Knowing Your Place: the Science/Art and the Illusion

by Belinda Munoz on August 30, 2010

one empty seat

In general, I’m not very adventurous.  I would never eat bugs (not even the edible ones) on a dare.  I would never volunteer to voyage into space (not even with really, really experienced and smart astronauts/cosmonauts) for an indefinite period of time.  And if there’s ever a rush to hurtle down into a ravine for a once in a lifetime interaction with Sasquatch, you’d find me many, many miles away from there.

KNOWING YOUR PLACE

I know my place.

We don’t get to be adults without having some sort of idea what our place is.  Many of us find ourselves squarely within civilization, aka the grid.  We’re in the so-called system, we live in a community with folks similar to us and we travel on roads paid for by our taxes en route to establishments we frequent, partaking in activities widely known to be legal, all the while obeying all traffic rules (most of the time).  Fine.

How we arrive at this place is largely a function of birth, heredity, “pedigree” and choice.  Fine.

Some of us opt to fall off the grid for any set of reasons.  These folks, to varying degrees, follow the same rules we do.  The difference is they reject many of the things we’ve come to take for granted (i.e. outrageously expensive organic produce, countless cable tv channels, retail anything, wholesale anything, etc.) and embrace other less conventional practices (i.e. getting drinking water from a well, foraging for food, using an outhouse <remember that memorable scene in Slumdog Millionaire?>, etc.).  Fine.

THE SCIENCE AND ART OF KNOWING YOUR PLACE

If we’re on the internet right now, chances are we both have strong conventional tendencies.  You, like me, have accepted this very mainstream medium and probably get much knowledge/entertainment/gossip from online sources.  However, we remain in possession of unconventional tendencies, unique to our individuality, that separate us from the pack.  (Maybe I do a few yoga poses at 3 a.m. everyday.  Maybe you sing to your plants at 3 a.m. everyday.  I don’t know.)

How we balance the mix between our outer conventional practices and respect and honor our inner unconventional leanings, the stuff within that makes us unique, and still remain true to our ever-evolving identity, is where the art and science of knowing our place join together, wrestle with each other, or take turns alternating between the two.

THE ILLUSION OF YOUR PLACE

I’ve used the word uncharacteristic before to describe someone (anyone) I’ve come to know doing something or behaving in such a manner he or she has never (at least publicly) been identified doing or being.  In my mind, I’ve put this person in a proverbial box (artsy, straight-laced, new-agey, etc.) and left him/her there until proven otherwise.  Guilty until proven innocent, so to speak.

We do this, don’t we?  We categorize people around us in an attempt to seize control of a fraction of a somewhat-to-mostly uncontrollable world.

Until they surprise us.  I had no idea so and so in accounting is in a Shakespeare production! And just like that, the world we struggle so hard to understand once again (for the billionth time!) proves how little control we have.

But enough about control or lack thereof.

The real question is, do we allow ourselves to break out of the box(es) we may have unintentionally  put ourselves in?

Oh, I can’t do that!  I’m too old for that.

I’m afraid I can’t participate even though I’d like to.  I just don’t have the experience.

Who, me?  I don’t have the basic knowledge and I can’t afford the risk plus it’s such a huge investment and I can’t make a fool of myself. And on and on.

Some of this may be true.  Yet, some things we’ve come to believe about ourselves, no matter how fervently we believe them, are nothing but illusion.

To do or be something that’s uncharacteristic of us is not the hard part.

The hard part is acknowledging that this place in which we find ourselves, this place in which we’ve come to settle, does not have to be the place in which we stay.

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  1. How do you retain your individuality in a big-box buying/selling culture that pushes us into falling in line, or else, we don’t get ours?
  2. Do you ever want to put up a fight?  Rebel?  Break out?  Give the system the middle finger?  (What’s stopping you, if any?)
  3. Do you ever surprise yourself by doing or being something you didn’t think you would/could/should?
  4. Do you always know how things will go down where you’re concerned?
  5. Do you thrive on being able to determine what happens next or do you prefer to live the unknown?

