how to become your own rebellion
“I became my own rebellion,” writes Twyla Tharp in her book THE CREATIVE HABIT, and I have loved that phrase ever since I came across it a handful of years ago.
She was talking about her decision to become a dancer/choreographer: generally not a choice of profession that fills parents with glee. She goes on to say:
Going with your head makes it arbitrary. Going with your gut means you have no choice. It’s inevitable, which is why I have no regrets.
I was in my early thirties when I read this and realized that I, too, wanted to become my own rebellion.
Even if I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant.
I’m reminded of a conversation with an older, worldly friend shortly after my ex-husband filed for divorce. I was at the beginning of what we both knew would be a volatile transition.
My friend said, and I will always remember this: “You’re going to think and feel your way forward.”
She was telling me to listen to my gut. To take each day as it came and let my intuition lead me, like an unseen hand guiding me through a maze lined with thorns. The problem was, I had become disconnected from that sense of inner knowing. I was constantly questioning and second-guessing myself. I had spent too much time listening to certain people tell me what was wrong with me and invested too much authority in their opinions. Whenever my inner voice rose up to suggest a different perspective, I would discount it and switch it off.
This happens to so many of us. As kids, growing up, we learn strategies for getting the attention and the love that we need to survive. So often our strategies involve emphasizing this part of our personality while banishing that part into the shadows. Certain adults hold a godlike power over us, and they define our reality. If they say one thing – but on a gut level we know something else to be true – we’ll tell that inner voice to shut up. We’ll send it packing. It’s easier and safer that way. Who are we to challenge a freaking god?
As a child, this is basic survival.
As an adult, this turns into something else, called denial.
If you’re raised to be a nice girl, or boy, you learn to be polite and respectful and fair instead of being honest with yourself: you’ll override your intuition when it seems inconsiderate. Better to try and see things from the other person’s perspective and find ways to excuse his (or her) behaviour, even when that inner voice is telling you to get the fuck away.
It doesn’t help that for so long our culture has derided emotion and intuition. If someone calls you emotional, they generally don’t mean it as a compliment; and often words like ‘hysterical’ and ‘crazy’ aren’t far behind. Intuition, meanwhile, gets lumped in with New Age notions of being psychic. Both ’emotional’ and ‘intuitive’ are regarded as feminine traits. To grow up in this culture means to absorb lots of big and little, covert and overt, conscious and unconscious messages that feminine equals weak and inferior — so much so that many women will scorn so-called feminine things in order to imply that no, they do not belong to that club.
But as it turns out, emotions don’t interfere with rationality — they enable it. It’s people who don’t have emotions (at least as we understand them) who make decisions that strike other people as irrational. When our brain creates memories, it lays down both the memory of the event and the way the event made us feel. Our brain’s biggest priority is physical survival. It uses memory as a kind of GPS, guiding us away from potential danger and pain (like being eaten) and toward safety and pleasure (like not being eaten).
Emotion and reason work together to help us determine what is happening, what that means to us, and what kind of outcome we would like to make happen.
When we do a gut check, or rely on so-called ‘female’ intuition, we are accessing a powerful form of nonverbal intelligence. Our subconscious is constantly absorbing the million little bits of information that bombard our senses at any given time and processing, processing, processing. Because it is not hooked up to the verbal part of our brain, intuition operates outside of language, communicating with us through symbol, hunches, dreams – and feelings.
To ignore what you feel is to shut down a big part of your brain, which makes it a lot easier for the world to take advantage of you. You have to rely on what other people tell you is true. You take what they say at face value, since you have no way of sensing what’s going on beneath their words.
This is what it means to be gullible.
Recently I read a book called THE VIRGIN’S PROMISE, which looked at the female archetypal equivalent of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. (Keep in mind that both the ‘virgin’ and the ‘hero’ can be of either sex.) The Virgin’s quest is to resist the urge to conform to the values and standards set by others that conflict with her true self:
The Virgin takes on the task of claiming her personal authority, even against the wishes of others. A big part of her story therefore is how she is viewed by society. Initially she is a valued commodity for being pure, untouched, good, kind, nice, compliant, agreeable, or helpful. She carries the hope for continuation of the virtues of a society. Through her journey she learns to redefine her values and bring her true self into being.
Because she is the “continuation of the virtues of a society”, by redefining those virtues she works to redefine society itself. She asserts herself against the status quo. She becomes a cultural activist. Instead of living out the life that others have handed to her, and would dictate, she creates it by connecting with her true self and finding effective ways to manifest that self in the world. And since truth has a way of resonating with others, her actions ripple outward to alter the world around her.
Instead of trimming and chopping and editing her personality to fit herself to her environment, she forces the environment to fit itself to her.
There is always some kind of price for this. A quest would not be a quest if there weren’t any dragons to slay (which is a slightly more poetic way of saying hey, if it was easy, everybody would do it).
When you become your own rebellion, you establish psychological independence.
Going with your head makes it arbitrary, Twyla writes. That’s because our conscious mind is the ultimate spin doctor. It deals in language and narrative. Language is not reality, but our best attempt to explain reality. We can edit it any way we want in order to rationalize or justify ourselves (otherwise known as “confirmation bias”). We put a certain spin on things. Or we allow other people to spin them for us, and absorb those distortions as truths.
But when you go deeper inside yourself, you move beyond words. Your body has its own language. It’s interesting that when we refer to a person’s authenticity or sincerity, we talk about who they are in their heart or at their core: words that locate the ‘self’ in the body. You may spin a decision however you want, but it either feels good — or not. It makes you feel light – or the opposite. It might even make you feel ill.
But it is what it is, and it can’t be argued with. Your truth is truth. You can move toward it, or let your head lead you away. But you can’t change its essential message — or the fact that it knows what you need better than you do (especially when what you need isn’t exactly what you want. )
Twyla chose the hard, uncertain life of a dancer. It was not the rational choice to make. It’s hell on the body, and poorly paid, and a difficult art to preserve (if the dancer is the dance, then the dance disappears with the dancer). I admire her for her discipline – dancers are the most disciplined people I know – and her sense of self that manifested at such a young age.
And now, when change is happening so rapidly in our world, when the old models no longer work and we’re forced to improvise new ones, it’s more essential than ever that we take the time to turn inward. We need to think and feel our way forward. Otherwise we’ll be lost.
I suspect that becoming your own rebellion isn’t something that happens only once. It’s a choice you make every time your quest offers up another dragon. You can always run away. Except when you know you’re on your true path, your only real option is to slay it.
Which is why you’ll have no regrets.
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