(My path on a recent walk through the forest Schönbuch north of Tübingen.)
I feel like I’m going through a second adolescence. The views I took for granted most of my life contort as I stare them down. The process is unnerving, but it’s also liberating. One issue that has particularly fascinated me of late is this seemingly omnipresence of struggle in my life-view, but also throughout the world in the form of civil and human rights movements and political rebellion. There seems to be and always has been a struggle to do away with controlling powers and with barriers to opportunity.
Struggle has in no way ended in the US, where civil rights were won for blacks in the 20th century, but the LBGT community still struggles to gain civil recognition. US pop culture thrives on the rebellions of each generation of adolescents. It seems like the struggle for opportunity is the holy grail. But what happens once opportunities fought for are opened? Is it possible then to live happily ever after or do we need to find a new cause to fight for?
So often, it seems we define ourselves by our struggles, but when the struggle is over, what happens to our self-identification with the cause? Considering the privileged background I come from, I have never had to fight for my human, political, or civil rights. I went to a women’s college, where the mantra drilled into us was that we could have it all. And yet I find it fascinating how I repeatedly sought out challenges for myself.
I repeatedly tried to prove the possibility of goals that I had heard were impossible. In my undergraduate studies in linguistics, I began to question if languages were harder for adults to learn than for children. Children reach “adult” proficiency in a language at the age of four, but they are immersed in that language and spend almost all their time and concentration on learning the language as a way of understanding the world around them. Adults, with their familiarity with language and their personal habits, set aside language learning to focus on “more important things,” but I was certain that if an adults set their minds to it, they could learn language like children, and I set out to try my best with Japanese. Considering I entered the University of Tokyo eight years after I began studying the Japanese language, I at least am satisfied, imagining an eight year old Japaense child probably has linguistic strengths I don’t have, but would not be able to communicate ideas I have to communicate for my studies.
A few years before entering university again, I similarly threw myself into the deep end when I decided to study noh performance and for a while chose the naive goal of becoming a professional in a conservative art form performed almost exclusively by Japanese men. As a white woman there was little chance I would be taken seriously, but the confidence instilled in me during my undergraduate studies gave me little room for doubt. It was not until a few years later (once I had chosen my next challenge, to go to graduate school in Japan) that I saw the scars that same struggle had left on the white women who had come before me and who I respect with my whole heart, and yet I think that path is not one I wish to follow.
Instead, I have chosen the challenge of finishing a degree in Japanese and in noh cultural studies, a challenge with a limited time-span that is coming to an end. I shall have to see what will come of my work this time, but with yet another challenge almost completed, is it time to find another obstacle to hurl myself and all my capabilities against?
The appeal of plunging head-first into a challenge inspired by external stimuli has dwindled. I do not need to tear open a new opportunity for myself. I would rather reconsider the opportunity I have made for myself as the door to the path ahead of me. I want to consider the path ahead of me down to the very bedrock it is laid upon. I want to know the opportunities open before me down to the very finest details, and then I want to develop my abilities to take the fullest possible advantage of them. That is where the hard work begins. The grand pursuit to prove oneself in a unique struggle is hard work, but somehow in retrospect it seems like the gain might have been achieved with less aggression. Instead of continuing that method, I want to work on developing the fine unique details of that which is possible for me now. I want to set struggle aside and let practice takes its place. It takes practice to live well, but a fullness of being is at the heart of that practice.