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Image by It’s Greg

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 The Exception August 30, 2010 at 5:07 am

I was thinking about this just the other day – is there anything my daughter or I could do that would surprise anyone? The answer, no.. most likely not. I do have the day job and use the internet, yet I am not the “Northern Virginia” woman. I am raising my daughter in a way that doesn’t fit with anyone else we know and is, without intent, very different than her dad’s family which is as status quo as one can get in this area.
Individuality comes form living who we are, no? It is about not worrying about what the neighbor thinks or what the other kids in the class do – it is about living your own life and living it passionately.
When my daughter was little (6 or so) she was teased for having curly hair – so she spent time trying to pull out the curls. From the curls to being the only kid in class without a dad, she went through a time of accepting her life as being different than her peers – and she never stated she wanted to be like them. When she was about 8 she commented on how she loves her life and the differences.
The spice of life is in our differences and finding the gifts that we each of due to those differences in personality and experience and lifestyle. I can’t imagine what life would be like if we were all, more than not, the same; nor do I understand why people want to fit into a mold to that extent.
My daughter is just nearing 11 – we have years to go to see how she will view her life and fitting in and accepting her individuality as she enters high school! She is an athlete and an artist – a well rounded kid… and the diversity might help her be who she is over trying to be who she thinks she needs to be. o

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2 Belinda Munoz August 30, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Hi TE, if memory serves, 11 was still a mostly innocent, unpretentious age for me. (Or I could be confusing it with 7 😉 Anyway, thanks for sharing your experiences as a single mother. I really appreciate it. It sounds like you and your daughter have some interesting years looming on the horizon as her teenage years approach.

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3 Aging Mommy August 30, 2010 at 5:33 am

I hate boxes just as I hate rules – if someone tries to define me with a series of boxes I just want to break right out of there. But everyone is different. For some people that need for conformity, routine and familiar surroundings so typical of all children never goes away. For others those things are what they strive valiantly to get beyond. We are who we are. I believe nature not nurture is the driving force in determining us and how we ultimately live our lives too.

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4 Belinda Munoz August 30, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Jane, I join you in your disdain for boxes. They may be practical, but there’s no room for individuality in their overgeneralized nature.

As for rules, I like them if I’m the one creating them ;-). I find them helpful at the start of a creative process but I always reach a point when I just want to break ’em all.

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5 Nicki August 30, 2010 at 6:01 am

I am not sure I know my place, other than it is where I am at any given moment. Most would not know my age or anything else other than that is where I am. I frequently give the cold shoulder to conventionality. I frequently do the expected thing. I am me and always will be and that me is someone that is not easily describable.

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6 Belinda Munoz August 30, 2010 at 10:33 pm

I’m grateful for your place in the blogosphere, Nicki.

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7 Justine August 30, 2010 at 7:27 am

I am comfortable with who I am, accepting that I am not the most original person, nor do I completely give in to the system. I don’t try to differentiate myself on purpose but having been raised in another country and now living in another that has a very different set of cultural and societal norms and expectations, I’ve learned to marry the two in my head to live with a duality that is unique to myself, even if my story is not that different from that of so many immigrants.

Here, I am different because I adhere to certain traditions that I find comforting and important to my self-preservation, and there I am stand out because I have learned to break away from the rigidity of their rules. Most of the time, it’s not that I am out of character, it’s that I am out of context.

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8 Belinda Munoz August 30, 2010 at 10:59 pm

I get this, Justine. I think more and more people are moving fluidly between culturally different worlds which, hopefully, will help them feel less and less out of context. Kipling’s words, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet, will be proven wrong one day, methinks.

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9 TheKitchenWitch August 30, 2010 at 8:03 am

I’m okay with who I am, but I do wish I was more daring. It takes a LOT for me to accept or embark on change.

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10 Belinda Munoz August 30, 2010 at 10:40 pm

I believe you have a daring palate, Kitch.

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11 Nadia Ballas-Ruta ~ Happy Lotus Lifestyles August 30, 2010 at 8:19 am

Hi Belinda,

Great minds think alike because the post I published today at my site ties in with yours.

