Saturday, November 11, 2006

Living against One's Nature

One of the dilemmas of my life is the question of whether I am more of a contemplative or more of an activist. My actual personality and temperament indicate that I am really more of a contemplative. But my consciously adopted ethic, rooted in my sincere concern for the world, emphasizes actively trying to make a positive difference in the world. So I have tended to try to push myself more in the "activist" direction (loosely defined).

I can say a lot of things about why I have developed this strong habit of pushing against my nature, but I will refrain. I am guessing that the story of systematically pushing against one's own nature is very common; the reasons for doing so diverse and personal.

What's interesting in my case is that it is not that I haven't known that I'm really more of a contemplative at heart. Why, look at the name I give myself here, for example! Nor is it that I do not value the contemplative role. I regard it as crucially important.

Despite my long time of knowing this about myself, and my regarding it as crucially important, yet I have systematically pushed against this core quality of my nature and only now am I finally saying to myself, "Enough! This isn't working!" Only now am I finally and truly resolving to change this in my life.

The thought of what my life could be like once I fully institute this change fills me with a dramatic ray of hope like I've not seen in a very long time when I look at my life and ponder my future. That ray of hope, shining like a sunbeam through the branches of trees on my path ahead in the woods, keeps me going.

But the distance between here and there seems enormous. This is not the kind of change one can make in an instant. The attitude change is not enough. There are projects I have committed to that I must bring to completion. It will take me a while to get where I want to be. My attitude change, in a way, makes this even harder, because I now find myself a bit impatient about the distance between me and that ray of hope ahead. This challenging hiking that I'm doing used to be what I counted as the meaning and purpose of my life; now it presents itself as an obstacle to endure and survive until I can get to where I really want to be.

But my metaphors are not really fully accurate. The contrast between my "activism" and "contemplation" is overdrawn. I'm not wholly unhappy with following through on prior commitments. And I certainly do not resent my attitude change: it helps me make new decisions with a lot more clarity.

But some dimensions of the change are really really hard.

It's hard to be who you really are, unapologetically, in the world -- especially when a core part of yourself (like being contemplative) is largely underappreciated and misunderstood.


  1. CS,

    Is going against one's nature a bad thing or a good thing? A little bit of going against one's nature is good. As Aristotle points out each of us has characteristic weaknesses and we need to consciously guard against them by leaning in the opposite direction. The timid person must make a conscious choice to be a little bolder than they are comfortable being and the rash person needs to force themself to be a little more cautious. But trying to completely go against the grain of your nature would not only be hard--it would be destructive to developing the best in yourself.

    American culture strongly believes that more is more. The path of true wisdom requires that we keep to the simple cut the superfluous out of our lives.

  2. I'm glad you pointed out what Aristotle said. Yes, for the most part I think I've been leaning a bit in that compensating kind of spirit, making up for my weaknesses. But lately it's become too much. It's starting to feel somewhat self-destructive.

    The world is resisting my corrective attempts now, and this is hard. But I do think it is right for me, and so, in faith, I keep trying to claim more truly who I am.

    It's like Mary Oliver's wonderful poem, "The Journey." That's what my life is like...

  3. Yes, the world will have its say. One of the hardest things is dealing with people who see you putting less effort in some direction and not seeing, or perhaps not valuing, the increased effort you put in the new direction you have chosen. Such people will define your choice as a failure and it takes a firm mind to reject their negativity. Keep faith.

  4. Thank you for all your encouragement, Richard!