People only see what they are prepared to see.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
My friend Denise posted the above pic and quote on my Facebook wall. It was shared from a site called The Mind Unleashed. The very title of the site is pretty phenomenal when I think of unleashing the potential of the human mind. But, the picture really grabbed me. It reminds me so much of the path of my life. As children, we only have one paradigm – the family of origin. As we grow up and move through the world, our paradigm expands and shifts. Sometimes people get stuck in that initial paradigm or another one along the way. Until they are ready to let that one go, they will never move to the next one.
My sister-in-law Laura, a scientist by nature and by education, said she likes to think of this quote by a scientific frame of reference. Louis Pasteur – think pasteurization – a leader in the field of microbiology said “Chance favors the prepared mind.” “It means that sudden flashes of insight don’t just happen – they are the products of preparation,” Laura said. “It comes from the training of your mind to accept new ideas and concepts.” She told me of Alexander Fleming who observed a mold growing on a bacterial culture. He noticed that the bacteria did not grow near the mold. Instead of just throwing the plate away because his culture was contaminated, he became curious as to why the mold inhibited the bacteria. He discovered antibiotics.
I read a New York Times article last year about happiness through the ages. A Gallup survey determined that people get progressively unhappier from their mid-20s through the end of their 40s. Happiness begins to increase between 50 and 75 and then begins to dip again, but never to its lowest level around the early 50s. In my own life, I’ve seen that happen, and I really believe it’s because of the fact that I had to be prepared – as Laura said – to see things differently than I had seen them before. The picture above reminds me of that growth process. I had taken the paradigm of the family that I had grown up with and assumed that formula was the way it should be. I didn’t want children, but I did want to be married. I tried and tried to make it work for me. I got so consumed with trying to make it work that I became codependent. My world became so small. The love that I so desperately desired was elusive.
When I became ready – when I had tried enough and failed; when I understood my history; when I began following my spiritual path; when I came to the end of me; when I realized that my paradigm was limiting – I could open my eyes and see something different. I won’t bore you with the details of that transformation again, but, suffice it to say that I learned that there was more than one way to be in the world. I learned that romantic love is only one kind of many kinds of love. I opened my eyes to the belief that single life could be fulfilling and fun. A friend of mine said the other day, “There is nothing worse than being alone.” I winced when she said it. At one time in my life I believed that. Now, I find that so far from the truth of my reality that it almost sounded humorous.
I used to get more than a little irritated with myself that I was in my mid-40s before my paradigm shifted. But, as time has gone on, and I’ve seen other people go through midlife changes and transitions, I realize that this paradigm shift is one of the gifts of midlife. I’m sure some people do some shifting earlier in life, but, for most of us, it comes after we’ve tried and failed at more than a few things. We have to learn and experience a lot to grow as human beings. Reading is good, but all of the reading in the world doesn’t change me like a single experience can. We’ve all had the experience of telling somebody something over and over, and they never get it. One day, they look at you and repeat the very same words back to you as if it’s new information. I so want to say…I’ve been trying to tell you that forever. They have to learn it in their own time.
When I look back at how much work and pain and struggle I put into trying to make my life what I thought it should be, it makes me very tired. But, I had to do it. I am stubborn. I learn by doing and feeling. I love to read, but I really don’t learn that way. I often say that if I’d known how great my single life would be, I would have RUN to it. Instead, I fought, scratched, fixed, controlled and wore myself out trying to keep the end of my marriage at bay. That’s why I love that picture. The Beginning is Near is scrawled on the burned out, shattered wall. In the ruins of the simple, drab, daily remnants of a former life, the man looks out at the stars and the universe. I sense his awe as he sees it for the first time. He’s surely seen it every evening, but, because he’s let go of what is, he really sees it for the first time. The universe is expansive, colorful, magical, and infinite. An open mind is the birthplace of creativity and real knowledge – not just what is but what could be. Whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up if you’re not there yet. It will come…..when you’re ready. Just keep learning and never...ever….stop.