Friday, December 2, 2011
Living In a Bubble: Fending Off Conformity
On one of my "in between" periods of unemployment in my life I traveled Australia and New Zealand for a bit. At the time it was the longest period of travel I'd ever had, long enough that when I returned I had…an event.
I had recently returned to Up Over (from Down Under) and was driving down a busy, major street in Denver. I had a peculiar sensation of moving slowly through all the pulsing energy of a morning commute, isolated and safe, like a Disneyland ride. I was mentally removed—and felt physically removed, as in a bubble—from what seemed surging and insistent purposelessness. This is how it will feel to the first enlightened ants, I think.
But I was on my way to a job interview or some other responsible thing. And I knew I was going to get back into it. So I did a Vulcan mind meld on myself at that moment—rememberrrrr.
And I have remembered, but recalling that memory now and again has only nudged me gradually toward a life more permanently in that bubble of isolation. I recall it now because we are about to leave Ecuador and our sabbatical, and return home to...it. But part of that experience on Colfax Avenue years ago was realizing that I was not walking into this experience; it was not a rip in the space/time/responsibility continuum. It was a state of mind.
And was it a state of mind only, or an early and necessary mental step to achieving a state of being? I choose door number 2, Monty.
And so, as we are returning home, we are thinking about how we incorporate what we have learned on our sabbatical into our lives, no matter where we are or what's happening. Some of those things are merely logistical: how we think about and achieve education for ourselves and the kids; how we continue to learn and use this new language; how we achieve the financial independence to allow a more flexible lifestyle.
But we will lose focus even on those logistical things if we don't also make the state of mind influence our planning and everyday decisions so that ultimately we have a different sensibility and confidence in our own shoulds. For us, and I think most people, what keeps us in the most common denominator and our own personal mediocrity is our natural tendency to measure ourselves against others and feel pressure to conform to social expectations. The phenomenon of, as I've heard it put before, being should on.
That social influence is usually implicit and subtle. When we'd tell people that we were quitting our jobs and living in Ecuador for a year the response was usually, "That's bold." But half the time the emphasis was on bold, implying excited approval, and the other half on that's, being a polite way to say stupid. And what we worried about was not the actual sabbatical itself or coming home poor and unemployed, but what others would think of that.
Would people judge like that? I don't think so. And why should we care if they do? But that's how your mind turns doubt into fear and fear into conformity. Now that we have done the sabbatical and are returning home there will be both real and imagined pressure to get back into the rat race. So we are working on strategies to maintain our current state of mind and make it a state of being, despite pressures to "normalize."
One of the best ways we can think of to maintain that state of mind is make it our business. We're working on a website and "inbox magazine" to encourage and help other families to take sabbaticals. The business itself, if successful, would untether us geographically, provide more flexible income, and help keeping us from stepping in hot, steamy piles of should.
We'll announce that soon, but in the meantime, watch your step.