When I was a teen, I used to think that growing up meant knowing exactly who you were. It meant having the kind of self-assurance that accompanies such certainty. I would know how to dress, what to say, who to vote for, and how to oven-bake a turkey. I would have clearly defined set of values (sectioned off by the proverbial white-picket fence), and my life would be a logical extension of these values. However, over time, I've grown more perplexed about cultivating a sound vision of reality. In my thirties now, I feel less sure about the world than ever.
Any kind of certainty, faith, or assurance seems a luxury to me--a luxury of the imagination. Yet despite my periods of jadedness over the years, I still haven't lost my optimism that cultivating trust is possible. I trust in the concept of trust; I just find it difficult to sustain trust. And maybe part of the problem is that we live in a world that seems smaller and faster than ever. And many of us are routinely in contact with opposition, diversity, and conflicting points of view. On the up side, consequently, we live in a richly complex world and are more aware of this fact than ever. On the down side, it's become harder to maintain certainty. Access to the world's various religions and philosophies are just a computer click away. Truth has many fictions, guises, and websites.
But maybe all this confusion isn't just about breaking down the myth of adulthood--that at a certain age we somehow manage to know it all. Even as a child, I had an innate sense of the seeker syndrome. I remember asking my folks to explain basic questions like, where did God come from and are Muslims the only people going to heaven? I ended up majoring in Religious Studies in college and pursing an M.A. in Religion in graduate school. Ever since my early teen years, I have written a lot of poetry, which some might define as the art of epiphany. I've read novels and non-fiction texts with the hope of encountering the truth. And the last few years I have been reading up on Buddhism, even attending meditation and dharma classes at a local Buddhist center. My life, it seems, has been an intensive effort towards waking up. But though I've grown older, the truth, at times, seems further away than ever.
So many traditions and thinkers express the idea that the truth is neither far away nor elusive: it's the ability to stay rooted in the moment. The truth is located in the present, in the now, in this moment of awareness. In accepting the now fully. But how to stay rooted? It takes a lot of wisdom, I imagine. I've come to see this ability in others as the hallmark of true maturity.
Maybe becoming an adult really is this paradoxical narrowing and opening--embracing what's in front of is. It's the act of letting go of the past and the future and focusing on the present. It's savoring each cup of coffee, conversation, and challenge. I believe it's an extraordinary ability. When I grow up in this way, I think I'll resist less. Maybe as I've gotten older, I've started to resist more. To stop seeking is also the willingness to let go of a certain identity: to stop resisting its end.
I've heard many thinkers make the claim that whatever we pay attention to grows (be it a plant, a point of view, or a creative project). When I'm able to pay attention more faithfully to each moment, I'll know I've finally grown. I'm sure one can't be certain of much. But I'd like to shift from perpetual seeking to seeing the moment.