Growing Against the Grain
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | July 2017
Becoming More Than the Individual Parts
Our biology and experiences form who we are, setting us on a path. Sometimes, however, we determine to be more. We achieve greater than the individual parts dictate.
Personal growth is a process, requiring small incremental changes. Changing behaviors for a few weeks, achieving a short-term goal, is relatively easy; the challenge is implementing actions that change our lives, redirecting our life trajectory, achieving more and finding joy.
Change is constant, forever present, surprising, interrupting plans, and stimulating experience. Our bodies naturally absorb experience and adjust. We store memories useful for later interpretations of new and complex encounters. Although we adjust automatically, those adaptions to environment often are contaminated. We gather tidbits of information, filling in unknowns with guesses—strongly influenced by bias. Directed change doesn’t blindly bend to the world but consciously watches, examining experience, taking note of emotions, and learning from behaviors. This is a conscious and exhausting task.
For healthy growth, we must embrace the uncertainty, and critically examine our responses. There’s no final paradise. Life doesn’t magically transform into a joyous adventure with a single tweaking of thought. Paradisiacal thinking is hopeful, which has benefits, providing an escape from the mundaneness of everyday life. But niceness becomes nasty when the accumulating neglects burst through our door, and demand settlement. We defrayed the costs of reality long enough, now the bills must be paid. If an unbothered life, full of overwhelming joy is what you seek, the world of competition, work, and consequences will disappoint; paradise continuously remain just beyond your reach.
We want the security, knowing everything will be okay, hoping just beyond the next horizon, we can find rest. Logically, most of us grasp that problems will continue as part of existence; but quietly hope that after the current emergency life will settle and we can catch our breath—we hope the next career, the next partner, the next stage in life, will finally bring rest. We habitually entertain thoughts of a better future where the pains of the present will cease. Perhaps in measured portions, this is helpful, keeping us from slouching into depression—more of the present might be too much. A better approach, rather than suffering through the moment, would be to enjoy the moment with all its momentary dissatisfactions. Of course, we can’t enjoy every minute of every day, mixed in with the mundane is some pretty yucky stuff.
Life without pain would be wonderful—perfect relationships, multi-million-dollar incomes, and clean respectful children. These fanciful wishes muddy the current realities of living; we contemplate the best but ignore the demanding work required. Unbalanced hopes destroy present moment experience. Real life can’t compete with outlandish dreams. Ridiculous dreams of wealth without risk, intimacy without compromise, and money without years of determination and sacrifice, impede present happiness; if left unchecked, disappointment will dominate attention. The dreams interfere dancing in fantasy while our present continues to languish in reality. The hoped-for-trouble-free-paradise will always be around one more corner.
"A better approach, rather than suffering through the moment, would be to enjoy the moment with all its momentary dissatisfactions."
Engaging in the courageous journey of change requires acknowledging the shortcomings of experience. We can’t hate what is; for what is will always be. Reality when compared with a sanitized future, will create dissatisfaction. There is always another wall to climb. Dissatisfaction is not a great motivator; eventually leading to depression. Life appears as one great disappointment. Appreciating joys in the present encourages the natural inclination to grow, freeing us of anxiety, opening creativity, and improving relationships. Children are beautiful examples of this natural inclination. They grow through natural curiosity. Until adults tell them to knock it off. “You will hurt yourself.”
As the years accumulate, a child’s curiosity is constrained with fear. Outside forces threaten the adventurer, looting their desire, and demanding conformation—be like everyone else. Inner remnants from childhood ring in our ears, "You must be perfect," "You cannot fail," "You should do this," "You shouldn't do that." Instead of the joy of becoming, the immerging adult acts to please others. We sacrifice personal integrity, so we can be what we believe others want us to be.
From the stable ground, natural growth begins. Growth becomes a habit, continually integrating newness into our moments. Each little step, exposing the self to challenges, feeling the vulnerability of the unpredictableness of reality, we gather wisdom, skill, and knowledge. At the time, we may not know the usefulness of the new collection of experience. But the future rewards those who venture beyond the comfort zone. Their prize yet to be revealed. Our growth continues unfettered from the unrealistic expectations of paradise. We move in new directions finding nourishment from fertile soil outside the fenced pasture, fear of rejected exists but we stay true to ourselves. Curiosity becomes the new engine, pushing us beyond the sameness of the past and into new realms of existence, bountifully rich in opportunity.