with ourselves, trying to create something we don’t really want, or because we want something we’re not allowing ourselves to think is possible. But life is always moving us forward; our natural trajectory is evolution. Pain in working towards what we want ultimately reflects a temporary forgetting of our inherent ability, not actual loss or lack of ability. When we forget our power, inability seems like a natural conclusion. This may be a logical determination but it is an inaccurate one.
It’s like the stage hypnotist whose subject suddenly finds it impossible to lift a pencil. The person’s strength still exists, he is inherently able, but the mental suggestion of inability is so convincing it keeps him from experiencing his ability. There are all kinds of suggestions we’ve either picked up or made up that disallow our strength. But thoughts have power only when we believe them. The rest of the time they’re like so many tabloid stories we glance at in the grocery store – spotted one moment, ignored the next.
At our foundation is capability; like all other animals, we’re equipped with a system that helps us not only survive, but also to fulfill our desires. Recognizing that this inner system is geared for learning and growth is central to seeing painful thoughts for all that they’re not. They are never indicators of something wrong with us.
We are naturally wired to pursue and create what we want; we’re not naturally wired to be in pain throughout the process. Trying to move forward while committed to thoughts that work against us is painful. But no matter how consuming a thought or how long we’ve believed it, at any moment we can awaken. We can remember the inherent strength and intelligence of who we really are and allow that to move us forward. And it will.
Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle. Please visit her website at www.jenniferparos.com.