Monday, August 16, 2010

Today's Lesson: Learning to Be

Are we losing the ability to be?

It appears to me that we live in an age of becoming, and in this eternal and insatiable endeavor, we are losing the capacity to be.

My profession is grounded in the philosophy of becoming. We are driven, both by intrinsic desire and extrinsic duty, to facilitate the becoming process of young adults. Substitute growth, develop, change -- it's essentially the same concept as far as I'm concerned (or at least for the purpose of this musing). Our work in student affairs, intentionally or unintentionally, directly or indirectly, is influenced by psychologist Carl Rogers' theory on becoming. He suggests that we don't, or at least we shouldn't strive to, become. To become is to achieve an end, to reach a limit, to fully realize potential. To become is to say, "I've mastered it. I've learned all I can learn. I've gone as far as I can go. I've arrived."

Becoming, however, is a continual process. It is a never-ending journey. It's nearing the end of the race, and looking ahead to see that there is still another mile to run, another hurdle to jump, another lesson to learn. It is constant forward motion. It is evolution.

And I believe in this philosophy. I embrace it. It guides the work I do every day. But constant forward motion can easily turn into a slippery slope. It can inhibit our ability to be. By "to be" I don't mean "living life to the fullest" or "appreciating the here and now." I mean the ability to stop. To physically, mentally, and emotionally detach ourselves from the outer world and all of its pressures and expectations and distractions...and reality TV...and just exist, inside our own mind and spirit. To stop thinking about our to-do lists, our next steps, our worries, our insecurities, our desires -- and just be. It's terrifyingly difficult for many of us. We are unnerved with a mind at rest, or with a body at rest, for that matter. We feel that we always have to be doing. And our culture has taught us that we should be doing all the time, evident by the value we place on it. I'm as guilty as anyone of using dispositions such as "being busy" at work or "having a lot on my plate" in a manner which almost seems like bragging. The paradox here is that doing more rarely satisfies us. It has a compounding effect. We must do more, and therefore, we must do more. It is only through stopping -- reflecting, meditating, being -- that we can renew ourselves.

We are always becoming. We should always be becoming. We should always be moving forward, improving, growing, learning, developing, and challenging ourselves to be better. And just when we think we've arrived, we should ask ourselves what that next step is. It is this forward motion that has led to our most incredible intellectual innovations, technological breakthroughs, and scientific achievements.

But we must also learn to be. Just like anything else, it takes practice...maybe even a little courage.

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