For me, I have always been the kind of person who was odd. I never was part of the mainstream and it was not easy. Everyone would go left and I would naturally go right. I was never an intentional rebel…I just was a rebel. My entire childhood, teenage years and my 20s were spent trying to conform because I felt extreme pressure to do it and it was sheer hell.

Finally, I accepted the fact that I will never be “normal” and started to embrace it. Life then began to change. I personally do not care for outcomes. What will be will be and every outcome is usually for the best. What matters more to me is the feeling of the experience. When people talk about wanting lots of money, they don’t necessarily want the money, they want the feeling of what the money represents which is a sense of security. It is not true security but at least you have the means to survive.

So to me, the feeling of experience means more than outcome. To wake up and love being alive is what matters to me. I want to know that I am doing my best to make the world a better place. How that manifests itself is out of my hands. I just do my best and surrender the outcome. It always has worked for me.

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12 Belinda Munoz August 30, 2010 at 11:13 pm

Yes, our thoughts are similar today, Nadia! And I really love the idea of surrendering the outcome and enjoying the experience instead. If we can operate from a place of love and to truly be alive in our doing and being, whatever happens as a result may almost be inconsequential.

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13 Cathy August 30, 2010 at 9:40 am

I am a rebel but I have been noticing more and more that it takes so much energy and I often question whether it’s worth it or not. I still rebel, but I think I pick and choose my battles more carefully.

I am a total control freak and if I don’t know what to expect, I am stressed. However, I routinely put myself out there in an uncomfortable space because I truly believe that’s the only way I’ll grow and the only way I’ll begin to conquer the “fear of the unknown.”

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14 Belinda Munoz August 30, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Cathy, I am still learning (and re-learning) my lesson about picking my battles when I have my activist hat on, so, I hear you.

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15 Steve August 30, 2010 at 11:14 am

I believe that you have to challenge your boundaries of comfort every so often to actually grow. You do not need to go skydiving if you are scared of heights, but a ride on a roller-coaster might be an experience that would be worth having.

When you do those things that make you “slightly” nervous about trying (not abject fear) that is the area where you can really grow and experience. You may decide that the “rollercoaster” ride was not worth it and you are right to hate heights and that is fine. If you get out there and attempt things you will grow. What people need to do and try is personal to each person, the important thing is to occasionally try to push those boundaries.

After all Belinda, perhaps Chocolate covered Ants really are YUMMY!

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16 Belinda Munoz August 30, 2010 at 11:17 pm

OK, Steve! I’m waiting for your thumbs up on chocolate covered ants. Great to see you here.

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17 BigLittleWolf August 30, 2010 at 1:05 pm

What a great slant on the issues of conformity, comfort zones, and encouraging ourselves to at least try on change, if not to embrace it.

I don’t know my place. I once did – and it was open-ended, constantly evolving, and willing to push many boundaries. It was a place of “don’t slot me,” with plenty of options and no need to name them.

If you have any of those tendencies I think you’re fortunate (I considered myself fortunate) – you live a lot of life and amazing experiences that way. And best to do so when you’re young enough and vibrant enough to enjoy them. Don’t put them off until you’re older. You may no longer have the capacity. .

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18 Belinda Munoz August 30, 2010 at 11:26 pm

“Don’t slot me” pretty much describes my son, BLW!

This post looked different in concept than when published. I think it’s okay not to know our place. This, I feel, is conducive to breaking the illusion of any beliefs about ourselves that don’t serve us. Ultimately, what we think of ourselves, our perception of ourselves, far outweighs what anyone else thinks. It’s our mind that can either free us or imprison us. Not those of others.

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19 marlon August 30, 2010 at 2:16 pm

We need boundaries to preserve our freedom. In fact, we set our own boundaries. But our boundaries should not limit us to doing only what we are comfortable doing. Life becomes redundant and boring without us getting ourselves some adventures. If you know your boundaries, your space doesn’t really matter – for space is just a continuum of time.

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20 Belinda Munoz August 30, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Welcome to The Halfway Point, Marlon! Wishing you many adventures!

