Wednesday, July 27, 2016

One of a kind

For the past month or so, there’s a scene from season four of Mad Men that I cannot get out of my mind.  Faye Miller, the newest addition to Sterling Cooper Draper Price, had been hired as an expert strategist in consumer research.  During her initial meeting in which she asked the powers that be to fill out personal questionnaires, Don Draper abruptly left the room.  Of course, those of us who had been following his story for three years knew that the last thing Don wanted was to be found out for who he truly is.  He could certainly run, but he couldn't hide from Faye.
Later on he lamented to her that he was divorced and it was his first Christmas away from his children.
“Don’t worry,” Faye told him.  “You’ll be married again within a year.”
Don frowned, so she apologized for calling him out, saying something to the effect of “I forget that no one wants to admit they’re a type.”
Ain't it the truth?
Then again, as I look around my corner of the world it seems to me that most people want to fit into some kind of group, if only to find commonality or a common purpose.  Whether it be a religious or political affiliation, social, financial, or even marital status, there are clusters of all kinds of people who simply want to be in a place where, if not everybody knows their name, they at least know their motivation for being there. 
There’s not a thing wrong with that.  I teach my yoga students that we all need healthy “tribes”, groups of people who work symbiotically, giving of their individual strengths in order to strengthen the whole.  We were all born into a little tribe, then expanded it exponentially when we went to school, made friends, joined clubs, moved out of our childhood home, explored different places of work, perhaps had a family of our own.  It’s a very human desire to want to fit in somewhere.
But what if you come to realize that you don’t fit in anywhere?

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it more than a hundred times:  I’m not one to be typecast.  Every single teacher I’ve had, every health care practitioner, every healer – be it an acupuncturist, massage therapist, or counselor – has told me, “You’re unlike anyone I’ve ever worked with before.  I can’t figure you out.”
“Join the club,” I usually reply.  “I’ve been trying to figure myself out for a long time.”
Early in young adulthood, I knew I wasn’t like the rest of the kids in my neighborhood.  While I played games with them on occasion, I was much happier riding a bike by myself or reading a book in the backyard.  In high school I joined a few clubs, but was easily bored and didn’t participate beyond what was required.  In my late teens, I spent a lot of time volunteering at church, yet secretly questioned every single thing I thought or believed…and everything that was taught to me.
After college I moved out of my parents’ house and have been on my own ever since, nearly twenty-eight years.  I’ve never had a room-mate.  Never lived with a boyfriend or have even been engaged.  Yet because I've spent so much time alone, for the past two decades I’ve been engaged with living an uncommon life, making peace with the fact that, no matter how often I tried to fake it, I don’t really belong anywhere.  It’s been a terrible blessing, this coming to terms with who I thought I was supposed to be in light of who I turned out to be instead.
Through it all I've learned that faith and spirituality are not about belonging, but about sacred transformation.

Steven Spielberg once said, “All of us every single year, we’re a different person.  I don’t think we’re the same person all our lives.”  
God knows that’s been true for me.  Before I knew better than to conform to anyone else’s ideas about who I am, I tried on a plethora of personalities.  So last month, when I once again watched Faye Miller call out Don Draper about his propensity to fit a certain mold, I wondered, What type am I these days?  I may be a vegan and practice yoga, but I’m much more grounded than the stereotypical “woo woo” hippie like Pheobe on Friends I may like to get down and dirty in the garden, but I also like to get dressed up and paint my fingernails, just for fun.  I may peacefully live alone with my pets (and love it), but I’m not a crazy cat lady, contrary to what my next-door-neighbor says when he teases me if I’ve been AWOL too long. 
It’s been an incomparable experience to learn how to stand in my own authentic center.  To find the courage to be confident in the present moment, no matter what anyone else is doing.  To stay curious, creative, and conscious every step of the way.  To fully embrace the fact that, even though I may have once longed to be, I’m not a type at all.  Mine is the uncommon life, the road less traveled, the journey that began with one step in the fall of 1995 and has led me here to this still-undefined place of being.  It’s been a godsend to be sure, sometimes a tough one, but I’ve discovered that it’s more than a gift of grace to be a square peg. 
I’m not limited by what others think I am…or even what I think I am sometimes.  Be it teaching a yoga class, attending an AA meeting to support a friend, donating items at Savers, working out at the gym, or spending time with Satish and Danta, I effortlessly glide through each day, open to whomever and whatever crosses my path.  It’s taught me a lot about humanity, about difficult life lessons that I may have already learned, but need to be experienced by someone else.  I’m also more clearly aware of how very far I’ve come and where I’d like to set my sights for the next half of my life. 
Sure, I’ve noticed the differences of the many groups in which I’ve been immersed for the past few months, the contrasts between me and the people I’ve met.  But mostly, I’ve come to discover the similarities.   Since I no longer feel the need to identify with the group itself, I can more intimately connect with the individual people.  What I’ve discovered is that most of us want the same things -- to be seen, heard, and loved.  And I’ve also noticed these fundamental needs are often masked with excessive posturing, with lots of make-up and muscles and manipulative behavior.  
Even so, I’ve embraced every experience, every person as one of a kind, never to be repeated again, for in every moment, there’s always something to learn…and something to teach.  Like our fingerprints, each one of us is a unique individual.  Yet here we are...together on this earth, all of us having a collective life experience.

It's a gift of grace to be surrounded by a circle of people who accept me just as I am.  They revel in the parts they know very well and the parts that are just beginning to come to light.  They respect the experiences they cannot relate to and the ones that are intimate reflections of who they are.  They lovingly embrace my ego that desperately wants to find my place in this world, and my spirit that fully understands I don’t need to worry about it because the only thing I’ll take with me when I leave the Earth is my karma. 
What an amazing thing to finally understand that I'm truly not meant to fit in anywhere, so I can more fully embrace life...everywhere.