As human beings we are all on a path of growth and change. Learning, adapting and expanding everyday is something innate in most of us. As much as we all want growth, it is often a painful process and the instinctual response to pain is resistance. However, if you actively seek growth know this, it is going to be more painful than you can imagine. Growth will challenge you mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. When exercising for the first time after an extended period of inactivity, muscles practically revolt at the stress and exertion. The first few weeks of training can make or break a person and unfortunately for many it breaks them. If you manage to survive this period of intense discomfort and even pain, on the other side you will reach a point when you cannot imagine how you ever lived your life differently. It’s as though you’ve risen above the fog of monotony and resignation that was your former life. Before this breakthrough can happen though, you have to have a very uncomfortable, honest conversation with yourself, including asking yourself questions that your previously believed you had the answers to.
“A person's success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” – Tim Ferriss
The process of physical growth is same for mental, emotional and spiritual growth. I was raised a devout Pentecostal Christian and believed every last bit of doctrine inside out and upside down. It wasn’t until I began to encounter people and experiences that I had been told were “sinful” that I began to slowly question the validity of my belief system. This was a slow, painful, anxiety filled process. I met gay people who were in fact NOT the devil incarnate, but incredibly kind, loving, compassionate HUMANS. I met people from other churches and religious backgrounds who firmly believed that their doctrine was the only “right” way, just as I believed mine was. I began to listen to stories of people from varied backgrounds and walks of life and saw that we shared a common humanity, yet we’re so segregated by the rigid beliefs passed down generation after generation.
It is not easy to question long held beliefs, but I do feel it is every person’s responsibility to do so. There was a time when completely absurd “truths” were clung to even when they had been clearly disproved. (e.g. the earth is flat, the universe revolves around the earth, a mother’s thoughts can impact her baby’s characteristics in utero, etc.) It was only less than a century ago that was a widely accepted belief that men were the superior gender and whites the superior race. (Those are battles still being waged, but it is generallyacknowledged that ALL humans deserve to be treated equally.) These previously misguided beliefs implore me to question, “which commonly held beliefs of today could be wrong?” This is the thought that sparked my exploration of yoga, a practice my immediately family is vehemently against even to this day. My current question I’ve been referring back to is, “if you have not explored and experienced something for yourself, can you make an accurate judgement about it?” It is safest and most comfortable to only expose yourself to people who believe exactly what you believe and live exactly as you do, but where is the growth in that? When I look at orthodox religion all I see is a striving to create people behaving EXACTLY how they are told to. Zero diversity or deviation is acceptable. Even daring to question the belief system is frowned upon. However, just as we challenge our bodies for the better by exposing them to various activity, we also challenge our brains by varied exposure to diverse experiences and people and if growth is your goal, this action is mandatory.
I have been gravitating towards this viewpoint for the last couple of years and it’s not been a pretty process. I have experienced deeply painful rejection from people I love most, loads of self doubt, confusion and anxiety. I have had to reevaluate nearly every belief that I have clung to for 25+ years. Some of them have remained, but many have not. This experience has been incredibly isolating, but when I am tempted to throw in the towel on this process I think of this quote from Jordan Peterson.
“You have to decide at some point in your life if you’re more in love with what you know or what you don’t know.” - Jordan Peterson
I have decided I am in love with the latter. I realize everyday how little I know and what a humbling experience that is. I cannot imagine living my life any differently though. I am constantly noticing if there are people, topics or experiences that spark a feeling of resistance or avoidance and then purposely go towards them. Those uncomfortable conversations are what have contributed to my growth in the last two years and especially the last six months. If you are looking to challenge yourself in the same way, begin watching your own reactions. Notice what makes you nervous, dismissive, judgmental or anxious and purposely go towards those things. Your original opinions may remain, they may change. Commit to openly watching, receiving and learning, knowing that everything is true. In the end, at the very least, you will have an expanded perspective on this world which only leads to greater compassion and that is something we can all benefit from.
“I've become a student of things as they are and this has led me to the astonishing guidance that all things are true.” – Mark Nepo
Here are just a few things I have watched, read and listened to recently that I normally would have been inclined to avoid:
Gloria Allred’s documentary, Seeing Allred (Netflix)
Hannah Gadsby Nanette (Netflix)
Bill Nye: Science Guy (Netflix)
Tim Ferriss Podcast Episode #280
Andy Grammar "The Good Parts" Podcast Episode #1
Dan Reynolds Documentary "Believer"
What Happened by Hilary Rodham Clinton
Sex At Dawn by Calida Jethá and Christopher Ryan (this one will flip your world upside down)