It has been quite common for me this year to discover that a lot of things that I used to think really counted, don’t actually count for much after all (for me at least). Discovering what does count takes a lot of looking. And listening, to what might be described (hopefully not offputtingly) as the Inner Voice.
I met someone recently who went to the same school as me. We hadn’t kept in touch after leaving. I got better A level results (this is an important observation for this post, but I promise it’s not something I generally feel the need to state), but we both ended up getting pretty similar jobs anyway. What’s more, 18 years after this, we both woke up to our own realisations that what we had been doing felt pretty aimless. We were both unable to explain to ourselves what precisely we had been working for, and what we were working towards.
What this suggests to me:
1. Exam results, which all of the school years are basically geared up to achieving, are largely irrelevant (to the children at least); and so that time could be much better spent.
2. What we didn’t learn, in school or afterwards, was self-knowledge; about what kind of individuals we are and what will excite us for the rest of our lives, and how we can go about using that knowledge. In the absence of this, it is no surprise that we pursued things that weren’t authentic or meaningful to us.
The problem with allowing people, especially children (or anyone we think of as a subordinate), to look inwards is that it is unpredictable and impossible to control (and the problem with control is that it is at best an illusion, at worst something more insidious).
Our culture does tend to pressure us to be externally oriented, and it seems we are very receptive to this. But prioritising a bunch of external pursuits that in themselves don’t lead to wellbeing in the long term (over internal pursuits that do) does not strike me as ideal…so why settle for it?.
An alternative approach to the status quo is rarely clear, and so the status quo always seems entirely reasonable, while less visible ways are often seen as impossible, impractical and therefore irrational (a conditioned response, I’d say).
For me, the obscurity of an alternative doesn’t mean it isn’t there or is not worth revealing, but simply that much effort needs to go into finding it. But there is no doubt in my mind that it is a search that will pay off more than anything else. And, in many cases, no-one else is required to know.
I don’t know what enlightenment is, but my guess is that it is an effortful process of checking the alleyways, away from the main road.