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21 Tony Single August 30, 2010 at 3:43 pm

I’ve never fit in anywhere at any time ever. The closest I’ve come is the blogging community that I’ve stumbled into. And still, that awkward round-peg-in-a-square-hole feeling persists. Sure, I’m hardly unique in this sense, but I certainly feel like an endangered species of one. I’ve never known what to do about it as trying to fit in has only ever caused me more grief. Go figure.

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22 Belinda Munoz August 30, 2010 at 11:37 pm

The way I see it, those who fit in may be compromising the essence of their individuality. As long as anyone is trying to fit in, they are confining themselves within the parameters of conventional standards; caging themselves in the proverbial box, which happens to be crowded, dark, and waaay too small for someone like you, Tony. Who needs it? 😉

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23 Preeti @ Heart and Mind August 30, 2010 at 6:07 pm

Belinda,

We as a society often put labels and places for people and sometimes we also believe those labels and its constraints. Pushing boundary and comfort zone is not easy for many but we must try to improve and re-discover our new identity.

I have never thought myself as a stay at home mom, but i am learning how to do it, hard as it might seem, because that is what I value right now.

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24 Belinda Munoz August 30, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Ah, Pretti, then maybe this is one way for your to break out of a mold, eh? Being a so-called SAHM even though you’ve never thought of yourself as such. And maybe imaginary boundaries are being blurred as we speak 😉

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25 Jessica August 30, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Great post!

However, too funny that you are going one way…and I am going the other! I would be down in the ravine!

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26 Belinda Munoz August 31, 2010 at 7:49 am

Hi Jessica, welcome to The Halfway Point! Enjoy your tea and crumpets with Sasquatch and tell me all about it!

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27 Tess The Bold Life August 31, 2010 at 9:08 am

Hi Belinda,
I like Tony never fit into a box to begin with so there is no breaking out. LOL

One daring thing I did was climb on the roof of our cottage to wash the sky light windows. I was shaking in my shoes all the way up the ladder. Once on the roof I scooted around until the last window. I asked hubs for a broom, stood up and started sweeping twigs from the trees off the rest of the roof. That may seem small yet it’s just another example of how I get some I’m afraid or I can’t idea in my head and then stop myself.

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28 Ryan Biddulph August 31, 2010 at 10:28 am

Hi Belinda,

I try not to find a place. I feel that places are boxes which the ego creates to make an unruly world safe. The problem is that these illusions become realities when accepted as such, limiting your life.

I seek an uncomfortable zone consistently. By doing this I leave my box or place which opens my perspective and broadens my experience.

Ryan Biddulph

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29 Sara Healy August 31, 2010 at 11:21 am

Belinda — this what I call a “wise” post…it comes from somewhere deep in the soul, like dipping from water that’s never seen the light of day. We do put people into categories, including ourselves. I think it’s a part of our biological history…a way of identifying friend or foe at one time in our lives. That’s a challenge for us, to adapt this biological memory so that we can be more open. Not always easy to do, however.

As a kid, I never really fit in, but I also wasn’t outside either. I was kind the invisible kid…more of watcher. Later, as I grew older, I definitely became the rebel, but then, this may be due to reaching my first blush of adulthood in the 70’s….being a rebel was being conformist at that time:~)

Writing is the one area where I feel as if I have no tethers. It’s the part of me that is just there and doesn’t think a lot of where “there” is. I like this part of me because most of time I do worry about whether or not I will fit in:~)

Interesting topic, as usual…thanks:~)

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30 Aileen September 1, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Belinda, I love the questions you ask. I’ve pondered the question of rebelling or being on the track and following the system – it’s a life long question I find myself in. For a long time I tried to live as unconventionally as possible – and one day I gave in and lived “on track” – it was much easier – but then I felt restless again.
These days I find I play with both. Some conventions make life easier – freeing me up to live outside of the box in other aspects. I had to make peace with “the box” “the system” “being on track” – once I stopped fighting it, I felt I had better leverage.

I do love this post & the thoughts & questions it provokes.

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