The Only One
Who remembers “Signs” from 1971, Five Man Electrical Band? I think it’s been covered quite a few times in the last 50 years.
Last month a popular youngling, Lil Nas X, dropped something so similar in “One of Me,” it brought that last one to my mind. Not musically similar, some will love one and hate the other and vice versa, but thematically similar. I linked to the “clean” version because learning to value the idea that it’s not only ok for everyone to have different tastes, it is vital to our ability to live authentic lives. It is my theme.
These two juxtaposed together, 50 years apart, confirm for me that humanity has a fundamental difficulty in reconciling that different is not a synonym for bad. I mean me, I’m humanity, and the issue for me is much deeper than musical taste. These days I claim Thoreau’s voice in saying, “I was not born to be forced.” Yet I still have a strong, mainly unconscious voice to ‘do what I’m supposed to do,’ by some standard which doesn’t always suit who I am. My closest friends will laugh at that, because in their presence of unconditional acceptance, the unconscious voice quiets and they deal with me and all my idiosyncrasies. See there, my word choice reveals my long-running confusion between being me or fitting in some way or another. Duh, we are all individuals with peculiarities, that is what the musicians are begging us to realize.
Of course there is value in doing the ‘next right thing.’ You know, to tell the truth in lieu of lying, stuff like that. The trick is to tell the truth when it is buried under other human urges like the need to feel a sense of belonging, or to feel accepted, or secure in who we were made to be. Into my fifties, this is where I find myself. How shocking to realize that I can feel comfortably secure in some situations, which are actually very unhealthy, and out of sorts when I am right where I am genuinely supposed to be. In addition, I will occasionally feel uncomfortable if I spend time in a way that doesn’t have an immediate payoff. I have to fight off the feeling that I’m a foolish donkey if I actually live in such a way that lines up with my values, because I value quite a few things that don’t have an immediate payoff. Or anything at all really besides my own creativity or joy. Apparently the words are imprinted on my soul somewhere, “Do this here, don’t you do that,” (“One of me”) instead of “do you baby,” my best friend’s refrain.
Somewhere along the way we have to tune in to our own way of being to figure out the practical “next right thing.” I can periodically block out the voice, and go my own way, but it can be tiring and crazy-making. There is another wise voice in there but it is more of a whisper. It asks me, “What do you really value?” and tells me that there is my life. I look at my days and sometimes don’t like the view, showing me that I fall short on what I value on a regular basis. Maybe that is the real reason we make the “one of us” call that Lil Nas speaks of. So we can spend time feeling good about ourselves by making the “right” choice instead of really choosing our own lives? Maybe the in groups and out groups will always be a part of our experience. My friend says the world is messed up when it is trying to be in the business of utopia building. I like that. Maybe noticing the negatives that the artists are pointing out can bring us up short and learn to pay attention to ways we try and force others to be who we want instead of who they are?
I don’t know, but I can confirm, at least for me, a negative experience can create opportunities to learn when we are acting outside of what, as Elizabeth Lesser calls it, “not listening to the soul.”
Things do fall apart. It is in their nature to do so. When we try to protect ourselves from the inevitability of change, we are not listening to the soul. We are listening to our fear of life and death, our lack of faith, our smaller ego’s will to prevail. To listen to the soul is to stop fighting with life-to stop fighting when things fall apart, when they don’t go our way, when we get sick, when we are betrayed or mistreated or misunderstood. To listen to the soul is to slow down, to feel deeply, to see ourselves clearly, to surrender to discomfort and uncertainty, and to wait.
Yikes, I know that “surrendering to discomfort and insecurity” was definitely not on my radar for most of my life, but it is making sense to me now. I love these musicians’ reminders that a life that steps out of society’s rules for behavior, or whatever the current “aughts” are, will fundamentally be more joyful and authentic than any formula for it could ever be. Here’s hoping some of you aren’t like me and won’t need things to “fall apart” to see the value in your own way of being.